TO KADESH II

The Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II (green) bordering on the Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in c. 1279 BC.

The Hittite chariots attack the Ra division.

Ramesses counterattacks.

Final phase of the battle

At this juncture there are a series of imponderables. Was the second group of Hittite chariots, fewer in number than the first, a strategic reserve or only the remaining ones that Muwatallis had? We do not know. In addition, what happened to the division of Pre? If most of the Hittite chariots sped quickly upon the Egyptian camp, then it would appear that they did not bother to wipe out that division. For if they did, the time element would have been squandered. From the pictorial evidence we must conclude that the enemy burst through the marching column of Egyptians, sped north, and although killing some of the soldiers, did not bother to stop. It was sufficient to give them a mauling; the aim was not to liquidate the vast majority of the second division. Strategically, Muwatallis’ goal remained focused upon the camp of Ramesses.

The attack of the enemy chariotry upon the second division of Pre took place south of Kadesh. Major Burne assumed that these men were, at most, about 2.4 km from Ramesses’ camp. This might be discounted as it is based on his analysis of the size of the king’s main army (20,000 soldiers). More useful, however, is his argument that the enemy crossed a ford south of Kadesh. This seems reasonable; otherwise the chariotry could not have easily gotten through the waters. But should we argue that the front of the Hittite chariot line was relatively small because of the width of the ford? Most certainly, the scenes of later carnage at the Orontes as well as those of the Hittite attack indicate that the passage was not difficult.

The number of Hittite chariots that reached Ramesses’ camp also remains a thorny issue. Most certainly, the Pharaoh was able to dispatch some of his high officials south in order to warn the remaining divisions of what was transpiring. Actually, only the third division (Ptah) is specifically mentioned; the situation of the fourth (Seth) is left aside. Allowing the distances assumed by previous historical research, one interesting question is whether those men reached the actual melee at the Orontes or not. One additional remark indicates that the enemy forces reached Ramesses with Hittites and peoples from Arzawa, Masa, and Pidassa (P 85-6). Can we assume that at some point the enemy had organized itself into four groups?

Yet they were repulsed. Subsequently Muwatallis sent another, albeit smaller, wave of chariots westward, and we must credit Ramesses for being able to repel all of them. This might have appeared impossible. But the Pharaoh, with the troops of the first division and the relief support given to him by the arrival of the contingents of the Na`arn, found his resources sufficient to repulse the advancing enemy chariots. His success must have depended upon three factors. The first was the number of Hittite chariots that reached the camp, the second the presumed destruction of the division of Pre, and the third the possibility that many Hittite chariots were still fighting against those Egyptian troops. Indeed, one relief caption notes that the Hittite king had also sent forward some of his infantry. The latter would have arrived at the battlefield somewhat later than the faster-moving chariots, and they may have ended up only on the immediate west side of the Orontes.

The type of combat appears to have been mainly based upon chariots. Else, Ramesses could not have repelled the attacks of his enemy. The roles of the Pharaoh’s footsoldiers and those of Muwatallis are not described. Because the reliefs show the king’s attack in a chariot, a common theme of New Kingdom war representations, we cannot evaluate the service that the Egyptian infantry performed at Kadesh. All that we are left with is an assumption of the size of both armies, and that is based upon the evidence of the texts (Hittite chariotry and teher footsoldiers) and the probable size of an Egyptian division (5,000). All of these figures are open to question.

If Muwatallis sent 2,500 chariots and if Ramesses had the same number in his first division, then unless the former were held up by the carnage of Pre, the Pharaoh’s immediate success makes sense. With an additional 1,000 chariots on the enemy side, and the lack of reinforcements from the third division of Ptah, the Hittites would have had a numerical advantage. Moreover, the relief captions note the presence of Hittite infantry. All in all, unless we argue that the second division was not massacred, or that it held up the Hittite charge, one is thrown back upon the role of the Na`arn in the fifth division. Earlier Egyptologists had noted their crucial presence, and we cannot but follow their analyses.

One lengthy caption in five versions refers to a pictorial representation of arriving infantry and chariotry. These are the Na`arn, and with them the king was able to charge into the foe. Although they might have been tired from marching, by no means were they exhausted. In fact, they were ready to fight like Pickett’s men. Unlike General Lee, Ramesses immediately used them, and with this advantage in chariots – we assume double that which he first had – the enemy was repulsed. Did Muwatallis have some idea that the Na`arn were nearby, and thereby decided to attack the Egyptians as quickly as possible before these reinforcements could have come into play?

Even though much ink has been spilled in analyzing the battle, some details can be reconstructed. The account of the second day, however, has left everyone in suspense. It is only given in the account of the Poem, but the high-blown verbiage is impenetrable, or not of any use to the military historian. I believe that further combat took place, “prearranged,” so to speak. The king was able to marshal his ranks. Hence, at daybreak of the following day the two armies met once more. Granted that this section of the Poem is short, it nonetheless provides some support for my contention that often battles were fought on plains, normally soon after dawn, with the tacit agreement of both war leaders.

When we turn to the scenes of this battle, many useful military details can be ascertained. We see the Na`arn arriving. They are Egyptians, and hold their long shields in the same manner as the natives, whether on foot on in a chariot. The third men in the enemy chariots hold spears or javelins. Sherden are present acting as a guard around Ramesses on the occasion when he ordered the Hittite scouts to be beaten. Clearly, these men served as an elite guard whose duty was primarily to their liege lord. The Hittite parallel is the group of teher warriors who surrounded Muwatallis. The same set-up was carved for Ramesses’ camp except here more specific details are conveyed, even to the point of indicating the relaxed mood of the Egyptian troops. In the enemy camp pack animals are shown. The oxen of the Hittites pull wagons with six spokes; donkeys are also laden with provisions. The similarity to the Egyptian camp is self-evident.

Returning to the Egyptian army, a series of significant military aspects can be noted. The army of the Na`arn marched as follows: first a line of chariots, then soldiers, and then another line of chariots. This point, hitherto unnoticed, provides a useful estimate for the size of a brigade. In particular, three chariots lead the force. Behind each of them are two columns of ten men. There are thus forty footsoldiers and twelve men on the chariots, making a grand total of fifty-two. Was this the way that Egyptian armies were organized when marching, or do the reliefs follow artistic license? Whatever are our conclusions, it appears from the Kadesh scenes, but not from the literary narrative of the Megiddo battle, that the Egyptian army used oblong squares.

At Abydos we see a column of fifteen men proceeding in front of one chariot. Further to the forward position there is another group of chariots. Clearly, the arrangement is different. Can we assume that the artists worked to a specific pattern, one that depended upon a predetermined artistic interpretation rather than solely upon the actual events? Furthermore, in these reliefs there is a bottom row of marching chariots, apparently serving as a protective wing for the footsoldiers. But when we survey the approach to battle, the system alters. Abydos shows the following. When marching in normal order, normally two men are placed on the side of, or within the protection of, one chariot. But as we near the expected danger zone the two footsoldiers are now depicted with shields, and they have raised them for protection. Finally, there is the charge of the chariots, and, as may be expected, the infantry disappear because the rapidly moving vehicles have outpaced them. The onslaught is also indicated by the upward direction of the horses: a true charge into the fray is present.

Version L1 at Luxor reveals the same pattern but also with a contrast. The number of Na`arn footsoldiers appears to be six or seven. R1, one of the Ramesseum variants, has ten men between the two sections of chariots, yet they are marching with at least seventy footsoldiers. Its companion (R2) does not help us very much. But all accounts indicate that the Egyptian counterattack was made up of chariots; the soldiers on foot must have followed soon after. The precise if limited pictorial subsections dealing with the army of Ptah likewise are useful for our analysis of Egyptian marching order. Two speedy officials reach this division, and at Abu Simbel we see two distinct sectors of the group. One is composed of archers and the others of spearmen. The latter are identical to the marching Na`arn at Abydos. In a Luxor version (L1) the lagging division is led by five standard-bearers and the division leader. Behind all of them are three footsoldiers preceding a chariot.

Other subtle contrasts among these pictorial representations show that a hard and fast rule concerning the number of combat soldiers per subsection in a division is impossible to determine. Yet we can notice the variances in tactics. When marching, for example, the footsoldiers were protected by chariots. This is most clearly seen with the Na`arn. The advancing division of Ptah, for example, is shown in a more relaxed mode. Because the footsoldiers and the standard-bearers are at the head of the division with the division leader in front of them, it is evident that they did not expect any danger. So we must separate out those representations that indicate a relaxed but careful march from the advance to combat, the immediate attack, and the actual melee.

The mopping up of the Hittite attack is not recorded. Instead, the oversized figure of Ramesses on his chariot plunges into the Hittite host of chariots. But there are many ancillary points worthwhile indicating. Above all is the repulse to the Orontes. This is most evident by the specific details of Hittite dead in the river and the figure of the luckless prince of Aleppo rescued from the waters. Evidently, Ramesses’ charge pushed the chariot divisions of the enemy backward. If the full power of the first chariot wave had reached the Egyptian camp I feel that this would have been impossible. It would have taken some time for the Pharaoh to recover from his initial surprise and to prepare his troops for combat. But with the arrival of the Na`arn Ramesses had on hand an additional chariot force ready for battle. They must have seen the attack of the Hittites, and we believe that not many of the enemy’s chariots had attained their desired aim. In other words, the king’s division of Amun plus the Na`arn first blunted and then ended the tactical superiority of Muwatallis. Hence, Muwatallis had to send another wave of chariots forward in order to hold his own lines.

But this support failed. The evidence of Egyptian success may be read from the captions that accompany the figures of many Hittites. There is little doubt that the names and titles of these men were written down by the military scribes who accompanied the king. Enemy charioteers as well as troop-captains and a shieldbearer are listed together with two brothers of Muwatallis and two chiefs of the enemy’s teher. A dispatch-writer and a “chief of the suite” of Muwatallis may also be found. Note that these are all prominent men; none are mere footsoldiers. This befits the type of military action that took place in which high-ranking men were responsible for the carnage. We can assume that after the battle these men were identified, but their names and titles could only have been determined with the help of the enemy. Whether this list was drawn up with the aid of captured Hittites or, following the melee, with the assistance of Muwatallis, is unclear. Perhaps after the subsequent fighting on day two an official list of enemy dead on both sides was determined. As the dead Hittites were prominent men I cannot but conclude that their bodies were examined, their names recorded, and the corpses sent back to the camp of the foe.

On the second day the result of the carnage must have been clear to all. Ramesses had won the battle; his tactics were superb. On the other hand, he was forced to withdraw from the field because he was unable to dislodge the Hittites. Losing the strategic aim of the campaign, Ramesses left the field having failed to take Kadesh. No wonder, then, that the Egyptian monarch was forced to return to Asia soon thereafter. Hence, additional wars of Ramesses in Syria are known from various sources in Egypt. The accounts are mainly pictorial and their representations stereotypical. From the scanty data that is preserved it is clear that the Egyptian king personally went into Syria at least twice. He fought there in his eighth and tenth regnal years, but if the advances of the Egyptian army are impossible to determine, it is easy to conclude that Ramesses went by land. On one occasion we read that he fought without donning his armor at Dapur, a very heroic situation that further reinforces our opinion of the king as a doughty war leader. In addition, there appears to have been more fighting in the Trans-Jordan. Here as well the evidence is merely one of place names and generalized artistic representations. Whether or not a general uprising took place within Egyptian-held territory is a moot point. A war directed against incursions from the east does not provide automatic support for this hypothesis. The towns captured by the Pharaoh in year eight include Palestinian ones, but the presence of Yeno`am again indicates a zone in the east close to the Trans-Jordan. In year ten a stela was erected at the Nahr el Kelb, thus once more emphasizing Ramesses’ interest in Syria or at least at his northwest border. A further one erected in Beth Shan in the king’s eighteenth regnal year is purely rhetorical. By and large, the undated war scenes are hard to place into a chronological framework, although those referring to a Trans-Jordanian war can be securely set into the king’s early second decade.

Later in the reign of Ramesses II, most probably in his third decade as Pharaoh, the peaceful relations between Egypt and the Hittites had grown to such an extent that diplomatic marriages took place. On two occasions the Hittite monarch, Hattusilis III, sent one of his daughters to the Egyptian court. The intense political activity between the two states may be read on the various cuneiform tablets that are still preserved. But within Egypt, in particular at the Delta capital of Avaris, Egyptian-Hittite interconnections are overt. Recent archaeological discoveries at Qantir, located just opposite the capital of Avaris, have allowed us to reconstruct the military setting of this northeast Delta capital. Shield molds with Hittite motifs explicitly indicate that a foundry was established there for the production of these defensive weapons. Archaeologists have concluded that Hittites themselves were producing and repairing Hittite shields. This leads to the supposition that there were Hittite “mercenaries” or guards at Avaris. Tools of these foreigners were also discovered, further proving that the large site of Avaris-Qantir was the major military center in the northeast. Parts of chariots such as fittings, harness pieces, bronze foundries, javelins, arrow tips, horse bits, short swords, projectile tips, scales of coats of mail, and even stables indicate the warlike nature of the capital. A large number of vast buildings point to a chariot garrison that contained an exercise (or training) court, adjoining workshops, and horses’ stables. It has been estimated that, at the minimum, 350 horses could have been housed. But whether this was done for contingents within the entire Egyptian army, or solely for the foreigners, must remain an open question. None of the later battle reliefs of Merenptah or Ramesses III point to any Hittite sector of the native war machine.

