Category: History

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.

The Battle of King’s Mountain

In May 1780, Major Patrick Ferguson was appointed Inspector of Militia by Lord Cornwallis and charged with recruiting Loyalists in Georgia and the Carolinas. He had some initial success and his loyalist militia did well against patriot militia around Ninety-Six in Georgia that summer. But after the Battle of Waxhaws, and especially after the Battle of Hanging Rock and the losses of Carey and Thicketty Forts, his recruits dried up, and the countryside turned increasing against the British and Loyalists. Nonetheless, Ferguson did have some success, but only when he was in charge. The patriot partisan bands, rarely larger than a few hundred, had all of their success against the small isolated loyalist outposts, and they fled whenever Ferguson and his main body of provincial regulars and local militia were nearby. This gave rise to the perception that the loyalist militia was of dubious dependability unless under direct British command, either his or Cornwallis, as they were at his victory at Camden.

Major Patrick Ferguson was a natural leader of men, a decorated veteran of the Seven Year’s War, and an expert marksman and gunsmith. He was arguable the finest shot in the British Army at the time. He invented the breech loading Ferguson Rifle that was 80 years ahead of its time, but only 200 were made because the British Army saw no need to replace the beloved Brown Bess smoothbore musket. In Ferguson, the loyalist militia found a patron, friend, and benefactor, and an imaginative leader that actually listened to them, at a time when almost all British officers despised, distrusted, and discounted loyalist militia.

Unfortunately for the loyalist cause in the South, Ferguson suffered from the conceit, so common in British officers of the time, of pride. His devotion to the standards and conduct of an honorable and distinguished British officer and gentlemen sometimes got in the way of his military judgement and efficacy. At the Battle of Brandywine, then-Captain Ferguson refused to shoot two officers on a leader’s reconnaissance, one dressed as a hussar, and another with a cocked hat riding a tall bay horse, even though he “could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him, before he was out of my reach”. Ferguson said it was “not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty—so I let him alone.” The two officers were Casimir Pulaski and George Washington.

In September 1780, Ferguson was proud of what he had accomplished. None of the setbacks could be attributed directly to him, and he personally had driven out all of the patriot militias in western South Carolina and Georgia. He had chased Isaac Shelby over the mountains after Musgrove Mill, and banished Col Charles McDowell to the same, after the Battle of Cane Creek on 10 September. But he was proud, not foolish. He only had 300 provincial regulars of the King’s American Regiment from New York and the New Jersey Regiment, and 800 Southern loyalist militia, which was not enough to engage the Overmountain Men mustering across the Blue Ridge. Ferguson would need more men, and assumed clearing the area of patriot partisans would encourage recruitment. He was wrong. Ferguson’s victories in Georgia were old news and although his advances and skirmishes pushed Shelby and McDowell into the Watauga Association, they lacked the gravitas of crushing victories that the American partisans produced. Loyalist militia companies defeated at Hanging Rock et al, did not reform, and the scattered remnants of those defeated commands rarely returned to fight. With the exception of Fishing Creek, Ferguson’s victories just displaced the patriot partisans, and didn’t destroyed them. Nonetheless, they were on the other side of the mountains or in North Carolina now, and Ferguson’s army withdrew to Gilberton, North Carolina where he established a base camp on 10 September. There he would recruit and train, and await reinforcements from the expected loyalist uprising spawned by Cornwallis’ imminent invasion of North Carolina.

Ferguson could have probably accomplished his mission of protecting Cornwallis’ flank from the Overmountain Men without doing much else but build his strength at Gilberton. The various Overmountain Men mustering camps were not coordinated and rare was the camp that had more than two or three hundred men. They lacked supplies for any sustained offensive over the mountains against Ferguson and Cornwallis, and the various commanders would more than likely just continue to muster and gather their strength well into the winter. There was little chance of them moving before the New Year. That is, until 12 September when Ferguson brazenly called for the Patriots to lay down their arms or he would “march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste to their country with fire and sword.”

Though certainly bluster from the honorable Ferguson, these were not idle threats to the Patriots. The American civil war between Patriots and Loyalists in the backcountry of the South was a brutal affair. Rumors of the ongoing destruction of the Black River settlements had already reached over the mountains, in particular the torching of the Presbyterian Church in Indiantown by Major James Weymess, which he called a “seditious shop.” Ferguson’s threats galvanized the Overmountain Men to action. North Carolina patriot leaders Isaac Shelby and Jon Sevier agreed to “march with all the men we could raise, and attempt to surprise Ferguson, by attacking him in his camp, or at any rate before he was prepared…”

Shelby and Sevier sent out runners to all of the smaller Overmountain Men mustering camps to gather at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River. They further invited Virginian Col William Campbell at Abingdon to join them, whom promptly agreed. Campbell summoned Col Benjamin Cleveland’s Wilkes County North Carolinian patriots to meet them on the way to Ferguson. Legend has it that at the summit of Rendezvous Mountain, Cleveland blew a horn which summoned his men for the march on Ferguson. Cleveland’s brother-in-law Joseph Martin treated with the Cherokee, who eventually promised not to attack the Overmountain Men’s homes which greatly encouraged the Patriots to move on Ferguson. McDowell’s “refugee militia” arrived at Sycamore Shoals, and his men would lead the march back over the mountains to his cousin’s home at Quaker Meadows, which was on the way to Gilberton.

