The Burning of Falmouth

In the summer and early autumn of 1775, General William Howe, the commander of the British Army in Boston, could not feed his troops. Besieged by the nascent Continental Army under General George Washington since April, Howe could not purchase or even forage from the prosperous farms of the Massachusetts’ countryside around the city. The task of supplying the Redcoats and the loyalist population of Boston fell to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves of the Royal Navy, whose squadron’s guns provided vital fire support for Howe.

Graves sent ships to American ports along the Atlantic seaboard to purchase the food and supplies necessary for Howe to maintain the garrison in Boston. However, many towns refused to do business with the British, and a few were openly hostile: several ships were captured by the Americans and many more were driven off. One of these was the HMS Canceaux, a sixteen gun sloop under the command of Lieutenant Henry Mowat. In May, 1775, Mowat was captured in Falmouth, Massachusetts (present day Portland, Maine) by Patriot militia while he attended church services ashore. Mowat was released, but when the 600 Patriot militia threatened to storm the Canceaux, Mowat set sail, to the cheers of the militia. He never forgave the citizens of Falmouth for his ignoble departure.

Incidents against Graves’ ships and crews occurred up and down the New England coast all summer. The HMS Margaretta was seized by the citizens of Machias, Massachusetts in June, and battle was had between the HMS Falcon and militia of Gloucester in August. In early October, the HMS Rose was forced to fire on Bristol, Rhode Island, to convince the townspeople to surrender 40 sheep. Even worse, reports suggested that rebel pirates were starting to operate out of these small ports. Graves decided to cow the Americans with fire and sword, and destroy the wretched hives of scum and villainy whom dared defy the authority of the British Crown. And he knew just the man to do it.

On 6 October 1775, Graves gave command of a squadron of five small ships to Lieutenant Mowat with the Canceaux as his flagship. Mowat’s orders were to “lay waste, burn and destroy such Sea Port towns as are accessible to His Majesty’s ships.” Mowat sailed directly to Falmouth. On 17 October, he anchored his flotilla in Falmouth Bay. The next morning, Mowat sent one of his officers ashore to address the townspeople. The officer proclaimed they had two hours to evacuate the town before the British ships opened fire. The citizens pleaded for mercy and Mowat offered amnesty if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown. None did, and the townspeople fled Falmouth.

At 0930 on 18 October, 1775, Mowat’s flotilla opened fire on Falmouth. The ships continued to bombard the town until the sun began to set that evening. In the growing twilight, British shore parties landed by torchlight to fire any buildings that remained standing after the bombardment. They were met by Patriot militia. Lacking cannon to come to grips with the British ships, they sat impotently and watched the destruction of their town. Heavily reinforced by the furious townspeople, the militia unleased their rage on the Redcoats who came to finish the job. The landing parties managed to set fire to several more houses, whose conflagration spread throughout the town, but at the cost of several killed and wounded, as they battled the militia in the streets of Falmouth on their way back to the ships and safety.

Satisfied with the destruction of Falmouth, Mowat attempted to continue the punitive expedition, but his small ships were not sturdy enough to repeat the bombardment. Many of his cannon broke off their mounts and though the Americans didn’t fire on his ships, they were nonetheless damaged by the shock of nearly eight hours of continuous cannon fire. With the weather worsening, Mowat raided some farms further up the coast and then returned to Boston.

Mowat left one thousand Americans homeless out of Falmouth’s 2500 inhabitants, including about 160 families. 15 ships were either captured or sunk in the harbor, and nearly 400 buildings were damaged or destroyed by the bombardment and subsequent fire. Massachusetts rallied to help the citizens of Falmouth, and both Patriots and former Loyalists pitched in to rebuild the town. The Continental Congress authorized the issue of letters of marque turning New England’s pirates into privateers which eventually expanded the war onto the Seven Seas. The Burning of Falmouth shocked and outraged the Thirteen Colonies. It brought many fence sitters over to the American cause and greatly troubled many Loyalists for the indiscriminate nature of the destruction. For many Americans, there was now no possibility of reconciliation with British Crown. Even members of the British Parliament abhorred the raid – Graves was eventually fired, and Mowat was ostracized for the rest of his career.

