Langy

Jean-Baptiste Levrault de Langis Montgeron (known as “Langy” in English) was considered the ideal French-Canadian leader, who allowed New France to defy the odds as long as it did.

Langy was born in 1723 and followed in the footsteps of his father and three older brothers by serving in the colonial regular troops. He began his military career on Cape Breton Island, and in 1755, as an ensign, participated in the unsuccessful defence of Fort Beauséjour. During this campaign his superiors identified him as “an extraordinarily brave officer.”

Langy became a key player on the Lake Champlain–Lake George front. He was continually raiding, scouting, and gathering intelligence. His forays took him deep into enemy territory, where his attacks left the British unnerved and consistently on the defensive. The information Langy brought back on enemy fortifications and/or their intentions (drawn from prisoners) kept the French well informed. Throughout the spring of 1758, Langy was constantly in the field attempting to determine the English intentions. Although seizing many prisoners, no useful information was discovered. Then, in June, Langy captured 17 Rangers, who revealed an impending attack against the strategic Fort Ticonderoga. On July 4, Montcalm, demonstrating his confidence in the Canadian partisan leader, trusted Langy “to go observe the location, number, and the movements of the enemy.” Langy’s force departed and returned the following night with news that the British invasion force was en route. As a result, Montcalm ordered his troops to take up defensive positions.

However, Langy’s job was not finished. He deployed once again to monitor the British advance. On July 7 he had a chance encounter with the British advance guard. In the bloody clash that followed, both sides suffered substantial casualties. Langy’s men killed Brigadier Lord Howe during the skirmish. With his death the British suffered a critical loss of leadership that doomed their attack. Although outnumbered almost four to one, Montcalm went on to route Major-General James Abercromby’s army.

As the tide of the war changed, Langy remained instrumental in harassing the English forces, particularly the British Rangers who had begun burning homesteads of les habitants during the siege of Quebec City. He also crossed swords with Major Rogers on two more occasions. On the first, he discovered whaleboats that were used by Rogers and 142 Rangers for their raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis. The subsequent pursuit ended with 69 Rangers dead or captured and the others narrowly escaping with their lives. The second encounter was even more successful. Despite the fall of Quebec in September 1759, Langy, operating from Îsle aux Noir (near Montreal), continued his aggressive raids. In February 1760, as Rogers was en route to Crown Point from Albany, his convoy of sleds was ambushed by Langy. Recognizing Rogers in the first sled, Langy focused his attack there. The initial volley killed the horses and Langy’s force pounced on Rogers and his 16 recruits. In the ensuing melee, Rogers and seven others escaped to Crown Point. The other nine Rangers were killed or captured. Langy also seized 32 brand-new muskets, 100 hatchets, 55 pairs of moccasins, and ₤3,961 — the payroll for the troops at Crown Point.

His final raid was conducted six weeks later, once again near Crown Point. Representative of his skill and daring, Langy was able to capture two British regular officers, a Ranger officer, and six troops, without a firing shot. His luck, however, had run out. Shortly after his return to Montreal with his prisoners, Langy drowned while trying to cross the St. Lawrence River in a canoe. Captain Pierre Pouchot noted the news in his journal, commenting that Langy was “the best leader among the colonial troops.” An English newspaper also reflected that assessment, “Mons. Longee, a famous partisan, fell through the ice sometime and was drowned … his loss is greatly lamented by all Canada, and his equal is not to be found in that country.”

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DMITRY ALEXEYEVICH MILYUTIN

(1816-1912), count (1878), political and military figure, military historian, and Imperial Russian war minister (1861-1881).

General Adjutant Milyutin was born in Moscow, the scion of a Tver noble family. He completed the gymnasium at Moscow University (1832) and the Nicholas Military Academy (1836). After a brief period with the Guards’ General Staff, he served from 1839 to 1840 with the Separate Caucasian Corps. While convalescing from wounds during 1840 and 1841, he traveled widely in Europe, where he decided to devote himself to the cause of reform in Russia. As a professor at the Nicholas Academy from 1845 to 1853, he founded the discipline of military statistics and provided the impulse for compilation of a military-statistical description of the Russian Empire. In 1852 and 1853 he published a prize-winning five-volume history of Generalissimo A. V. Suvorov’s Italian campaign of 1799. As a member of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society he associated with a number of future reformers, including Konstantin Kavelin, P. P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, Nikolai Bunge, and his brother, Nikolai Milyutin. An opponent of serfdom, the future war minister freed his own peasants and subsequently (in 1856) wrote a tract advocating the liberation of Russian serfs.

As a major general within the War Ministry during the Crimean War, Milyutin concluded that the army required fundamental reform. While serving from 1856 to 1860 as chief of staff for Prince Alexander Baryatinsky’s Caucasian Corps, Milyutin directly influenced the successful outcome of the campaign against the rebellious mountaineer Shamil. After becoming War Minister in November 1861, Milyutin almost immediately submitted to Tsar Alexander II a report that outlined a program for comprehensive military reform. The objectives were to modernize the army, to restructure military administration at the center, and to create a territorial system of military districts for peacetime maintenance of the army. Although efficiency remained an important goal, Milyutin’s reform legislation also revealed a humanitarian side: abolition of corporal punishment, creation of a modern military justice system, and a complete restructuring of the military-educational system to emphasize spiritual values and the welfare of the rank-andfile. These and related changes consumed the war minister’s energies until capstone legislation of 1874 enacted a universal military service obligation. Often in the face of powerful opposition, Milyutin had orchestrated a grand achievement, although the acknowledged price included increased bureaucratic formalism and rigidity within the War Ministry.

Within a larger imperial context, Milyutin consistently advanced Russian geopolitical interests and objectives. He favored suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863-1864, supported the conquest of Central Asia, and advocated an activist policy in the Balkans. On the eve of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, he endorsed a military resolution of differences with Turkey, holding that the Eastern Question was primarily Russia’s to decide. During the war itself, he accompanied the field army into the Balkans, where he counseled persistence at Plevna, asserting that successful resolution of the battle-turned-siege would serve as prelude to further victories. After the war, Milyutin became the de facto arbiter of Russian foreign policy.

Within Russia, after the Berlin Congress of 1878, Milyutin pressed for continuation of Alexander II’s Great Reforms, supporting the liberal program of the Interior Ministry’s Mikhail Loris- Melikov. However, after the accession of Alexander III and publication in May 1881 of an imperial manifesto reasserting autocratic authority, Milyutin retired to his Crimean estate. He continued to maintain an insightful diary and commenced his memoirs. The latter grew to embrace almost the entire history of nineteenth-century Russia, with important perspectives on the Russian Empire and contiguous lands and on its relations with Europe, Asia, and America.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Brooks, Edwin Willis. (1970). “D. A. Miliutin: Life and Activity to 1856.” Ph. D. diss., Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Menning, Bruce W. (1992, 2000). Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Miller, Forrestt A. (1968). Dmitrii Miliutin and the Reform Era in Russia. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

The Woodbridge Intruder

J. J. ‘Jack’ Lee

How often have those of us who operated over Europe during the war years seen an aircraft in distress, either coned by searchlights, mauled by fighters, or shot up by flak, wondered if the aircraft and its crew ever made it back home?

J. J. Lee, rear gunner, Lancaster PB797 VN-Z-‘Zebra’ on 50 Squadron. On 22 March 1945 227 Lancasters and eight Mosquitoes of 1 and 8 Groups raided Hildesheim railway yards. Some 263 acres – 70 per cent of the town – was destroyed and 1,645 people were killed. Four Lancasters were lost. Another 130 Halifaxes, Lancasters and Mosquitoes of 4 and 8 Groups bombed Dülmen in an area attack, which was without loss and 124 Halifaxes, Lancasters and Mosquitoes of 6 and 8 Groups bombed rail and canal targets at Dorsten, which also was the location of a Luftwaffe fuel dump, again without loss. One hundred Lancasters of 3 Group carried out a ‘G-H’ attack on Bocholt, probably with the intention of cutting communication. All returned safely. 138 Another 102 Lancasters of 5 Group in two forces attacked bridges at Bremen and Nienburg without loss. The bridge at Nienburg was destroyed though no results were observed at Bremen.