Ferguson dismissed the rumors of the Overmountain Men consolidating against him. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last, an adversary underestimated the inhabitants of the American backcountry. Many Overmountain Men lived up to their derisive “rustic” reputation, though many more did not. Most were men of conviction, religion, family, property, and even education in many instances, who spent the entirety of their lives defending themselves on the frontier. Marylander Isaac Shelby, a colonel in the North Carolina militia would go on to be Kentucky’s first governor. William Campbell was Patrick Henry’s brother in law. Jon Sevier became the first governor of both the short-lived state of Franklin and the future state of Tennessee. Joseph McDowell would serve as one of North Carolina’s future senators. Their daily rituals may have been different, but these men weren’t the ignorant rustics as claimed by Ferguson and Cornwallis.

On 25 September, 1780, the same day that Cornwallis’ captured Charlotte, 1100 Overmountain Men departed Sycamore Shoals to engage Ferguson’s Loyalists. Heavy rains plagued the march, and “Keep your powder dry!” was a common warning along the route. They moved under the assumption that Ferguson was already advancing against them, as per his threat which they took with deadly seriousness. On 28 September, they split their force to cover both routes Ferguson might take to prevent him from getting behind them, gambling that their knowledge of the terrain would allow them to encircle Ferguson before they were defeated in detail. Their concerns were for naught: on 30 September both columns reached McDowell’s cousin’s home at Quaker Meadows where they met Cleveland and his 300 strong band of militia. Patriot militia from all over western Virginia and North Carolina were converging on Ferguson, attacking his foraging parties and recruiting and reconnaissance patrols. Another thousand patriot militia from South Carolina and Georgia rushed to join the attack on Ferguson. At Quaker Meadows, they learned Ferguson hadn’t even departed Gilberton and had no plans on doing so, at least no plans to advance west.

Ferguson was completely ignorant of the Overmountain Men’s advance, until the 28th when two deserters described in great detail the overwhelming number of Patriots enroute. For reasons lost to history, Ferguson spent three more days at Gilberton before acting. Whether he was confident of defeating the patriots conveniently coming to him and then had a change of heart, or he was awaiting reinforcements that never came and prudence was the better part of valor, on 1 October 1780, Ferguson’s command decamped and marched, first south then east, toward Charlotte, Cornwallis, and safety.

On 4 October 1780, the Overmountain men and patriot militias arrived at Gilberton and for the first time, the patriot leaders realized their true strength. With the various groups nearby, they were nearly 3000 strong. But with each small regiment boasting a colonel, a chain of command had to be worked out. After a senior leader conference, Cols. Isaac Shelby, Jon Sevier, William Campbell, Charles McDowell, and Benjamin Cleveland were chosen as co-commanders for the approach. For the actual battle, the five would elect one of their own to command. Charles McDowell was the senior but was the least respected of the five for their military acumen. He was sent to Gates at Hillsboro with a request for a brigadier general to command them. With McDowell gone, and his place taken by his cousin Major Joseph McDowell, the five elected William Campbell to lead them in the actual battle. The next morning they also set off south and east after Ferguson.

On 6 October they reached the Cowpens (the site of the future battle) in northern South Carolina where they were met by more Georgia and Carolina militia, bringing their numbers up to well over 3000. However, their strength might not matter: they learned from patriot spies, who had come directly from Ferguson’s camp, that the loyalists had stopped at King’s Mountain, less than a day’s march from Charlotte. Marching at foot speed, the Patriots would never catch Ferguson’s 1200 Loyalists before they reached Charlotte. They mounted about 1400 men on horseback, and left the rest to follow as fast as they could. Despite riding all night in the driving rain, the mounted Patriots didn’t reach King’s Mountain until early afternoon on the 7th. They were surprised to see Ferguson still there.

In the cutthroat world of etiquette and parlor politics among eighteenth century British Army officers, Ferguson didn’t want to be seen as fleeing in the face of the enemy without first giving battle. The shame of entering Charlotte without first fighting the Overmountain Men, no matter the odds against him, would be too much to bear. So Ferguson chose the best defensive position he could find, King’s Mountain, of many good ones in the upper Piedmont, which was as close to Cornwallis as he dared. There on the border between North and South Carolina he waited for reinforcements from Charlotte, less than a day’s march away, with whom Ferguson was sure he could defeat any attack by any number of ignorant Americans from over the mountains.