When news of the Burning of Falmouth reached Europe it was initially dismissed as rebel propaganda. After the events were confirmed, Europeans recoiled at Britain’s barbarity and brutality. The French Foreign Minister, Count De Vergennes, commented, “I can hardly believe this absurd as well as barbaric procedure on the part of an enlightened and civilized nation.”

After conferring with King Louis XVI, Vergennes began exploring options about how to send covert aid to the American patriots. He dispatched a secret envoy to the American Continental Congress, who arrived in December, and lifted the boycott on France’s Caribbean colonies from selling gunpowder to the Americans in rebellion to the British Crown. More immediately, he quietly reversed a recent order preventing American ships from loading war material in French ports

Les Corps d’Armee est Victorieux: The Ulm Campaign

In 1805 the recently crowned Emperor Napoleon ended the Peace of Amiens and began the War of the Third Coalition against Great Britain and Sweden. He had amassed his army at Boulogne for an invasion but the French Navy couldn’t guarantee a safe crossing of the English Channel and the weather was turning steadily worse (sounds familiar). In September, Austria and Russia entered the Coalition, and this would lead to a serious and overwhelming threat from the east if the Austrian and Russian armies ever linked up. So Napoleon struck first. He secured an alliance with Bavaria and then moved to invade Austria before Russian troops could arrive. Austria mobilized and invaded Bavaria, but Napoleon’s La Grande Armee moved much quicker, due to its use of the highly effective Corps System.

Napoleon’s corps were just larger versions of the combined arms divisions he pioneered in his earlier Italian campaigns. He found his flexible combined arms infantry divisions, consisting of infantry battalions supported by two cavalry squadrons and four or five artillery batteries under the direct command of the division commander, routinely outfought Austrian and Italian pure infantry formations that lacked supporting arms. Napoleon’s corps were the next logical step.

Napoleon’s corps were standardized, self-sufficient, combined arms formations about the same size as an army in Frederick the Great’s time, fifty years before. Revolutionary zeal and increased conscription brought about by Imperial France’s “nation in arms” allowed Napoleon to field several corps at the same time. In October 1805, Napoleon had eight corps committed against Austria in the War of the Third Coalition: seven infantry and one cavalry. The cavalry corps was tasked specifically for reconnaissance, security, pursuit, and exploitation. Each infantry corps was comprised of about 25,000 men consisting of the aforementioned infantry divisions, and cavalry and artillery pure brigades, with supporting specialists such as engineers, pontoon bridges, and supply trains, all under a trusted subordinate capable of independent command.

These corps’ commanders were Napoleon’s chosen ones: the Marshals of France, and they were promoted strictly on merit and military efficacy. Generals could be political appointees or promoted because of birth, such as Napoleon’s brother Jerome, but never a marshal. The 26 men chosen over the years by Napoleon to be Marshals of France came from all walks of life, and were a collection of talent and ability rarely seen in history. Only the Diadochi, Jesus’ Apostles, the Genghis Khan’s generals, the viziers of Suleiman, the Sun King’s advisors, and America’s Founding Fathers occupy the same historical pedestal. Napoleon trusted his marshals implicitly to carry out his mission orders and did not micromanage them with directives. With the self-sufficiency and inherent initiative of the corps system, and without the burden of a supply tail due to the French Army’s liberal use of foraging, the Marshals and their corps maneuvered much more quickly and with greater agility than France’s enemies.

Austria, like the rest of Europe, still maintained the army-level unit, an unwieldy formation of about 100,000 men, as the lowest level of synchronization and integration between combined arms. Furthermore, the Austrian commander, General Mack, had no equivalent to Napoleon’s Marshals. Unlike Napoleon whom issued orders just to his corps (eight in the Ulm campaign), Mack’s headquarters had to issue orders to each and every regiment, which was more than a hundred, with each order handwritten and delivered beforehand. Finally, the Austrians were still tied to fixed supply lines, according to the rules of European limited warfare of the eighteenth century which sought to shield civilians from the effects of war. Needless to say, the Austrians simply couldn’t respond to the speed and agility of Napoleon’s corps.