‘We were engaged on a daylight raid over Bremen on 22 March 1945. The aircraft was piloted by Pilot Officer Pat Reyre and crewed by Flight Sergeant Ken Shaw, navigator; Flying Officer Jack Andres RCAF, bomb aimer; Flight Sergeant Alan ‘Shorty’ Thorpe RAAF; Sergeant Gerry Jones, flight engineer; and Sergeant Alf Robinson, mid-upper-gunner. ‘Z-Zebra’ was at the rear end of the ‘gaggle’ formation and bombs had been released over the target. It was a perfect day for the operation; the sky was cloudless. Anti-aircraft fire can only be described as moderate and fighters were conspicuous in their absence. We were escorted by American air force ‘Mustangs’.

‘Like most crews ‘flak’ was not an undue hazard unless it got too close and it was only by a stroke of misfortune should an aircraft fall victim to the big guns. Having said that, as we left the immediate target area I saw bursts of flak creeping dangerously close to the Lancaster directly below and astern of me. ‘Poor Blighter’ I thought. No sooner had this thought passed through my mind when two almighty explosions shook our aircraft. A dark trail of smoke appeared from the starboard wing, at the same time the aircraft swung to starboard and began to descend rapidly. I watched as we descended and saw the gaggle drift further and further from our view.

‘Within seconds of our being hit those dreaded words came over the intercom; ‘Jump, Jump.’ I swung my turret to the beam, snatched the doors open and prepared to make a hasty exit. I can’t recall to this day why I hesitated but I replied to the skipper; ‘Did you say jump?’ Back came the reply; ‘No, hang on.’ In the course of further conversation it transpired that both starboard engines were damaged and the props feathered. Our descent continued and then, by some great fortune, one of the engines was restarted and our sided descent was corrected. It now became obvious that we had suffered serious damage. However, we were fortunate not to have any casualties. In a matter of minutes we were on our own at a height of about 5,000 feet on a perfectly clear day and a sitting duck for enemy fighters.

‘As I surveyed the sky for fighters my attention was drawn to what appeared to be long strips of brown paper drifting from the aircraft and spiralling earthwards. I was completely puzzled at the appearance of this phenomenon. I rotated the turret and peered into the fuselage where I saw the wireless operator ‘Shorty’ Thorpe and the mid-upper gunner Alf Robinson engaged in stripping lengths of ammunition from the ammunition tracks situated on the starboard side of the aircraft. Both tracks had been damaged by flak which rendered my two left hand guns U/S. On reflection this course of action would have virtually no effect on lessening our overall weight. However, it did seem a good idea at the time and was good for morale. By the time we had reached Holland some considerable height had been gained. Further assessment as to the amount of damage inflicted to the aircraft drifted over the intercom to the effect that the ‘George’ control system had been shot away, numerous fuel lines had been severed, our starboard aileron was useless and we had no brake pressure.

‘Our situation was bad, but not hopeless. However, it was decided to discharge a distress signal with a view to obtaining assistance from any of our fighter escort who may still be in the vicinity. I watched as the red flare ascended then fell gently away. It was within a matter of seconds after the flare had been discharged that three ‘Mustangs’ appeared on our port beam, two of the fighters peeled off whilst the third positioned himself some fifty yards to the port side of my turret. The pilot waved his hand as a gesture of encouragement and maintained his position. This ‘Mustang’ escorted us right across Holland and over the Dutch coast. The Frisian Islands came into view. Later as we flew over the islands our aircraft was once again subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire. As the flak opened up the ‘Mustang’ pilot opened his throttle and headed out to sea. No further damage was sustained to ‘Z- Zebra’ and we made headway towards the English coast.

‘At the main briefing prior to our take off it had been stressed that Woodbridge, one of the two emergency runways catering for aircraft in distress, was out of use for reasons which I recall were never disclosed. Only Manston was available. It was due to the set of circumstances prevailing at that time that our pilot was forced to set course for Woodbridge. We still maintained height and the weather remained nigh perfect. At this stage an intercom discussion was held during the course of which our skipper gave us an ultimatum stating there was a fifty-fifty chance of putting our aircraft down in one piece. The two options open to us were either bale out or stay with our aircraft. The response was unanimous and an instant decision was made to stay together.

‘As Woodbridge came into view there were excited comments over the intercom. The emergency runway was lined virtually from end to end with ‘Halifax’ aircraft and various types of gliders. Here was the answer to the airfield being closed. Flying control was contacted and a request for landing made. Needless to say our request was refused and we were instructed to divert elsewhere. Owing to the state of our aircraft, plus the fact our fuel situation was becoming critical, this course of action had to be refuted. Despite an almost superhuman effort by our skipper the kite was becoming almost impossible to control and our crash landing procedure was put into operation.

‘There was to be only one approach to the runway due to the fact alterations to course could not be achieved owing to the failure of our controls system. Wheels were down and the undercarriage locked. The approach was made and we touched down halfway along the runway. We had no flaps and brake pressure was nil, the result being that we careered along the runway at a fast rate of knots. The end of the runway was reached and we carried onto the overshoot area which was in a similar state to a newly ploughed field. The vibration was such that I thought we were going to break up. I had rotated the rear turret facing starboard and as we trundled on I had a shaky view of a football match which was in progress some several hundred yards away. As their attention was drawn to us, players and spectators alike stopped as though riveted to the ground and gazed in amazement as we roared past them. The aircraft finally came to rest with our undercarriage intact. I virtually fell out of my turret, whilst the rest of the crew with the exception of our skipper followed suit via the main door. On making my way to the front of the aircraft I saw our skipper still sitting in his cockpit, no doubt finding it difficult to believe we had made it down in one piece.

‘As we took account of the damage sustained we noticed that the bomb doors had crept open several inches. Closer inspection revealed one of our 1,000lb bombs nestled on the bomb bay doors. It became obvious we had a hang up which had not registered on our instruments and the bomb had broken loose during our bumpy entry onto the overshoot area. Had we known the bomb was still in the aircraft I doubt very much if we would have brought ‘Zebra’ home. Needless to say there was much twittering at the thought of what might have happened had it exploded.

‘Bladders were relieved and the crew then congregated awaiting transport to the flights and our de-briefing. Ken Shaw the navigator produced a fair sized piece of shrapnel. This had become lodged in his ‘Mae West’. He then went on to explain having felt a blow in the lower part of his ribs as though he had been kicked. It transpired the shrapnel had torn through his life jacket and struck the large ‘rat trap’ type of buckle of his battle dress jacket. The buckle had been bent almost double by the impact but had no doubt saved him from serious injury. The emergency vehicles were on the scene very promptly and we were transported to the flights for de-briefing whilst our navigator attended the sick bay where he was given a check up. It was only at the debriefing stage we were informed that Woodbridge was on standby for the forthcoming Rhine crossing operation. This explained the presence of the large numbers of aircraft stationed on the main runway. We were further informed that strict security was being imposed on the station and all personnel confined to base. It was also made clear no mail would be allowed to leave the base until the glider force had left for its destination. After a meal we were billeted and then we commenced to have a look around the base. There were literally thousands of aircrew and army personnel scattered around the station and we met many old friends with whom we had trained prior to our operational posting.

‘The giant armada finally left; a sight we shall never forget as the aircraft set off into an almost cloudless sky. The crew went into Ipswich to celebrate our survival and on our return to the base the following day arrangements were made for our return to our Squadron at Skellingthorpe. We had been absent for several days and some of the other crews thought we had been written off.

‘This brief account of the experience of a Lancaster crew carrying out its duties does not highlight any acts of heroism or brave deeds, but it does bring home the occupational hazards faced by all crews engaged on operations. It also emphasises the determination of a crew and the outstanding efforts of an exceptional pilot to survive and return with their aircraft to continue the struggle.