King’s Mountain was a 600 yard long foot shaped rocky and pine covered hill with a high narrow heel in the southwest and a clearing atop the wide flat ball of the foot to the northeast. The patriots surrounded the hill and attacked. Ferguson and the Loyalists were completely surprised. They weren’t expecting the patriot force for at least another day. Campbell’s men were the first to attack. He shouted, “There they are! Shout like hell and fight like devils!” The first Ferguson and his men learned of the attack were from the nerve wracking war whoops yelled by the Overmountain Men, which they copied from the Indians they fought with on the frontier. Ferguson’s men quickly formed an all-round defense along the edge of the clearing around the perimeter of the camp.

Despite electing Campbell as the overall commander, each patriot commander fought his own battle. Campbell’s only orders were to surround the hill, advance, and attack as soon as you come into contact. The lack of formal coordination didn’t matter, the objective for each was the same: defeat the loyalists and prevent them from withdrawing off the hill. With the focus on Ferguson and the Loyalists at the top of the hill, the coordination came naturally. In fact Campbell chose the most direct route from the approach march’s release point and attacked before the other leaders’ commands were in position. Shelby attacked from the opposite side immediately thereafter. Campbell’s only guidance before the battle was, “Let each man be his own officer. If in the woods, shelter yourselves and give them Indian play!”

The Patriots advanced up the hill, moving from tree to tree firing their deadly accurate rifles and reloading behind cover, while Ferguson’s provincial regulars and militia maintained their lines and volley fired into the trees. Few battles in the American Revolution actually conformed to the widespread myth that the British were defeated because they used Old World linear tactics while the plucky individualist Americans smartly took cover in the trees and shot the British to pieces with impunity. That however is precisely what happened between the Patriots and Loyalists at the Battle of King’s Mountain.

The battle devolved into a series of actions, all following the same pattern: The Americans advanced up the hill, firing from the trees into massed loyalist lines. The Loyalists volley fired in response, which proved ineffective because of the trees and when firing downhill they routinely overshot their targets. The Loyalists then fixed bayonets and charged down the hill at the Patriots. With no bayonets of their own (Pennsylvania long rifles couldn’t fit one), the Patriots gave way to the Loyalist charge and withdrew down the mountain. The Loyalists, now exposed on the hillside and receiving fire from the Patriots to their flanks, quickly retreated back up the hill before they were cutoff, and reformed in the clearing. The Patriots then advanced back up the hill and the process began again.

Above the din, one could hear Ferguson’s shrill whistle which he used to coordinate the bayonet charges, but the pattern of fire, charge, withdraw, reform, and fire again took a huge toll on the Loyalists, both in casualties and morale. After about 45 minutes it was obvious to Ferguson that he needed to break out of the cordon around King’s Mountain. The Patriots had climbed the high ground on the heel of the mountain and were firing directly into the exposed camp, at ranges his muskets had no chance of matching. The loyalist militia recognized the futility of their defense and were wavering. In a vain and deliberately disingenuous attempt to rally his men, he yelled “Hurrah, brave boys, the day is ours!” and led a forlorn charge of the remaining provincial regulars to break out.

An Overmountain man, Robert Young, took note of Ferguson’s conspicuous black and white checkered shirt on top of the gallant charger, directing his troops with his saber, leading the attack. He casually said to a friend taking cover behind the same tree, “Let’s see what ‘Sweet Lips’ can do”. Young raised “Sweet Lips”, the pet name for his rifle, to his cheek and put a ball into Ferguson’s chest. Ferguson fell off his horse, which sent his men into a panic.

Ferguson was the heart of the defense. With Ferguson down, his second, Captain Abraham de Peyster, immediately sent an emissary with a white flag of surrender. But emissary was shot and the fighting continued. Many of the Overmountain Men didn’t know what the white flag symbolized; there were no white flags fighting Indians, and they continued to fire. Many more knew exactly what it symbolized and didn’t care: shouts of “Tarleton’s Quarter!” and “Buford’s Play” could be heard, referring to massacre of surrendering Patriots at the Battle of Waxhaws in late May. Many surrendering Loyalists were shot and their wounded stabbed or scalped on the ground before the patriot officers could restore order, and then only after de Peyster sent a second flag of surrender.