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The Defeat of Plan Barbarossa

Were the Germans defeated in Operation Barbarossa and the Battle for Moscow, or were the Russians victorious? The best answer to both is yes. The Soviet Union and the Red Army fought back from the beginning, mobilizing resources and developing skills to save their capital, frustrate the invasion, capture the initiative, demonstrate blitzkrieg’s limits, and begin the still- continuing process of discrediting the myth of an inherently superior German way of war. That is no mean list of accomplishments in six months against any opponent, much less the Wehrmacht.

The long list of specific German mistakes can be conveniently grouped under two headings: comprehensive overextension and comprehensive underestimation. Both reflected the general sense of emergency that had informed Hitler’s Reich from the first days of its existence. Time was always Adolf Hitler’s chief enemy. He was convinced that only he could create the Thousand-Year Reich of his visions, and to that end was willing to run the most extreme risks.

Hitler’s generals, especially the panzer generals, shared that risk-taking mind-set and accepted the apocalyptic visions accompanying it. That congruence shaped Barbarossa’s racist, genocidal nature. From the campaign’s beginning, terror and murder followed in the wake of the panzers. That was worse than a crime. It was a mistake antagonizing broad spectrums of a population that could have been mobilized to work for and with the conquerors, and in some cases act against the Soviet system. To behave differently would have required Nazis to be something other than Nazis—and, perhaps, generals to be something other than generals, at least when confronting Slavic/Jewish Bolsheviks.

The army would have been constrained to recast its institutional mentality. However intense the antagonism between the Führer and his commanders may have become in later years, in 1941 they possessed a common vision in which choices and priorities were unnecessary. Germany’s weaknesses in numbers, equipment, and logistics were sufficiently daunting that reasonably prudent military planners would have advised against the entire campaign to the point of resigning. But partly through their own history, and partly through years of exposure to National Socialism, Germany’s soldiers had come to believe in the “Triumph of the Will.”

It is an overlooked paradox that the failure to reach Moscow may have averted a German catastrophe. Stalin proposed to continue fighting even if Moscow fell, calling on resources from the Urals and Siberia. Aside from that, capturing the city with the resources available—if it could be done at all—would have involved heavy losses, losses that would fall disproportionately on the mobile troops who would be first in and expected to do much of the heavy work. Comparisons with Verdun once again circulated in the armored force. And should the swastika fly over the Kremlin, Army Group Center would be forward-loaded at the far end of a long salient vulnerable to systematic counterattacks, containing a tenuous supply line exposed to constant harassment from a developing partisan movement. Operation Typhoon’s outcome preserved the cadres—or the skeletons—of the panzers to anchor the defense during the winter and prepare for another try in the spring.

They did both well. In January 1942, 18th Panzer Division used its last dozen tanks as the core of a 50-mile thrust into Soviet-occupied territory to rescue an infantry division that had been surrounded for a month. In 6th Panzer Division, Erhard Raus pragmatically employed a series of local counterattacks as tactical training exercises for replacements. Was this heroic professionalism or wishful thinking? Or more like magical thinking, the kind of insanity defined as doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results? In 1807 and again in 1918 the Prussian/German army had responded to defeat with comprehensive self-examination. In 1939 Hitler’s army had responded to victory by an internally initiated tune-up. Nothing remotely similar happened during the winter of 1941-42. Especially for the panzers, whatever energy remained after replacing losses was devoted to improving existing systems.

That situation invites explanation in terms of desperation. As late as the end of February, total tank strength was down to around 150—for the entire Eastern Front. It was not a figure encouraging detached speculation on better ways of war. But even at this relatively early stage, a process of selection was taking place in the regiments and divisions. Eighth Panzer Division’s CO Erich Brandenberger was an old gunner, as calm in demeanor as he was quick to react to emergencies. Heinrich Eberbach took over 4th Panzer—no surprise after his success in making the most of small numbers on the road to Tula. Hans Hube’s loss of an arm in the Great War had not kept him from rising to command of the 16th Motorized Division, staying with it when it was converted to tanks, and building a reputation as a brilliant tactician. Hermann Balck, marked as a comer for his work in France, had been on staff duty during Barbarossa, but would make his mark beginning in May commanding 11th Panzer Division.

One cannot speak of a common personality type in officers who came from everywhere in the prewar army. Some were religious; some were skeptics; some were casually Gottglaubig—the Nazi term for nondenominational. Some were deliberately muddy-boots; others took conscious pains with their grooming. What these officers and their contemporaries similarly marked out for high command was pragmatism. They were hands-on problem-solvers who maximized the material they were given and did their best in the situations they confronted. “I’ll try, sir” was not an acceptable response in the panzer force that emerged from the rubble of Barbarossa. There was no try—only do, or do not.

Another thing the new generation of panzer leaders had in common was a level of bravery and charisma not seen among senior Prussian/ German officers since the Napoleonic Wars. Omer Bartov has made a strong case for the increasing “demodernization” of the German army in the Soviet Union. Its simplified version describes a situation in which material and numerical inferiority, and the resulting high casualties, led to the erosion of primary-group identification and an emphasis on National Socialist ideology as a primary element of morale and fighting power. One might suggest that a tank crew is an automatically self-renewing primary group, as is to a lesser degree the men riding in the same half-track or truck. In the panzers, however, regiment and division commanders to a significant extent also facilitated primary groups by personal leadership.

Post-Barbarossa, an infantry colonel appearing in the front line was likely to generate a reaction similar to the one made famous by American cartoonist Bill Mauldin: “Sir, do ya hafta draw fire while you’re inspi rin’ us?” His panzer counterpart, in a radio-equipped tank or half-track, usually with one or two more as escort, could have a decisive effect on events at the sharp end—and had a solid chance of surviving till next time. Such behavior had little to do with ideology, and not much more with “warrior spirit,” but had much to do with mutual expectations. It was what one did when it had to be done. Even for generals it was often a matter of leading as though one’s life depended on it—as it often did literally. And there are few greater boosters of combat morale than the effective presence at a hot spot of someone who seems to know what he is doing and what to do next. In 6th Panzer Division, a familiar catchphrase was “Raus zieht heraus”—“Raus’ll get us out of this.” Hans Hube’s nickname was simply “the man”—not “the old man” but “the man.”

The ethos had serious drawbacks. It led to a focus on “hitting the next target,” a privileging of action at the expense of reflection at all levels and in all aspects of war-making. That pattern was, if not always exacerbated, too often not balanced by the staffs. The abolition of the Great General Staff by the Versailles Treaty combined with the rapid expansion of the army under Hitler conspired to create a chronic shortage of qualified staff officers, and encouraged the development of new ones to meet staff requirements of the new formations. What was important was solving the immediate problems of organizing and training new divisions, and providing equipment and doctrine for new branches—like the panzers.

It is not necessary to reference Nazi anti-intellectualism to understand that considering ramifications and implications was not a quality particularly valued in the post-Barbarossa armored force. It is ironic to think that Versailles, so often excoriated for failing to sustain German rearmament, may have had a decisive “stealth success” in removing a potentially significant counterpoint to the army’s tunnel vision.

The panzer spirit also spread through promotion. Guderian’s advocacy of a flexible, mobile defense against the Soviet winter offensive might be sound in principle, but arguably lay outside the panzers’ current capacities. His successor was corps commander Rudolf Schmidt, whose nickname “Panzerschmidt” suggests determination rather than finesse. Schmidt based his tactics on strong points established in villages that were magnets for Russians no less cold than their opponents, and defended until relieved by battle groups built around whatever was available and could be scrounged. Walther Model commanded a corps during Typhoon, and in January 1942 brought his uncompromising mind-set and a belief in the defensive potential of small armored battle groups to 9th Army. Many other panzer generals would follow the same path.

Reconfiguring the panzers’ command profile would have meant little if the armored force was not restored materially. That was the main challenge during the winter and early spring of 1942. Overall losses during Barbarossa amounted to more than 1,100,000 men, and there was no way they could be entirely replaced before resumed operations enlarged the gap. Halder calculated the resulting loss of combat effectiveness as from half to two-thirds in the infantry. The mobile divisions were better off in personnel terms, but not by much, especially given the loss in specialists incurred by such measures as using dismounted tankers as infantry during the desperate winter months. More than 4,200 tanks had been destroyed or damaged during Barbarossa. There was no way an overextended industrial network and an overburdened repair system could compensate. As late as March, the gap between tables of organization and tanks in unit service was more than 2,000. The corresponding shortfall in trucks was 35,000. A quarter-million horses were dead, a loss no less serious to an army still largely muscle-powered and likely to remain so given an increasingly untenable gap between the Reich’s oil resources and the Wehrmacht’s needs.

Hitler had planned on using new production to expand the army to 30 panzer divisions. The best the overstrained factories and replacement systems could deliver was four: three built around existing army regiments and one formed by converting the 1st Cavalry Division. Grossdeutschland was upgraded to a motorized division, with selected recruits and a guarantee of the latest equipment as it became available. Authorizing tank battalions for the four SS motorized divisions absorbed still more production. Some effort was made to replace quantity by quality. The two light companies of each tank battalion were authorized 17 J or L versions of the Panzer IIIs with the long-barreled 50mm gun. An increasing number of the medium company’s 17 Mark IVs were Fs and Gs, with a 75mm high-velocity gun that was the first clear match for the T-34 to appear in the armored force. These up-gunned tanks were issued to replace losses, so throughout 1942 panzer battalions would operate with mixed establishments of shorts and longs.

Most panzer and motorized divisions were assigned an antiaircraft battalion with eight 88mm towed guns and a couple dozen 20mms. In recognition of the Red Air Force’s exponentially improving ground-attack capacity, the new addition was also a welcome upgrade of the divisions’ antitank capability. The motorized divisions received an even larger direct force multiplier: an organic tank battalion. That gave them a ratio of six to one in infantry and armor, compared to the panzer divisions’ four to two. Given the high casualties the motorized infantry had suffered in 1941, and given the Reich’s limited ability to replace tank losses, the upgrading was more or less a distinction without a difference. It was also a way of increasing the number of tank-equipped divisions without the problems inevitably accompanying new organizations.

The revamped structure of the motorized divisions was also a recognition that the hard-hammered marching infantry—some divisions were two-thirds short of authorized strength as late as May—were going to require mobile backup, “corset stays,” even in what passed for quiet sectors. The status of the motorized infantry was acknowledged when, in October 1942, they were redesignated as grenadiers. In March 1943 they became panzer grenadiers. In June the motorized divisions were retitled panzer grenadiers as well.

The honorifics would gladly have been exchanged for a few dozen more half-tracks: a battalion’s worth of those valuable vehicles was the best most mobile divisions could expect. Firepower was nevertheless increased, with the commander’s track in each platoon sporting a 37mm gun, which was still useful in many ways. Other half-tracks carried a variety of increasingly heavy guns and mortars on improvised mounts. The 50mm antitank gun became a battalion weapon, and panzer grenadier battalions also had as many as eight infantry guns for direct support—substituting for towed field artillery too often bogged down, out of contact, or out of range.

The resulting amalgam of weapons and vehicles continues to delight war-gamers and order-of-battle hobbyists. In fact, the plethora of crew-served heavy weapons reflected the continuing shortage—or better said, absence—of tanks and assault guns. Another indication of the patchwork nature of the armored force’s reconstruction is that the tank battalions for the motorized/panzer grenadier divisions were transferred from the panzer divisions: another institutionalized dispersion of a scarce and wasting asset.

The battle group system remained basic to the employment of the mobile troops, but experience produced modifications. Regiments evolved toward task force headquarters, with battalions becoming increasingly autonomous, transferred among them as needed for building blocks. In the offense or for counterattacks, battle groups were usually built around the tank battalions, the half-tracked rifle battalion, and the reconnaissance battalion. On the defensive the panzer grenadier regiments did the heavy work with the tanks in reserve—if they were available—for gap-plugging and counterattacks. Improvements in forward fire control in principle allowed the panzers’ artillery to be centralized at divisional level, its fire allocated where most needed or most promising. In fact, battalions were often attached to battle groups for the sake of quick reaction.

