The Battle of Allia

In 390 (or 387) BCE, Rome was just another city state vying for dominance on the Italian peninsula with the Etruscans, Samnites, Latins, Greeks, and Gauls, the Roman name for Celts. In July, a large Gallic warband rapidly descended on the near defenseless city of Rome. Previously, whenever the Gauls struck they looted on their way and this gave time to raise the legions, which at this time were only used for specific campaigns then disbanded. (Also, the Severian Wall which ringed Rome at its height wouldn’t be built for another hundred years.) However this time, the Gauls did not loot and drove straight to the city. The Romans couldn’t raise and train the legions, but every citizen was part of the militia, and expected to arm and armour themselves.

On 18 July, 390 BCE, 25,000 Roman citizens lined up against 15,000 Gauls at Allia outside of Rome. In this period of Roman history, the Romans were armed and organized in the Greek hoplite style (a phalanx of spears and shields) with the richest citizens (and thus best equipped) in the center, and the poorer and less well equipped to the flanks. Phalanxes are devastatingly powerful to the front but are not very maneuverable, and furthermore, vulnerable to the side. The Gauls ignored the center and chose to attack the less well equipped phalanxes on the flanks. The fast moving sword and shield equipped Gauls quickly defeated both sides before the center could react. This broke the Roman army. What was left of it retreated to the nearby walled town of Veii, recently captured from the Etruscans, while the Gauls sacked Rome for a week or so. A small Roman army that was on campaign against the Latins to the south eventually forced the Gauls, heavily laden with slaves and loot and unwilling to fight another battle, back north.

The Battle of Allia forced a decision upon the Romans: should they move their capital to Veii, with its walls, and adopt a generally defensive posture in central Italy? Or should they reform their army and go on the offensive to protect their city? Livy suggests that the Veii option was the favorite, and had they taken it there would have been no Roman conquests as we know them.

Instead, the Romans reformed their army, and made the first steps toward the legionary system we are familiar with today. First, they professionalized part of their army and maintained it throughout the year. Also, the remaining hoplite armed legionnaires formed the reserve, which allowed them time to maneuver into position to use their stabbing spears to great effect. These were the usually the richest and oldest citizens and eventually became the “triarii”. The rest of the army over time adopted the Gallic sword and shield to fight with, increasing their maneuverability, and eventually used their spears to throw. Inevitably, the younger and keener citizens moved to the front and the older and wiser ones to the rear, but this wasn’t formalized into the “hastatii” and “princips” until the First Samnite War thirty years later. The three lines of the hastatii, princips, and triarii formed the basis of the manipular legions with which the Roman Republic conquered most of the Mediterranean basin. The manipular legion was the standard Roman formation until the Marian Reforms 300 years later.

Rome wasn’t sacked again for another 800 years (until 410 CE by the Visigoths under Alaric).

The Srebrenica Genocide

After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, ethnic wars broke out between Roman Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Christian Serbia, and Bosnian Muslims over the status of the various minorities in each country. State control of the media, which pitted the ethnicities against each other, propagated extremism on all sides, par for the course for identity politics. This was particularly true in the largest of the Yugoslav rump states, Serbia. Serbian president Slobadan Milosevic waged a vicious propaganda campaign via Serbian TV and radio that led directly to ethnic violence against Croats and Bosnians across the former Yugoslavia.

In an area wracked by ethnically fueled rage, the most vicious fighting was during the Bosnian War. In addition to the bitter fighting, militias waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population that frequently involved mass executions, forced migration, and systematic mass rape. In April 1993, the UN “Protection Force” (UNPROFOR) declared “safe zones” across Bosnia, one of which was the town of Srebrenica outside of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

The Srebrenica safe zone was garrisoned a 400 strong battalion of Dutch peacekeepers but they only had authority to use force in self-defense, and not to protect civilians. Moreover, they were woefully under equipped, and had no heavy weapons and limited ammunition. Convoys destined fro Srebrenica were stopped and hijacked by Serb militias. Fewer and fewer UN convoys made it to Srebrencia for both the Dutch peacekeepers and the predominantly Bosniak population of the city. (“Bosniak” refers specifically to Bosnian Muslims, as opposed to the catch-all term “Bosnian” who is someone who lives in Bosnia.)

On 10 July 1995, Gen. Radko Mladic’s Serbian paramilitaries and interior police captured the town after a vicious battle with the Bosnian militia, as the Dutch peacekeepers looked on. The next day, the victorious Serbs rounded up 2,000 Bosniak boys and men and executed them. Any Bosniaks who sought refuge in the “Dutchbat” (Dutch battalion) compound were expelled and left to the non-existent mercy of the Bosnian Serbs. Over the next week they detained and killed another 6,000 Bosniaks as they fled the city. 25-30,000 Bosniak women and children were forcibly relocated by the Serbs from around Srebrenica. Thousands were raped in the process.

The Srebrenica Massacre, as it was known then, was the first event over the summer of 1995 that finally convinced US President Bill Clinton, an ardent supporter of the UN Mission, of the impotence of UNPROFOR, and UN missions in general. With little expanded military recourses at the UN to stop the fighting, Clinton turned to NATO to take action. In September 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force which targeted Serbian forces and compelled them to the negotiating table. The Dayton Peace Accords were signed in December which stopped the majority of the large scale fighting. IFOR, the NATO Implementation Forcecrossed into Bosnia that Christmas, and SFOR, the NATO Stabilization Force, headed to Bosnia later in 1996.

Live Aid

In 1974, the Soviet backed Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, more commonly known as “The Derg”, overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist Communist state on the Horn of Africa. The coup and subsequent heavy handed socialist policies expanded the Ethiopian Civil War from just Eritean separatists to include groups of separatists from across the country, including Tigrayan, Amhara and Oromo peoples, among many others. In 1983, the constant warfare, Ethiopian Red Terror (exactly what it sounds like), land redistribution, forced migration, corruption, deliberate starvation, and a drought led to a widespread famine across Ethiopia. Between 1983 and 1985, the famine and human rights abuses killed 1.2 million Ethiopians, nearly 500,000 refugees fled the country, and 2.5 million people were internally displaced.

In November 1984, a BBC news documentary on the Ethiopian famine shocked the world. The international community leapt to respond, but none so much as the British and American music industries. Irish musician Robert Geldof formed the super group “Band-Aid” who raised funds for the victims. Band-Aid’s single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised nearly $10 million, despite being culturally inappropriate for the predominantly Christian country of Ethiopia. In March 1985, American super group “USA for Africa” released “We Are the World” raising further funds for Ethiopia.

The funds by the charity singles were still well below what international organizations thought was needed to combat the famine. Along with Geldof, Scottish musician Midge Ure organized a day of worldwide benefit concerts, billed a “global jukebox”, that would raise awareness and funds for Ethiopia. On 13 July 1985 simultaneous concerts were held in Austria, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, West Germany, and Yugoslavia. The two largest benefit concerts, dubbed “Live Aid”, were simultaneous showings at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK stadium in Philadelphia on 13 July 1985.

Both concerts were seen at each stadium on huge screens via near real time satellite transmission. According to the organizers, Live Aid showed that “humanitarian concern is now at the center of foreign policy”, and a new era of humanitarian cooperation would replace the Cold War. The line ups for both Live Aid concerts consisted of the “Who’s who” of Rock and Roll Aristocracy. At Wembley stadium, U2, David Bowie, Queen, the Who, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, George Michael, and Dire Straits headlined. In America, the JFK Live Aid concert was dubbed, “This Generation’s Woodstock”. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, the Beach Boys, Phil Collins, Brian Adams, Judas Priest, Simple Minds, Eric Clapton, and Duran Duran, among others, played twenty minutes sets. The JFK Live Aid concert even included the first on stage performance by Led Zeppelin since the death of their drummer, John Bonham in 1980 (Phil Collins drummed in his stead at the Live Aid concert). 160,000 people attended the concerts live. The combined Live Aid televised broadcast had an estimated 1.9 billion (with a “b”) viewers. 40% of the world’s population tuned in.