At the Battle of King’s Mountain, the Overmountain Men and patriot militia suffered 28 killed and 64 wounded, while the Loyalists suffered 157 killed, including Ferguson, 163 wounded, and 698 captured. The number of Loyalists killed increased over the next few days: the wounded were left on the field to die, and Cornwallis’ army was too sick from Yellow Fever and too fixed by patriot partisans to retrieve them. There are a few records of some of them surviving, but not many. Furthermore, the Patriots held tribunals over the next few days which imposed death sentences on those Loyalists who had deserted patriot militias to join Ferguson, with their former comrades testifying against them. Nine were hanged before a stop was put to the tribunals by their officers. Finally, Ferguson was correct regarding the Patriots’ supply situation – in their haste to attack, the Overmountain Men left their cattle and wagons of provisions behind. After the Battle of King’s Mountain, they simply couldn’t feed themselves, much less the prisoners, as they withdrew away from Cornwallis. Most of the loyalists prisoners escaped as the Overmountain Men’s discipline was lax in guarding them, particularly as they led them in single file lines over the narrow mountain trails. With the pressure of Ferguson’s threat gone, the army of Overmountain Men dispersed and went back to their homes.

The American victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain enflamed Patriot sentiment across the South, possibly exacerbated by the escaped prisoners and their tales of the battle and aftermath, and emboldened patriots partisans and their attacks on British and loyalist outposts and convoys. The dispersed patriot militias and partisans returned to their respective areas, and made British and loyalists operations difficult, if not impossible. The commanders of loyalist strongholds at Ninety-Six in Georgia, and Cheraw and Georgetown in South Carolina reported being “strangled” by patriot partisans and were in danger of falling. This was exactly what Cornwallis personally was seeing in Charlotte and North Carolina, where once vocal Loyalists were now stunningly silent.

Though there was only a single British officer at Kings Mountain, Major Patrick Ferguson, his loss at King’s Mountain changed the nature of the American Revolution in the South. The chance of a loyalist uprising in support of the Crown, as envisioned by Henry Clinton the year before, was gone forever. On 14 October 1780, Cornwallis accepted the inevitable and withdrew from Charlotte and back into South Carolina to Winnsboro. His invasion of North Carolina would have to wait until after the New Year, and the remnants of the Continental Army at Hillsboro were given a reprieve.

On 15 October, 1780, Major General Nathaniel Greene, Washington’s most competent subordinate, was appointed by the Continental Congress, on Washington’s recommendation, as the new Commander of the Southern Department to replace Gates. As Greene traveled south, the British and Loyalists were embroiled in a vicious guerilla war in Georgia and the Carolinas from which Cornwallis could find no escape. Greene, and a coterie of trusted subordinates such as Daniel Morgan and Thaddeus Kosciuszko, arrived at Hillsboro to take command on 3 December. Nathaniel Greene was Horatio Gates’ opposite in almost every way. That he had any army at all to fight with could be directly attributed to the American victory at King’s Mountain.

British Commander in Chief Sir Henry Clinton later said of the battle, “The first link in a chain of evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.”

The Battle of Black Mingo

Colonel Francis Marion’s victory at Blue Savannah put a mark on him and his men’s heads. Marion and his band of partisans withdrew into the White Marsh on the border with North and South Carolina. Loyalist militia, which should have been marching west to join Ferguson, put to the torch patriot houses and settlements in eastern South Carolina, and established a string of outposts to protect the British lines of communication from Marion as Cornwallis invaded North Carolina. At the end of September 1780, Marion, with just sixty men remaining, emerged from the White Marsh to gather more patriot partisans, get revenge for the loyalists’ depredations, and harass the new loyalist outposts.

On 28 September, Marion received word that Col John Ball, his relative, had about fifty loyalist militia encamped at Patrick Dollard’s respectable Red House Tavern at Shepherd’s Ferry on the west bank of Black Mingo Creek. Though they had ridden hard through treacherous cypress swamps for the past 48 hours, Ball’s small exposed encampment was a perfect target for his diminished force. If he hurried, he could catch the loyalists drinking that night in the tavern.

Around midnight on the 29th, Marion’s men crossed Black Mingo Creek at Willtown Bridge about a mile north of Red House Tavern. Unfortunately, an alert sentry heard the horses’ hooves pounding on the bridge’s wooden planks, and fired a warning shot. Ball’s men, enjoying a tankard of ale packed in the tavern’s common room, spilled out into an adjacent field and prepared to meet Marion’s assault.

Surprise lost, Marion, in desperation, decided to attack anyway. He expected Ball to defend from the tavern, and divided his men up into three groups to surround the building. The loyalists, who could hear Marion’s men dismounting in the distance, waited patiently in the darkness, steadied by Ball’s leadership. As the center group approached the tavern, the fire from the loyalists’ initial volley lit up the night from less than thirty yards away and laid low several of Marion’s men and officers. The Americans fell back into the trees and nearly broke, but Marion and Major John James rallied the wavering partisans. Using the trees as cover, the center group advanced and fired on the loyalists exposed in the field. With the loyalists transfixed by the center group, the right group advanced along the creek bank and engaged Ball’s men from the flank. Taking fire from two directions and unable to adequately respond to either, it was now the loyalists’ turn to waver. When Marion’s left group skirted around the tavern and appeared behind the loyalists, they broke and fled into the morass of the Black Mingo Swamp.