The Eastern Front’s major contribution to tactics was added emphasis on speed. The ability to form, commit, and restructure battle groups to match changing situations was often the major German force multiplier against a materially and numerically superior enemy that, even as its flexibility improved, was still structured around orders from above. The success of these formations, time and again, against all odds and obstacles, in turn fostered a sense of operational superiority that inevitably manifested itself in racial as well as military contexts. The results could range from triumph to disaster—but at division level and below the disasters, tended to be dismissed as the chance of war rather than signs of a fundamental shift in the balance of fighting power.

The developed battle group system was also a tactical response to a Soviet strategy that during the winter of 1941-42 sought to decide the war by breaking the German defenses along the entire front. Stalin and his key military advisors agreed that it was best done by hammering as hard as possible in as many sectors as possible, on the principle that something had to give somewhere. The plan had a political dimension as well: to restore domestic morale still far too labile for Stalin’s peace of mind by providing at least small-scale victories.

A more prudent approach might have involved structuring military objectives to buy time: time for promised American assistance to arrive; time to restabilize an industrial base physically transferred east of the Urals; and above all, time to shake down a still- rebuilding Red Army as yet unable to translate strategic planning into operational and tactical success. Instead, recovered from the shocks of December, the Germans proved well able to parry, block, and then halt a series of ambitious offensives from Leningrad to Rzhev-Vyazma and south to Orel and Kursk.

Those successes were primarily achieved by the well- applied economy-of-force tactics indicated above: mutually supporting strong points backed by relatively small armored battle groups. They validated infantry officers’ assertions that with minimal direct infusions of the right kind of support, they could take care of both themselves and the Russians. Beginning in 1942, the Army Weapons Office began mounting captured Soviet 76mm and German 75mm high-velocity guns on Panzer II chassis. These 10.5-ton Marder tank destroyers, though open-topped and lightly armored, were potent killers of T-34s. They went first to the infantry. So did most of the increasing number of independent assault-gun battalions formed during 1942 whose low-slung Sturmgeschütz IIIs were armed with short and long 75mm guns in combinations depending on availability. A mobile division lucky enough to have one of these battalions attached for a time usually employed it with the panzer grenadiers, where its flexible firepower was no less welcome than among ordinary Landser.

The Red Army was not the only one able to restore itself under emergency conditions. With winter turning to spring, the Germans in Russia emerged as a combination of an ideologically motivated citizen army and a seasoned professional fighting force. The months in Russia had pitilessly exposed weak human and material links. New weapons still existed mostly on drawing boards, but officers and men knew how to use what they had to best advantage. A counterattack in late April relieved 100,000 men cut off in the Demyansk Pocket since January. Infantry, artillery, and pioneers, with substantial support from the Romanians, began the final attack on the Crimean peninsula on May 8. Most of the mobile divisions had been refitted. Some especially hard-tried ones like the 6th and 7th Panzer Divisions were sent all the way to France. The rest remained in Russia but out of the line for a few weeks. They would be ready by the time the rasputitsa, the spring thaw, ended.

Castalla (1813)

The Battle of Castalla, 13 April 1813.

Following the success of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca and the temporary recovery of Madrid, the 1812 campaign in central Spain petered out after the failure to capture the castle of Burgos, and was followed by a difficult and costly retreat all the way back to the Portuguese border. However, the severe French losses in Russia had caused the recall of significant numbers of French troops from Spain during the spring, to face the advancing Russian and Prussian troops in central Europe. Wellington therefore saw great opportunities for the campaign of 1813, with the weakened French forces compelled to remain on the defensive. To aid his great surge forward, he looked to the British forces under the recently arrived Sir John Murray and the Spanish 2nd Army to cause a major diversion in eastern Spain, thus preventing Suchet from supporting the main French army’s efforts.

Sir John Murray is often viewed as a controversial choice for this command, largely on the basis of the harsh judgement of William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War. He is highly critical regarding Murray’s lack of initiative in cutting off the retreat of Marshal Soult’s army from Oporto in 1809, when he commanded a brigade there. His leaving the peninsula soon after this, however, was not actually related; he simply refused to serve under William Carr Beresford, who had been created a Portuguese Marshal but was still junior to him in the British army. Indeed, Wellington, a harsh judge, who did not bear fools easily, commented on Murray’s wish to leave the army with the words ‘he will be missed’; clearly Wellington cannot have been unhappy with his performance.

During the winter of 1812 the British force still at Alicante on the east coast had grown, with reinforcements arriving from Sicily and Lisbon, and now amounted to 16,000 men, including Whittingham’s Spanish division. The Spanish 2nd Army had also been reorganised and now numbered some 20,000 men in four divisions, one of which, under Roche, was attached to Murray.

It is true that some of Murray’s troops were not of a particularly high quality, many being Italians or French, Swiss and Polish deserters. Indeed, in early February eighty-six men of the 2nd Italian Levy deserted en masse, taking their officer with them as a prisoner. Another serious difficulty was the procuring of draught animals to move stores and supplies. The troops had arrived without horses and it proved very difficult even to establish a supply train in eastern Spain, and this severely hampered any movements. Food was supplied regularly from Sicily and Algeria, but the troops needed to remain close to the coast to be able to access it, which placed a severe restriction on their manoeuvrability.

Suchet’s army retained three divisions around Xativa and had one brigade further forward at Alcoy; this Murray decided to encircle and destroy, but the attempt failed. Murray then put forward the idea of landing Roche’s division at Valencia, in the rear of the French army, and capturing it from the sea. Messages from Bentinck in Sicily, however, stating that he might be compelled to recall his Sicilian troops, ended any thoughts of such an operation – probably a good thing for all concerned.

All this inertia played into French hands and Suchet decided to strike whilst the allied divisions were still spread out and their actions uncoordinated. He attacked in two columns, successfully separating Murray from part of the Spanish army, which was forced to flee to the west, and driving Murray’s force back towards Castalla. Realising the danger, Murray immediately ordered his entire force to concentrate at Castalla, including Whittingham’s and Roche’s Spanish troops. Murray’s own troops then took up a position lining the crest of the hills to the south of the town of Biar, and centred around the hill with the castle of Castalla perched on its summit. Suchet made heavy weather of clearing the two battalions of British troops defending the Biar Pass, who then retired leisurely to the main position when the pass was no longer tenable. The delay meant that any attack by Suchet on the main allied position would now have to wait until the following day.

On 13 April 1813, in an action not unlike that at Bussaco, the French marched in solid columns up the slope of the hill, only to be met by the allied reserves advancing to line the crest at the vital moment and destroying the head of the French columns with a couple of devastating volleys, before following up with a determined bayonet charge. Whittingham’s Spanish also fought well and performed their part admirably; eventually Suchet realised the futility of continuing the attacks and took his troops back beyond the Biar Pass to avoid being trapped in front of it. Murray failed to move forward to take advantage of his victory and was generally criticised by the officers of his army for failing to do so.

Unaware of this action, Wellington penned a memorandum with his orders for the army of the east coast. His main priority was the assembly of a force of no fewer than 10,000 men, which was to be disembarked to besiege Tarragona. Such a move, Wellington judged, would force Suchet to pull back from Valencia and eventually, possibly, even from Catalonia entirely. Wellington indicated that Suchet might intervene and force the abandonment of the siege of Tarragona; in that case, Murray was to re-embark his troops and go to Valencia, and aid the Spanish in driving what remained of Suchet’s forces northwards. Wellington also warned Murray that on no account was he to allow any part of his force to be destroyed; this was unfortunate, as it undoubtedly made a naturally cautious general a very nervous one indeed.

Rear Admiral Hallowell had escorted the convoy of transports initially used to land the army at Alicante, and his squadron of three ships of the line and a few frigates still lay close at hand. Therefore, in line with his instructions, by 31 May Murray embarked 18,000 troops with a large siege battery and sailed for the Catalan coast.

On 2 June the fleet arrived off Cape Salou, 8 miles south of Tarragona. Here they met with the Spanish General Copons, who agreed to station a force of about 12,000 men of his 1st Army to the west of Tarragona in support. Murray immediately detached a brigade of troops commanded by Colonel Prevost under convoy to the Coll de Balaguer, where Fort San Felipe commanded the coastal road from Tortosa to Tarragona. After four days of bombardment, the fort surrendered when a lucky shot from two mortars sent ashore by HMS Stromboli ignited a magazine, causing an explosion.

Meanwhile the main force disembarked on 3 June and the investment of Tarragona was completed by that night. Having inspected the fortifications, Murray, with his chief engineer and artillery officers, all agreed that the only realistic line of attack was from the west. This was exactly as the French had concluded previously and by 5 June two initial batteries had been constructed. The French garrison numbered some 1,600 men under the command of General Antoine Bertoletti, who already held little hope of a successful outcome, with the western defences still not properly repaired since the French siege. General Murray was, however, actually the more nervous. He constantly fretted about a combined attack from Suchet in the south and Decaen from the north, which could overwhelm him. He also overestimated the strength of the city defences and the numbers of the defenders. He was severely criticised by his own officers for the handling of the siege, and they unanimously declared that an immediate assault on the southern defences would certainly succeed, but Murray refused to countenance such an attempt. His engineers also signally failed to drive the agenda, making contradictory analyses which further drained Murray’s confidence in the proceedings. Indeed, Murray wrote to Wellington that ‘I am much afraid we have undertaken more than we are able to perform.’

Hallowell and his sailors ignored such pessimism and energetically worked to land more siege guns and construct further batteries. By 10 June they had five batteries in operation and by the following morning there was a suitable breach in the walls of Fort Royal. Clinton’s troops were ordered to be prepared for an assault that very evening.

Murray then rode out to meet General Copons and heard from him that French forces numbering some 10,000 men were marching south from Barcelona, but that the Spanish forces had moved to intercept them. Returning to the siege, Murray then heard that Suchet was still some 30-odd miles away, on the other side of the Coll de Balaguer. Despite the fact that Suchet had no way of immediately threatening the siege operations, this news seems to have unnerved Murray to the point that he cancelled the planned assault and ordered the army to re-embark completely by dark on 12 June. He was confronted by a group of his senior officers, who argued that they should march to destroy the French column approaching from the north before continuing with the siege. But hearing on the 12th that this column was now only a few hours’ march from the city, Murray issued a series of both contradictory and deeply embarrassing orders effectively abandoning everything. In fact, the column had turned around and returned northward on learning that Pellew had landed his marines in their rear in the Bay of Rosas.

Hallowell refused to abandon all their stores so lightly and he delayed sailing until 13 June in order to bring on board all the supplies and horses, but eighteen cannon were spiked and abandoned in the batteries.

Murray had further decided that the force at the Coll de Balaguer was also to be withdrawn and the Spanish forces were effectively abandoned to escape as best they could. However, news that Suchet was actually moving southwards because of reports of Spanish advances towards Valencia, and that one French brigade had been left in an isolated position and might be cut off, seems to have renewed Murray’s belief and he promptly ordered the army to disembark again!

The intended attack came to nothing and the army simply sat and waited for Murray to make any decision at all. Instead, he ordered a council of war on 17 June, which agreed that the only realistic option now was to re-embark, which was accomplished by the 19th. Bentinck had finally arrived from Sicily on 18 June and promptly superseded Murray, but he agreed with the decision to abandon the campaign, and ordered the fort at the Coll de Balaguer to be blown up. The army sailed back to Alicante in ignominy.

Even the historian Fortescue, his harshest critic, recognises that the position Murray found himself in may well have made re-embarkation essential, but the unnecessary haste and confusion engendered was unfounded, for there was certainly time to have recovered all the siege artillery. It was not the decision that is most criticised, but the unseemly rush and the embarrassing losses incurred because of it.

The final chapter of this shambolic and deeply embarrassing campaign led to Sir John Murray having to face a court-martial in January 1815; unbelievably, he was acquitted of all charges, but found guilty of an error of judgement in abandoning his guns. It did not, however, negatively affect his future career one jot!

Battle of Vinegar Hill 1798

“Charge of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the insurgents – a recreant yeoman having deserted to them in uniform is being cut down” (William Sadler II)

BATTLE OF VINEGAR HILL BY J. HARDY, 1798

This plan of Vinegar Hill near Enniscorthy, County Wexford, shows the position of the armies on 21 June 1798. The key battle in the Irish Rising of 1798, this was a struggle won by the larger and better-armed side. The poorly-led rebels in Wexford concentrated at Vinegar Hill, losing the strategic initiative and allowing the British to land reinforcements near Waterford from 16 June. Lieutenant-General Gerard Lake was able to concentrate an army of 20,000 men and a large artillery train. He attacked his 9,000 opponents on 21 June, using his artillery to devastate them. The rebels fought for two hours, suffering heavy casualties, and finally retreated when their ammunition ran out. The rebel pikemen were shot down. Their cohesion lost, the rebels suffered heavily in subsequent government punitive operations. The rising had been defeated.