The Live Aid concerts are mostly remembered today for their technical difficulties, both on and off stage. Led Zeppelin’s songs sounded terrible. The group hadn’t rehearsed, Robert Plant sounded like shit, Jimmy Page’s guitar was not tuned, and Phil Collins didn’t know the songs. Tina Turner had wardrobe malfunction which almost got the plug pulled on the whole thing by the FCC. Bryan Adams couldn’t be heard in London due to a buzzing sound. And Paul McCartney’s version of Let It Be was silent for the first two minutes. Donations to Live Aid for the first seven hours amounted to a paltry $1.7 million, considering the star power assembled in support. The numbers went up considerably after Geldof got on the BBC radio and shouted, “Give us your focking money!.” Despite the problems, Live Aid raised at least $127,000,000 for the victims of the Ethiopian famine.

That $127,000,000 brought nothing but greater levels of death and destruction to Ethiopia.

The victims of the Ethiopian famine saw little if any of that money, and even the money raised previously by the charity singles, “Do they Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World”. Geldof ignored warnings from the NGO (non governmental organization) Doctors Without Borders, that the aid money was being funneled by the Ethiopian government for nefarious purposes. Geldof worked with Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam personally, and most of the Live Aid money went to fund arms and military equipment purchases from the Soviet Union. Geldof was instrumental in getting Doctors Without Borders expelled from Ethiopia, removing medical care for countless Ethiopians. As a response, future funds from sales of the Live Aid recordings went to several NGOs instead of the Ethiopian government. The NGOs turned out to be front organizations for the various rebel movements in the country. After the allegations of Live Aid mismanagement and corruption proved true, many artists admitted they were shamed and browbeaten by Geldoff to perform at the charity concerts.

Live Aid made a lot of rich people feel good about themselves, but Live Aid did little if anything good for the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia would have been much better off without Live Aid. Live Aid can accurately be described as having funded all sides of the Ethiopian Civil War. Live Aid funds directly resulted in escalations to the Ethiopian Civil War, and its donations tied directly to human rights abuses and war crimes. The Live Aid funded Ethiopian Civil War spilled over into neighboring Somalia and further destabilized that country, resulting in United Nations’ intervention in 1992. The Ethiopian Civil War continued until 1991 when Soviet backing for the Derg regime and its successor, The People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, ended. That year, Eritea won its independence, and Ethiopia transitioned to a US backed ethnic federation.

There is no question about the damage Live Aid’s funds did to the people and stability of the Horn of Africa. The only question is whether the Live Aid organizers were deliberately funding the Derg regime, or were willfully ignorant to the realities of the Ethiopian Civil War.

In either case, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Cool concerts though, I guess.

The Battle of Grunwald: The Last and Largest Medieval Battle

In early 15th century Eastern Europe, the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, better known as the Teutonic Knights, relentlessly expanded under the guise of “crusade” along the Baltic coast into the Christian Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The effort reached a high water mark on the field between the towns of Grunwald and Tannenburg on 15 July 1410. 39,000 Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs, Russians, Ruthenians, Bohemians, Tatars, and Wallachians faced 27,000 Teutonic Knights, their retainers, mercenaries, and crusading knights from across Europe, including England, France, and the German and Italian states. Although the Polish-Lithuanian troops were more numerous, only the knights of Poland and a few other small contingents were of the same standard of discipline, training, and armor as the Teutonic Knights.

The Knights formed for battle in the morning, but were forced to stand in the hot sun all day because King Wladyslaw Jagiello, the commander of the Allied army, had his men wait in the trees as he heard three masses in spiritual preparation for the battle. The battle finally began in the afternoon when both sides were on the field. The weary and parched Teutonic Knights under Grand Commissar Kuno Von Lichtenstein, on the Knights’ left, charged the fresh Lithuanian and Tatar light cavalry under Lithuanian Grand Duke Witold on the Polish right… and promptly routed them. The Knights assumed they won the battle and began pursuit. The heavy warhorses of the Knights, however, couldn’t catch the lighter but faster horses. Most of the pursuing knights never returned and thus missed the real fighting. They couldn’t help defeat the much more heavily armed Poles. Despite the collapse of the Polish and Lithuanian right, no breakthrough was had: three companies from Smolensk fought to the death and heroically prevented the remaining Knights from getting behind the Polish lines.

The main battle was between the Teutonic right under Grand Master Ulrich Von Junginenen (pictured above in Jan Matejko’s painting, in the large white cape) and the Polish left wing under King Wladyslaw Jagiello (in the painting, the king is in the silver armor on the hill on the right) and his tactical commander Zyndram of Maszkowice (the bearded knight next to Ulrich in the picture who lead from the front in the Western tradition).

Unlike the Grand Master, who charged with his knights, the King directed the battle from a hilltop in the eastern tradition. After the initial thundering clash by both sides in which they crashed into each other at full speed, the battle stalemated into a churning meat grinding mass, which favored the more heavily armored and trained Teutonic Knights. The melee included one of the most famous knights of the age: Jan Zizka, a Czech mercenary who would become famous as a battle lord during the Hussite rebellion of 1414 (in the scale armor above the Royal Banner about to kill a German knight).

The Battle of Grunwald was not only one of the largest of the Middle Ages, it was also the last of the true knightly battles. It was the last battle where might made right. Strength of arm, whether wielding sword, axe, spear, hammer, or mailed fist, won the day — Not technology, but intestinal fortitude. Archers? Mere splotches on the ground where they were trampled underfoot. Cannon? Noisemakers abandoned after the merest hint of a mounted warrior. Amazingly brilliant tactics? Defeat is more crushing if you look your foe in the eye and rip out his soul. For hours, the battle was a swirling melee. As the shadows became long in the early evening, the Teutonic Knights managed to bring down the Royal Banner of Poland by knocking over Marcin of Wrocimowice (holding the banner in the picture above) which was the traditional medieval sign of victory. But for the Allies, this was a fight for national survival, and chivalric ritual would not interfere with military efficacy, so they fought on.

Sensing the Knights were finally committed, King Wladyslaw launched his coup de d’eclat: a three pronged attack that decided the battle. First, he sent most of personal bodyguard charging into the mass to fix the Knights. This charge was made by the crème of Polish knighthood, fresh and eager for battle after watching their comrades fight for hours. This august host included the greatest knight of the early 15th century – the folk hero Zawisza Czarny — Zawisza the Black Zawisza was a knight so renowned for his honor, loyalty, and reliability, 600 years later the Polish Boy Scouts’ motto is still “Rely on him as on Zawisza”. (He is pictured just above Jan Zizka with black hair and black armor couching a lance).

Once the Knights were fixed by the new attack, the King unleashed a hammer blow into the flank of the Teutonic host: 3000 unarmored Polish peasants armed with scythes, axes, and clubs, whom hid in the woods for most of the battle. They were fiercely anti-German and had suffered the worst under the decades of Teutonic raids and “conversion”. The peasants gave no quarter, and although a single knight could fight off six or seven peasants, they couldn’t do the same for ten or twelve.

As devastating as the charges by Wladyslaw’s personal guard and the mass of furious peasants were, the real killing blow came most decisively from Duke Witold who returned to the battle in spectacular fashion after rallying most of the Lithuanians from the routed right wing (Witold is featured prominently above clad in red holding the sword aloft).

The painting “The Battle of Grunwald” by Jan Matejko depicts the moment of the three charges that broke the Teutonic Knights. It more specifically depicts the death of Grand Master Ulrich to a Polish peasant’s spear (pictured next to Ulrich). According to legend, Ulrich’s last words were, “Damn these flies!” The 10,000 manacles the Teutonic Knights brought to use on the Allies that night were used on themselves instead. The Teutonic Knights never recovered from the defeat and the Union of Poland and Lithuania became the super power of Eastern Europe for the next 300 years.

The Siege of the International Legations

In early 1900, the Chinese Boxer Movement, an indigenous, anti-Christian, anti-foreign, semi-mystical peasant crusade, erupted into open “rebellion” against Christians and missionaries, and the Victorian era Great Powers that were slowly carving up China. 3500 Chinese Christians and foreigners sought refuge in the International Legations (embassy) Quarter outside the Chinese Imperial City in Peking (Beijing).

In late May 1900, 450 soldiers, sailors, and marines of eight countries: the US, Great Britain (Including Indians), Germany, France, Austria, Russia, Italy, and Japan disembarked from the ships off the coast of Tiensten and secured the Legation Quarter. They arrived just before 40,000 Boxers including Imperial Chinese troops after the Qing Empress gave her blessing. Most of the foreign civilians took refuge in the British Legation because it was the most defensible and British Minister Claude MacDonald took charge of the defense of the entire Quarter. 150 civilians volunteered to fight. The Austrians and Italians abandoned their exposed embassies, and withdrew inside, the Austrians with the French and Italians to the Japanese embassy. The small force, with considerable Help from the Chinese Christians, constructed barricades and had protection on two sides by the large walls of the Imperial city. However, they were low on ammunition. Only the contingent of US Marines was sufficiently equipped. Furthermore, they had only three machine guns and two small artillery pieces, one of which, “Betsy”, the Americans constructed from various Chinese pieces they found and patched together.