Marion captured all of the loyalists’ supplies, including most of their guns, powder, baggage, and horses, including Ball’s own mount. The spirited sorrel gelding was a magnificent animal and claimed by Marion himself. Marion cheekily named him “Old Ball” and rode him for the rest of the war. More importantly, though less than 120 men were involved in the Battle of Black Mingo and it was over in less than 15 minutes, the battle cemented Marion’s aggressive, but tolerant, reputation in South Carolina. Five of the loyalist captives, including an officer, joined Marion’s band and Marion graciously accepted their services without reservation. Marion’s magnanimity was in stark contrast to the actions of the British and loyalists, who had recently torched every property owned by patriots or not sufficiently active loyalists on a 15 miles wide by 70 mile swath along the Black River.

Marion wanted to continue on and attack the next nearby loyalist encampment at Black River Church, but it was larger, nearly a hundred loyalists, and the men balked. They had heard stories of what happened to their homes, so Marion released all who wanted to see to their families and hopefully bring in the harvest. With just seventeen men, Marion withdrew to Snow Island just below the confluence of the Lynches and Great Pee Dee Rivers. Hidden, hard to get to, and naturally defensible, over the next few months Marion turned Snow Island into a supply depot, recruiting station, and sanctuary from which he would strike the British and loyalists anywhere in Eastern South Carolina.

The dispersal of his men after the Battle of Black Mingo had the unexpected side effect of further spreading Marion’s reputation far and wide. Patriot recruits sought him out and loyalists turned coat on Marion’s generous and fair reputation towards former loyalists. Those loyalist recruits who didn’t join the American cause stayed local to protect their homes and settlements. Once his men returned, no British supply convoy from Charleston was safe and few got through to Cornwallis. After the Battle of Black Mingo, the British temporarily abandoned the construction of a string of fortifications across Eastern South Carolina, which subsequently broke Cornwallis’ lines of communication back to the coast.

Despite the outsized effects of his victory at Black Mingo, Marion understood how close he came to being the one caught in a crossfire in the dark outside Red House Tavern. For the rest of the war, whenever Marion approached a British or loyalist force he planned to surprise, he never crossed a bridge without first placing blankets over the planks.

The Battle of Kircholm

In 1599, Charles IX Vasa of Sweden replaced his uncle the elected Polish-Lithuanian King Sigismund III on the Swedish throne in a civil war among the House of Vasa thus ending the short lived Polish-Lithuanian-Swedish Personal Union. Though the Polish and Lithuanian nobility had no desire to make good Sigismund claim to the Swedish throne, they did covet Swedish lands in Livonia and Estonia if only for increased access to ports on the Baltic Sea. To keep the Commonwealth occupied so it did not interfere with Imperial Russia consolidating power at the height of the Russian Time of Troubles, Tsar Boris Godunov financed the Swedes fighting against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian gold allowed the much smaller, but highly centralized Swedish monarchy to field larger armies than the massive Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth’s wartime finances relied on the generosity of the nobles unless the Polish Sejm (parliament), voted unanimously (the infamous Liberum Veto) for a new tax, which almost never happened. After initial success in the Polish-Swedish War of 1600, funds ran out and the Polish commander Jan Zamoyski fell ill, leading to his second, the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, to take command. But Zamoyski’s departure meant that the war in the eyes of the Sejm became a local matter. Chodkiewicz fought on paying for his army out of his own personal fortune.

Flush with Russian gold, Charles IX of Sweden invaded Estonia and Livonia in 1605 and erased the previous half-decade of Zamyski’s gains. That summer, Charles laid siege to Riga, the southernmost and largest port in Swedish Livonia on the Baltic Sea. Chodkiewicz gathered his army, including a contingent from the Duchy of Courland, and advanced to relieve Riga. Charles turned to meet the threat and the two armies met outside the village of Kircholm on the Dvina River (in Latvia today) on 27 September 1605.

Charles’ 11,000 strong army greatly outnumbered Chodkiewicz’ 3,600 men, and had nearly double the cannon, 11 to 6. The Swedish army deployed on the slopes of a steep hill in a checkerboard formation of alternating lines of offset infantry squares and cavalry blocks. This formation allowed the pistol and carbine armed Swedish reiters the space for a caracole, where one line of reiters gallops forward, fires, withdraws, then is replaced by the next line and so on, while allowing support from the infantry to the flanks. The formation also allowed the space for the cavalry lines to move to cover the army’s flanks from light cavalry attack, an almost inevitable Lithuanian tactic. Chodkiewicz cavalry heavy army deployed in the “Old Polish Order” with a significantly reinforced left flank. Most of Chodkiewicz’ cavalry were the famed Polish Winged Husaria, whose charges decided battles.