Napoleon’s La Grande Armee marched 500 miles in 40 days. In the first weeks October 1805, Mack managed to only make it to Ulm, on the Danube in the Black Forest just northwest of Munich before he was surrounded by Napoleon’s marshals. He was out maneuvered to the north and to the south, and anytime he attempted to riposte, his detachments were thoroughly beaten by the brilliantly led use of synchronized combined arms inherent in the individual French corps. On 14 October 1805, French Marshal Michel Ney routed the Austrians at the Battle of Elchingen, which completed the trap. After a few small battles against the disorganized Austrians, Mack surrendered his remaining troops on 20 October. Only Prince Schwarzenberg, Napoleon’s future brother in law, managed to break out of the encirclement and join the Russians. The Austrians lost more than 60,000 men, Napoleon, but 2,000.

Napoleon said of Ulm, “I have destroyed the Austrian army by simply marching.”

The road to Vienna was open. The heart of Central Europe, the Austrian Empire, the German Confederation, and the Holy Roman Empire, created by Charlemagne a thousand years before, lay within Napoleon’s grasp.

The Battle of Britain: Hitler Moves On

On 13 October, 1940, Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Great Britain, until the spring of 1941. By October it became obvious that the Luftwaffe grossly underestimated the Royal Air Force’s fighter capacity, and capability to contest the air over Southern England, control of which was necessary for any German invasion to take place. The Luftwaffe pilots’ morale was almost bottomed out after being repeatedly told that RAF Fighter Command was on its last legs, only to find them waiting over London or some other city. However, the terror bombings, or what the British people referred to as “The Blitz”, continued for another year, mostly at night.

Hitler’s postponement of Operation Sea Lion until the spring of 1941 was only a ruse though: he wanted to convince Communist spies that his focus was still on Britain. In actuality, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely, and began moving the troops east. The planning for his next big operation was well under way, and the battle in the west was indecisive in his eyes.

Two weeks before on 27 September, Hitler signed the Tripartite Pact with Japan and Italy which formed the Axis against Great Britain and the Commonwealth. The next day, the Pact was extended to Germany’s de facto ally, the Soviet Union. Stalin’s foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (of Molotov Cocktail fame) took the offer back to Moscow to work on the economic details of the alliance. Stalin welcomed the alliance, but felt that more economic concessions could be wrung from the Germans, who were in desperate need of the Soviet Union’s raw materials.

But neither Hitler nor Stalin had any intention of honoring a “Quadpartite Pact”. Stalin knew that any form of Socialism requires an enemy and when Hitler was done with Britain, he was the only remaining option in Europe. Stalin needed time to rebuild the Red Army after the purges of 1937/38, and the disastrous, if victorious, Winter War with Finland. A formal alliance with Germany could buy him that time.

Hitler had no intention of even that much, despite accepting Molotov’s economic counterproposals in November. He was just stallin’ (Ha!). Hitler would string the talks out about formal military alliance with Stalin until the spring, when he planned to launch, not Operation Sea Lion, but Operation Barbarossa — the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Though Churchill and the British people didn’t know it, the Battle of Britain was over. Hitler had moved on.

The Battle of Cape Passero

In December 1939, the Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Ajax became famous as part of the small squadron that took on the German pocket battleship and commerce raider, Admiral Graf Spee, in the Battle of the River Platte, and forced her crew to scuttle her (Britain’s first real victory of the Second World War). In October 1940 the Ajax was screening a convoy in the Mediterranean to resupply Malta.