On 20 June, 1900, the Boxers attacked, mostly armed with spears, swords and the belief that they couldn’t be harmed by bullets. The international defenders continually fought them off, but after ten days of constant hand to hand combat, casualties became a serious issue. On 3 July, the Boxers pushed the Germans off the Tartar Wall, and American Marines fell back with them to organize a counter attack. Pvt Dan Daly volunteered to hold a critical chokepoint at the top of the stairs on the wall to buy time. He fought all night as Minister MacDonald and Marine Captain John Twiggs Meyers organized a counterattack. The next morning they found Pvt Daly calmly smoking a cigarette at his post — his machine gun and rifle out of ammunition, and 200 dead Chinese to his front, including 18 by bayonet. For remaining at his post, Pvt Dan Daly was awarded the first of his two Medals of Honor.

The siege came to a crescendo on 13 July 1900, when the Boxers exploded a mine underneath the French Legation and promptly over ran it. They were only stopped from breaking inside the defense by furious counterattacks by the remaining French and Austrian soldiers, and civilian volunteers. Simultaneously, the Boxers broke through the Fu, held by the Japanese led by the indomitable LtCol Goro Shiba, and only determined counterattacks by the Japanese and British soldiers and civilians (including a group known as “The Fighting Parsons”) prevented the massacre of the Chinese Christians there. Nonetheless, they lost their positions and still had to fall back. Minister MacDonald wrote that 13 July was, “a most harassing day…”

The 13 July attacks were the last chance for the Empress and the Boxers to overrun to Legations Quarter. Though the defenders didn’t know it, a 20,000 strong relief force had landed at Tientsin, and captured the city that day. The full might of the Imperial army and the Boxers were forced to move against the relief column for the rest of the siege. The attacks on the legations slowed considerably as the Boxers concentrated on destroying the relief force. The Boxers were defeated at the Battle of Peking on 20 August and the 55 day siege ended the next day.

The Battle of the Monongahela

Threatened by British economic dominance among the Indians of the Ohio country, the French secured the lines of communication between their two most prosperous colonies in North America, Quebec and Louisiana. In the 1750s, the French expelled British traders, and constructed a string of forts in the Ohio country, connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin. These forts controlled waterways and portage points from Lake Erie south to the Ohio River, and included Fort Presque Isle on the shores of Lake Erie, Fort La Boef, Fort Machault, and most importantly, Fort Duquesne, at the strategic confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which form the headwaters of the Ohio River.

In 1754, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia attempted to force the French out twice, once with diplomacy, and once with force. Both attempts were carried out by a young Virginia militia officer, George Washington. The French ignored the diplomatic attempt, and the second ended in the disastrous Battle of Great Meadows, in which Washington surrendered Fort Necessity. In the winter of 1755, British planners in Whitehall secretly authorized a “madly ambitious” four pronged assault to throw the French out of North America. Their plan did not take into account North American realities of distance, climate, ecology, logistics, nor had any regard for colonial and Indian culture and politics. In their comfortable London offices, they drew lines on maps over terrain that was nearly impossible to traverse with the troops assigned who for the most part didn’t exist. One prong was given to Major-general Edward Braddock and his two understrength Irish regiments, the 44th and 48th, who sailed for Virginia in the spring of 1755. Among the officers of the 44th, was young Lt Charles Lee.

Edward Braddock was a highly experienced and well placed officer of the Coldstream Guards. Though blunt, uncouth and boorish in polite society, he was a “soldiers’ general” and cared deeply for his men, like his idol, The Duke of Marlborough. The 44th and 48th were garrison units in the Irish Establishment, who had last both seen action in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. With the exception of a few officers, the men of neither regiment had been in battle or even on campaign. Due to their garrison duties, they had never drilled at the regimental level, much less together, and rarely at company level. Spread out in small platoon formation across the countryside, the strict rhythm and monotony of garrison duty in Ireland meant that most junior officers knew nothing of life on campaign, and little of the manual of drill beyond what was needed for daily tasks. For the expedition to America, the two regiments were reinforced by stripping other Irish regiments of “their dregs”. Still far below their authorized strength, the two regiments recruited in Virginia to make up the shortfall.

Braddock’s Expedition was to follow Washington’s trail north, capture all of the recent French forts in the Ohio Country, proceed up Lake Erie, capture Fort Niagara, and head east to link up with another prong sent to clear the French from Montreal. To prepare for this wildly fantastical plan, Braddock demanded support from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, and the Carolina’s. After browbeating the governors, assemblies, and the Ohio Company for men and resources at the Alexandria Conference in April, 1755, Braddock’s Expedition grew to an impressive size: 2100 men with siege cannon, field pieces and heavy mortars capable of leveling Fort Duquesne if need be, and all of the support necessary to make the trek across the Appalachian Mountains. 150 wagons were acquired for baggage and supply, mostly at the behest of Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Hundreds of camp followers accompanied the column. Each regiment, regular and colonial alike was allowed 40 women to accompany them, each inspected by Braddock’s surgeon to make sure they were clean.

Braddock was meticulous and exhausting in every aspect of his preparations for the expedition, and even adapted his men’s equipment to the realities of the Appalachian wilderness, such as leaving behind the NCOs’ halberds, the officers’ short pikes and the mens’ hangers (ceremonial short swords), and even had gaiters crafted for his men, to protect them on the march. Braddock took a direct professional interest in nearly every aspect of the expeditions planning and preparation, except Indian affairs.

Braddock didn’t ignore Indian Affairs, he just delegated it to William Johnson, a trader, friend of the Mohawk, and the Crown’s Indian agent in North America who was one of the most knowledgeable Europeans on the continent in the intricacies of frontier diplomacy. Johnson felt confident that he could bring the powerful Iroquois Six Nations, and thus their nominal vassals, the Ohio Indians, to fight for the British. Furthermore, Dinwiddie promised 400 Catawba and Cherokee warriors, but these refused to join the expedition once they found out the British were negotiating an alliance with their sworn blood enemies, the Iroquois. The Ohio Indians, even without direction from the Iroquois, were more than willing to help expel the French. It was their land that the French and Great Lakes Indians were on. George Croghan, a prominent Ohio country trader and sometime Pennsylvania diplomat was the quintessential “go-between” who lived on the frontier among the Ohio Indians, smoothed over any difficulties, and maintained colonial and tribal relations. Croghan sent wampum belts to arrange a meeting between the Ohio Indian chiefs and Braddock. Six chiefs and their entourages arrived, including from the Shawnee, the Delaware chief Shingas, and Mingo Half King Scaroudy. The French had brought their Indian allies to Fort Duquesne from the Great Lakes, and the Ohio Indians were keen to have them removed. The pretentious and arrogant Braddock alienated the chiefs almost immediately. When queried on the only subject the Ohio Indians cared about, whether the British would allow settlers into the Ohio Valley, Braddock replied absolutely and, “No savage shall inherit the land.” All but seven Mingo warriors departed. Scaroudy still clung to the old notion that the Ohio Country was under the complete influence of the Iroquois. When told of Braddock’s response, most of the Shawnee warriors, and many of the Delaware, joined the French.

In late May, 1755, Braddock’s Expedition departed Fort Cumberland led by Scaroudy, his six Mingo warriors, George Croghan and Braddock’s chief of scouts, Lt John Fraser, who had a trading post on the Monongahela about 12 miles from Fort Duquesne. They followed the path that Fraser usually took to his post, the same one Washington followed the previous year. The trail was completely inadequate for Braddock’s column, and the terrain took herculean efforts to conquer. The trail led through 110 miles of nearly uninhabited wilderness, “with steep rocky mountains and impassable morasses.” The column’s logistician and engineer, the indefatigable and irascible Sir John St. Clair spent months before the expedition arrived in America laying the logistical groundwork just to get Braddock to Fort Cumberland. Now he was building a road ahead of the column to accommodate the baggage wagons and the artillery train of six pound cannon and heavy eight inch mortars. Braddock’s Expedition averaged just two miles a day.