The Society of United Irishmen was founded in 1791, inspired by the French Revolution. The organization’s purpose was to secure parliamentary reform and legal equality for all Irish, and it was led by Belfast Presbyterian merchants and Dublin intellectuals, most notably Wolfe Tone (1763-98) and James Napper Tandy (1740-1803). The United Irishmen garnered support among Presbyterian farmers in Ulster and among Roman Catholic peasants generally.

At first the United Irishmen advocated reform by peaceful means, but, after war broke out in 1793 between Great Britain and France, the society began to espouse outright revolution. In April 1794, it even secured promises of aid from the French for any revolution. When British authorities acted harshly to suppress the United Irishmen, the organization went underground and became avowedly militant, entirely determined to foment rebellion.

Bolstered by anticipation of promised French aid, armed Irish mobs seized control of County Wexford, but were beaten back by British troops commanded by Gerard Lake (1744-1808) at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798. In the meantime, Wolfe Tone led a French expeditionary force from the Continent only to be intercepted by a British squadron off Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The squadron easily overpowered the force, and Tone, captured, was tried and convicted of treason. He committed suicide before the court’s sentence-death by hanging- could be carried out.

Due to its natural shelter and its depth, the lough was an important naval port. In October 1798, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, a French fleet carrying Wolfe Tone of the United Irishmen, plus troops to assist in 1798 rebellion, was intercepted and defeated in a naval battle at the entrance to Lough Swilly. Subsequently Tone was captured and taken ashore at Buncrana on the east side of the Swilly.

A Martello tower that sits on the banks of Lough Swilly.

A subsequent reassessment of the threat of invasion led to the building of a series of fortifications guarding the different approaches and landing points within the lough which were completed between 1800 and 1820. Martello towers were built around 1804 to defend the approaches to Derry. The six on the lough cost €1,800 each, were armed with smoothbore cannon, firing round shot and were completed in six months.

With the defeat at Vinegar Hill, the quelling of two other local revolts, and the death of Tone, the United Irishmen’s revolt collapsed. The other principal rebel leader, Tandy, fled into French exile. In 1801, Great Britain was united with Ireland as the United Kingdom. 

The Wexford rising, as it was known, which began 26-27 May, was more serious. Here the United Irishmen were better organized and were led by charismatic local priests as well as some liberal Protestant gentry. The Wexford insurgents defeated government forces at Oulart Hill and captured the towns of Enniscorthy and Wexford, where they established a rudimentary administration. They tried to spread the rebellion into other counties but were heavily defeated at the battles of New Ross (5 June) and Arklow (9 June). The tide turned completely against the rebels with their defeat at the Battle of Vinegar Hill (21 June). Some leaders like Michael Dwyer (1771-1826) retreated with remnants of the rebel army into the Wicklow mountains, maintaining a guerrilla campaign until 1803.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: England, 100,000; Ireland, 40,000; France, 3,000 CASUALTIES: English, 1,500 killed in battle; 10,000 died of disease; Irish, 7,900 killed, wounded or captured at New Ross, Vinegar Hill, Castlebar, Ballynamuck, and Killala. Irish total combatant and noncombatant deaths estimated at 50,000. At Lough Swilly, French losses included 425 killed and 1,870 captured.

Roy Foster described the 1798 rising as `probably the most concentrated episode of violence in Irish history’. There were mass atrocities perpetrated by both sides, about 30,000 people died and over £1 million worth of property was destroyed. After this rebellion and that of Robert Emmet in 1803 (III), the government extended its military precautions. Among defensive measures taken was the building of military roads, including one across the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. During the Napoleonic wars, increased fears of foreign invasion led to the widespread construction of Martello towers along the Irish coastline. Apart from the destruction of the United Irishmen and the consequent discrediting of the ideals of fraternity and religious equality that had been at the base of its thinking, an immediate consequence of the rising was to increase pressure for union between Ireland and Britain. As the final irony, the main result of the 1798 rising was to bind Ireland closer to Britain for more than another century.

The Battle of Mansourah

Before first light on Tuesday 8 February 1250, the king’s plan was put into action. The Templars led the way, closely followed by a party of knights commanded by Louis’ brother Count Robert of Artois, which included the Englishman William Longsword, earl of Salisbury. It soon became clear that the ford was deeper than expected, requiring horses to swim midstream, and the steep, muddy banks on either side caused some crusaders to fall from their mounts and drown. Nonetheless, hundreds of Franks began to emerge on the far shore.

Then, just as the sun was rising, Robert of Artois made a sudden and unexpected decision to launch an assault, charging at the head of his men towards the Ayyubids’ riverside base. In the confusion, the Templars followed close behind, leaving Louis and the bulk of the strike force stranded in the ford. In this one instant, all hope of an ordered offensive evaporated. It is impossible to know what caused Robert to act so precipitously: perhaps he saw the chance for a surprise attack slipping away; or the promise of glory and renown may have spurred him on. As he rode off, those left behind–the king included–must have felt a mixture of shock, puzzlement and anger.

Even so, at first it looked as though Robert’s audacity might win the day. Ploughing into the unsuspecting Muslim camp, where many were still asleep, the count’s combined force of around 600 crusaders and Templars encountered only token resistance. Racing in among the enemy tents, they began the work of butchery. Fakhr al-Din, who was carrying out his morning ablutions, quickly threw on some clothes, mounted a horse and rode out, unarmed, into the tumult. Set upon by a party of Templars, he was cut down and slain by two mighty sword blows. Elsewhere the slaughter was indiscriminate. One Frankish account described how the Latins were ‘killing all and sparing none’, observing that ‘it was sad indeed to see so many dead bodies and so much blood spilt, except that they were enemies of the Christian faith’.

This brutal riot overran the Ayyubid encampment and, had Robert now elected to hold the field, reorder his forces and await Louis’ arrival, a stunning victory might well have been at hand. But this was not to be. With Muslim stragglers streaming towards Mansourah, the count of Artois made a woefully hot-headed decision to pursue them. As he moved to initiate a second charge, the Templar commander urged caution, but Robert chided him for his cowardice. According to one Christian account, the Templar replied: ‘Neither I nor my brothers are afraid…but let me tell you that none of us expect to come back, neither you, nor ourselves.’

Together they and their men rode the short distance south to Mansourah and raced into the town. There the folly of their courageous but suicidal decision immediately became apparent. On the open plain, even in the Ayyubid camp, the Christians had been afforded the freedom to manoeuvre and fight in close-knit groups. But once in among the town’s cramped streets and alleyways, that style of warfare proved impossible. Worse still, upon entering Mansourah, the Franks came face to face with the elite Bahriyya regiment quartered in the town. This was to be the Latins’ first deadly encounter with these ‘lions of battle’. A Muslim chronicler described how the mamluks fought with utter ruthlessness and resolve. Surrounding the crusaders ‘on every side’, attacking with spear, sword and bow, they ‘turned their crosses upside down’. Of the 600 or so who rode into Mansourah barely a handful escaped, and both Robert of Artois and William Longsword were killed.

Back on the banks of the Tanis, as yet unaware of the dreadful slaughter then just beginning in Mansourah, Louis was making a valiant attempt to retain control of his remaining troops, even as squadrons of mounted mamluks began racing forward to counter-attack. One crusader described how ‘a tremendous noise of horns, bugles and drums broke out’ as they drew near; ‘men shouted, horses neighed; it was horrible to see or hear’. But in the thick of the throng, the king held his nerve and slowly fought his way forward to establish a position on the southern edge of the river, opposite the crusader camp. Here the Franks rallied to the Oriflame and made a desperate attempt to hold their ground, while the mamluks loosed ‘dense clouds of bolts and arrows’ and rushed in to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The damage sustained on that day was appalling. One of Joinville’s knights took ‘a lance-thrust between his shoulders, which made so large a wound that the blood poured from his body as if from a bung-hole in a barrel’. Another received a blow from a Muslim sword in the middle of his face that cut ‘through his nose so that it was left dangling over his lips’. He carried on fighting, only to die later of his injuries. As for himself, John wrote: ‘I was only wounded by the enemy’s arrows in five places, though my horse was wounded in fifteen.’

The crusaders came close to routing–some tried to swim across the Tanis, and one eyewitness ‘saw the river strewn with lances and shields, and full of men and horses drowning in the water’. For those fighting alongside the king it seemed as if there was an endless stream of enemies to face, and ‘for every [Muslim] killed, another at once appeared, fresh and vigorous’. But through it all, Louis remained steadfast, refusing to be broken. Inspired by his resilience, the Christians endured wave upon wave of attack, until at last, at around three o’clock in the afternoon, the Muslim offensive slackened. As night fell, the battered Franks retained possession of the field.

Latin sources described this, the Battle of Mansourah, as a great crusader victory, and in one sense it was a triumph. Holding out against horrendous odds, the Franks had established a bridgehead south of the Tanis. But the cost of this achievement was immense. The deaths of Robert of Artois and his contingent, alongside a large proportion of the Templar host, deprived the expedition of many of its fiercest warriors. In any battles still to come, their loss would be keenly felt. And though the crusaders had crossed the river, the town of Mansourah stood before them still, barring their advance.

BETWEEN VICTORY AND DEFEAT

In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Mansourah, Louis IX was confronted by a pressing strategic dilemma. In theory the king had two options: to cut his losses and fall back across the Tanis; or to dig in on the south bank, in the hope of somehow overcoming the Ayyubid enemy. Choosing the former would have been tantamount to conceding defeat, for though this cautious tactic might have permitted the crusade to regroup, the chances of mounting a second cross-river offensive, with a now weakened army, were limited. Louis must also have recognised that the shame and frustration of forsaking a bridgehead won through the sacrifice of so many Christian lives would crush Frankish spirits, probably beyond repair. That night, or at dawn the following morning, the king could have ordered a withdrawal, but this act would have signalled the failure of his Egyptian strategy, effectively marking the crusade’s end.

Given Louis’ earnest belief that his endeavour enjoyed divine sanction and support, and the constant pressure placed upon him to uphold the tenets of chivalry and honour the achievements of his crusading ancestors, it is hardly surprising that he rejected any thought of retreat. Instead, he immediately began to consolidate his position south of the river, scavenging materials from the overrun Muslim camp–including wood from the fourteen remaining engines–to improvise a stockade, while also digging a shallow defensive trench. At the same time, a number of small boats were lashed together to create a makeshift bridge across the Tanis, linking the old northern camp and the crusaders’ new outpost. By these measures, the Franks sought to prepare themselves for the storm of war that would surely come. And for now, Louis seems to have clung to the memory of the sudden victory at Damietta, convinced that Ayyubid resistance was about to collapse.

Three days later, the king’s hopes suffered a first blow. On Friday 11 February, the mamluks initiated a massive onslaught, spearheaded by the Bahriyya, which lasted from dawn till dusk. Thousands of Muslims surrounded the crusader camp, intent upon dislodging the Franks through aerial bombardment and bloody close-quarter combat. Christians later declared that they attacked ‘so persistently, horribly and dreadfully’ that many Latins from Outremer ‘said that they had never seen such a bold and violent assault’. The mamluks’ unbridled ferocity terrified the crusaders, one of whom wrote that they ‘hardly seemed human, but like wild beasts, frantic with rage’, adding that ‘they clearly thought nothing of dying’. Many Franks were carrying injuries from the Battle of Mansourah–Joinville, for example, was no longer able to don armour because of his wounds–but, nonetheless, they fought back manfully, aided by raking showers of crossbow bolts unleashed from the old camp across the river. Once again Louis kept his nerve and the Christians held their ground, but only through the sacrifice of hundreds more dead and injured, among them the master of the Templars, who had lost one eye on 8 February and now lost another and soon died from his wounds.

The Latins demonstrated immense fortitude in the two dreadful mêlèes endured that week. They also claimed to have killed some 4,000 Muslims in this second encounter. There are no figures in Arabic chronicles with which to confirm this count, but, even if accurate, these losses seem to have done little to dent the Ayyubids’ overwhelming numerical superiority. The crusader army had survived, albeit in a terribly weakened state. From this point onwards, it must have been obvious that they were in no position to mount an offensive of their own. At absolute best, they could hope to retain their precarious foothold on the south bank. And if Mansourah was not to be attacked, then how could the war be won?