On the night of 11-12 October, 1940, the Ajax was just southeast of Sicily on the last leg of the journey to the small fortress island. Around 0030, an Italian patrol boat spotted the lone light cruiser, and the ships of the Regina Marina (Italian Royal Navy) were alerted for what they thought would be an easy kill before descending upon the convoy. An hour later, the Ajax made contact with an Italian destroyer squadron of three torpedo boats and four destroyers, supported by a slow moving heavy cruiser. The battle should have been no contest: the Ajax was out maneuvered, out gunned, and outnumbered by her nimbler, more modern, and heavier hitting Italian foes.

30 minutes after first contact, the Italians broke off the engagement, thoroughly humiliated. Two torpedo boats and two destroyers were sunk, and the rest of the Italian flotilla was damaged in some way. The heavy cruiser turned around without firing a shot. The Italians fought valiantly but only landed two hits on their lone adversary, whereas every shell fired from the Ajax seemed to hit its mark. The mighty Ajax was waiting seemingly in ambush at every instance she was spotted, when she was seen at all, usually only by her gun flashes.

The Italians attributed the lopsided British victory to excellent gunnery skills and superb use of star-shells. They were only partly correct. The Ajax had an asymmetric advantage unknown to the Italians. The Ajax was retrofitted with radar after the Battle of the River Platte, and the Battle of Cape Passero was the first use of radar in a naval engagement in history.

The First Oktoberfest

In the last decade of the eighteenth century and first decade of the nineteenth, the German state of Bavaria had prospered in its alliance with first Revolutionary, and then Napoleonic France, while being one of the few states of the Confederation of the Rhine to maintain its effective independence. In 1808, constitutional reforms were introduced which freed the serfs and swept away the last vestiges of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. In this happy and prosperous time, during which the internal inconsistencies of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras had yet to manifest themselves, Bavaria acquired some smaller German states as part of peace negotiations with Austria. At the Treaty of Schönbrunn after Napoleon’s victory in the War of the Fifth Coaltion, Bavaria was required to cement an alliance with the least reliable of Napoleon’s Confederation allies, Saxony.

On 10 October, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (the grandfather of the future “Mad King Ludwig”) wedded Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, in Bavaria’s largest city, Munich. The Crown Prince invited the citizens of the city to the wedding festivities held in the fields in front of the city’s gate. Thousands showed up and the citizens named them “Therese’s Fields”. With beer and wine tastings, 40,000 spectators watched horse races from the side of a hill leading to the city, and by the end of the day the festival was recognized as a celebration of all things Bavarian.

The festival was such a rockin good time that it naturally occurred again the next year, and annually thereafter. We know it today as Oktoberfest.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On 9 October 1600, a play by William Shakespeare, “a mydsommer nightes Dreame’”, was registered with the Stationers’ Company at Thomas Fisher’s Bookshop on Fleet Street in London. The first draft was typecast and printed from Shakespeare’s own handwritten copy and was published for Lord Chamberlin’s Men, an acting troupe of whom Shakespeare was a member. However, it would be another four years before A Midsummer Night’s Dream reached the stage of The Globe Theatre with Shakespeare himself playing Duke Theseus.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be”. – Puck.

“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream.” – Nick Bottom

The Battle of Longue Pointe

If the Battles of Lexington and Concord were “The Shot Heard Round the World”, then the Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1775 was the shock wave that shook the world. With its fall, Britain’s enemies: the Dutch, French and Spanish, all began to take the rebelling colonies seriously. The news caused King George III and the British Parliament to officially declare the Thirteen North American colonies “In Rebellion against The Crown”. Fort Ticonderoga was the gateway to Canada its capture left Canada open to invasion. Even worse, Canada was filled with mostly French speaking settlers and Indians who were hostile to the British Crown just ten years before. Moreover, the entire province of Quebec had but 800 English defenders. Most were at Fort St Jean, south of Montreal, with small 30-40 man garrisons at Trois-Rivieres, Montreal City, and Quebec City.