Nearly three weeks later, the expedition had travelled just 36 miles. At Little Meadows, the exasperated Braddock formed a “flying column” of about 1400. The flying column would have only five cannon and a few dozen of the lighter and studier wagons. The flying column didn’t have to cut as substantial a road, which made the rough going faster. The “supply column” left behind under the 48th’s commander, Colonel Thomas Dunbar, enlarged the road for the heavier wagons and artillery train. Braddock’s flying column averaged six miles a day, and soon left the supply column far behind.

Just behind the scouts in the flying column was a formation of 200 light infantry and grenadiers under a young Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage. Behind Gage was an independent militia company form New York commanded by Captain Horatio Gates. Gates was tasked with securing St. Clair’s 250 or so pioneers, with six tool laden wagons, who widened the road. The main body followed the pioneers, and consisted of the wagons, artillery, cattle, camp followers, and more workmen, flanked in the trees by two columns of 250 regulars. Braddock and his staff, including a dysentery wracked Washington who volunteered as Braddock’s aide, accompanied the main body. Small parties of flankers watched for French scouts. 100 Virginia rangers, most of whom were at Fort Necessity with Washington, brought up the rear of the column.

On 8 July 1755, the column reached the ford at the junction of Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River. The next morning of 9 July, Braddock crossed the Monongahela and expected to make camp that night about halfway between the ford and Shannopin’s Town, about four miles north of Fort Duquesne on the Allegheny River. There he would cross the Allegheny with half his column and travel down both sides of the river, and invest Fort Duquesne from the north and east, effectively isolating it from any outside assistance.

Across the ford was Fraser’s trading post which was at the limit of the wilderness. The Ohio Indians’ hunting grounds began at the now burnt out ruins of Fraser’s cabin. Unlike the dense terrain Braddock’s Expedition had spent the last month hacking through, the hunting grounds were relatively open and easy to traverse. The Ohio Indians managed their hunting grounds. There was little ground foliage because the Indian hunters burned the undergrowth annually. This improved animal fodder, removed cover for their prey, and allowed the hunters ease of movement. Whereas the column could see no more than twenty meters ahead before, the scouts could see 200 or even three hundred meters in all directions.

Surprisingly, the crossing of the ford was unhindered, though not unobserved. If the French were going to ambush, they would have done it in the wilderness, or at the ford. The British were jubilant, and believed that the worst part of the campaign were over. Most of Braddock’s column fully expected to hear the explosions of the French demolishing the works as they withdrew ahead of the far superior force. Fort Duquesne was just ahead, and the French had failed to respond.

The French didn’t respond to their scouts reports of Braddock’s progress because they were awaiting reinforcements from Quebec, and Braddock’s original progress was slow enough to allow reaction time. The reinforcements arrived in the first week of July, but Braddock’s relatively rapid progress in the last few days took the French commander Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecœur by surprise. He had 1600 French marines, Canadian militia, and Indian warriors. However, Fort Duquesne could only house 200, and he knew his Indian allies would disperse if he allowed the British to begin the siege. Also, Contrecœur’s Indian allies held a conference on 7 July to determine if it was more beneficial to abandon the post against such an intimidating force. The stubbornness of the Potawatomis caused the conference to go another day. Only when Contrecœur opened his stores up to the Indians to take what they wished, did they agree to attack. Thankful for the war chiefs’ renewed pledges, Contrecœur gave half his men to Canadian militia Captain Daniel Liénard de Beaujeu, about seventy marines, 150 militia, and 650 Ottawas, Chippewa, Huron, Shawnee, and Potawatomis warriors, to ambush Braddock. They never got into position.

On the afternoon of 9 July 1755, Beaujeu’s force was spotted cresting the ridge about 200 meters from the advanced guard. Gage formed his men into a line and opened fire, even though the range was more than twice what the Brown Bess musket was normally accurate at. Gage hoped to surprise the French and let them know they were dealing with disciplined professionals. But Beaujeu was also a seasoned professional, experienced in the ways of warfare on the frontier and working with Indian allies.

Beaujeu knew from the morning reports from the scouts that the British crossed the river and the delay had cost the French and Indians the good ambush sites. Instead he conducted a hasty attack after making contact, and planned to do so beforehand. Every one of his officers had years and sometimes decades living among the tribes, and fighting and trading on the frontier. Many dressed and looked so similar to the Indian warriors that they could only be distinguished by their gorgets. He attached one to each of the Indian small war parties that made up the bulk of his force. As Beujeau fixed Braddock’s vanguard, his officers would advise the small bands to envelop Braddock’s mile long column, destroy the flank guards, and prevent Braddock from creating a cohesive defense. The wagons at the rear was all the incentive the warriors needed to continue moving down the column.

Gage’s plan inadvertently worked on the Canadian militia, and Beajeu’s attack was seemingly aborted before it could get started. One of the first shots Gage’s men fired struck Beaujeu and killed him instantly. Seeing their leader go down, and unwilling to get closer and weather the fire, particularly from the two cannons, the Canadian militia and many Indians broke and ran back to Fort Duquesne to report the battle lost.

The death of their commander did not dissuade the French and Indians. Beaujeu’s officers knew his intent and they had discussed the battle plan ahead of time. His officers and cadets rallied many of the fleeing Indians, while those who did not flee continued enveloping the column. Beaujeu’s second, Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas and French Canadian Ottawa war chief Charles de Langlade rallied the marines and remaining militia and followed the Indian warriors into the attack. The open spaces of the Indian hunting ground were punctuated by stout old growth trees, fallen timbers, and tall shrubberies, essentially natural breastworks. The terrain was perfect for the Indians’ bounding advances. Instead of hunting game, they hunted soldiers in bright red coats clustered in small groups. In less than ten minutes, nearly all of Gage’s officers were killed or incapacitated. And dozens of his men were wounded on the ground, many more than were standing. The war whoops, and the Indians seen behind them unnerved those who remained. Gage ordered a retreat toward the main body before he was cut off and destroyed.

Gage’s men slammed into Gates’ who had hurried forward when they heard shots fired. Crude platoons formed and blazed away at the brush, while the Indians sniped the officers, or rushed in while the British were reloading. The Indians continued to envelop the British and colonials. The flank guards were isolated and destroyed. The British regulars had no idea how to fight in the wilderness, and their bayonets unwieldy against the tomahawk and war club. Soon the main body devolved into individual clusters of regulars doing the only thing they knew how to do in tough situations: reload and fire.

The pioneers and militia however did know how to fight on the frontier. Gates’ New Yorkers immediately took to the trees. They hid in the trees and brush and fought the Indians in the same way. Unfortunately, many British regulars mistook the colonials fighting in the trees for Canadian militia and fired on them. Many flank guards fell back to the column avoid fire from the main body. French marines pushed down the road and forced the main body back into the wagon train. Many of the wagon drivers joined in, such as Daniel Morgan, but many fled, such as Morgan’s cousin, Daniel Boone. The three cannon in the train kept the Indians at bay for most of the battle: until there was no more crew to reload.

Braddock rode forward and found most of his officers dead or wounded. He ordered the regulars near the baggage to reinforce the main body, but when they arrived, all they did was add to the confusion. For the next three hours, Braddock single handedly kept the main body in the fight, relying on British discipline and firepower to defeat the French and Indian attacks. Braddock had three horses shot out from under him. Nevertheless, he reformed ranks, while the British regulars loaded and fired like clockwork, defiantly taking the punishment from unknown sources. In the confusion, several groups of regulars fired upon each other. Braddock ordered several counter attacks to retrieve the cannon in the advanced guard and some high ground further up the slope to the right. Each attack was defeated by murderously accurate Indian fire as the Indians isolated then overran the attackers.

With the death of most of the British regular officers, the American provincials took to the trees to fight, the most effective being the Virginia rangers, and the South Carolina and New York independent companies. The Virginia rangers also attempted to take the high ground on the right, but were massacred when the main body on the road mistook them for Indians and put several volleys into them from behind.

Shrouded in smoke, the remnants of the column continued firing blindly, becoming even more unnerved by the Indian war cries and the prospect of a warrior appearing out of the smoke with a tomahawk and scalping knife. At Washington’s constant urging, Braddock finally saw the utility of fighting in the trees. Washington continually pointed out that Braddock’s most effective units were not the regulars in the open, but the provincials he readily dismissed fighting in the trees. But by then it was too late, there weren’t enough officers to effect the change, and the regulars were bunched together in the open seeking safety in numbers, oblivious to hell around them. Many were terrified, and few were still shooting since many of their muskets were fowled, and they were desperately attempting to clear them.