‘We returned to Woodbridge three days after the defeat of Germany and flew ‘Z-Zebra’ back to Skellingthorpe. She flew for two more years before joining hundreds of other redundant Lancasters in the scrap yard’.

Brigadier General John Nicholson

(1822-1857)

Brigadier General John Nichols on was a dynamic, charismatic, and indefatigable Bengal Army leader, worshiped by some locals as a god named Nikalsain. He distinguished himself during the Indian Mutiny and was killed leading the attack on Delhi.

Nicholson was born in Ireland in December 1822 and was educated at Dungannon College. He received a Bengal Army cadet ship in 1839 and served in the First Afghan War. Nicholson participated in the defense of Ghazni and was taken prisoner when the garrison surrendered on 1 March 1842, although he escaped by bribing a guard. He was later appointed political officer in various regions and was assigned to the British force during the Second Sikh War. After this conflict, Nicholson became deputy commissioner of the Bannu district, where he earned a reputation as a strict but fair disciplinarian. He reportedly personally pursued criminals and displayed their severed heads on his desk.

When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, Nicholson was deputy commissioner of Peshawar. Actions were taken immediately to dis arm suspect native regiments, secure arsenals, and safeguard key positions. Nichols on was given command of the Punjab Moveable Column and advanced toward Delhi, disarming wavering sepoys and hanging mutineers en route.

Nicholson’s column reinforced British forces, commanded by Brigadier General Archdale Wilson, on the Delhi Ridge on 14 August 1857. On 7 September 1857, the British began preparations for besieging Delhi, which they eventually stormed. The attack on Delhi, with Nichols on leading the main column and designated the overall assault force commander, began early on 14 September. The Kashmir Gate was captured, but a number of attempts to seize the Lahore Gate were unsuccessful. Nicholson then waved his sword above his head and faced his soldiers to exhort them to follow him. As he did so, his back was momentarily presented to the rebels, who shot him. His wound was fatal, although he lingered until 23 September.

References: Edwardes (1963); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956); Waller (1990)

Delhi

Gurkhas and British Army units, as well as the Punjab Moveable Column commanded by the inspiring Brigadier General John Nicholson, arrived in Delhi by 14 August 1857 and increased the size of the Delhi Field Force by 4,200 men. The slow-moving British siege train reached Delhi on 4 September 1857, and the siting of the artillery began on 7 September. The following day, the British artillery barrage began, and the intense fire breached the Delhi city walls in a number of locations. The British force, divided into five columns, attacked Delhi early on 14 September. The first three columns (1st Column: 75th Foot, 1st Bengal Fusiliers, and 2nd Punjab Infantry, totaling 1,000 men; 2nd Column, consisting of 8th Foot, 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, and 4th Sikhs, 850 men total; and 3rd Column: 52nd Foot, Kumaon Regiment, and 1st Punjab Infantry, totaling 950 soldiers) were under Nicholson’s overall command, and their mission was to seize the Water Bastion and then the Kashmir Gate. The 4th Column (Sirmur Battalion, Guides’ Infantry, and a composite force of pickets, totaling 850 men, with 1,000 soldiers of the Kashmir Contingent in reserve), commanded by Major Charles Reid, was to cover the right flank of Nicholson’s force and capture the suburb of Kishangunj. Brigadier General Longfield’s 1,000-man 5th Column (61st Foot, 4th Punjab Infantry, and the Baluch Battalion) remained in reserve.

The British assault began on 14 September 1857 under a hail of rebel musketry fire and grapeshot, and a foothold was gained in the city after severe British losses, including the charismatic Nicholson. The Kashmir Gate was blown by sappers and created a significant breach in the walls. Confusion, poor coordination, and hard fighting followed. By the evening of 14 September, the British had established a foothold in the city, but at a cost of 66 officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded. After six days of determined (and occasionally drunken) urban fighting with no quarter given on either side, the British captured Delhi, suffering a tot al of 1,574 officers and men killed and wounded during the operation. The advance, according to many junior officers, was characterized by “the utmost incompetence” (Hibbert 1978, p. 310).The British victory was followed by looting, revenge, and the execution of mutineers.

Bahadur Shah was captured and his sons were shot after they surrendered to the British. The fall of Delhi was the turning point of the Indian Mutiny and ended mutineer dreams of a revived Mughal Empire. Moreover, it freed British troops to fight at Cawnpore and other locations.

References: Edwardes (1963); Collier (1964); Hibbert (1978); Hilton (1957); Leasor (1956)

NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST

Like John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest was brilliantly self-taught in the military art. Both were remarkably inventive practitioners of asymmetric warfare, leveraging meager resources to great effect against superior forces. Yet, while Morgan saw himself as a latter-day knight without armor, Forrest regarded himself as a soldier and a leader of soldiers. He was not a knight or a crusader, but a man of war, and “war,” he said, “means fighting, and fighting means killing.” Such was his stock in trade.

Adversaries such as Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman thought Forrest the most dangerous man west of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies. Sherman, whose approach to war at times more closely resembled than differed from Forrest’s, called him a “devil.” The word may not have been tossed off casually. Like the devil, Forrest knew how to sow chaos and destruction with consummate craft, and his method relied as heavily on intimidation, bluff, and deception as it did on saber’s edge and gunpowder. All that kept him from joining the ranks of the very greatest generals of the Civil War was his subordinate position, which confined him to a wholly tactical role, albeit one that sometimes had a strategic impact. Sherman was accorded independent command and thus had a larger, far more strategically significant field in which to practice his own sometimes calculatedly cruel version of warfare.

For many Americans, both in the 1860s and afterward, the Civil War has been thoroughly steeped in romance. For many Southerners in particular, this attitude was defined and amplified by the concept of “the Lost Cause,” the idea that the Confederate cause was noble and right, and that Southern soldiers and their leaders had possessed the skill and courage to achieve a righteous and deserved victory, but were deprived of it by dint of Northern demographic, economic, and industrial dominance. Nor have Northerners been immune to the romantic vision of the war. For some it was a great crusade, a holy struggle to save the Union and a contest to end the evil of slavery.

For many on both sides, the war seemed a hallowed adventure, and men of achieved distinction, aspiration to distinction, or the pretension to distinction clamored for high command, the honor of leading other men into romantically desperate battle.

But a select few, including some of the most strikingly successful generals of the Civil War, wanted no part of the supposed “romance” of war. William T. Sherman put his conception of war very simply—not in the most often quoted sentence “War is hell,” but in what he told the mayor of Atlanta: “War is cruelty.” And the general Sherman most feared and hated, Nathan Bedford Forrest, the man he called a “devil” and the commander he considered more dangerous than any other in the South, had his own single-sentence definition of war: “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.”

LIFE BEFORE THE WAR

Nathan Bedford Forrest was born on July 13, 1821, in a cabin near Chapel Hill, Tennessee. His father eked out a living as a blacksmith and would sire eleven more children before he died in 1838, leaving Nathan to support them and their widowed mother. Maybe it was this hard circumstance that, early in life, knocked notions of romance and glory out of the young man’s head.

His hardscrabble circumstances left no time for school—he spent a total of six months in a classroom—before his uncle Jonathan Forrest took him into his business in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1841. Four years later, Jonathan Forrest got into a heated argument with some business rivals, the Matlock brothers, which escalated into a violent brawl in which he was killed. Nathan Forrest responded by shooting and killing two of the brothers. After he emptied his double-barreled (two-shot) pistol in the process, a bystander tossed him a knife, which Forrest used to slash the two other Matlocks, wounding both. (One would later freely serve under Forrest during the Civil War.) There was nothing of blood vengeance about the killings, merely the evening of a score. As Nathan Bedford Forrest saw it, a man did not allow his kinsman’s killers to go unkilled. It was that simple.