Lieutenant General George Washington wasted no time in exploiting this weakness and ordered Brigadier General Richard Montgomery to assemble a force to invade Canada. In August 1775, Montgomery did so with 2,000 New York and Connecticut militiamen, several hundred Canadian militia who wanted to make Canada a 14th rebellious colony, and Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, one of the victors at Ticonderoga, felt slighted that he wasn’t given command of the invasion so he left for Maine, then part of Massachusetts, to start his own invasion of Quebec (We will hear more of him later). Montgomery’s force entered Canada and began the Siege of Fort St Jean on 5 September, 1775. On 20 September, the impetuous Ethan Allen took fifty of his Green Mountain Boys and sixty Canadian militia to bypass the fort and seize Montreal in a surprise attack, then defended only by 30 British regulars. On 24 September, 1775, they landed at Longue Pointe on Montreal Island.

Unfortunately, Montreal was warned of Allen’s approach, and due to his rough reputation, its inhabitants thought that he had come to burn the city to the ground. The 30 British regulars were joined by 40 British Indian agents and Indians, and more than 200 Montreal militia determined to defend their homes from the Barbarian of Vermont. They attacked Allen’s small force the next morning and overwhelmed them. Pinned against the shore line and unable to escape, Ethan Allen was captured and would spend the next few years on prison ships in Great Britain. In an ironic twist of fate, it was his reputation that saved him from hanging: the British didn’t want to make him the first American martyr. Nonetheless, America lost one of its most competent and aggressive commanders in the early days of the War for Independence.

Whether or not the inhabitants of Montreal would have defended themselves with such fervor and in such numbers had another American commander been in charge is subject to much debate. The answer to that academic debate stopped mattering as soon as the first shot was fired: Ethan Allen’s defeat was the first time English and French speaking Canadians fought together against a common foe, and the shared pride in victory laid the seeds of Canadian nationalism, distinct from the American nationalism in the Thirteen British colonies to the south. The opportunity to bring Quebec into the American Revolution against the Crown was rapidly slipping away, and the Battle of Longue Point made that task exponentially harder.

The Battle of Karbala

In 632 CE the Prophet Mohammad died, and his succession became disputed. His first successor was his father in law, Abu Bakr, even though Mohammad’s son in law, Ali ibn Abi Talib claimed Mohammed passed leadership of the caliphate (Islamic State) directly to him. In any case, in a show of solidarity for the small Muslim community, Ali accepted Abu Bakr’s leadership.

Over the next decades, Abu Bakr and his two successors were assassinated during early infighting among the Arabic tribes and Ali became the fourth caliph. Ali’s followers claimed that this was divine will in action because Ali was the only caliph directly chosen by Mohammad. Ali spread the Caliphate from the Arabian Peninsula north to the Caucus Mountains, east across Persia, and west across the north African coast. Ali was assassinated in Kufa (modern Najaf, Iraq) in 661.

Ali’s followers declared his son Hussein Ali the caliph. Hussein Ali was Mohammad’s grandson by blood through his mother, Mohammed’s daughter. But his followers were suppressed by Muawiyah, the son of the assassinated third caliph, who had a larger army and power base in the Levant and Syria. Muawiyah became the first caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate. But Ali’s supporters did not recognize him because he lacked a blood tie to Mohammad, and fought a low level insurgency in support of Hussein Ali for caliph. Twenty years later in 680, Muawiyah died, and his son Yazid was nominated caliph. In response, Kufa and most of Mesopotamia openly declared for Ali and in rebellion against Umayyad Caliphate. Unfortunately for Ali, he was in Mecca at the time, and this put him in a precarious position, so he raced back to his power base in Kufa with a thousand followers.

On 10 October 680 CE Ali got as far as the Karbala Pass, which was blocked by a vastly superior army led by Yazid. In the ensuing battle, Ali, his family, and all of his followers were massacred. Ali’s followers never forgave Yazid. This led directly to the schism of Islam into the Sunni and Shia branches. Hussein Ali was/is considered a martyr by his followers and they would accept only his descendants as leaders of the caliphate. They would go on to form the Shia branch of Islam when Ali’s followers subsumed Persia, and Islam was influenced by the early Persian Zoroastrianism. Shia’s leadership by bloodline formed a more centralized and hierarchical Islam as seen in Iran with the rule by the Ayatollahs today (all of whom claim to be descendants of Ali, and hence Mohammad). Yazid and his successors went on to form the Sunni, and without a direct blood tie to Mohammad, a much more decentralized branch of Islam. The Shia consider Yazid, all of his successors, and the Sunni in general as usurpers, and this is the basis of the Sunni/Shia divide in Islam today.