Shortly thereafter, Braddock was shot in the arm, possibly by his own men, whose ball penetrated into his lungs. When Braddock fell from his horse, the defense collapsed with him. The French marines pushed the assault. By ones and twos, and then by whole groups the expedition fell back to the ford over the Monongahela. No one wanted to be the last one on this side of the ford. Braddock’s staff carried him across the river. A silence descended on the battlefield, punctuated only by the screams and moans of the wounded. The French and Indians were reorganizing for the final attack. As one, the Indians resumed their war cries. At the ford, the victorious war whoops of the Indians broke what remained of British cohesion, as the men assumed they were going to be massacred.

Though he had no official position in the expedition Washington took command at the ford and formed a rear guard. After a brief fight the Indians quit the pursuit. There was no reason to continue the fight. Why get killed so late in the battle when back up the hill there were captives to round up, wounded and dead to scalp, and bodies to mutilate and loot? Braddock’s Expedition had 467 killed and another 450 wounded. The several dozen men who were captured were taken back to Fort Duquesne where they were ritually tortured and burned at the stake. The cattle provided the meat for the victory feast. Of the 50 or so female camp followers who accompanied the flying column as maids and cook, only four returned. The rest taken as slaves and assimilated into the various tribes.

At the previous camp Gage, as the senior surviving regular took command and reorganized the defenders. He sent Washington, who was sick with dysentery and had just fought a battle, to ride the sixty miles back to Dunbar, and return with all of the remaining troops. Washington did so, and eventually the reorganized column withdrew back to Dunbar. Fearing the French and Indians were pursuing after their orgy of victory, Dunbar, now in command, had the men set fire to 150 wagons and headed back to Fort Cumberland. Braddock finally succumbed to his wound on 13 July. To prevent his body from being taken as a trophy by the Indians, Washington and Dunbar had him buried in the road, and the entire expedition marched over it to conceal the grave.

Many junior officers, militiamen, and soldiers, including Fraser, Gates, Boone, Gage, and Morgan blamed Braddock for the defeat and not preparing his army to fight on the frontier. While his arrogance was certainly a factor, particularly with his potential Indian allies, Braddock went to war with the army he had, not the army they wished he had in hindsight. The Battle of the Monongahela would go down in history as the defeat of a regular army which refused to learn how to fight on the frontier. Washington learned the same, but also different lessons. He saw Braddock courageously rally his men who fought on for three hours, despite the French and Indians having every advantage. The disciplined British regulars broke because of a dearth of training and leadership. Washington knew how to fight on the frontier, but he would not forget what he saw Braddock accomplish with regulars. For the rest of his life, Washington would not disparage Braddock’s memory.

For the French, the Battle of the Monongahela was a massive logistics, intelligence, and propaganda victory. The French spent the weeks collecting equipment and stores form the battlefield. There was so much that Contrecœur had to build another large building outside of Fort Duquesne to store it. After some deserters informed him, Contrecœur did the same to Dunbar’s camp. Braddock’s artillery would be used by the French through the remainder of the French and Indian War. Braddock’s captured stores fueled the French offensive in New York. The greatest find, however, was Braddock’s own papers, which detailed the British plan to remove the French from North America, leading to the thwarting of the British thrusts in other areas. The papers were partially responsible for the British loss of Forts Bull, Oswego, and William Henry, and the failed expedition to capture Louisburg. Moreover, since the two empires were still not technically at war, the papers were proof that while the British crown and parliament preached peace with France, they were secretly planning for war. Braddock’s translated papers were published across Europe and were one of the catalysts of the Seven Years War.

The Battle of the Monongahela was the worst British defeat at the hands of an indigenous enemy until the Battle of Isandlwana, 124 years later. The British however, did not have to worry about the French or Indians in its immediate aftermath. The Indians broke into the 500 gallons of rum in the baggage, and many Indians got drunk. Between the booze, loot and captives, teh French would not be able to convince the Indians to \complete the destruction. France’s Indian allies started departing Fort Duquesne the day after the battle. Laden with scalps, loot, and captives, many Indians only wished to triumphantly return home. By August, Contrecœur reported that he had only 260 French Canadian marines and militia remaining, and just two Abenaki Indian warriors.

The warriors’ returned to their lands with tales of victory and loot. The Battle of the Monongahela was the “most glorious in which Indians were involved.” British loot decorated Great Lakes and Ohio Indian villages for decades. The battle became the standard by which Indian warriors came to judge all future successful battlefield encounters. Hundreds more Indian warriors flocked to the French. Ohio Indian tribes attempting to sit on the fence for economic reasons suddenly began attacking the colonial settlements on the frontier. The lack of British traders was made up by pillaging colonial homesteads. The Great Lakes and Ohio Indians sent wampum belts to the Iroquois and Cherokee, urging them to “drive the colonials into the salt water”. The frontiers of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were set aflame, and the colonies brought to their knees. The frontier was rolled back behind the Appalachian Mountains once again.

For the colonists, the Battle of the Monongahela was a great awakening. The myth of invincibility enjoyed by British regulars was shattered. They fought “la guerre terra”, large war, and were defeated by “la guerre petit”, or small war. The most effective units in Braddock’s army were American, fighting as the Indians la guerre petit. The colonials took great pride in their culture that allowed them to adapt. Furthermore, after the battle the British regular army abandoned the Middle Colonies, leaving then to fend for themselves against the Indians’ “la guerre sauvage”, the total war on the colonists. The Americans were on their own, at least in the short term. Consequently, the term “American” came into more common usage to distinguish British colonials in North America from citizens of the British Isles.

When Washington was given command of the Virginia Regiment later that year to protect the frontier, he made sure it was trained in both la guerre terra and la guerre petit. They could fight in closed or open order on command. His Virginians fought jointly with the Cherokee who turned down The Great Lakes and Ohio Indian request to drive the Americans into the sea. Ranger companies formed in the colonies to protect the frontier.

The Battle of the Monongahela had more lasting effects on the French and Indian War, and even on the future United States of America. When Major-general John Forbes and Royal American regimental commander Colonel Henri Bouquet were tasked to take Fort Duquesne three year later in 1758, they did so with an army that could fight both conventionally and against the Indians on equal terms. Even more, Forbes made sure he didn’t have to fight the Indians at all, whom abandoned the French after they signed the Treaty of Easton. Most importantly though, they chose not to take Braddock’s Road from Fort Cumberland to the Forks of the Ohio. Two expeditions had departed Virginia via that route to seize Fort Duquesne, and both had failed. A new route, one not tainted in defeat was needed. Against the protestations of Washington, Forbe’s expedition set out from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and they cut a new road, Forbe’s Road, across the Appalachian Mountains. Their successful capture of Fort Duquesne, and subsequent construction of Fort Pitt, meant that the future of the Ohio Country lay with Pennsylvania and not Virginia.

Braddock’s Road wasn’t abandoned though. After the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s War in 1763, Braddock’s Road became a high speed conduit for settlers from Virginia to enter the Ohio Country. One such was Daniel Boone. While in Braddock’s Expedition he became great friends John Findley, an associate of George Croghan, who described to Boone the wonders of the Ohio Country. 12 years after the battle, Findley took Boone on his first hunting trip to a place called “Kentucky.”

Boone was one of tens of thousands. What Braddock’s Expedition couldn’t do to the French and Indians of the Ohio Country, Braddock’s Road did

The Battle of Fornovo

In the late 15th century, French monarch Charles VIII standardized and increased the mobility of his siege cannon and ushered in a true revolution in military affairs. No medieval castle could withstand his guns. He seized castles “in the time it took to seize a villa.” In 1494, at the behest of Milan and Venice, Charles blitzed down the Italian peninsula to press his claim to the Kingdom of Naples, which he successfully took in February 1495. The Middle Ages came to a close.

Charles VIII’s 1494 campaign horrified the Italians. No one had traversed the length of the Italian peninsula as quickly since Hannibal crossed the Alps. During the Renaissance, the Italian boot consisted of dozens of super rich merchant republics, prosperous petty kingdoms, independent city-states, Papal States, and ultra-wealthy families, who vied with each other for political power. If an outside force intervened, such as Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, or France, the invader was usually fixed at fortress cities in northern Italy. While they sat outside the walls of Milan, Florence, or Mantua, the Italian petty rulers had time to buy them off, hire mercenaries known as condottieri (literally: “contractors”) to discourage any advance, or work political angles to turn back the invaders. Or they could just wait for the cold, muddy, and miserable Italian winters to break the will of even the most resilient invader. Charles VIII changed all that, and the Italians concluded they had to defeat him, lest he conquer them all with his cannon.