As for young Forrest, he discovered in himself a business sense as natural as it was aggressive. He rapidly acquired a pair of cotton plantations in the Tennessee Delta country, holdings amounting to about three thousand acres by 1860, and he owned at least forty-two slaves. Before long, he came to realize that even more money was to be made in the buying and selling of slaves than in the raising of cotton, and so he opened a slave-trading business in Memphis. His apologists among historians point to evidence that Forrest treated his slaves well, perhaps not so much out of fellow feeling for them as human beings but out of good common business sense. His inventory was valuable, and as a good businessman he did everything he had to do to protect it.

However Forrest felt about slaves and slavery, the trade made him rich. Not only did he easily support his mother and siblings—even financing college educations for all of his brothers—Forrest became a local politician, gaining election in 1858 as a Memphis alderman. By the start of the Civil War, he held a fortune well in excess of a million dollars. Forrest pursued a course of self-education and became a voracious reader and a careful writer. During the Civil War, he would labor intensively over critical orders, concerned to strike just the right “pitch,” as he called it. Throughout his life, he would express embarrassment over his educational deficiencies, especially (he freely admitted) when he was in the company of well-educated men. Despite this, he seems never to have sought admittance to genteel Southern society. He was a notorious—and mostly winning—gambler, but (as his obituary put it) he was always “known to his acquaintances as a man of obscure origin and low associations . . . a man of great energy and brute courage.” Even ensconced in wealth, Forrest seems to have reveled in and traded on his reputation as a dangerous and unpredictable man.

THE WAR BEGINS

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the thirty-nine-year-old Forrest and his fifteen-year-old son presented themselves for enlistment as privates in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States. After training at Fort Wright in Randolph, Tennessee, they were mustered into Company E of the Tennessee Mounted Rifles on July 14. Forrest was shocked by the impoverished condition of the unit and offered to purchase sufficient horses, uniforms, and weapons to fit out a volunteer regiment. As a planter, Forrest was exempt from service under Confederate law, and those planters who did choose to serve always joined as officers. In response to his offer to finance a regiment, Governor Isham G. Harris commissioned Private Forrest a lieutenant colonel and asked him to recruit and train a battalion of volunteer Confederate Mounted Rangers. The officers of the Tennessee Mounted Rifles enthusiastically endorsed the governor’s commission because they recognized in Forrest, who had no training in the military art, a born fighter and a leader of fighting men. Forrest personally raised and trained the battalion, and by October was given command of an entire regiment, which was named for him.

It was not uncommon for wealthy Southerners to raise and finance individual companies during the Civil War, but it was almost unheard of for them to create entire battalions, let alone regiments. Moreover, from the beginning, Forrest molded his outfit into a unique fighting unit. He handpicked his troopers for their agility, horsemanship, daring, and, most of all, for their willingness to kill. After Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862), he would run a recruiting ad in the Memphis Appeal that called out, “Come on, boys, if you want a heap of fun and to kill some Yankees.” While he thought of his entire regiment as an elite fighting force, he selected from it the best of the best to serve as his “Escort Company,” a shock-troop unit of forty to ninety men, which, at one point, included eight of Forrest’s slaves. In addition to their fighting skill, the troops of the Escort Company were big men and, like Forrest himself (six-foot-two, 210 pounds), intimidating men. Forrest made it his practice to personally sharpen both edges of his cavalry saber before each battle.

Historians would make much of the fact that Forrest joined the Confederate army as a private and emerged as a general. Yet, as a general officer, he never personally gave up what he saw as the only important duty of an enlisted soldier: killing. The modern estimate is that Forrest killed at least thirty-three men in combat, using his pistol, his double-edge saber, or a shotgun.

FIRE IN THE SKY
General N.B. Forrest’s Raid Into West Tennessee
Obion River – December 1862 by

JOHN PAUL STRAIN

SKIRMISH AT SACRAMENTO, KENTUCKY, DECEMBER 28, 1861

Forrest’s first engagement occurred at the backwoods Kentucky village of Sacramento. Learning that a Union detachment of five hundred men was moving through the area, Forrest led just two hundred men in stealthy pursuit. Splitting this small force into three parts, he dismounted one portion to make a frontal attack while the two other elements, mounted, attacked the left and right flanks of the Union detachment. It was a classic envelopment—holding the enemy by its nose while unexpectedly hitting it from the two flanks—and it gave the impression of overwhelming strength. Key to Forrest’s tactics was deception. An inveterate gambler, he was also a natural bluffer—but the essence of the bluff was always intense and violent activity. “Forward, men,” he would order, “and mix with them!” In this first engagement of two hundred against more than twice that number, Forrest and his men killed or captured every one of the enemy.

BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON, FEBRUARY 11–16, 1862

Ordered to take his regiment to beleaguered Fort Donelson in February 1862, Forrest found himself being asked to surrender—not by the enemy, but by the Confederate command at the fort. Ulysses Grant had just taken Fort Henry (February 6), leaving Donelson cut off. On February 14, Union gunboats began to shell Fort Donelson. Confederate commander John Floyd decided to attempt a breakout through Grant’s siege lines and attacked early the next day. In this action, Forrest’s cavalry captured a Union artillery battery and cleared Grant’s troops from the three roads leading to the fort. Confident that he had given Floyd just what he needed to break out, Forrest was stunned when the general announced his decision to surrender both the fort and his command.

“I did not come here for the purpose of surrendering my command,” Forrest boomed. Pointing out the breakthrough he had made, he offered to use his cavalry as a rear guard to protect Floyd’s command. When the general remained adamant in his decision to give up, Forrest addressed the men of his own command: “Boys, these people are talking about surrendering, and I am going out of this place before they do or bust hell wide open.” With that, he probed the siege lines, found an opening, and decamped, leaving Floyd to surrender some twelve thousand men.

Forrest marched to Nashville. Recognizing that the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson meant that the Tennessee capital would soon be captured, he took it upon himself to impose martial law on the city. Inventorying everything of military value, especially the machinery in a local arms factory, he hurriedly arranged for its evacuation, thereby saving the Confederacy millions of dollars in scant war production funds.

BATTLE OF SHILOH, APRIL 6–7, 1862

Forrest and his regiment reached the Shiloh battlefield on the second day of combat, just in time to fight a rear-guard action that saved many Confederate soldiers. At Fallen Timbers he charged through General Sherman’s skirmish line only to realize that his men had stopped following him when they came up against the main body of an entire Union brigade. Undaunted, Forrest—mounted and alone—charged the front of the brigade. Blue-coated soldiers swarmed him. After emptying both of the Colt revolvers he carried, he drew his double-edged saber and began slashing. As he turned in the saddle to bring down his blade, a musket ball lodged in his spine, almost knocking him off his horse. Quickly recovering and despite his wound, Forrest seized the collar of the soldier who had fired at him and lifted him onto his horse. Using him as a human shield, he rode back to his own lines.

FIRST BATTLE OF MURFREESBORO, JULY 13, 1862

A full week passed before Forrest was able to get to a surgeon, who successfully extracted the musket ball in a procedure performed without anesthesia. Forrest spent more than a month recuperating in Memphis, then took command of a new and untested cavalry brigade cobbled together from an assortment of regiments that included citizen volunteers as well as slaves. On July 13, 1862, using a combination of bluff and violence, Forrest forced the surrender of the Union garrison at Murfreesboro.

The action earned him promotion to brigadier general, but in December 1862, the brigade he had led against Murfreesboro and molded into a crack unit was reassigned. Forrest was instructed to raise a new brigade of two thousand. Ordered to raid Union lines of supply and communications in western Tennessee in order to disrupt Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, Forrest protested that he needed time to train his recruits, few of whom were even armed. When Braxton Bragg refused to withdraw his order, Forrest became grimly determined to do his best. He decided that his best chance was to avoid any pitched battles and instead lure Grant’s troops into as many fruitless pursuits as possible, creating distractions and forcing Grant’s commanders to exhaust their men and to dilute and divert them from the siege.