German Reunification

At the end of World War II, Germany was broken up into four occupied zones. The American, British and French zones eventually formed the Federal Republic of Germany i.e. West Germany, and the Soviet Zone formed the German Democratic Republic aka East Germany, during the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl immediately moved to lay the ground work for the unification of the two countries as soon as possible.

The move was supported by US President George Bush, and several of the smaller NATO members, but was opposed by French President François Mitterand, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and most vehemently, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She once said, “We’ve defeated them twice! Now they’re back!” To be fair the leaders of Germany’s historic adversaries were for the democratization of East Germany just not for a unified German nation-state in the heart of Central Europe. Their worst fear was a unified neutral Germany no longer aligned with NATO. This was a very real fear in 1989 – Only 20% of Germans wanted to remain in NATO post-unification. That they did so was almost entirely due to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher and the presence of 250,000 NATO, mostly American, soldiers garrisoned on German soil.

Nonetheless, Kohl unilaterally unified the two countries’ economies in the summer of 1990, and in August both German parliaments approved the Unification Treaty. However there was still the matter of the Red Army on German soil. At the NATO-Warsaw Pact conference on 23 September 1990, Kohl offered 55 Billion Deutchmarks to the Soviet Union to remove the troops. The German offer Gorbachev, whose Soviet Union was in the midst of a society-destroying economic depression caused by 40 years of crippling socialist policies, was all too happy to take. At midnight on 3 October 1990, the German Unification Treaty came into effect, and the unified Federal Republic of Germany became a reality.

The honeymoon didn’t last long though. As India, the United Kingdom, and Israel had learned over the preceding decades, switching from a socialist economic model back to a capitalist model was painful. And German unification was the first time the two combined. The West Germans took over the “Treuhand”, or “Trust Agency” in East Germany, a corrupt and mostly failed Gorbachev reform that attempted to privatize even more corrupt and unproductive state businesses. The new Treuhand, comprised of Bundesbank and Frankfurt financial district executives and their staffs after the unification, became the de facto government in the former East Germany as they were given nearly unlimited power to determine who could buy the businesses and who would be permitted to rescue the failed East German economy. The Treuhand’s problems with privatization were exacerbated by six decades of totalitarian socialist expropriation of private property, first by the Nazi’s, then the Soviets, then finally by the GDR. Most foreign investors couldn’t navigate the complexities of the East German property rights situation, nor were they encouraged to by the Treuhand. Consequently, the Treuhand awarded nearly 14,000 former East German companies or former GDR state entities to almost exclusively West German firms.

Cutting economic ties with former Soviet satellites to the south and east was easy, as almost everything in the West was available in superior qualities and quantities, so much so that East Germans overcompensated toward the West, at their own expense. “Brain drain” was particularly devastating as hundreds of thousands of skilled and educated former East Germans migrated West to find jobs, and enjoy the ridiculously high living standards compared to their previous lives in the socialist GDR. Even the East Germans who didn’t leave spent their money in the former West Germany because the quality of goods was so much higher. As just one example, East German housewives crossed the border to buy eggs from West German farmers, because they were larger and tastier. Hundreds of thousands of East German workers who didn’t migrate chose to commute. The brain drain was alleviated somewhat by Berlin, partitioned after the Second World War by the Soviets and Western Allies. Berlin was an island of capitalist opportunity in a sea of socialist despair, and served as an economic anchor for millions of Germans that other cities in East Germany, such as Leipsig, Dresden, and Erfurt, couldn’t. Furthermore, in June 1991, the seat of the government moved to Berlin, providing government jobs in the bureaucracy, employment with which East Germans were familiar. Nonetheless, production in the newly acquired eastern parts of Germany was halved compared to even the sluggish and anemic standards of the GDR, and over a third of the remaining East German working age population was unemployed.