In the days and weeks that followed, this question became ever more imperative. The Egyptians carried out regular probing attacks, but otherwise were content to confine the Christians within their stockade. By late February, with no possible hint of progress in the campaign, the atmosphere in the camp began to darken, and the crusaders’ predicament was only exacerbated by the outbreak of illness. This was partly linked to the enormous number of dead piled upon the plain and floating in the water. Joinville described seeing scores of bodies dragged down the Tanis by the current, until they piled up against the Franks’ bridge of boats, so that ‘all the river was full of corpses, from one bank to another, and as far upstream as one could cast a small stone’. Food shortages were also starting to take hold, and this led to scurvy.

In this situation, the supply chain down the Nile to Damietta became an essential lifeline. So far, the Christian fleet had been free to ferry goods to the camps at Mansourah, but this was about to change. On 25 February 1250, after long months of travel from Iraq, the Ayyubid heir to Egypt, al-Mu‘azzam Turanshah, arrived at the Nile Delta. He immediately brought new impetus to the Muslim cause. With the Nile flood long abated, the Mahalla Canal contained too little water to be entered to the south, but Turanshah had some fifty ships portaged across land to the canal’s northern reaches. From there, these vessels were able to sail down to the Nile, bypassing the Frankish fleet at Mansourah. Joinville admitted that this dramatic move ‘came as a great shock to our people’. Turanshah’s ploy was virtually identical to the trap sprung against the Fifth Crusade, and for Louis’ expedition it spelled disaster.

Over the next few weeks Ayyubid ships intercepted two Christian supply convoys heading south from Damietta. Cut off by this blockade, the crusaders soon found themselves in a hopeless position. A Latin contemporary described the awful sense of desperation that now gripped the army: ‘Everyone expected to die, no one supposed he could escape. It would have been hard to find one man in all that great host who was not mourning a dead friend, or a single tent or shelter without its sick or dead.’ By this stage, Joinville’s wounds had become infected. He later recalled lying in his tent in a feverish state; outside, ‘barber-surgeons’ were cutting away the rotting gums of those afflicted with scurvy, so they might eat. Joinville could hear the cries of those enduring this gruesome surgery resounding through the camp, and likened them to those ‘of a woman in labour’. Starvation also began to take a heavy toll among men and horses. Many Franks happily consumed carrion from dead horses, donkeys and mules, and later resorted to eating cats and dogs.46

The price of indecision

By early March 1250, conditions in the main Christian camp on the south bank of the Tanis were unbearable. One eyewitness admitted that ‘men said openly that all was lost’. Louis was largely responsible for this ruinous state of affairs. In mid-February, he had failed to make a realistic strategic assessment of the risks and possible rewards involved in maintaining the crusaders’ southern camp, holding on to the forlorn hope of Ayyubid disintegration. He also grossly underestimated the vulnerability of his Nile supply line and the number of troops needed to overcome the Egyptian army at Mansourah.

Some of these errors might have been mitigated had the king now acted with decisive resolution–recognising that his position was utterly untenable. The only logical choices remaining were immediate retreat or negotiation, but throughout the month of March Louis embraced neither. Instead, as his troops weakened and died all around him, the French monarch seems to have been paralysed by indecision–unable to face the fact that his grand Egyptian strategy had been thwarted. It was not until early April that Louis finally took action, but by this stage he was too late. Seeking to secure terms of truce with the Ayyubids, he seems to have offered to exchange Damietta for Jerusalem (raising yet another parallel with the Fifth Crusade). A deal of this sort might have been acceptable in February 1250, perhaps even in March, but by April the Muslim stranglehold was clear to all. Turanshah knew that he held a telling advantage and, sensing that victory was close at hand, rebutted Louis’ proposal. All that remained now to the Christians was to attempt a retreat north, across the forty miles of open ground to Damietta.

On 4 April orders were passed through the lines of the exhausted Latin host. The hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of sick and wounded were to be loaded on to boats and ferried down the Nile in the vain hope that some craft might evade the Muslim cordon. The remaining able-bodied crusaders were to march overland to the coast.

By this stage Louis himself was suffering with dysentery. Many leading Franks urged him to flee, either by ship or on horseback, so as to avoid capture. But in a valiant, if somewhat foolhardy, show of solidarity, the king refused to abandon his men. He had led them into Egypt; now he hoped to guide them back out to safety. An ill-conceived plan was hatched to escape under cover of darkness, leaving the tents standing in the southern camp so as not to warn the Muslims that an exodus was under way. Louis also ordered his engineer, Joscelin of Cornaut, to cut the ropes holding the bridge of boats in place once the Tanis had been crossed.

Unfortunately the whole scheme quickly fell apart. Most of the crusaders made it back to the north shore at dusk, but a group of Ayyubid scouts realised what was happening and raised the alarm. With enemy troops bearing down on his position, Joscelin seems to have lost his nerve and fled–certainly the bridge remained in place, and packs of Muslim soldiers crossed over to give chase. In the failing light, panic spread and a chaotic rout began. One Muslim eyewitness described how ‘we followed on their tracks in pursuit; nor did the sword cease its work among their backsides throughout the night. Shame and catastrophe were their lot.’

Earlier that same evening, John of Joinville and two of his surviving knights had boarded a boat and were waiting to push off. He now watched as wounded men, left in the confusion to fend for themselves in the old northern camp, started to crawl to the banks of the Nile, desperately trying to get on to any ship. He wrote: ‘As I was urging the sailors to let us get away, the Saracens entered the [northern] camp, and I saw by the light of the fires that they were slaughtering the poor fellows on the bank.’ Joinville’s vessel made it out into the river and, as the current took the craft downstream, he made good his escape.

By daybreak on 5 April 1250, the full extent of the disaster was apparent. On land, disordered groups of Franks were being keenly pursued by mamluk troops who had no interest in showing clemency. Over the next few days, many hundreds of retreating Christians were slain. One band got to within a day of Damietta, but were then surrounded and capitulated. Throughout the host, the great symbols of Frankish pride and indomitability fell: the Oriflame ‘was torn to pieces’ the Templar standard ‘trampled under foot’.

Riding north, the aged Patriarch Robert and Odo of Châteauroux somehow managed to elude capture, but, after the first twenty-four hours, shattered by their exertions, they were unable to go on. Robert later described in a letter how, by chance, they stumbled across a small boat tied up on the shore and eventually reached Damietta. Few were so fortunate. Most of the ships carrying the sick and injured were ransacked or burned in the water. John of Joinville’s boat made slow progress downstream, even as he beheld terrible scenes of carnage on the banks, but his craft was finally spotted. With four Muslim vessels bearing down on them, Joinville turned to his men, asking if they should land and try to fight their way to safety, or stay on the water and be captured. With disarming honesty, he described how one of his servants declared: ‘We should all let ourselves be slain, for thus we shall go to paradise’, but admitted that ‘none of us heeded his advice’. In fact, when his boat was boarded, Joinville lied to prevent his execution on the spot, saying that he was the king’s cousin. As a result he was taken into captivity.

In the midst of all this mayhem, King Louis became separated from most of his troops. He was now so stricken with dysentery that he had to have a hole cut in his breeches. A small group of his most loyal retainers made a brave attempt to lead him to safety, and eventually they took refuge in a small village. There, cowering, half dead, in a squalid hut, the mighty sovereign of France was captured. His daring attempt to conquer Egypt was at an end.

THE PENITENT KING

Louis IX’s errors of judgement at Mansourah–perhaps most notably his failure to learn fully from the mistakes of the Fifth Crusade–were now compounded by his own imprisonment. Never before had a king of the Latin West been taken captive during a crusade. This unparalleled disaster placed Louis and the bedraggled remnants of his army in an enormously vulnerable position. Seized by the enemy outright, with no chance to secure terms of surrender, the Franks found themselves at the mercy of Islam. Relishing the triumph, one Muslim witness wrote:

A tally was made of the number of captives, and there were more than 20,000; those who had drowned or been killed numbered 7,000. I saw the dead, and they covered the face of the earth in their profusion…. It was a day of the kind the Muslims had never seen; nor had they heard of its like.

Prisoners were herded into holding camps across the Delta and sorted by rank. According to Arabic testimony, Turanshah ‘ordered the ordinary mass to be beheaded’, and instructed one of his lieutenants from Iraq to oversee the executions–the grisly work apparently proceeded at the rate of 300 a night. Other Franks were offered the choice of conversion or death, while higher-ranking nobles, like John of Joinville, were held aside because of their economic value as hostages. Joinville suggested that King Louis was threatened with torture, being shown a gruesome wooden vice, ‘notched with interlocking teeth’, that was used to crush a victim’s legs, but this is not hinted at elsewhere. Despite his illness and the ignominious circumstances of his capture, the monarch seems to have held his dignity.

In fact, Louis’ circumstances were markedly improved by Turanshah’s own increasingly uncertain position at this time. Since his arrival at Mansourah, the Ayyubid heir had favoured his own soldiers and officials, thereby alienating many within the existing Egyptian army hierarchy–including the mamluk commander Aqtay and the Bahriyya. Keen to secure a deal that would consolidate his hold over the Nile region, Turanshah agreed to negotiate and, in mid-to late April, terms were settled. A ten-year truce was declared. The French king would be released in return for Damietta’s immediate surrender. A massive ransom of 800,000 gold bezants (or 400,000 livres tournois) was set for the 12,000 other Christians in Ayyubid custody.

In early May, however, it suddenly seemed that even the fulfilment of these punitive conditions might not bring the Christians to liberty, because the Ayyubid coup–so long awaited by Louis at Mansourah–finally took place. On 2 May Turanshah was murdered by Aqtay and a vicious young mamluk in the Bahriyya regiment, named Baybars. The ensuing power struggle initially saw Shajar al-Durr appointed as figurehead of Ayyubid Egypt. In reality, though, a seismic shift was now under way–one that would lead to the gradual but inexorable rise of the mamluks.

In spite of these dynastic upheavals, the Muslim repossession of Damietta went ahead as planned and Louis was released on 6 May 1250. He then set about collecting the funds with which to make an initial payment of half the ransom–200,000 livres tournois–177,000 of which was raised from the king’s war chest and the remainder taken from the Templars. This massive sum took two days to be weighed and counted. On 8 May Louis took ship to Palestine with his leading nobles, among them his two surviving brothers, Alphonse of Poitiers and Charles of Anjou, and John of Joinville. As yet, the vast majority of the crusaders remained in captivity.

In adversity’s wake

All Louis IX’s hopes of subjugating Egypt and winning the war for the Holy Land had ended in failure. But in many ways the true and remarkable depth of the French king’s crusading idealism only became apparent after this humiliating defeat. In similar circumstances, shamed by such an unmitigated debacle, many a Christian monarch would have sloped off back to Europe, turning his back on the Near East. Louis did the opposite. Realising that his men would likely remain rotting in Muslim captivity unless he continued to pressure the Egyptian regime for their release, the king chose to remain in Palestine for the next four years.

In this time, Louis served as overlord of Outremer and, by 1252, had secured the liberation of his troops. Working tirelessly, he set about the unglamorous task of bolstering the kingdom of Jerusalem’s coastal defences–overseeing the extensive refortification of Acre, Jaffa, Caesarea and Sidon. He also established a permanent garrison of one hundred Frankish knights in Acre, paid for by the French crown at an annual cost of around 4,000 livres tournois.

Given the ardent self-promotion typical of other crusade leaders–from Richard the Lionheart to Frederick II of Germany–Louis also showed an extraordinary willingness to accept responsibility for the dreadful setbacks experienced in Egypt. The king’s supporters tried their best to transfer the blame to Robert of Artois, emphasising that it had been his advice that led to the march on Mansourah in autumn 1249 and criticising the count’s reckless behaviour on 8 February 1250. But in a letter written in August 1250, Louis himself praised Robert’s bravery, describing him as ‘our very dear and illustrious brother of honoured memory’, and expressing the hope and belief that he had been ‘crowned as a martyr’. In the same document, the king explained the crusade’s failure and his own incarceration as divine punishments, meted out ‘as our sins required’.

Eventually, in April 1254, Louis travelled home to France. His mother Blanche had died two years earlier, and the Capetian realm had become increasingly unstable. The king returned from the Holy Land a changed man, and his later life was marked by extreme piety and austerity–wearing a hair shirt, he ate only meagre rations of the blandest food and engaged in seemingly constant prayer. At one point Louis even considered renouncing his crown and entering a monastery. He also harboured a heartfelt, lingering desire to launch another crusade, thereby, perhaps, to win redemption.

The Egyptian expedition reshaped King Louis’ life, but the events on the Nile also had a wider effect upon Latin Europe. The crusade of 1250 had been carefully planned, financed and supplied; its armies led by a paragon of Christian kingship. And still it had been subjected to an excoriating defeat. After one and a half centuries of almost unbroken failure in the war for the Holy Land, this latest reversal prompted an outpouring of doubt and despair in the West. Some even turned their backs on the Christian faith. In the second half of the thirteenth century–as Outremer’s strength continued to fade and new, seemingly invincible, enemies emerged on to the Levantine stage–the chances of mounting another crusade to the East seemed bleak indeed.