Forrest led his inexperienced troopers in a series of hard rides and lightning raids, all hitand-run, never lingering long enough to engage enemy soldiers. He pushed into Kentucky; unlike the raider John Hunt Morgan, however, he stopped at the Ohio River. Along the way, Forrest accumulated a stock of Union weapons and a good many more recruits than he had started off with. While Morgan’s raids would have little strategic impact, Forrest’s vigorous rampage certainly interfered with and delayed Grant at Vicksburg.

BATTLE OF CEDAR BLUFF, MAY 3, 1863

Disgusted with being the victim of Forrest’s raids, Grant retaliated by sending a brigade of 1,500 Union cavalry under Colonel Abel Streight to counterraid Confederate positions in north Alabama and west Georgia. One of Streight’s objectives was to sever the railroad south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, thereby cutting Bragg’s lines of supply. Mustering no more than six hundred men, Forrest pursued Streight’s much larger force, never letting up for more than sixteen days until he had run Streight to ground at Cedar Bluff, Alabama, on May 3.

Forrest was no fool, and he knew that six hundred versus more than twice that number presented poor odds. Once again, he resorted to bluff and deception, parading some of his troopers around the top of a hill over and over, thereby giving the impression that he had about five thousand men. After doing this for a while, he sent a trooper under a flag of truce to demand Streight’s surrender. The Union commander consented to a meeting with Forrest, and when he inquired point-blank as to the size of his command, Forrest replied that he had “enough to whip you out of your boots.” When Streight refused to surrender, Forrest turned to his bugler. “Sound to mount,” he ordered. At this, Streight changed his mind and gave up without a fight.

BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA, SEPTEMBER 19–20, 1863

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Forrest predictably chafed under Bragg’s command. His cavalrymen vigorously pursued William Rosecrans’s retreating Army of the Cumberland, taking large numbers of prisoners. He was not alone among Bragg’s subordinates in his belief that following up on the Confederate victory at Chickamauga would not only retake Chattanooga, but badly cut up the Union forces. When Bragg refused to exploit the victory, Forrest thundered at him, calling him a “damned scoundrel” and “coward” and declaring that if Bragg were “any part of a man” he would “slap his jaw”—that is, challenge him to a duel. Instead, he warned Bragg that if he ever again tried to “interfere with” him or “cross [his] path,” it would be at the peril of his life. With this, he demanded a transfer. Two weeks later, Forrest was assigned to an independent command in Mississippi and, on December 4, 1863, he was promoted to major general.

BATTLE OF OKOLONA, MISSISSIPPI, FEBRUARY 22, 1864

Both Grant and Sherman regarded Forrest as a high-priority target, and Sherman repeatedly sent cavalry units in search of him. One such detachment, seven thousand men under Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, caught up with him at Okolona, Mississippi, only to find themselves in an exhausting running battle, in which Forrest maneuvered so as to attack them in the rear. Although Smith significantly outnumbered Forrest, the relentless nature of the Confederate attacks demoralized his command, which withdrew to Memphis. “Smith’s command was nearly double that of Forrest,” General Grant observed candidly, “but not equal man to man.”

FORT PILLOW MASSACRE, APRIL 12, 1864

On April 12, 1864, Forrest sent a Confederate division under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers to Fort Pillow, an earthwork fort on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Originally built by Confederate general Gideon Pillow, it had been captured by the Union and was occupied by a garrison consisting of 262 African-American soldiers and 295 whites. The mission of Fort Pillow was to cover Union supply lines. Forrest’s mission was to disrupt those very lines, and he understood that retaking Fort Pillow was essential to his mission. After Chalmers had succeeded in driving in the fort’s pickets and encircling the garrison, Forrest arrived and assumed personal command. He sent a surrender demand. When the garrison commander refused, he ordered an attack.

Southern and Northern accounts differ sharply as to what happened next. The only points beyond dispute are that 231 Union troops were killed, and about 100 were wounded; in addition, 168 whites and 58 blacks were captured. (Forrest lost just 14 killed and 86 wounded.) According to Forrest, the heavy Union losses were the result of a refusal to surrender. According to Union survivors of what they called a “massacre,” the garrison surrendered as soon as the fort had been breached, but Forrest’s men shouted, “No quarter! No quarter! Kill the damned niggers; shoot them down!” And so they did.

The congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, hardly an impartial body, concluded that Forrest and his troops were indeed guilty of atrocities. They had cut down most of the garrison after it had surrendered, and they had even buried some black soldiers alive. They also burned down tents that sheltered the Federal wounded.

BATTLE OF BRICE’S CROSSROADS, JUNE 10, 1864

The controversy concerning the full extent of Forrest’s role in the Fort Pillow Massacre is ongoing among historians, but most agree that it was and remains a bloody stain on the general’s record. More immediately, the event galvanized Northern resolve to stop Nathan Bedford Forrest. Yet when his 3,500 men went up against 8,500 under Union brigadier general Samuel D. Sturgis at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, Mississippi, on June 10, 1864, it was once again Forrest who emerged the victor.

After leading Sturgis and his command in a long pursuit calculated to exhaust them, Forrest deployed his troopers at the crossroads, poised to make a violent counterattack. When Sturgis’s infantry collided with Forrest’s cavalry, the worn-out Union soldiers were simply not up to resisting the counterattack. It came swiftly, viciously, and with maximum energy. The Union skirmish lines dissolved, sending retreating soldiers crashing into one another. Seizing on the chaos and panic, Forrest ordered a full cavalry charge into the retreating army. He wreaked havoc on Sturgis’s command, capturing 16 cannon, 176 wagons, and some 1,500 stands of small arms while killing 223 and wounding 394. A staggering 1,623 Union troops simply went missing, presumably having fled. Forrest’s casualties were 96 killed and 396 wounded. Particularly humiliating to the Union was the poor performance of the African-American regiment under Sturgis’s command.

TUPELO, MEMPHIS, AND JOHNSONVILLE, JULY 14–15, AUGUST 21, AND NOVEMBER 4-5, 1864

Sherman had greater success against Forrest at the Battle of Tupelo, Mississippi, on July 14 and 15, 1864. Union forces under Major General Andrew J. Smith not only succeeded in driving him from the field, but they also inflicted a wound on Forrest’s foot. Yet the “Wizard of the Saddle” (as the Southern press called him) continued his disruptive raids, including a daring but ultimately ineffective strike against the Memphis business district in August 1864 and an extremely destructive assault on Sherman’s supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, on November 4-5, 1864.

FRANKLIN AND NASHVILLE CAMPAIGN, DECEMBER 1864

Driven out of Atlanta by Sherman, John Bell Hood led his Army of Tennessee in losing battles against Union forces at Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee. Forrest participated in these, but he clashed with Hood over the latter’s refusal to allow him to block Union major general John M. Schofield’s route of retreat from Franklin. Forrest finally prevailed—over Hood, but not over Schofield, who defeated him. Union troops under the redoubtable George H. Thomas hit Hood hard, dealing out a bloody defeat and forcing him to fall back on Nashville.

Withdrawing from Franklin to Nashville, Hood left Forrest to fight Union forces near Murfreesboro on December 5, 1864. This so-called Third Battle of Murfreesboro went badly for Forrest, even as Hood suffered a decisive defeat at Nashville. Forrest extricated himself from Murfreesboro and reached Nashville in time to conduct a valiant rear-guard action, which prevented the Army of Tennessee from being completely destroyed. Nevertheless, it was finished as a significant military force for the rest of the war. In February, Forrest was promoted to lieutenant general.

THE END

Forrest engaged Brigadier General James H. Wilson at the Battle of Selma, Alabama, on April 2, 1865, during Wilson’s Raid through Alabama and Georgia in March and April, but he was defeated by Wilson’s overwhelmingly superior numbers and received a severe saber wound in the battle. The following month, on May 4, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama and Mississippi, surrendered. Although the capitulation of the department was binding on Forrest, many on both sides expected him to fight on. But Forrest knew that the war had been lost, and on May 9, 1865, he officially surrendered, publishing to his troops a farewell address that echoed Robert E. Lee’s own farewell to the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia. If any principal Confederate commander could have been expected to assume leadership of a guerrilla movement, Forrest was the most likely candidate. Instead, he told his soldiers that “it is our duty to divest ourselves of all . . . feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge.” Insofar as “it is in our power to do so,” he advised cultivating “friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended. . . . Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.” His address continued:

I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.