Chodkiewicz could not attack such a strong position so he feigned a retreat and the impetuous Charles advanced to give chase. Moving downhill, the first line of infantry and the second line of cavalry moved out of support from their brethren behind them. Moreover, the unwieldy infantry blocks and squares became disorganized in the march to the bottom of the slope. Seizing the advantage, Chodkiewicz small army turned and attacked.

The Courland arquebusiers and reiters, and the Polish haiduks, tough land owning infantry armed however they came, usually with poleaxes and arquibuses, in the center fixed the first line of Swedish infantry. The husaria of the center and right charged the Swedish reiters in the second line whose caracole formations simply didn’t provide the mass necessary to stop the densely packed, lance tipped mailed fist of a Husaria charge. The defeated second line of cavalry retreated through the Swedish third line of infantry causing chaos, which was exploited by Chodkiewicz’ main assault: the charge of nearly 1000 Polish and Lithuanian Husaria massed on the Polish left.

The charge of the Polish left under the command of Tomasz Dąbrowa galloped through the right flank of the fixed or defeated first two Swedish lines. Their charge struck through the confusion of the Swedish infantry in the third line, and crashed into the reiters of the fourth line, overrunning the Swedish cannon in the process. The devastating charge left the destruction of the Swedish army in its wake. If the routing infantry and their cavalry brothers passing through them weren’t enough to convince the fourth line to take flight, the fluttering pennants, soaring wings, and phalanx of lowered lance tips charging forward at full tilt certainly did. The fourth line broke immediately. Charles attempted to salvage the situation with his cavalry reserve, but they were met head on by Chodkiewicz’ husaria reserve, and routed. The isolated infantry of the fixed Swedish first line were subsequently surrounded and massacred.

The greatest damage to the Swedish army was done in the pursuit, and Chodkiewicz’ Husaria, and the Duke of Courlands reiters savaged the Swedish army all the way back to Riga. The Poles and Lithuanians spared few Swedes or their mercenaries that day. At the cost of one hundred Polish killed and two hundred wounded, Charles lost nearly 8000. The siege of Riga was lifted, and Charles IX Vasa took ship back to Sweden.

The Battle of Kircholm was a triumph of the Husaria and one of the most lop sided victories of the Early Modern Era. Unfortunately the battle wasn’t decisive. Chodkiewicz was nearly bankrupt and could barely afford to maintain his estates, much less his army. The Commonwealth’s curiously libertarian nobility in the Sejm refused to allocate funds for Chodkiewicz to continue the reconquest of Livonia and Estonia. Without assistance from the rest of the Commonwealth, Chodkiewicz could not capitalize on his stunning victory at Kircholm. Nonetheless, Chodkiewicz fought subsequent Swedish incursions to a standstill until a truce was signed in 1610, ending the Polish-Swedish War of 1600.

The Battle of Charlotte

In September 1780, Charlotte was the first stop in North Carolina for patriot families, Catawba Indians, and other refugees fleeing the British and loyalists to the south. The remains of the Continental Army gathered at the town after they were defeated at Camden the month before. Lord Cornwallis decided to invade North Carolina to destroy those remnants and support what he expected to be a large loyalist turnout. In the face of the Cornwallis’ advance, the reformed Continental Army of the Southern Department withdrew from Charlotte to Salisbury, and then Hillsboro. The North Carolina militia under Colonel William Davie remained, with orders to delay Cornwallis as long as possible.

Davie shadowed Cornwallis and made a point to harass and capture prisoners the moment Cornwallis’ army stepped foot in North Carolina on 25 September. It was the first sign that Cornwallis was mistaken about the loyalist presence in this part of the country. The next day Cornwallis ordered the British Legion under Major George Hanger to conduct a reconnaissance of Charlotte.

In 1780, Charlotte was a crossroads town of about twenty houses centered on the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. A chest high wall existed between the pillars of the courthouse, and Davie placed his best men behind it under his adjutant, Captain Joseph Graham. With their horses picketed nearby, Davie had additional companies behind the houses to each side of the courthouse. Hanger’s men nonchalantly galloped toward the town.

Hanger was Banastre Tarleton’s second in command, and with Tarleton sick with Yellow Fever, sought to emulate the aggressive and infamous commander of the British Legion. When Davie’s pickets fired their first shots at the advancing redcoats, Hanger ordered his Legion cavalry to charge. As soon as they got within sixty yards of the courthouse, Graham’s men, hitherto hidden behind the courthouse wall, rose and fired, devastating the cavalry. Hanger withdrew and reformed, and when he saw Graham’s men withdraw from the wall, charged again. This time his charge was broken up by fire on both flanks, from the Patriot militia behind the houses next to the courthouse. By this time, the Legion’s light infantry were working around Davie’s men, and Cornwallis arrived with the 33rd Regiment’s light infantry. Cornwallis, surprised and appalled by Hanger’s decision to charge into such an obvious ambush, especially when the main body further up the road could have taken the town with few casualties, admonished the loyalists, “Legion, remember you have everything to lose, but nothing to gain!”