Henry VIII: the pursuit of glory

Henry VIII meets the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1513. The top of the painting shows the battle of the Spurs, in which Henry and Maximilian’s combined forces routed their French foes.

To the young Henry VIII, the pursuit of glory on the battlefield was the key to his achievement of `true majesty’. In a document dated 20 March 1512, Pope Julius II had stripped Louis XII of his title, `Most Christian king of France and of his kingdom’ and offered it to Henry in return for the prosecution of a successful campaign against the French king. This was a rare `carrot’ indeed for a king so eager to emulate the deeds of his illustrious ancestor and namesake, Henry V. Throughout 1512 the royal propagandists sought to present the French king as a usurper of Henry’s rightful claim to the crown of France and the lands of Anjou, Maine, Gascony, Guyenne and Normandy. Early in the year “it was concluded, by the body of the Realme in the high Courte of Parliament assembled, that warre should be made on the Frenche Kyng and his dominions.” The formal declaration of war was delivered in April and, by the end of the month, the English fleet, under the command of Edward Howard, had embarked to raid the French coast.

Lord Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset was appointed to lead the main English army. Dorset was to join up with Ferdinand’s forces and invade Guyenne. It was agreed prior to departure that Ferdinand would supply the English with ordnance, cavalry and carriage for supplies. However, Ferdinand, who had now changed his mind and wanted to attack Navarre before turning to Guyenne, made no such preparations. Dorset’s proposal to attack Bayonne as a base from which to assault Aquitaine was refused. It soon became apparent that Ferdinand simply wished to use the English force to act as a cover for his seizure of the Kingdom of Navarre, which he quickly defeated and annexed. Ferdinand’s failure to follow the agreement laid down before the departure of Henry’s army effectively destroyed any hope of Dorset achieving anything meaningful. In the context of the military history of Henry’s reign, the campaign was relatively insignificant, so much so that Vergil insisted that, “nothing worth recording was done in these parts.” However, considerable sums of money were expunged on the campaign, in a series of payments executed by William Sandes in his role as treasurer of the army. Guyot Heull, Captain of the Almayns was paid for six weeks wages, cloth for coats and “houses,” and total payments for the wages, victuall and other costs incurred in the execution of this minor campaign totaled 80,857li. 17s. 4d.

More symbolic of developments in the rest of Henry’s reign was his manipulation at the hands of an ally with a hidden agenda. Ferdinand’s failure to provide the ordnance and equipment determined in the negotiations before the campaign, and his alteration of the campaign objective, destroyed any hope of success – not simply the quality of the English troops.

The ignominious failure of this campaign did not discourage the young king. By 5 April 1513 he had again committed himself to war “on the part of England, with the Pope, Margaret of Savoy (on behalf of the Emperor) and Ferdinand of Aragon, against Louis XII King of France.” In signing this `Holy League’ Henry committed himself to an invasion of “Aquitaine, Picardy, and Normandy… within two months,” and even Ferdinand’s withdrawal from this great coalition could not discourage Henry from leading his army personally. It was his opinion that “his English subjects were of such high spirits that they tended to fight less willingly and less successfully under any commander other than their king.” Moreover he maintained that:

it behoved him to enter upon his first military experience in so important and difficult a war in order that he might, by a signal start to his martial knowledge, create such fine opinion about his valour among all men that they would clearly understand that his ambition was not merely to equal but indeed to exceed the glorious deeds of his ancestors.

Whether Henry was indeed determined to exceed the deeds of his ancestors, and the extent to which he did so, remain beyond the remit of this thesis. It does however seem clear that the pursuit of glory, through military adventure and more importantly victory, weighed heavily in the mind of Henry VIII. Although Henry fought for tangible gains, diplomatic and territorial, “he also fought in the shadow of his ancestors. for an honourable place in the history of his country.” Indeed, his reign was to end with England at war with Scotland and France: the 1540s saw domestic concerns firmly subordinated to Henry’s pursuit of military renown.

These concerns aside, in 1513, Henry agreed to “cross the sea with 30,000 men,” and offered to negotiate with the Venetians and urge them to peace with the Emperor, so that the Spanish in Italy could turn to attack southern France. The Emperor would attend in person and retain an army of 3,000 horses, 6,000 Swiss and 2,000 Landsknechts, to be paid for by Henry. This represented Henry’s first personal venture onto the battlefields of Europe. In the company of such an auspicious ally, the king was determined that the campaign should be a successful one, so extensive preparations were made. Polydore Vergil claimed that “there had almost never been seen in England so redoubtable an army, whether in the toughness of the soldiers or the excellence of their equipment.” This statement is almost certainly guilty of the same hyperbole that characterises much of Vergil’s chronicle; however, the `Army Royal’ of 1513 was excellently equipped and well organised.  

The forward crossed to Calais in mid-May, followed at the end of the month by Lord Herbert with the rearward. Henry himself arrived with the middle-ward as late as 30 June, by which time both the forward and rearward had departed Calais and encamped at Therouanne. Henry set out from Calais with the `middleward’ on 21 July and “notwithstandyng that the forward and the rerewarde of the kyngs great army were before Tirwyn, the King of his awne battayle made 3 battailles after the fasshion of the warre.”

Whilst in France, the army besieged and destroyed the town of Therouanne and seized Tournai (granted to the English in the peace of 1514 and garrisoned until 1519). They were also victorious in the grandly christened ‘Battle of the Spurs’.

‘Battle of the Spurs’

Occurring on 16 August 1513, during Henry VIII’s first French campaign, the Battle of the Spurs was a running engagement between French and English cavalry before the walls of the besieged French town of Thérouanne. The name derives from the nature of the encounter, which was not a planned, set-piece battle, but a spontaneous pursuit by the English of French cavalry surprised in an attempt to resupply the town’s garrison.

Also known as the Battle of Bomy for the French village nearest the action, the Battle of the Spurs began when French cavalry made a dash for Thérouanne intending to throw sides of bacon to waiting members of the hungry garrison. All went awry when the middle ward of the English army suddenly appeared directly in the path of the Frenchmen. The English deployment appears to have been entirely fortuitous, and not the result of any advance intelligence concerning French intentions. Besides the English cavalry to their front, the French also found themselves assailed on their flanks by a detachment of English archers and a battery of light artillery deployed by Henry’s Imperial ally, Emperor Maximilian I. In danger of being outflanked and encircled, and coming under a galling fire from the archers, the French cavalrymen put spur to horse and fled, discarding weapons and horse armor to facilitate their escape.

Joined by their Burgundian allies, the English cavalry pursued the fleeing enemy across the flat fields of Guingates east of Thérouanne. Desperate French officers tried to turn their men and make a fighting retreat, but only a few Frenchmen under the Chevalier Bayard were able to make a stand before a narrow bridge. Their action did not stem the rout, but it did buy time for the main force to reach safety. Nonetheless, the pursuing allies captured six French standards and a distinguished group of prisoners, including such nobles as the duc de Longueville and the vice admiral of France. Although not much of a battle in military terms, the encounter near Bomy was a glorious triumph for English honor and a marvelous enhancement to the military reputation of the English king. Although later reports said that Henry shared in the glory of pursuing the fleeing foe, he was well to the rear when the skirmish began and is unlikely to have had much of a personal role in it. This fact did not prevent Henry from taking credit for a great victory, which he was shortly thereafter to describe in glowing terms to Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. The surrender of Thérouanne on 22 August added further luster to the Battle of the Spurs, although the encounter soon paled in significance next to the victory over James IV of Scotland won a few weeks later at Flodden Field by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

However, the “strategic value of Henry’s gains was negligible,” and the campaign has come in for extensive historical criticism. The Emperor, not Henry, enjoyed “tangible,” strategic advantages “when Therouanne was put out of action and Tournai was occupied by a friendly power.” Henry’s manipulation at the hands of his allies was completed when Ferdinand and Maximilian abandoned plans for a second invasion of France and made a separate peace with Louis XII. By August 1514 Henry had also concluded a peace, which, although outwardly beneficial (allowing him the retention of Tournai, the reinstatement of his French pension and assuring the marriage of his sister, Mary, to Louis), in reality left him with little more than empty coffers and an expensive, isolated outpost.

Battle of Shanhaiguan

Date: May 28, 1644

Location: Shanhaiguan, Hebei Province, northeast China

Opponents: (* winner) *Manzhu and Ming forces Rebels

Commander: Dorgon (Manzhu commander); Wu Sangui (Ming army) Li Zicheng

Approx. # Troops: 60,000 Manzhus; 40,000 Mings 60,000

Importance: Brings establishment of the Qing Dynasty

The Battle of Shanhaiguan (Shanhaikuan, or the Battle of Shanhai Pass) on May 28, 1644, pitted Manzhu (Manchu) and imperial Chinese troops against a force of rebel Chinese. It was the decisive event in the replacement of the Ming dynasty by that of the Qing (Ch’ing).

The Ming period (1368-1644) saw major military and administrative accomplishments and a great flowering in the arts, but by the 17th century the dynasty was under increasing pressure from the Japanese and the Dutch and from rebellions within China, especially by the Manzhu. Descended from the Mongols who had invaded China in the l2th century, the Manzhu in Manchuria had become tributaries to the Ming dynasty.

In 1616 Manzhu leader Nurhachi, after uniting the Jurchen (Nuzhen, Nu-chen) Mongolian tribes, proclaimed a new dynasty, the Later Jin (Chin), at his capital of Liaoyang. For the next decade he waged war against the Ming dynasty, capturing most of southern Manchuria and much of Mongolia. Nurhachi, known by his successors as Emperor Taizu (Ch’ing T’ai-tsu), died in 1626. He was succeeded by his son Huang Taiji (Hung Taiji, sometimes erroneously known in Western literature as Abahai). Huang Taiji ruled during 1626-1643. A highly effective administrator who was also respected for his military abilities, he was also determined to expand the empire.

Huang Taiji established a base in Korea and repeatedly raided into China. He also improved his army’s weapons, adding significant numbers of gunpowder artillery to counter that of the Ming; his cavalry came to be regarded as the best in Asia. In 1634 the Manzhus conquered inner (southern) Mongolia and absorbed large numbers of the inhabitants into their forces.

At the same time, using the justification of nonpayment of tribute and the failure of the Koreans to contribute troops against the Ming, in 1636 Emperor Huang Taiji sent a large army into Korea and the next year compelled the Joseon dynasty to formally renounce the Ming dynasty. During 1636-1644 a series of expeditions established Manzhu control over the Amur River region. In 1636 at Mukden, Huang Taiji proclaimed the establishment of a new imperial dynasty, the Qing, which was merely a renaming of the Later Jin proclaimed by Nurhachi earlier. In 1643, however, Huang Taiji died, possibly at the hands of one of his officials. His five-year-old son Shunzhi (Shun-chih) became emperor (r. 1643-1661), although real authority was exercised by his uncle, Prince Dorgon, as regent.

Meanwhile, from 1635 the Ming dynasty had been further weakened by a number of internal rebellions. The greatest threat came from rebel chieftain Li Zicheng (Li Tzu-ch’eng). In 1640 Li seized control of Henan (Honan) and Shaanxi (Shensi) provinces south and southwest of Beijing, respectively. In 1644 Li moved against the imperial capital of Beijing. Ming emperor Chongzhen (Chu’ung-chen) then recalled two of his frontier armies, including the one at Shanhaiguan commanded by Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei). Sources differ as to whether Wu refused to come to the aid of the emperor or his forces simply arrived too late; in any case, Li seized control of Beijing on April 25, 1644. Just before the rebel troops took Beijing, Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide.

Wu learned of Emperor Chongzhen’s death while on his way to Beijing and evidently considered surrendering to Li, in part because the rebel had taken Wu’s father hostage. Nevertheless, Wu returned to Shanhaiguan. After pillaging Beijing, on May 18 Li set out after Wu.

Wu meanwhile had decided that he would rather treat with the Manzhus than with Li, so he called on Prince Dorgon to assist him in overthrowing the rebel regime.

Li passed his army of some 100,000 men through Yongping (Yang-p’ing) and almost to Shanhaiguan. Accounts differ as to what happened next, but apparently on May 25, 1644, Wu appealed to Dorgon for immediate assistance. Dorgon promptly responded, arriving at the strategic Shanhai Pass at Shanhaiguan at the eastern end of the Great Wall on the next day with 100,000 men. Li may not have known the true strength of the forces against him until the actual battle on May 28. Had he known that he was confronted by a much larger and more experienced force, he probably would have refused battle. The allies were also aided by a large sandstorm that morning that masked their deployment. The Sino-Manzhu forces probably numbered 50,000 Manzhus and 40,000 Chinese. Wu may have been able to raise upwards of another 80,000 men in local Chinese militia, but there is no proof that they participated in the battle. Li probably commanded something on the order of 60,000 men.