AFTER THE WAR

Nathan Bedford Forrest commanded none of the great “set piece” battles of the Civil War, and his victories, though remarkable and costly to his Union adversaries, had no decisive strategic effect. Yet he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential commanders in the war. He was a leading exponent of guerrilla-style tactics in modern warfare, and, equally important, was among the first to create and practice the doctrine and tactics of mobile warfare. The quotation often attributed to him, that victory was a matter of “gittin thar fustest with the mostest,” is apocryphal (especially in its mock dialect form), yet getting there first with the most does express the essence of Forrest’s combat policy, the doctrine of mobility and maneuver, and it has formed the kernel of United States war-fighting practice from World War II onward.

Forrest set about trying to rebuild his business ventures and his fortune after the war. He settled in Memphis and became president of the Marion & Memphis Railroad, which, however, sank into bankruptcy under his leadership. He never recovered financially and scraped by at the end of his life as the warden of a state prison farm. For many, his postwar legacy is irredeemably tarnished by his involvement in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866 and evolved into a violent shadow government in opposition to the military state governments imposed during Reconstruction. It is widely but erroneously believed that Forrest was instrumental in founding the KKK. He was not; it is, however, highly likely (though not certain) that he was the organization’s first grand wizard, its official leader. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Forrest himself approved of the KKK but publicly denied any direct association with it, and when he came to believe that the KKK had become ungovernable and merely vicious, he disavowed the organization completely. Nor did he advocate segregation or the doctrine of black inferiority. On the contrary, his avowed position was extraordinarily progressive on matters of race, especially for a man of his background, time, and place. He called for racial equality and racial harmony and believed that all professions should be open to all people, black or white.

Nathan Bedford Forrest died in Memphis on October 29, 1877, from complications of diabetes.

Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester – Warrior Bishop

King John of England in battle with the Francs (left), Prince Louis VIII of France on the march (right).

Peter des Roches, parlayed his military activities into reaching the height of political and ecclesiastical power, serving both as a bishop and as regent for the young Henry III. He achieved these powers, and the respect of contemporaries, despite (or because of) his embrace of active fighting in battle. These men were comfortable in warfare, wore armor, bore weapons, and used them personally in battle, and yet they rose to great heights of power in the secular and ecclesiastical hierarchies, and were often praised for their devotion to God and king.

He played active roles in the campaigns against the French army of Prince Louis that invaded England in 1217, on crusade with Frederick II, and in command of a papal army towards the end of his life. Roger of Wendover wrote of Peter’s elevation in 1205 that he was `a man of the knightly order and skilled in the ways of war.’ He was chosen specifically for his knightly qualities and because of his loyalty to King John and his willingness to advance the king’s interests. His election was eventually confirmed by Innocent III, with the pope consecrating him in person, and he was soon given legatine authority in England.

Peter served John in a variety of roles, including as justiciar when the king was out of the country. One such event in 1214 has elicited the pejorative comment from W. L. Warren that John left the country `and its government to the strong, if not too clean, hands of his ablest henchmen. Peter des Roches, foreign adventurer and bishop of Winchester.’ In addition to showing Bishop Peter’s importance, Warren’s comment also demonstrates the normative bias inherent in most treatments of warrior-clerics. This attitude is also in keeping with the broader approach to Peter des Roches by modern historians. They have often seen him as `a warrior and financier first and foremost, a bishop in little more than name.’ Contemporaries, however, were much more pragmatic about the value of Peter’s actions, and the licit nature of his military activities. Peter was a trusted advisor and military commander during Richard and John’s reigns. He spent a large amount of time in the royal chamber, and was intimately involved in Richard’s wars in France, paying ransoms, overseeing the payment of crossbowmen, and in negotiations over truces, among other duties. In 1205 he was elected to the bishopric of Winchester with the support of King John, and with letters of support from Barthelemey de Vendome, archbishop of Tours. Whereas Nicholas Vincent uses this fact to reinforce his contention (probably accurate) that des Roches was not, in fact, a `Poitevin’, as his English detractors claimed, but, rather, from Touraine, it is also important in that the archbishop was willing to support his election, despite (or perhaps because of) Peter’s previous military actions. Peter had served as both the treasurer and archdeacon of Poitiers during Barthelemey’s episcopate, and the archbishop’s decision to support and endorse his candidacy speaks to the multiplicity of perceptions regarding warrior-clerics. Peter’s election was met with some scorn from observers, however, who derided him as a courtier-bishop and someone more concerned with secular, rather than spiritual affairs. Vincent argues that while `commentators have regarded him as a churchman in little more than name. the pope clearly believed that he possessed some redeeming features. Perhaps above all, Innocent [III] hoped that would serve as a channel of communication with King John.’ Such an interpretation is supported by other examples of Innocent’s political outlook, including his intercession for Philip of Dreux. It is also possible, of course, that Innocent saw in Peter the sort of prelate who could be useful leading papal armies, or functioning effectively on crusade, two things that des Roches did successfully later in his career.

Upon becoming bishop, Peter continued his active military role. He served as a commander both in a continental campaign and on a royal expedition into Wales. On the Welsh campaign he was one of the three named commanders of the army, and the annalist recorded that they established three castles against the Welsh. During his episcopate, his household earned the reputation, no doubt spurred on by his successes in war, for being more notable in its martial exploits rather than in its piety. He was the chief English prelate to stand by the king during the Interdict imposed by Innocent III over the king’s refusal to allow Stephen Langton, the pope’s choice for archbishop of Canterbury, into the country, and Peter’s decision to stay and serve the king probably did not endear him to contemporary authors (or modern historians). Tis loyalty to John earned him the ire of his episcopal colleagues. Vincent reckons, with some amusement, that `While exiled churchmen bewailed the liberties of the church, the bishop of Winchester was busy at the Exchequer or in leading a royal army into Wales.’ Peter’s loyalty to John also probably galled Innocent III, who had supported his elevation. However, with the ending of the Interdict in 1213, and John’s surrendering England to papal protection, des Roches was once again on the winning side of the political argument. He was not forced to do penance for his decision to stay at court, nor had he been suspended from office during the five-year Interdict. In fact, he enjoyed papal support in his election in 1214 to the archbishopric of York, over the strenuous objections of Langton. Langton, however, successfully organized opposition to des Roches, and managed to delay confirmation until support for his elevation collapsed.

Despite his failure to become an archbishop, Peter continued to faithfully serve John for the remainder of his reign. During the period of mounting baronial opposition to the king, Innocent III instructed Peter des Roches and his royal colleagues to support King John against the rebels, whom he termed `”worse than Saracens, for they are trying to depose a king who, would succour the Holy Land.”‘ Upon John’s death Peter oversaw the accession of Henry III in 1216 at the age of nine, and he personally crowned the young king. In fact, his most famous military achievements came on behalf of Henry III during the French invasion led by Prince Louis. The History of William Marshal provides some of the best evidence for Peter des Roches’s military actions on behalf of John and Henry III. At the siege of Torksey Peter led the fourth division of the royal army, earning praise from the author and earning the sobriquet `worthy’ (buens) from the poet. William Marshal then gave a rousing address, and in his wisdom he `entrusted his crossbowmen to Peter, the worthy bishop of Winchester, who was in charge of leading them, who had sound knowledge in that sphere, and who strove hard to perform well.’ There was no indication in the text of anything untoward about Peter’s role as a military leader, nor the fact that he was especially adept at commanding crossbowmen. This last aspect is especially interesting, since crossbowmen had been condemned by the Second Lateran Council in 1139 and clerics were specifically prohibited from commanding them, according to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. This was a prohibition that des Roches ignored without consequence or criticism. Peter’s role was presented only as laudable by the author of the Histoire. During the battle, Peter followed William Marshal `shouting loudly and many times, in all directions: “This way! God is with the Marshal!”‘ He actively led the royal troops in battle, and the author consciously linked him with the royalist hero William Marshal.