East Germany, and by extension the newly unified Germany as a whole, fell into a deep recession, a recession that required high interest rates on loans to combat inflation caused by assuming the East German debt and massive government subsidies. Despite the population of Germany increasing by nearly 25% with the incorporation of the GDR, the German GDP rose only 8%. Nonetheless, the Germans persisted and after a few years of economic hardship, Germany returned to its pre-unification growth. By 1995, the German government dumped almost 850 billion (with a “b”) Deutschmarks into the former East Germany. Almost all of the money went to keeping East German workers in East Germany through subsidies and unemployment, or to infrastructure projects to bring the thoroughly neglected East German infrastructure up to Western standards. Though the standard of living for East Germans remained much lower (and still is) than their western counterparts, the economic and political unification of Germany was complete when the Treuhand disbanded at the end of 1995.

Come and Take It: The Battle of Gonzales

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and the new state encompassed all the land from the Confederacy of Central America in the South (Not that “Confederacy”, Central America’s) to the Transcontinental Treaty Line of 1819 in the north (the borders of Oregon and Idaho, and California, Nevada and Utah today), and from the American Louisiana Purchase in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. For the next 24 years, Mexican Centralists and Federalists vied for power. Though nominally a federal republic as per the Federal Constitution of 1824, the Mexican government was always just one Centralist election victory away from dictatorship.

The liberal immigration policies of the Constitution of 1824 allowed for thousands of immigrants from the United States to settle in Mexico, mostly in the Mexican state of Texas. Far from Mexico City, the Anglo American colonists, known as “Texians”, and their Hispanic brethren the “Tejanos” had grown used to self-rule as the various factions in the newly independent Mexican government politicked and consolidated power. In particular, the Mexican law was written in the tradition of the Napoleonic Code i.e. “guilty until proven innocent” while the Texians, mostly colonists from the United States of America, were steeped in the tradition of English Common Law i.e. “innocent until proven guilty”. This fundamental difference in the understanding of law led to many accusations of tyranny against the Mexican government when it did exercise its authority. By 1835, the Mexican Centralists led by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the “Napoleon of Mexico”, had taken power in Mexico City from the Federalists, and he repudiated the Constitution of 1824. The stage was set for a Texian and Tejano break with the Mexican government.

In 1831, Mexican authorities in San Antonio de Béxar lent the town of Gonzalez a small six pound cannon for protection against the frequent Comanche Indian raids. Four years later on 10 September 1835, amidst the tensions caused by Santa Anna’s dictatorial rule and the open formation of Texan militias to protect themselves from him, a Mexican soldier clubbed a Gonzales resident which caused widespread outrage and public protests against Mexican tyranny. The senior Mexican military commander in Texas, Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, thought it unwise for the upset residents of Gonzales to keep the cannon. He sent a corporal and five soldiers to retrieve the cannon from Gonzales’ “alcalde” Andrew Ponton. (An “alcalde” is a combination municipal magistrate, judge, and chief councilman of an area.) While the soldiers patiently waited, the town voted to keep the cannon, and sent them away.

Undeterred, Ugartechea dispatched Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda with 100 dragoons on 27 September to seize the cannon. But this time the residents of Gonzales buried the cannon in a nearby peach orchard, and sent word to other towns to send their militia to prevent the Mexicans from taking the cannon. The Texians needed time for the militias to arrive, and delayed Castañeda at the river. The residents confiscated all the boats on the west side of the swollen Guadalupe River which forced the Mexicans to cross at the ford west of town. There they were met by the 18 men of the Gonzales Texian Militia company, now known as “The Old Eighteen”. Castañeda was under orders not to start a war and opened negotiations with the Texians. Captain Albert Martin, yelling from the east bank, told Castañeda that only Ponton could give up the cannon, and he was out of town. With no easy way across the river and with orders to not force an engagement, Castañeda’s men withdrew to a nearby hill while he continued to parley with the Texians at the ford. All the while Texian militias converged on Gonzales.