The allies turned the battle when Wu’s veterans attacked the rebel left. Sheer numbers told. Li’s army then fled the field. The allies broke off the pursuit after a dozen miles. Li withdrew to Beijing but had neither the supplies nor the forces to resist a siege. He had himself hastily proclaimed as emperor on June 3 and then executed Wu’s father. Li stripped Beijing bare of supply animals and anything of value and then withdrew the next day, leaving behind a city in flames.

Wu hoped to establish himself as viceroy in a continuation of the Ming dynasty, but Dorgon’s force was simply too powerful. Wu bowed to the inevitable, agreeing to serve the Manzhus. Dorgon gave him the assignment of hunting down Li, which Wu accomplished in 1645, executing Li.

Dorgon moved the Manzhu capital to Beijing and there established the new dynasty of the Qing (1644-1911). The Manzhus adopted most of the Ming administrative system and culture, and the new dynasty became one of the greatest in Chinese history.

References

Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Parsons, James Bunyan. Peasant Rebellions of the Late Ming Dynasty. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970.

The End of Braddock’s Life and March

George Washington and the remnants of the two Grenadier companies marched through the night toward Dunbar’s camp. It was not an easy task for the exhausted Washington, who was still weak from his fever. He later wrote: “The shocking Scenes which presented themselves in this Night’s March are not to be described. The dead, the dying, the groans, lamentations, and crys along the Road of the wounded for help . . . were enough to pierce a heart. The gloom and horror of which was not a little encreased by the impervious darkness occasioned by the close shade of thick woods which in places rendered it impossible for the two guides which attended to know when they were in, or out of the track but by groping on the ground with their hands.”

Left on the small rise on the west side of the Monongahela River and with Washington and the remnants of the two Grenadier companies scrambling in desperation back to Col. Dunbar’s [CO 48th of Foot] camp for help, Braddock realized that he and the remaining troops with him were exposed and vulnerable. He therefore ordered an immediate march through the night to try to take them out of striking range of the French and Indians. Covering the same ground as Washington and marching all through the night and next day, they reached Gist’s plantation at ten o’clock the next night.

Although unknown to Braddock or even Washington, the wagoneers who had cut loose their horses and fled during the battle had galloped into Dunbar’s camp early on the morning of July 10 1755 with fragmentary news of the defeat. The names of these dubious mercuries were Michael Houber, Jacob Novre, and Matthew Laird—to judge from the German names of the first two wagoneers, some of Franklin’s Pennsylvania teamsters. Dunbar immediately sent up supplies to the retreating soldiers. From Dunbar’s camp, riders or perhaps a runaway wagoneer carried the news to Fort Cumberland. Charlotte Browne wrote “It is not possible to describe the Distraction of the poor Women for their Husbands.” It was not long before the news was seeping throughout all the Middle Atlantic colonies, carried by post riders from town to town and tavern to tavern. Slaves also reportedly played a major role in disseminating the news in the southern colonies, as they visited neighboring plantations to court their lovers in the dark. Indeed, one of the first thoughts to strike the southern leaders was that the defeat might lead to a rebellion by the slaves. Dinwiddie wrote shortly after the defeat: “The negro slaves have been very audacious on the news of the defeat on the Ohio. These poor creatures imagine the French will give them their freedom. We have too many here; but I hope we shall be able to keep them in proper subjection.”

After sleeping the night at Gist’s plantation, the retreating column resumed its march, retracing its steps through the line of encampments that had marked its westward march only days before. From Gist’s, on Braddock’s orders, deposits of flour were left along the road for any stragglers who might need food. Several men who subsequently made it into camp said they would have died had it not been for the wounded Braddock’s presence of mind, not to mention attention to detail under duress, in leaving the flour. The batman recorded that “This day there was a wounded Soldier Came up who says there was seven more Came from the place of the Ingagement together but they all dyed on the Roade and he says there was several dead as he marched along, he not being Able when Arrv’d here hardly to speeke for want of Nourishment, he living on Raw flower and water when he Came to it, which was left for them.”

On Friday, July 11, the column reached Dunbar’s camp. Braddock, carried in a litter because he could not tolerate the pain caused by a jarring wagon, was still in charge and issuing orders. The next day he tried to restore at least minimal structure to the mauled band by having the troops parade at the evening retreat at the head of their respective regiments and companies. His first thought, however, was to provide for the wounded, ordering that they be placed in wagons for the continuation of the retreat.

Then came the most controversial decision. The same day the army, under Braddock’s order and Dunbar’s execution, destroyed or buried all its ammunition and provisions in order to free up more wagons to transport the wounded. They smashed and buried more than fifteen hundred artillery projectiles and shells, as well as cannon balls, muskets, bullets, and even the pioneers’ axes and tools. The soldiers destroyed the remaining artillery, keeping only two 6-pounders. They stove in casks with 50,000 pounds of gunpowder and poured them into a spring. The horses were dying so fast that the soldiers burned one hundred wagons for lack of horses to pull them and to keep them out of enemy hands. The intent was to strip the army of encumbrances for a faster retreat.

What was remarkable about the decision was that the army was not even being chased. The drunken French and Indians had failed to pursue the fleeing British and Americans. The garrison at Fort Duquesne was actually fearful that Dunbar’s troops would reunite with the survivors from the battlefield and advance on the fort. In fact, what was left of Braddock’s army, survivors and baggage train alike, was fleeing pell-mell from nothing.

Altogether, the value of the hastily destroyed equipment was significant, perhaps in excess of £300,000. Dunbar destroyed stores that had been assembled over the course of months in London and Ireland and shipped across the Atlantic and which would have been invaluable for the defense of the frontier had the army stood rather than fled.

A persistent rumor later arose that the contents of the pay chest, up to £25,000 in gold coins, were poured into the barrel of a cannon and buried. Treasure hunters have searched for it ever since. Equally likely, the pay chest never left Fort Cumberland or, if it did, was looted by the French or Indians on the battlefield, along with the general’s papers, including the diagram of Fort Duquesne and all the Anglo-American plans for the assaults on Fort Niagara and other northern French positions, which was an even greater loss. In any event, the destruction of the supplies later drew intense criticism from those who like to second-guess decisions made in the field. Perhaps the only bonus from the abandoning of provisions was a sudden influx of food into the soldiers’ hands. The batman got six or eight hams, the most that he could carry on his horse.

Still fearful of pursuit by the enemy, the officers resumed the tight line of march, complete with pickets and sentries, on Sunday, July 13, as they retraced their steps over Chestnut Ridge toward the Great Meadows. However, Braddock’s strength was waning. Carried in his litter along the march, he grew increasingly silent except to give the necessary occasional orders. He knew his loss was utter and his reputation in shreds. He retreated into himself as much as to Fort Cumberland. He fell silent for hours at a time, muttering only several times as evening fell that Sunday, “Who would have thought it?”

As his life slowly slipped from his body, he turned to the severely wounded Lieutenant Robert Orme, aide-de-camp to Braddock and said, “We shall better know how to deal with them another time.” These were his last words. He died at eight in the evening on Sunday, July 13.

The next morning the remaining officers who could still walk buried Braddock, with military honors, in two blankets and a crude “coffin” fashioned of pieces of bark. Washington later wrote that he had officiated at the burial. They buried the general in the middle of the road that his pioneers had cut only days before on the eastern slope of Chestnut Ridge, not far from Jumonville and the Great Meadows. The gravesite was just yards from a small creek as the road began to rise toward the top of a hill. Then they ordered all the wagons and soldiers to march over and obscure Braddock’s gravesite to protect his body from desecration by the Indians. The Indians subsequently did try to find Braddock’s grave in order to dig him up and scalp him. But they never succeeded.

Before he died, Braddock gave Washington his war horse and the services of his cook Bishop, who in fact served Washington for many years afterward as major domo at Mount Vernon. Either before or after Braddock’s death, Washington also obtained the general’s sash, leopard skin saddle pad, and one or both of his pistols.

The retreat to Fort Cumberland continued without delay, with Dunbar now in command. The condition of the wounded grew worse. Maggots began to infest their wounds in the heat. A full accounting of the dead, wounded, and surviving was not undertaken until July 15, when the army reached camp on the east side of the Youghiogheny. On the 16th, they reached the Little Meadows in the rain. They made Fort Cumberland the next day. The surgeons immediately went to work on the wounded, removing “many Sluggs & other ragged pieces of lead” from those who had not died en route. Many of the balls were identified by their caliber as being British, further evidence of the devastating effect of “friendly fire” throughout the engagement.

At the fort, the officers, wounded and well, penned dispatches to their superiors. Orme, though much weakened by the wound to his thigh and able only to dictate, composed letters to Napier, Fox, and Dinwiddie on the 18th. Washington also wrote Dinwiddie, as well as his brother, the same day. St. Clair, though wounded, wrote to Commodore Keppel. All of these letters described the “unhappy affair,” as Orme put it, albeit from differing angles.

The finger-pointing and recriminations had started. Orme, in his report to Napier, was careful to protect the reputation of His Excellency, while blaming the disorder of the enlisted men, and to a lesser degree St. Clair, for the disaster. Other officers, wrote Orme to Dinwiddie, “were sacrificed by their unparalleled good behaviour.” Orme commended the conduct of the Virginia officers (but not Washington by name) to Dinwiddie: “I have the pleasure to acquaint you that Captain Polson (who was killed) and his company behaved extremely well, as did Captain Stuart and his light horse, who I must beg leave to recommend to your protection and to desire you will be so kind to use your best endeavors to serve him as he has lost by the death of the general the rewards he really deserved by his gallant and faithful attendance on him.” In fact, Captain Stewart had two horses shot out from under him, and separate balls grazed his brow and forehead and another shot away his sword and scabbard. His Virginia light horse lost twenty-five of its twenty-nine members killed.

Orme concluded: “As the whole of the Artillery is lost and the Terror of the Indian remaining so strongly in the men’s minds, as also the Troops being extremely weakened by Deaths, Wounds and Sickness, it was judged impossible to make any further attempts; therefore Col. Dunbar is returning to Fort Cumberland [behind 1,200 men with the wounded and artillery who arrived the 17th], with everything he is able to bring along with him. I propose remaining here till my wound will suffer me to remove to Philadelphia, from thence I shall make all possible Dispatch to England.”

Orme’s letter to Fox was different, however. It stands out from the others. First, Braddock expressly ordered him to write it on the day before he died, a point made clear in the opening sentence of the letter. Second, although Fox was Secretary at War and properly might have had an interest in the outcome of the battle, Fox was also a close friend of George Anne Bellamy. The letter thus was also possibly intended for her consumption. Third, Braddock dictated to Orme most of the content of the letter. It describes the action in only the most cursory terms, at least in comparison to the letters to Napier and Dinwiddie. It mentions the conduct on the battlefield of only two officers: Burton (Bellamy’s “darling friend”) and Braddock. The thrust of the letter was to report on these two officers (in fact, Burton’s bravery and role in the battle had arguably been secondary to those of Halkett and Gage, among others). The letter reports the mortal wound of Braddock and sums up the brief description of the battle by stating: “I had the Generals Order to Inform You, Sir, that the behavior of the Officers deserved the very Highest Commendation.” Braddock wanted Fox, and possibly by extension Bellamy, to know that he died as an officer in the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. This parting sentence summarizes much about Braddock’s character and system of values. The final sentence of the letter reports the wounds suffered by Morris and Orme and the death of Shirley and states “all the papers are lost.” At one level, this ostensibly refers to the military plans that were lost to the French. At another level, it also might mean personal correspondence between Braddock and Bellamy, if such existed. Perhaps it refers to both. The fact that Braddock, knowing he was dying, would order Orme to write such a letter, which he probably knew would ultimately arrive in the hands of George Anne Bellamy, suggests that their relationship was indeed close.

In contrast, Washington’s dispatch to Dinwiddie focused, not unnaturally, on the conduct of the Virginia troops. “The Officers in gen’l behavd with incomparable bravery, for which they greatly suffer’d. . . . The Virginia companies behav’d like Men and died like Soldiers; for I believe that out of 3 companys that were on the ground that day, scarce 30 were left alive . . . the dastardly behavior of the Regular troops (so called) (English soldier) expos’d all those who were inclin’d to do their duty to almost certain Death; and at length, in spite of every effort to the contrary, broke and ran as Sheep before the Hounds. . . . Col. Dunbar, who commands at present, intends as soon as his men are recruited at this place, to continue his march to Phila. into Winter Quarters, so that there will be no Men left here, unless it is the poor remains of the Virginia troops, who survive and will be too small to guard our frontiers.” Washington himself limped back to Mount Vernon to recover from his illness and the exhaustion of the campaign.