Not willing to be decisively engaged by the Legion’s light infantry (whom Graham was withdrawing away from when Hanger mistook it for a retreat) and especially not the regular light infantry, Davie ordered his men to mount up and move north. Davie waited just outside of town along Kennedy Creek, and when a British infantry platoon appeared, let loose another devastating volley. The Americans were gone before the British could react. With all of Davie’s men mounted, British and loyalist infantry simply couldn’t bring their superior firepower to bear, a source of constant frustration for Cornwallis, Tarleton, and Hanger. Hanger, sure that the Americans were withdrawing for real this time, attempted to resurrect his reputation in the eyes of Cornwallis. He set off in pursuit with what remained of his cavalry and his light infantry.

Graham, with part of Davie’s command, attempted repeat the Kennedy Creek ambush at Sugar Hill Church, but became fixed by the Legion light infantry in a prolonged 30 minute firefight. As the Americans returned fire, Hanger charged the Americans, and after a brutal melee where no quarter was given, scattered them. Almost all of the American casualties in the Battle of Charlotte occurred at Sugar Hill Church, with Graham badly wounded and left for dead by Hanger. In total, the Americans suffered five dead and six wounded, while the British suffered over fifty casualties, mostly their precious cavalry.

Shot three times, and with saber wounds to his side, neck, and head, which exposed part of his brain, Graham crawled to a nearby creek. He was found and taken to a Patriot leaning farm whose occupants hid him from the British and loyalists, and nursed him back to health. Five months later, Captain Joseph Graham was back in the fight.

Cornwallis was wrong about Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Solidly patriotic, there was no loyalist uprising in this part of North Carolina. After the Battle of Charlotte, the British and loyalists had an outbreak of Yellow Fever, and while they recovered, Davie and his men constantly harassed the British. Cornwallis referred to the area as a “hornet’s nest”, a name the citizens of Charlotte take great pride in. With Patriot partisan activity in South Carolina increasing, and the same occurring in North Carolina, Cornwallis’ lines of communication were not secure enough to continue his advance north. He decided to wait on Major Patrick Ferguson to reinforce him after he dealt with the Overmountain men before continuing on to Hillsboro. Though a small engagement in terms of numbers, Davie’s stand at Charlotte bought the Continental Army at least another few critical weeks to reorganize.

The Action of 9 August 1780

In June 1779, Spain entered the war against Britain on the side of its ally, France and its ally the nascent United States of America. Although logistical aid by the French and Spanish for the American cause were both immense and essential, the French military assistance was plagued with problems compared to the Spanish. Throughout 1779 and 1780, tangible Spanish victories against the British in support of the Americans greatly outnumbered French. Whereas French operations against Newport and Savannah were costly failures, the Spanish quickly defeated the British in West Florida and in the Mississippi valley, greatly assisting the Americans in securing the future Northwest Territory. Furthermore, most supplies destined for the Americans arrived through Spain’s Gulf Coast and Spanish ports in the Caribbean and West Indies became havens for American privateers.

For operations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico against the French and Spanish, a British convoy set sail from Portsmouth in early August 1780 for the West Indies carrying critical naval stores and the 90th Regiment of Foot. The enormous convoy consisted of five East Indiamen, massive merchantmen used by the British East India Company in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, 55 smaller West Indiamen, and escorted by the full might of the British Channel Fleet.

On word from Spanish spies of the convoy’s departure, Spanish Admiral Luis de Córdova sortied from Cadiz with 31 ships of the line and six frigates to intercept. Though not enough to challenge Britain’s Channel Fleet, Córdova bet that the British would not escort the convoy far leaving the Channel unguarded. He was correct. On 2 August, 1780, the Channel Fleet returned and left just one ship of the line, the HMS Ramillies, and two frigates as an escort for the convoy. When the fleet departed, the convoy came under command of Admiral John Moutray on the Ramillies.
Moutray wasn’t expecting any French or Spanish interference, and if there was, he was confident that he could out maneuver any attempt to capture the convoy. Moutray was wrong on both accounts. Córdova intercepted Moutray off of Cape Saint Vincent on the evening of 8 August. Unperturbed, Moutray signaled the convoy to turn, which would have taken the convoy to safety by the next morning.