Charles’ erstwhile allies were the first to recognize the danger. The Sforza’s of Milan saw no reason for Charles not to seize their city on his way back to France. The Merchants of Venice knew they were next if Milan fell to the French. Pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo de Borja, had already been defeated by Charles and forced to flee Rome. He put his considerable diplomatic and political skills to work. Not that much incentive was needed, everyone saw what Charles’ troops, particularly his Swiss mercenaries, were capable of. Any town that offered resistance was massacred, looted, and put to the torch. In March 1495, Alexander VI formed the Holy League with Venice, Milan, Ferdinand of Aragon and Sicily, most of the northern Italian city-states, and Emperor Maximillian I of the Holy Roman Empire to oppose the French.

Naples wasn’t worth being trapped there, so Charles gathered his army and immediately departed for France. His army was wracked with syphilis (brought back by Neapolitan sailors of Columbus’ expedition to the New World and subsequently passed onto the city’s prostitutes, and then to the French), heavily laden with booty, and although his cannon were effective against walls, they were not as effective in a field battle. Furthermore the longer Charles delayed, the stronger the Italian army grew. And, even worse, it looked as if the Italians meant to fight.

The Holy League chose famed condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, the Marquis of Mantua, then in Venetian employ, to lead the League’s army against Charles, at least in theory. In reality, the League’s army was actually controlled by Francesco’s uncle Rodolpho, the commander of the army’s reserve, and led by committee, with the Venetian Senate the most influential.

The squabbling among the League’s members continued until Charles’ army reached Florence, and even then Francesco wouldn’t move until he had nearly a 3 to 1 superiority over the French. Charles had no idea how large the League’s army was or even where it was: his spies were forced into hiding, and his efforts at reconnaissance thwarted by the League’s stradioti, fearsome light cavalry recruited from the Balkans. When Parma threatened to side with the approaching Charles, the League’s army finally advanced. Just south of Parma, the League’s army encamped around the village of Fornovo on the right bank of the Taro River to wait for Charles.

As Charles approached Parma from the south on the road paralleling the right bank of the Taro River, he stopped as soon as he came into contact with the League’s army. He waited for a few days for news of a French army in the vicinity of Milan, and Francesco obliged him. On 5 July, 1495, Charles learned no reinforcements were coming, and decided to bypass his adversaries.

On the morning of 6 July 1495, Charles nonchalantly continued negotiations with the condottieri heavy Italian army, while his own crossed over the shallow Taro River to the left bank and proceeded north. The maneuver took the Italians by surprise, as normally no further movement was permitted until pre-battle negotiations were concluded. By the time the Italians reacted, they were forced to attack across the river to reach the French. The river was swollen, and the fords limited which effectively neutralized the League’s greater numbers. Charles didn’t want to fight a battle in any case: he planned for his vanguard to fix the Italians in their camp, while the rest continued to Parma following the left bank north.

Charles’ vanguard consisted of the best troops in the army: his cannon, Swiss halberdiers, and the Gendarme, the heavily armed and armored noble French knights. His cannon shrugged off the obsolete Italian cannons’ volleys from across the river and pummeled the League’s camp. The Italians hastily form battlelines at the river’s edge, and searched for fords. Unfortunately for the French, the stradioti and other Italian light cavalry raced upstream, and more importantly, downstream to cross were the French crossed that morning. They fell upon the heavily laden but lightly guarded baggage train, ponderously attempting to keep up with the fighting troops. The League’s light cavalry slaughtered the guards and spent the day looting, taking them out of the battle.

Charles could not react because the Italian right wing found a ford and attacked the vanguard, while he watched the League’s massive center battle attempt to find a suitable place to cross. The League’s right wing however could only cross piecemeal, and they were defeated in detail: the Italian knights were torn apart by Swiss halberds, and then the Italian infantry was run down by the Gendarme.

The center force, which was supposed to attack simultaneously with the north, finally crossed, and the battle engaged in earnest. However, they took too long to find a ford, and the French were prepared for them. Though the fighting was fierce, the issue wasn’t really in doubt: the superior cohesion of the French units overcame the disorganized Italians, many of whom deserted to go loot the French baggage train. The League’s only real chance at victory was when Charles was briefly vulnerable and exposed on the battlefield. However, the opportunity was missed by Francesco and passed quickly. His failure to capture the enemy commander was just another example of Francesco acting less the army commander and more of a unit commander. Despite the losses in the north, center, and baggage train, he still had numerical superiority, but he didn’t know it since he was so consumed with the fighting. A strong reserve, nearly half of the army, was still on the right bank uncommitted. Francesco was only entrusted with half the army; the other half belonged to Rodolpho, the commander of the “reserve”.

Disaster struck when Rodolpho was killed. As commander of the reserve, no one else had authority to order the reserve into battle, even Francesco. Thus nearly half of Francesco’s army never saw fighting that day.

The French pushed the Italians back to the river and gave no quarter. With no support from the reserve, a river behind them, and certain death in a losing battle, the Italian condottieri called it a day. They withdrew to the fords, then across the river and back to camp.

The French recovered what was left of the baggage train and continued on their trek, leaving the Holy League in possession of the field.

Despite the French successes, Francesco declared the Battle of Fornovo a great victory for the Holy League, and initially there was much jubilation in Venice and Rome. Not only had the French “fled” the field, but 300,000 ducats worth of booty was looted from Charles’ baggage train. After a few days though, Francesco Gonzaga’s condottieri competition began evaluating the battle with professional, calculating, and sober eyes.

The Holy League outnumbered the French nearly three to one, but took nearly three times the casualties as the French. The loot was good, but the purpose of the army was to prevent Charles from escaping to France, where he can raise an even bigger army to return. Gonzaga utterly failed in that objective. Moreover, his personal battle command was found wanting since he acted as a field officer instead of the commander of a great army. He was blamed for the looting of the baggage train which siphoned much needed troops away from the battle. He was blamed for the death of his uncle, and not committing the reserve. In the eyes of his peers, Francesco Gonzaga’s personal conduct had allowed the French to defeat the Holy League and escape.

Charles VIII of France did not return with a larger army, French debts prevented him from rebuilding the army he almost lost. Spain retook Naples shortly thereafter. He wouldn’t get another chance to return to Italy, Charles VIII died 2 ½ years after his retreat. He accidentally knocked his head on a door frame, fell into a coma, and never woke up.

Charles’ death was not the end of the troubles for the Italians. In fact, they had just started. Thousands of French, Swiss, and German soldiers and mercenaries returned home with stories of a weak, prosperous, and divided Italy, ripe for plunder and conquest. The myth of the fighting ability of the Italian condottieri died on the banks of the Taro. It seemed as if the condottieri would rather negotiate than fight, retreat at the first sign of difficulty, withdraw at the slightest disadvantage, and would not attack unless they had overwhelming odds. The command of any condottieri army would always be fragmented. The condottieri’s northern adversaries no longer respected them. Their Roman legacy was lost and the condottieri’s professional reputation was forever tarnished.

After the Battle of Fornovo, France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, even the Ottoman Empire salivated over potential Italian conquests and loot. They ended the Italian Renaissance and ravaged the Italian boot for the next 75 years, a time known collectively as the Italian Wars

The Battle of Kłuszyn

The late 16th and early 17th centuries were the Golden Age of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During this time, the Commonwealth was a “republic of nobles” with the gentry, known as the “Szlachta”, able to vote for their king. The nobility and gentry of the Commonwealth differed from many other nations in Europe with the Szlachta making up about 10% of the population, the upper and most of the middle classes, compared to 2%, or just the upper classes, across the rest of Europe. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, the elected king of the Commonwealth was Sigismund III Waza, from the Swedish royal house of Vasa. The Commonwealth throne was just a step to attaining his true objective, regaining the Swedish throne. In 1605, Sigismund III saw his chance to increase the Commonwealth’s power at the expense of his troubled neighbor, Muscovy. Sigismund planned to incorporate it into the Commonwealth with Poland and Lithuania, or at least place his son on Muscovy’s throne. The might of the three most powerful nations in Eastern Europe would be enough to seize the Swedish crown, turning the Baltic into a Commonwealth lake under Wasa rule.