In camp at Fort Cumberland, the rote of military life reasserted itself, but this time tainted by blame, especially by the officers of the common soldiers. A court-martial was convened, and fifty-six prisoners were tried for their conduct during the engagement, most probably for cowardice or desertion. On Monday, July 28, mass floggings were carried out against the enlisted men. On August 1, Dunbar received a letter from Commodore Keppel asking that the surviving seamen (only five of them were not killed or wounded) return to Hampton. On August 3, they left the army and proceeded down through Virginia, where they ultimately boarded the HMS Garland at Hampton for the long voyage home.

Dinwiddie wanted Dunbar to remain at Fort Cumberland and make another attempt to take Fort Duquesne. However, a council of war decided that the scheme was not feasible in light of the overwhelming losses suffered. On August 2, Dunbar marched from Fort Cumberland for Philadelphia. For this decision, for his hasty retreat, and for destroying the artillery and supplies, Dunbar immediately began to attract criticism.

Orme attacked St. Clair as well. Writing to Washington, with whom he remained on friendly terms, Orme stated: “I know the ignorant and rascally C____ D____ [Colonel Dunbar] is one promoter [of criticism of Braddock] through resentment and malevolence and the thick headed baronet [St. Clair] another, intending to build his character upon the ruins of one much more amiable than his can be. For my part I judge it a duty to vindicate the memory of a man whom I greatly and deservedly esteemed. . . . It is very hard the bluntness and openness of a man’s temper should be called brutality and that he who would hear opinions more freely than any man should be accused of obstinacy and peremptoriness.”

St. Clair also must have gotten wind of Orme’s finger-pointing early on, for on July 22, he wrote another report to Napier which detailed his repeated attempts to warn Braddock of the danger, to reunite the two columns into one more powerful force and, once the battle was on, to urge Braddock to take the high ground, most of which initiatives the general had brushed aside. He told Napier that even if the British had won the battle, he was determined to ask leave to be recalled, “finding I could be of little use being never listen’d to.”

Gage reported to Napier on why the common soldiers fought so badly, blaming it on the American locals: “no officers ever behaved better, or men worse. I can’t ascribe their behavior to any other cause than the talk of the country people, ever since our arrival in America—the woodsmen and Indian traders, who were continually telling the soldiers, that if they attempted to fight the Indians in a regular manner, they would certainly be defeated. These discourses were prevented as much as possible, and the men in appearance seemed to shew a thorough contempt for such an enemy; but I fear they gained too much upon them. I have since talked to the soldiers about their scandalous behavior, and the only excuse I can get from them is, that they were quite dispirited, from the great fatigue they had undergone, and not receiving a sufficient quantity of food; and further that they did not expect the enemy would come down so suddenly.”

Orme’s accusations in particular next assumed the form of public letters as he retreated to Philadelphia to recuperate from his wound before embarking for England in November. The colonial press picked up his accusations and magnified them. As early as August 30, Gates, back in New York, responded that “there has not been one true account publish’d as yet a great deal of pro & con in the news papers and yesterday Col. Gage and the officers of the Van Guard contradicted Captn: Orme’s publick letter by an advertisement which you will see in the Philadelphia Gazette. A few who were the General’s favourites gratefully strive to save his fame by throwing the misfortune of the day on the bad behaviour of the troops, but that was not the case.”

News of the defeat reached London in late August via the frigate HMS Seahorse, which raced homeward from Virginia carrying Commodore Keppel. The news was greeted by a mixture of shock and langor. Most of the aristocracy were in the country enjoying the late summer holidays and the start of the shooting season. Besides, given the pace at which armies and news moved in the eighteenth century, the war had for months been out of sight and out of mind. It was no longer popular. The government held no high-level inquiry, perhaps because the defeat was too embarrassing. Cumberland, the godfather of the expedition, was also the son of the king and may well not have wanted an inquiry. The attitude in London is perhaps best summed up by Walpole’s remark: “Braddock’s defeat still remains in the situation of the longest battle that ever was fought with nobody.”

Nonetheless, Braddock, being dead, of course came in for the most criticism. One British officer who participated in the action wrote: “In the time of the Action, the General behaved with a great deal of Personal Courage, which every body must allow—but that’s all what Can be said—he was a Man of Sense and good natur’d too tho’ Warm and a little uncouth in his manner—and Peevish—with all very indolent and sem’d glad for any body to take business off his hands, which may be one reason why he was so grossly imposed upon, by his favourite [Orme]—who realy Directed every thing and may justly be said to’ve Commanded the Expedition and the Army.”

Scaroyady also had an acerbic assessment: “It was the pride and ignorance of that General that came from England. He looked upon us as dogs, and would never hear anything what was said to him. We often tried to tell him of the danger he was in with his soldiers, but he never appeared pleased with us, and that was the reason that a great many of our warriors left him and would not be under his command.”

Franklin rendered a more balanced judgment in his Autobiography: “This General was, I think, a brave man, and might probably have made a figure as a good officer in some European war. But he had too much self-confidence, too high an opinion of the validity of regular troops, and too mean a one of both Americans and Indians.”

But Washington offered what is perhaps the truest assessment of Braddock, both as a commander and as a man: “Thus died a man, whose good and bad qualities were intimately blended. He was brave even to a fault and in regular Service would have done honor to his profession. His attachments were warm, his enmities were strong, and having no disguise about him, both appeared in full force. He was generous and disinterested, but plain and blunt in his manner even to rudeness.”

Thus, His Excellency Major General Edward Braddock remains one of those simple people fated to leave behind a complex, mixed reputation because of their very limitations. There can be little question that his struggle to overcome adversity, as well as his personal behavior on the battlefield, did “deserve the highest commendation.”

At the end of the day, Braddock was done in not only by his French and Indian enemies but also by a confluence of adverse circumstances: formidable geography, almost nonexistent intelligence, colonial assemblies which would not pay, colonial governors who dissembled, Americans who failed to provide logistical support, Americans with their own agendas, Quakers who did not lift a finger, Indian allies who failed to materialize, bad weather, drunken and ill-humored troops, and conniving staff officers. Braddock never stood a chance.

However, neither judgments on Braddock’s character nor his staff’s efforts to assign and avoid blame were of account to the inhabitants of the Middle Atlantic colonies. By August 1755, with Dunbar marching to Philadelphia at the head of the surviving troops and a skeleton force of Virginians holding Fort Cumberland, the frontier lay open to hordes of pro-French Indians sallying forth from Canada and Fort Duquesne. By mid-August, colonial reconnaissance patrols had reported four to five hundred Indians and French at Great Meadows. In response, Fort Cumberland prepared for a siege and transferred its hospital, including Nurse Charlotte Browne, to Frederick, Maryland. The Virginia House of Burgesses voted £40,000 to increase Virginia troop levels to twelve hundred, and Dinwiddie commissioned Washington as colonel of the reactivated Virginia Regiment.

Within three months of Braddock’s defeat, the entire frontier was aflame with French and Indian attacks, which came to be known simply as “the Outrages.” Thousands of families abandoned their homes and farms and fled back into the Piedmont and Tidewater, terrified. So severe were the depredations that it was said that no English settlers would be left west of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. With Fort Cumberland all but abandoned, the new frontier line was drawn at Frederick, Maryland. Raids penetrated to within a hundred miles of Philadelphia. Perhaps fifteen hundred settlers were murdered and many more taken captive. According to one estimate, the frontier counties of the three middle Atlantic colonies of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania lost between a third and a half of their populations between 1755 and 1758, with some four percent of their prewar inhabitants murdered or captured. The French and their Indian allies killed civilians, women and children indiscriminately. They gloated at the sufferings of their victims. The impact on the psyche of Americans at the time was devastating.

Moreover, there was a premeditation to the Outrages that chilled the soul. One large raid in Pennsylvania consisted of 1,400 Indians and French divided into scalping parties of forty each. A week before, they had sent out numerous small scouting parties. The attack groups were targeted on carefully chosen settlements on the Pennsylvania frontier, such as Shamokin, Juniata, and Harris’s Ferry (today’s Harrisburg), until the whole frontier was blanketed. Each party thoroughly scouted its target for several days, and then all attacks were launched at the same time to achieve complete surprise.

Like other aspects of the Braddock expedition, the horrors of the Outrages can only be comprehended by peeking into the lives of common people long buried by history. Two lives will suffice.

The consequences of Braddock’s defeat came home to Thomas Jemison on his prosperous farm near Gettysburg. Jemison and his family had lived in central Pennsylvania for a dozen years after emigrating from Ireland. He was concerned about the Indian depredations, but none had taken place as far east as Gettysburg. He believed that if he could get safely through one more year the Anglo-American forces would drive the Indians back. (He had lost a brother serving under Washington at Fort Necessity.)

One morning he and his wife and six children were sitting down to breakfast with a visiting family of neighbors. Twelve-year-old Mary later recalled that “Father was shaving an axe-helve at the side of the house; mother was making preparations for breakfast; my two older brothers were at work near the barn; and the little ones, with myself, and the [neighbor] woman and her three children, in the house.” The neighbor had just left on horseback for some supplies.

There was a sudden, appalling crash of gunfire, a glimpse of the neighbor and his horse lying dead in the yard, and then a rush of bronze bodies. ‘They first secured my father, and then rushed into the house, and without the least resistance made prisoners’ of them all. The raiders, ‘six Indians and four Frenchmen,’ grabbed all the food they could carry and, ‘in great haste, for fear of detection,’ drove the little herd of frightened humanity into the woods. All day long they hurried westward, the captives offered nothing to eat or drink. ‘Whenever the little children cried for water, the Indians would make then drink urine or go thirsty.’ That night they slept, hungry, exhausted and afraid, on the ground, and before dawn were forced to march on. They were given some breakfast at dawn, and some supper that night when they camped in a swamp.

After supper the Shawnees tore the shoes from Mary’s feet and replaced them with moccasins, and did the same for one of the neighbor boys. Mary’s mother knew what that meant and hugged her, urging her to be brave and careful, to remember her English and her prayers. Her father could not speak; he had been ‘sunk in silent despair’ since the attack. The Shawnees led the two children away from the rest of the captives, whom they then tomahawked, scalped and dismembered. Mary was spared the sights and sounds of the killings, but the next day was forced to watch as the warriors stretched, cleaned and cured the scalps. ‘My mother’s hair was red, and I could easily distinguish my father’s and the children’s from each other.’

Mary was adopted by a Seneca family at Logstown, married to a Delaware warrior, widowed in a Cherokee raid, and later moved to western New York’s Genesee River country, where she chose to spend the rest of her eight decades of life as a Seneca wife, mother of eight, and matron.

Or the case of Jacob Fisher:

1758 was the worst year yet. The outrages resumed along Mill Creek, near Woodstock [Virginia], when fifty Shawnees and four Frenchmen surrounded a congregation of several families seeking refuge in George Painter’s large log house. When Painter tried a desperate run for help, they shot him down in the yard. The others surrendered, hoping in vain for mercy.

The warriors fired the house and tossed George Painter’s body into the flames. They burned the barn and laughed at the screams of the burning animals trapped inside. They snatched four babies from their mothers’ arms, strung them up in trees, and used them for target practice until they dangled, quiet and bloody, before the horrified eyes of the families. Then they drove forty-eight surviving prisoners, men, women and children, on a hellish, six-day march over the western mountains to their village.

There, after consultation with the matrons, they told Jacob Fisher, a pudgy twelve year-old, to gather a large pile of dry wood. He burst into tears. “They’re going to burn me, father,” he sobbed.

“I hope not, son, do as they say,” said the helpless father. Jacob, weeping, brought the wood, which the warriors and the women arranged in a circle around a sapling. They tied the howling Jacob to the sapling with a long rope cinched to his wrist and set the wood afire. Then, while Jacob’s father and brothers watched, the Shawnees poked him with sharpened sticks, forcing him to run around the sapling, first winding himself tight to it, then spiralling outward, into and out of the flames. It took him hours and hours to die.

Three years earlier, soon after the defeat of Braddock, and as the Outrages were just starting, Captain Charles Lewis of the Virginia Volunteers happened upon a similar scene of scalping and massacre of innocent women and children. He wrote in his journal: “This horrid scene gave us a terrible shock, but I hope with the leave of God we shall still overcome the cruel, barbarous and inhuman enemy.”

Braddock’s march was the opening chapter in a long and complicated struggle for the continent of North America. Three years after Braddock’s defeat another general, John Forbes, battling fatal cancer and carried in a litter along a different route, captured the citadel of French power on the Forks of the Ohio and stopped the Outrages, but not before many more Americans, Scots Highlanders, and Englishmen died and had their heads impaled before the ramparts of Fort Duquesne.

But that is another story.