The stalemate continued for two days. By 1 October, there 150 Texian militia in the town and John Henry Moore was elected commander. Moore was one of the Old Three Hundred, who were the first Texian settlers to Mexican Texas, the owner and builder of Moore’s Fort at La Grange, and one of the most respected men in the area. That afternoon the Texians voted to initiate a fight, before their stalling backfired and the Mexicans brought reinforcements of their own. The Texians dug up the cannon, mounted it on cart wheels, and in lieu of cannonballs, gathered metal scraps for ammunition. The cannon was crewed by veteran artillerymen from the War of 1812.

At the same time, Castañeda was informed by a Coushatta Indian that the Texians were massing in the town and that they’d be about 300 strong soon. Not wishing to force the ford, the dragoons decamped and moved seven miles downstream to find another ford. That night they made camp on William’s Farm. Moore and the Texian militia with their cannon, now under a new banner, followed. Legend has it the flag was made from the wedding dress of Green DeWitt, the founder of Gonzales. The new makeshift flag was white with a star and the drawing of a cannon over the words, “Come and Take It”.

About 3 am on 2 October 1835, the Texians blundered toward the Mexican camp in the dense fog. Castañeda was alerted to their presence by a barking dog and several sentries fired into the midst. Only one Texian was hurt, and only because his horse threw him and bloodied his nose. Moore ordered everyone into the woods to wait for morning. Castañeda broke camp and withdrew to a defensive position on a small nearby bluff to await the attack.

At dawn the Texian emerged from the woods at stated firing on the Mexicans. 40 dragoons charged and the Texians withdrew back into the woods. One Mexican private was wounded, who would later die, and the dragoons retreated back to the bluff, not wanting to fight in the trees.

Castañeda again attempted to salvage the situation with negotiation, and asked why Moore attacked without provocation. Moore explained that the Texians needed the cannon to defend themselves whether against Indians or Mexican oppressors. He further stated that the Texians no longer recognized Santa Anna’s Centralist government, and were faithful to the Constitution of 1824. Castañeda, a federalist himself, sympathized with the Texians, and Moore even asked Castañeda to join their new hours old revolution. However, Castañeda declined and said his honor as a soldier was tied to following his superior’s orders.

Moore returned to camp and under their new flag the Texians fired their cannon at the Mexican camp. There would be second shot: the shot was too powerful for the makeshift carriage and the cannon fell apart. The one shot was enough though. One Mexican dragoon was killed. Outgunned and outnumbered, Castañeda, who did not wish further bloodshed and had specific orders to avoid stating a war, rode back to San Antonio de Béxar.

Despite Castañeda’s wishes, “the fight at Williams’ place”, which was just a small skirmish with few shots fired, was the first battle of Texas Revolution. Two days later Texian leader Stephen F Austin wrote, “War is declared – public opinion has proclaimed it against a Military despotism – the campaign has commenced” News of the fight spread like wildfire across the continent and it was renamed “The Battle of Gonzales” which made better headlines. Adventurers and settlers in the United States flocked to Texas. In Texas, Texian militias mobilized and concentrated at Gonzales. Austin was elected their commander. Within a few months after the Battle of Gonzales, Mexican troops were driven from Texas. Texian success sparked Federalist rebellions across the length and breadth of Mexico.

Gonzales’ cannon, the defense of which sparked the Texas Revolution, eventually ended up in San Antonio de Béxar. It was subsequently used in the defense of the Alamo in March 1836. Some would snarkily say that, “Santa Anna came and took it”. Though a Mexican victory, Santa Anna paid a heavy price for that cannon: the defense of the Alamo was instrumental in Texas winning its independence from Mexico. In April, the Texian army under Sam Houston, formed and trained during time bought with the blood of Alamo’s defenders, captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in April. After a short time as an independent republic, Texas’ admission to the United States led to the Mexican-American War. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war in 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States all of its northern states, including present day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and all Texan territory north of the Rio Grande.