In a later battle, probably the great royalist victory at Lincoln, Peter was described as playing an even greater and more personal role. The author praised his knightly feats, writing,

The worthy bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, who was in charge that day of advising our side, was not slow or slothful, and he knew how to make use of his arms. In the company of his fine troop of men he gave chase, and in the course of that pursuit he did very well indeed, capturing knights as he went.

Far from being condemned, Peter’s active embrace of violence and his essentially chivalric feats of arms were cause for praise and fame. The Histoire had a highly royalist perspective, and it assessed Peter’s actions on that basis. His support of the royal cause (the same cause as that of the hero, William Marshal) was what mattered for his reputation. His support of William Marshal and the cause of Henry III made his behavior laudable. For the author of the Histoire, his clerical status played little or no role in assessing the acceptability of his military actions. Nicholas Vincent argues that his training in Richard I’s army probably gave him good strategic insights, and `It was largely to the credit of des Roches that the combat developed along far different, far more advantageous lines than those envisaged by the army’s veteran commander [William Marshal].’86 Furthermore, he `was very much the hero of the day’ and even the chroniclers who were `generally most hostile to des Roches, Wendover and the author of the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, bury their enmity to marvel at his martial prowess.’ The battle was described by some chroniclers in explicitly crusader terms, with John’s forces taking on the role of the holy defenders. Peter absolved the Angevin army before the battle, and his soldiers donned white crosses to signify their favor in God’s eyes. Their victory went a long way towards proving that claim.

Other sources were a little more circumspect about Peter’s enthusiasm for military combat. The bishop came in for criticism in contemporary chronicles and songs for being worldly, but it was often for his devotion to the king’s finances and his role at the Exchequer. That being said, one source did call him `the arms bearer of Winchester’ (Wintoniensis armiger), but went on to criticize his monetary policy, rather than his embrace of military action. Vincent argues that Peter was a conundrum for contemporaries, `Even at the height of his triumph, at the battle of Lincoln in 1217, the chroniclers mingle respect for his military prowess with a suggestion that he was involved in the seamier professional side of army life: the command of the king’s highly unrespectable crossbowmen.’ This example represents a crucial distinction in the treatment of warrior-clerics. His actual fighting on behalf of the king was not as much of a problem as his embrace of, as Vincent puts it, `the seamier professional side of army life’. Fighting in a licit cause was often seen as permissible, but transgressing normative boundaries between clerics and knights was cause for greater concern.

During des Roches’ years in power after John’s death, he worked closely with the papal legates to bring the English church into line with several of the reforms adopted at the Lateran Council of 1215. He promulgated moral reforms, including laws against clerical drunkenness, and was zealous in carrying them out on his own estates, though less so at the Exchequer. Politically, des Roches was an important member of the regency government for young Henry III, in which he oversaw royal affairs alongside his rival Hubert de Burgh and William Marshal (until his death in 1219), and subsequently Pandulf de Masca, bishop of Norwich (and papal legate). His political machinations made him many enemies, and he was alternately in and out of favor over the next several years. He took the cross in 1221 after being accused of treason, but returned in 1223 and joined the anti-de Burgh faction. He continued his military activities, including the leading of a `significant contingent of the army’ against the Welsh that year. His return was reasonably short lived, as he was forced from power by his political opponents, and so he took up a military command and joined the crusade of Frederick II in 1227. He led, along with Bishop William Brewer of Exeter, the English contingent in Frederick’s army, despite Frederick’s being excommunicated. Peter placed the success of the crusade over the `political designs of the papacy’ and refused to shun contact with Frederick. Frederick succeeded in reoccupying Jerusalem, by treaty rather than combat, and in March of 1229 des Roches accompanied him into the city, where the emperor was crowned in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While the nature of the retaking of Jerusalem caused some controversy, it largely enhanced des Roches’ reputation back in England. As Vincent notes, des Roches `returned to England feted as warrior and statesman’ and as a hero, though it also served to reinforce his image as an outsider and cosmopolitan in an England rapidly becoming more xenophobic. Des Roches became embroiled in a number of political squabbles upon his return, and by 1234 he was driven again from high political office. He was rescued from obscurity by his overseas interests, and he `accepted an invitation from the papacy to assist in Gregory IX’s campaign against the rebellious citizens of Rome.’ He was a confidant of the pope, who was a celebrated canonist. While the pope did not give des Roches unqualified support, his endorsement, especially of des Roches’s military abilities, demonstrates the importance and relative acceptability of warrior-clerics. The noted chronicler Matthew Paris makes explicit that the pope summoned him because of his great wealth, and his noted military reputation. Peter ended his career as he had begun it, serving two lords on the battlefield.

The regency government of Peter des Roches

GUNTHER LUETJENS

Gunther Luetjens, who succeeded Wilhelm Marschall as commander of the German fleet, was born in Wiesbaden on May 25, 1889, the son of a merchant. Enthralled from childhood by stories about the sea, he decided to make the navy his career and joined as an officer-cadet in 1907. In 1910, he graduated from the Naval Academy, ranking 20th in a class of 160. As befitted his high standing, he was assigned to a battleship. Ironically, Luetjens was uncomfortable on large ships. As soon as the opportunity arose, he transferred to the torpedo boats and served on them throughout World War I. In the Weimar days, he alternated between training and staff assignments (mainly involving transport vessels) and was considered an outstanding instructor. He served as commander of the 1st Torpedo Boat Flotilla (1929-1931) and, after a staff tour as chief of the naval officer personnel department (1932-1934), Luetjens was given command of the cruiser Karlsruhe in 1934 and spent the first half of 1935 in South American waters, showing the German flag. When he returned to Germany, he was named chief of staff of Naval District North Sea, serving in that capacity until March 16, 1936, when Erich Raeder named him head of the naval personnel office. The grand admiral needed a staff officer of proven ability for the rapidly expanding navy, and the experienced and dependable Captain Luetjens was his man.

Gunther Luetjens was a taciturn officer with a monk-like devotion to his calling. His friends considered him quite charming once they got beyond his stoic exterior. A confirmed monarchist, he never used the Nazi salute or carried an admiral’s dagger with a swastika on it, preferring instead to wear his old Imperial Navy dirk. He even lodged a protest against Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, but it was buried by Hermann Boehm, the fleet commander at the time.

In 1938 Raeder named Luetjens commander-in-chief of Reconnaissance Forces, and in late 1939, as a rear admiral, he took part in the mining operations off the English coast. He was promoted to vice admiral effective January 1, 1940. After Luetjens’s cruisers took part in the Norwegian campaign, Erich Raeder appointed him fleet commander (Flottenchef) on June 18, 1940. In him, the grand admiral found exactly the man he wanted to command the surface fleet: an officer of the old school he could trust to obey every order SKL gave him without too many questions or objections. The fact that Luetjens had spent the bulk of his career in the torpedo boat and cruiser arms did not make him particularly well qualified to command the fleet, but this did not seem to bother Raeder, who had Luetjens promoted to full admiral on September 1, 1940.

Meanwhile, at Raeder’s urging, Luetjens attempted to take the Gneisenau and the Hipper out on a raid into the Atlantic on June 20, 1940, but his flagship Gneisenau was torpedoed the same day and out of action for months. Meanwhile, Admiral Luetjens was in charge of the naval portion of Operation Sea Lion, under the overall supervision of Admiral Raeder.