Unfortunately for Moutray, Córdova got close to the convoy that night, so close in fact that Córdova signaled some of the British merchantmen to follow him. Mistaking Córdova’s lanterns for Moutray’s, the vast majority of the convoy followed and turned away from their escorts and safety. In the early morning hours of 9 August 1780, 55 British merchantmen, including the five giant East Indiamen, were interspersed among the Spanish Fleet. At dawn, Córdova signaled a general chase. Surprise was complete.
After a brief action, the Spanish captured all 55 British ships, with only the ships that followed Moutray, the escorts and eight West Indiamen, escaping. Cordova captured 3100 British sailors, civilians, marines, and soldiers, including the entire 90th Regiment of Foot. He also took £1.5 million in gold, supplies, muskets, cannon, powder, and naval stores (worth about $350 million today), much of which was used by the Continental Army and Navy against the British in North America. The East Indiamen were incorporated into the Spanish Navy. The Action on 9 August 1780 was one of the costliest failures of the British intelligence apparatus in its history. Córdova’s victory bankrupted most British maritime insurance companies, whose premiums were already high due to losses by privateers. The bankruptcies caused an uproar in London’s financial district which soon spread to Parliament. The uproar greatly contributed to the growing movement to end the stalemated war against their former colonies in North America.


On 20 September, 2002, Joss Whedon’s iconic space-western Firefly premiered on TV. Firefly is the story of the eclectic crew of the outdated Firefly class space transport “Serenity” as they take jobs to survive and stay out of the path of the oppressive “Alliance” that rules the star system, all the while staying one step ahead of their pasts. Firefly is creator/writer/director Joss Whedon at his finest, and was the creative pinnacle of his career.

Though set five centuries in the future, Firefly deals with real issues with real people, and you could drop the cast and the writing in any modern time period, and it’d still be relatable. Firefly is Joss Whedon’s love letter to libertarianism. No matter how hard the Alliance or their proxies try to keep the crew down or impose their will by violence or coercion, Mal and his crew always find a way to do the right thing, even if the right thing isn’t exactly legal. The world building is top notch, and unequaled for a low budget TV show, except maybe for the original Star Trek.

Firefly has some of the best characterization and character arcs in the business. The ship Serenity is her own character. Mal, the Serenity’s supremely competent captain keeps the crew focused while always thinking of the big picture. His war buddy Zoe complements Mal in every way without being a cliché sidekick. Zoe’s husband Wash is the ship’s pilot and is essentially the stereotypical warrant officer. Cheery Kaylee is the stupid hot ship’s mechanic. The mercenary Jayne is the ship’s muscle and says what everybody is thinking, or at least what needs to be said. The crew is rounded out by one-time passengers: the preacher Shepherd Book, the high society companion Inara, and the stuck up doctor, Simon, and his brilliant and powerful but insane little sister, River.

Unfortunately, Firefly only lasted one season because Fox aired the episodes out of order, and switched time slots three times. Viewers tuned out not knowing the context of the exceptionally deep episodes, or even when the show was being aired. Fan demand brought the crew back together for the full length movie Serenity, which tied up many of the plot lines. However, if you watch the Firefly episodes in order followed by Serenity, there are few better shows in television, and certainly no better Science Fiction shows.

Witold Pilecki

The German and Soviet occupation of Poland in the summer of 1940 was a brutal affair, and thousands joined the growing resistance. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of political prisoners were rounded up, some for the simple offense of not seeing a German walk past and bowing quickly enough. Most, if not outright killed, were sent to a growing series of concentration camps that sprung up across the country. The largest and fastest growing camp was outside of the Polish town of Oswiecim.

On 19 September, 1940, resistance member and former cavalry troop commander, Witold Pilecki volunteered to be captured and get sent to the camp where he would conduct a detailed reconnaissance, and set up a resistance movement inside if possible. The next day he was picked up in a random sweep and nearly beaten to death. A few days later he was transferred to the camp outside of Oswiecim, more commonly known to the Germans as Auschwitz.

Pilecki stayed in Auschwitz for the next three years and sent weekly reports to the Polish Underground which eventually made their way to British Intelligence. Additionally, he led and coordinated the resistance movements inside the camp, synchronized escapes, planned a camp uprising, and set up services and amenities for the prisoners including a news service and a secret hospital (the Germans killed sick prisoners). But it was his documentation of the Holocaust that would be the most benefit to Mankind.
Pilecki documented the abuses of the guards, the conditions of the prisoners, and later the daily arrival of Jews and other “undesirables”. His organization meticulously detailed the extermination of hundreds of thousands of people by the National Socialists. His reports were the first evidence of genocide on an industrial scale to reach the outside world. He escaped the prison in 1943, after the guards made known that the Polish prisoner camp “staff” (Pilecki was a baker) was going to be liquidated and replaced with new arrivals.

Pilecki fought in the Home Army against the Germans for the rest of the war. After the German surrender, the Soviets rounded up any Poles with connections to the British backed Polish Government-in-Exile. Witold Pilecki, a man who survived the absolute worst the National Socialists could devise, was arrested, given a show trial, and executed by Soviet socialists for “Crimes against the People.”

The night before he was executed, he told his wife, “”I cannot live. They killed me because Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was just a trifle compared with them (the Soviets).”