With the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1589, Muscovy entered the Time of Troubles, specifically the “Dmitriad” or the time of the three false Dimitris who vied against Boris Godunov and Vasili IV Shuysky for the title of Tsar of all Russians. The Time of Troubles greatly weakened Muscovy. In 1609, Sigismund just finished putting down a nobles’ rebellion, and with his power consolidated, he made no attempt to hide his next target – Moscow. Sigismund III invaded Muscovy after the weakened Vasili IV made an alliance with Sweden to oppose the inevitable Commonwealth invasion.

In September, 1609, Sigismund III invested the Muscovite fortress at Smolensk with the help of Russian boyars supporting Dmitry II. But Smolensk, the gateway to Moscow, was well defended, well-armed, and well supplied. The siege continued all winter. In the spring of 1610, Vasili IV dispatched an army under his younger brother Dmitry Shuysky and Swedish general Jacob De la Gardie.

Shuysky commanded about 48,000 Russian troops and 11 cannon, supported by De la Gardie’s 5,000 Flemish, French, German, Spanish, Scottish, and Swedish mercenaries. Sigismund sent 12,000 Commonwealth troops, including 5500 of the famed Polish winged Husaria, under Hetman (warlord) Stanisław Żółkiewski to intercept them. Żółkiewski’s scouts found Shuysky’s 8,000 strong advanced guard at the villages of Tsaryovo and Zaymishche. The Muscovites fortified the town to secure their lines of communication against raids by the Commonwealth’s cavalry heavy army. Żółkiewski attacked and trapped the Muscovites in the fort. Żółkiewski left 6,000 men, which included most of his infantry and some cavalry, to isolate the Muscovites. On the evening of 2 July under the cover of a heavy rain, Żółkiewski slipped away with the bulk of his cavalry, his cannon, and some supporting infantry. Confident in the power of the Husaria, he silently galloped off to strike the overwhelming numbers of the Muscovite main body while they were strung out on the march.

The next night, Polish scouts spotted their adversaries in two fortified camps about five miles from the town of Kłuszyn, one for Shuysky’s Russian troops and a separate for De la Gardie’s mercenaries. Żółkiewski sent a spy with a letter to the mercenary camp offering them better pay to switch sides. Taking advantage of the bad weather, Żółkiewski attempted to sneak his army around the Russian camp to strike at them the next morning from behind when they resumed the march.

De la Gardie got wind of the letter and ended any conspiracy to switch sides en masse, but the letter’s damage was already done. The mercenaries’ military efficacy was greatly diminished by the prospect of greater pay in the service of what was thought to be a superior Commonwealth force. They fragmented on national lines: some switched sides, some refused to fight, some fought half heartedly, while others honored their contracts fully.

Żółkiewski’s hussars were spotted strung out on a narrow and muddy trail attempting to infiltrate behind the Russian camps. With his movement uncovered and unable to immediately attack, Żółkiewski consolidated his army opposite Shuysky’s camps. He rested his men who had been on the march for almost 48 hours straight, and cleared some obstacles from the future battlefield.

Formed in the dark, both armies faced each other as the sun rose on 4 July 1610. 30,000 of Shuysky’s Russians occupied their center and left, with De la Gardi’s foreign mercenaries on the right. They frantically reinforced fence lines and dug redoubts as Żółkiewski’s 5,500 Husaria supported by 1000 Cossacks on their left cantered forward. The masses of Russians in the redoubts and behind the fence lines were enough to prevent an outright charge by the Husaria, who resorted to the caracole tactic to break the lines, albeit one specifically suited to the Husaria.

In a traditional caracole, the dense mass of riders moved forward slowly. At pistol range the front rank discharged their firearms, and then made way for the next rank to do the same while they went to the rear and reloaded. Thus the cavalry formation either moved forward or backwards slowly by rank while maintaining continuous fire. A Husaria caracole differed and was more akin to the ancient Cantabrian Circle. The Husaria would leave their lances behind and charge forward. At pistol range they’d quickly turn and fire their brace, and then continue to move out of the way. They moved to the rear as the next unit followed up. The movement never stopped and the circle flowed seamlessly. Once at the back end of the circle, they’d pull their carbines and repeat the process. Once the carbine circle was completed, the Husaria charged with their lances, with the hope that the firearms broke up the dense formations, leaving them vulnerable to their terrible charge. As their lances shattered on the Russians, if no break out immediately occurred they’d then turn, and pull their sabers. The momentum of the charge carried them back out of the enemy formation. The Husaria would then retire to reload their pistols and carbines, and begin the maneuver again. The Husaria caracole required immense discipline and exquisite horsemanship just to maintain the timing. At any given moment there were at least four groups of Husaria in the caracole: one moving forward, one charging, firing, or fighting, one retiring, and one reloading. Some Husaria completed this maneuver 8-10 times over the course of the day.

The reinforced hedges and fence lines blunted the worst of the Husaria charges, but the continuous Polish caracoles gave the impression that the Commonwealth’s numbers were much greater than they were. For next five hours, the Husaria caracoles smashed against the Russian defenses of the center and left, while the Cossacks fixed the reluctant mercenaries on Shuysky’s right. The Husaria’s discipline, armor, and firepower were offset by the greater Russian numbers.

The turning point of the battle was a counterattack by Russian reiters (Muscovite boyars equipped as German or Swedish riders) in the center. Sensing the Husaria’s charges diminishing, Shuysky ordered his still fresh reiters forward against the exhausted Poles. The reiters began their own traditional caracole with their pistols, in front of the beleaguered, but still solid, Russian defensive lines. The Poles rushed at the chance to fight the Russian riders. The Husaria abandoned their caracole and charged the exposed Russian reiters with their lances and sabers. The Russians quickly broke in the melee. The routing Muscovite reiters did what the Husaria could not, break the Russian lines. As the defeated reiters pushed their way back through the Russian defenses, the Husaria victoriously followed, and Shuysky’s center collapsed.

Seeing the Russian center break, De la Gardi withdrew back to his fortified camp with men guarding his flank in the woods at the edge of the battlefield. Shuysky and his shattered center withdrew to the Russian camp, while the left held strong. However the timely arrival of the Commonwealth cannon and infantry, which had marched all night after being left behind by the cavalry, were deployed against the remaining Russian lines. (In the haste to form the battle lines in the predawn darkness, Shuysky left his 11 cannon in his camp.) The Commonwealth infantry and cannon broke the Russian left, and the Husaria followed them back to the Russian camp. The Russians routed through the camp and prevented Shuysky from rallying his troops. They abandoned their fortified camp. The exhausted Cossacks and Husaria could not pursue far though, and many looted Shuysky’s extravagant camp and its wagon loads of valuables.

Żółkiewski’s army could not take the remaining mercenary camp with force. De la Gardi’s mercenaries had a much higher ratio of harquebusiers and much better training than the Stuysky’s Russians. Żółkiewski’s men were exhausted and disorganized. So under a flag of truce, he offered the mercenaries the same deal as before, and many switched sides. The remainder were given free passage out of the country on their word never to take up arms against the Commonwealth again.

Żółkiewski took the captured banners and prisoners back to the fort at Tsaryovo and Zaymishche which prompted its defenders to surrender. The Commonwealth victory at Kłuszyn did not however convince Smolensk to surrender. While Sigismund III maintained the siege at Smolensk, his son Wladyslaw IV Wasa advanced on Moscow with the Żółkiewski’s reinforced army. On 3 August they arrived at the gates of Moscow to find that the Russian boyars overthrew Tsar Vasili IV Shuysky. For the next three weeks, the boyars negotiated with Prince Wladyslaw IV and Hetman Żółkiewski.

In return for electing Wladyslaw the new Tsar, the boyars demanded that Muscovite territory remain intact and the Commonwealth would respect Russian social and political institutions, e.g. the rights of the boyars and the Orthodox faith. And finally, as Tsar of “The Third Rome”, Wladyslaw would have to accept the Orthodox faith.