Repairs on the Gneisenau were completed by December, when Luetjens went out to sea again with it and the Scharnhorst. However, he ran into a gale, and both ships were damaged by heavy seas, forcing him to return to base again. On his third attempt, in early 1941, Admiral Luetjens finally succeeded in breaking out into the North Atlantic and fell on the British shipping lanes with the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. They sank 13 British merchant ships and tankers before being confronted by the British battleship Rodney and its escorts. In accordance with the take-no-risks orders of Raeder and Hitler, Luetjens felt obliged to retire rather than engage in a surface battle. On the morning of March 23, 1941, he entered the port of Brest, France. He was then summoned to Berlin.

On Saturday, April 26, 1941, Gunther Luetjens took his leave of Grand Admiral Raeder after having been briefed on his next mission: he was to conduct a raid in the Atlantic with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck. It would be the maiden voyage of Germany’s monstrous 42,000-ton battleship.

Luetjens voiced some valid objections to this plan. The difference between the endurance of the two ships would prevent them from operating together as a homogeneous force, he pointed out. Luetjens wanted to wait until the Scharnhorst was repaired and the Tirpitz, the sister ship of the Bismarck, completed her crew training period, which would be in about four months. As a combined force, these three ships would be very difficult indeed to defeat. Otherwise, the German Navy would be committing its forces piecemeal. Raeder, however, argued the opposite case. Each pause in the Battle of the Atlantic helped the enemy; also, it was essential to create a diversion in the Atlantic, to force the British to withdraw naval forces from the Mediterranean, thus reducing pressure on the Italian-German supply routes to North Africa.

Although he had by far the stronger argument, Luetjens let himself be persuaded. He would obey the grand admiral’s wishes. When Adolf Hitler visited Gotenhafen (now the Polish port of Gydnia) on May 5, to inspect both the Tirpitz and the Bismarck, he also expressed doubts about the advisability of this operation; Luetjens, however, strongly supported Raeder’s point of view. Had Luetjens said what he really thought and agreed with Hitler, it is quite likely that the tragedy of the Bismarck would have been avoided. However, faced with the united front of his naval experts, Hitler decided not to interfere with Raeder’s plans, despite his personal reservations. The stage was set for yet another naval disaster.

Once again, as with Marschall, the fleet commander was cautioned again and again against taking unnecessary risks. Raeder told him to use “prudence and care” and not to stake too much for the sake of a limited success of dubious value. At his SKL briefing, Luetjens was told that “the primary objective is the destruction of the enemy’s carrying capacity. Enemy warships will be engaged only in furtherance of this objective, and provided such engagements can take place without excessive risks.”

After leaving Berlin, Gunther Luetjens paid a visit to his friend and predecessor Wilhelm Marschall, a champion of the right of freedom of action for a commander at sea. Marschall, now in retirement, warned him not to feel too closely bound by the Supreme Naval Staff’s instructions.

“No, thank you,” Luetjens said as he rejected Marschall’s advice. “There have already been two Fleet Commanders who have lost their jobs owing to friction with the Admiralty, and I don’t want to be the third. I know what they want, and shall carry out their orders.”

The Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen left port on May 18 and were spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft on May 22. The Home Fleet tried to prevent them from breaking out into the Atlantic, and on the morning of May 24, a classic naval battle took place in the Denmark Straits, between Iceland and Greenland. Firing from 10 miles away, the Bismarck sank the British Hood. One of the German 15-inch (380mm) shells hit her aft magazine, setting off 112 tons of high explosives. The 42,000-ton battle cruiser went down only six minutes after the Bismarck opened fire, taking 1,416 officers and men with her, including Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Holland. Only three men survived.

One minute later, at 6:01 a. m., the Bismarck turned its guns on the British battleship Prince of Wales. By 6:13 a. m. this opponent had sustained several hits and was laying a smoke screen, trying to escape the German task force. Ernst Lindemann, the captain of the Bismarck, wanted to pursue the crippled British battleship and finish her off, but Luetjens-ever mindful of SKL orders-refused to do so. A violent argument ensued, but Luetjens held firm, and the Prince of Wales escaped.

The Bismarck headed for the open Atlantic, where the British lost her. Luetjens, however, broke radio silence and transmitted a long report to Berlin, enabling the British to re-fix his position. Even so, the bearings were misinterpreted and the pursuing force went off in the wrong direction. The Bismarck was re-sighted by a Catalina flying boat two days later, and a wave of Swordfish dive-bombers from Vice Admiral Somerville’s Force H attacked the German battleship with torpedoes late in the afternoon of May 26. One of these struck aft, jamming the rudder and making the battleship unmaneuverable. Efforts at repairing her proved futile. Nor could the Bismarck be towed, for Luetjens had already detached the Prinz Eugen. As he had predicted, it did not have the endurance to operate with the Bismarck.


On May 27, the British closed in on the Bismarck in overwhelming force. The last anyone ever saw of Admiral Luetjens was early that morning, as he and his staff walked across the deck of the Bismarck and headed for the bridge. He was unusually quiet and did not bother to return the salutes of the crew. About 9 a. m. the bridge suddenly became an inferno of flames, and this is probably when Gunther Luetjens perished, but this is impossible to confirm. Only 110 of the Bismarck’s crew survived, while some 2,100 (including the entire fleet staff) perished. Many of them drowned after the battleship sank at 10:40 a. m. The British made very little effort to save them. Some have suggested that had the situation been reversed, there would probably have been another “war crimes” trial in 1946 or 1947.

Luetjens made several serious mistakes in his last campaign. There is little doubt but that he should have sunk the Prince of Wales when he had the chance. Adolf Hitler was right when he dressed down Grand Admiral Raeder for this failure, which was at least as much Raeder’s as Luetjens’s. Hitler showed a rare flash of strategic judgment when he recognized this fact-although he seems to have forgotten that he himself had urged caution from time to time. In any event, after the Bismarck debacle, Hitler never fully trusted Erich Raeder’s judgment again. “Whereas up till then he had generally allowed me a free hand, he now became much more critical and clung more than previously to his own views,” Raeder wrote later. 29 This was not necessarily bad for the German Navy. Raeder had exhibited questionable judgment since before the war began and since 1939 had shown a tendency to dissipate the navy’s strength on raids of dubious value. Hitler’s biggest mistake as a naval leader-other than not building enough U-boats and going to war too soon-was not replacing Erich Raeder much sooner.

Although from all accounts a good person, Luetjens must go down in history as a failure as a fleet commander. Certainly he was an unlucky one. His fatal flaws included an underestimation of the potential threat of aircraft to capital ships, a gross violation of the most elementary principles of radio security, and a slavelike obedience to the poor strategic thinking of the Supreme Naval Staff-even to the point of allowing it to cloud his own, sounder judgment. “Luetjens,” one former German naval officer wrote, “personifies the tragedy of a commander whose personal ability was sacrificed on the altar of dutiful obedience.”

And what happened to Wilhelm Marschall, who had warned Luetjens not to listen too closely to the instructions of Raeder and his Supreme Naval Staff? His career seemed to be over until Admiral Raeder suddenly called him out of retirement on August 12, 1942, and named him commanding admiral, France. Six weeks later he was promoted to commander-in-chief of Naval Group West, then headquartered in Paris. Raeder had thus promoted the fleet commander he had previously dubbed a failure and worse, and whom he had forced into retirement in semi-official disgrace. Even so, when Marschall tried to bring up the subject of his actions in Norway, Raeder refused to discuss it. Did this mean that Raeder had realized the validity of Marschall’s concept of tactical freedom of action for commanders at sea and thus recognized his own errors? Marschall thought so but also believed that Raeder “would rather have bitten his tongue out than admit it.”

Generaladmiral Marschall was among those senior officers retired in the first weeks of the Doenitz regime in 1943. He was again recalled in June 1944, to head a special authority staff for the Danube River. Retired again in November 1944, he was reappointed commander-in-chief of Naval Command West on April 19, 1945. He held this post until the end of the war. After being released from Allied captivity in mid-1947, Wilhelm Marschall wrote a number of articles on naval history and strategy. He died at Moelln (in Schleswig-Holstein) on March 20, 1976, at the age of 89.