Wladyslaw IV agreed. On 27 August 1610, he was elected Tsar of all Russians. On 3 September, Tsar and Grand Prince Vladislav Zigimontovych of all Russia triumphantly entered Moscow at the head of Hetman Stanislaw Żółkiewski’s Husaria and occupied the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, the Wasa dynasty in Muscovy was short lived. Wladyslaw sent his father the agreement, and Sigismund rejected it outright, despite it securing Muscovy’s support for the Commonwealth. Sigismund wanted to Catholicize Muscovy, which the Russian boyars would never agree to. Furthermore, he refused to abandon the siege of Smolensk. Smolensk had been part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had only been lost to Muscovy in the last century. It was the key to any advance on Moscow. With Smolensk in Commonwealth hands under Lithuanian control, the heartland of Muscovy would be open to invasion at any time, and Muscovite politics easy to influence. Moscow would be at the Poles’ and Lithuanians’ mercy. The permanent loss of Smolensk would keep the notoriously finicky Russians in line, and secure Muscovy for the upcoming campaign for the Swedish throne. However, Sigismund didn’t understand that the boyars understood this also. They would never stop fighting while Smolensk was in foreign hands.

Sigismund’s rejection of Wladyslaw’s agreement infuriated the Russian boyars, and turned them against the Commonwealth. Smolensk fell in 1611, but the boyars refused to sign a peace treaty. Tsar Wladyslaw IV and his army were unwelcome foreigners whose control extended little beyond Moscow and the Kremlin. In late 1611 Tsar Wladyslaw departed Moscow never to return, and the Commonwealth troops were trapped in the Kremlin. After a brutal siege in which there were reports of cannibalism among the Commonwealth’s troops, the Russians retook the Kremlin in November of 1612. In 1613, the boyars chose Shuysky’s 16 year old cousin, Mikhail Romanov, as the new Tsar. Tsar Mikhail Romanov ended the Time of Troubles and the Romanov Dynasty ruled Imperial Russia for the next 300 years, until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Wladyslaw IV would eventually be elected, as had his father, king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He would reign for the next 38 years through what remained of the Commonwealth’s Golden Age, until The Deluge began in 1648. He was one of Europe’s most beloved and successful rulers, though as King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and not as Tsar of all Russians.

The Battle of Osan: Task Force Smith

At 0700, on 5 July 1950, TF Smith, the farthest forward US unit on the Korean peninsula, engaged attacking elements of the Communist (North) Korean People’s Army in an attempt to delay their advance so General McArthur’s United Nations Command could establish a perimeter around the critical Korean port city of Pusan.

TF Smith was a 540 man battalion sized task force led by Lieutenant Colonel Brad Smith, the commander of 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, of the 24th Infantry Division. TF Smith was the first American unit to engage communist North Korean troops, who had invaded South Korea two weeks before on 25 June. TF Smith consisted of just two rifle companies and one artillery battery of six guns. Although World War Two ended less than five years before, only 1/6th of the unit had combat experience. Though they were highly trained, TF Smith was organized and equipped as a constabulary for the occupation of Japan. They were still equipped with the obsolete (even by WW2 standards) bazooka, and had no anti-tank guns or tanks. The hard lessons of combined arms warfare learned through the bloody crucible of the Second World War were lost or disregarded by petty bureaucrats who looked to make the peacetime army more efficient and cost effective. Consequently, TF Smith had no engineer or air support, and they lacked land mines, barbed wire, and had almost no time to dig in before they were attacked by a force that just days prior couldn’t be stopped by four entire South Korean divisions.

Despite given a mission that a fully equipped 3000 man regimental combat team would be hard pressed to execute, TF Smith held the line at Osan for three hours against two North Korean divisions, one infantry and one armored. By 1000, on 5 July 1950, they were out of ammunition and began an orderly withdrawal. However, in the process TF Smith was assaulted in the flank by about 40 communist tanks. LTC Smith’s men simply had no capability remaining (if it had any to begin with) to stop the Soviet produced T-34/85 tanks, the best Soviet tank of Second World War. TF Smith’s withdrawal immediately turned into a rout and only about half of TF Smith made it back to the Pusan perimeter.

TF Smith has since become a metaphor for ill preparedness though this was no fault of LTC Brad Smith or his men.

La Noche Triste

In early 1520, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez’ conquest of the Aztec Empire fared poorly. The Aztecs no longer thought he was a god and lost their fear of the Spanish guns, steel, and horses. Increasing Spanish demands of gold, food, and women grated on the Aztecs. Especially chafing was the ban on human sacrifice, which was central to Aztec religion and society. Just prior to initial Spanish contact, the Aztecs held a ceremony during which 80,000 captive men, women, and children had their hearts torn out and eaten. These ceremonies were held regularly, though those so large were reserved for special occasions. To the Aztecs, all of the ills that had befallen their empire and people since European contact were due to the Spanish prohibition on human sacrifice. The Aztecs felt the gods were punishing them since they couldn’t be appeased with human blood.

Exacerbating the volatile situation with the Aztecs was Cotrez’ problems with the Spanish governor of Cuba. Their relationship had deteriorated to the point where the governor sent an expedition to arrest Cortez. Cortez was forced to leave the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, to confront the interlopers.

Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over a million. Tenochtitlan by all accounts was absolutely massive, easily larger than the largest European cities at the time, London and Constantinople, both of which topped out at 200,000. Tenochtitlan was even larger before the mumps epidemic (which one of Cortez’ men brought in 1519) that killed about 100,000. Cortez’ kept a tenuous hold on the city with just a few thousand conquistadors and non-Aztec Indian allies.

Cortez left a subordinate to maintain the delicate relations with the Aztecs, while he left the city to deal with the governor’s expedition. Cortez managed to coopt his would-be captors, but he lost Tenochtitlan while he was away. In his absence, the lieutenant whom he left in the capital had arbitrarily slaughtered some Aztec nobles. Their deaths were the final humiliations. The entire city rose against the Spanish. The Aztecs swarmed the conquistadors, despite their technological advantage. The Spanish had harquebuses, crossbows, pikes, halberds, steel breastplates, small cannon, dogs of war, and armored knights on horseback – the very best of early 16th century military technology to fight the Stone Age equipped Aztecs. Dismissing the odds, the 1000 conquistadors in Tenochtitlan killed 30 for every loss. Nonetheless, the Aztecs still came on. The remaining 200 conquistadors were besieged in the emperor’s palace with the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, held captive.

Cortez heard of the news as he returned to Tenochtitlan. He had 1200 conquistadors and 3000 Tlaxalan allies recruited from one of the many Aztec enemies in the region. Cortez felt it was enough to chastise the Aztecs. He entered the city and the Aztecs allowed him to make it to the palace. They then closed the causeways behind him. Montezuma attempted to parley with the besiegers but the Aztecs had had enough. The Aztecs disavowed their emperor, denounced him a traitor, and killed him.

The next day Cortez sent 400 conquistadors to break out. Although the Aztecs took 20,000 casualties, all 400 Spaniards were killed or captured. Cortez was trapped.

On the night of 30 June/1 July 1520, the Spaniards attempted to sneak out, but they were spotted by an old woman fetching water. Soon the city descended upon the expedition and a running battle was fought through the streets. The Aztecs destroyed the causeways to trap the conquistadors but the Spanish filled the gaps with dead Aztecs and crossed over the bodies. The Aztecs disregarded the losses and continued to attack, especially targeting the stragglers. Cortez gave permission for each man to take as much gold as he could carry and the greedy ones were the first to die when they couldn’t keep up. The more gold the individual conquistadors took, the less likely they were to loie to spend it.

Cortez’ entire expedition would have been wiped out but the Aztec way of war centered on capturing not killing. They kept trying to take the Spaniards captive in order to sacrifice and eat them later, particularly Cortez. The Aztecs knew that without his leadership the expedition would have certainly broke up. But each time he was swarmed and hauled off, his men charged and rescued him. Despite grievous losses, the Spanish reached the mainland where the conquistadors could finally unleash the full power of their armored knights. The final charge by the last 20 knights routed the blocking Aztec force of 40,000. The thundering horsemen cut down every warrior with many colorful plumes, a symbol of Aztec status, eventually killing their commander. Only about 250 conquistadors and 1000 Tlaxalans managed to escape what the Spanish would call “La Noche Triste” or “The Sad Night”.

The next morning, the Aztecs resumed their practice of human sacrifice, and many a Spanish and Tlaxalan heart was consumed by the jubilant Aztecs.

The Aztecs would not enjoy their victory for long though. One of the conquistadors who arrived to arrest Cortez eventually joined with him. This particular conquistador was killed on a causeway during La Noche Triste. He fell behind, not because he carried too much gold, but because he was sick and weakened. He had smallpox.

The resulting smallpox epidemic caused by this initial vector killed 250,000 Aztecs in the coming months. When Cortez returned, he found the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan much easier to reconquer.