Lost Battalion Dispatch #14 for the Week of October 2, 2022

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrence

Lost Battalion Dispatch #14 for the Week of October 2, 2022

This Week in History

The Charge of the Light Brigade
and a
Whiff of Grapeshot

German armor attacking 40 klicks west of
Moscow on November 25, 1941
Operation Typhoon, the German attempt to capture Moscow, began on October 2, 1941. For the first five days of the offensive, the three infantry armies and three Panzergruppen involved made good progress. But on October 7th the first snow of the season fell and quickly melted, turning the dirt tracks that served as roads in Russia into quagmires. Nevertheless, German operations in the vicinity of Bryansk succeed in encircling and destroying nearly half a million Russian troops.

By October 13th the Germans had doggedly pressed forward to the Mozaisk defense line, a series of fortifications hastily constructed to cover the approaches to the Russian capital. The Germans directed their initial attacks around the flanks of these fortifications, making progress despite the efforts of General Mud and the tenacious defense of the Russian soldiers. By the end of October, a series of frontal assaults on the line and the danger of encirclement by the flanking attacks had caused the Russians to pull back to a final defensive position behind the Nara River. The German High Command ordered a halt at this point because the mud not only hampered military operations but caused severe supply shortages.

When the ground was finally frozen solid on November 15th, a new offensive was ordered. This pincer movement failed to achieve its goal of surrounding what were thought to be the remaining Russian troops defending Moscow. With the pincers stalled short of their objectives, the Germans launched a frontal assault on the defenses which also failed because General Winter had arrived on the battlefield with temperatures dropping to –20 degrees Fahrenheit. Neither the German soldiers nor their machines were prepared for such cold weather. The men suffered over 100,000 casualties due to frostbite, engine blocks cracked, and frozen grease had to be removed from shells before they could be loaded.

During the first days of December, German commanders gave up the idea of taking more ground and began to think in terms of surviving the winter. This became much more difficult when the Russians launched a counterattack using reserve troops brought in from Siberia on December 5th.

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Monument to Vercingetorix commission
by French Emperor Napoleon III
Vercingetorix of Gaul surrendered to Julius Caesar on October 3, 52 BC, ending the siege of Alesia and effectively securing Gaul as a Roman province. After being defeated in open battle, Vercingetorix took his 80,000-man army to the fortified hill town of Alesia. Caesar deemed an assault impossible and so decided to starve the Gauls out. He ordered a circumvallation constructed around Alesia. The encircling fortifications extended for 11 Roman miles. The threat of an approaching Gallic relief force forced the Romans to construct a second line of fortifications, a contravallation, facing outward, which was three miles away from the inner fortifications and 14 miles long. Recognizing his impending supply crisis, Vercingetorix seized all the available grain and began rationing it. He attempted to send the women, children, old, and infirm out of the town but Caesar refused to allow them through the defenses. After two coordinated attacks by the Gauls within and without, the Gallic leaders agreed to lay down their arms and surrender Vercingetorix to Caesar. The young Gaul was imprisoned in Rome for six years before being paraded before the crowds during a Triumph celebrating Caeser’s conquest and then being ritually strangled.
The Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia on October 4, 1853, beginning the Crimean War. Although it was the Ottomans who officially declared war, the proximate cause of the conflict was a dispute between Russia and France over who should “protect” the rights of Christians within the Ottoman state after reforms, moving toward secularization of the government in 1839, encouraged Balkan Christians to demand autonomy. The French claimed to champion Christian rights in the name of the Roman Catholic church, the Russians in the name of the Eastern Orthodox church.

A bit of gunboat diplomacy on the part of the French resulted in the sultan confirming French and Roman Catholic authority over Catholic holy places within his empire. Having the benefit of geography, the Russians prosecuted their claim to protect Balkan Orthodox Christians by occupying Moldavia and Wallachia. In fact, the religious connotations of all these maneuvers were nothing but a pretext. Russia was intent on territorial expansion at the expense of the Ottomans and the West, led by Britain and France, opposed this.

Once war was declared, the Ottomans achieved success against the Russian in the Balkans (with some help from the Austrians) but were hard pressed in the  Caucuses and had 11 ships destroyed at the Battle of Sinope. In response, an Anglo-French fleet entered the Black Sea to support the Ottomans and demanded no Russian ship be allowed to leave the port of Sevastopol.

In September of 1854, the Allied fleets transported armies to the Crimean Peninsula, from whence the war takes its name. By this time, Russia had already evacuated Moldavia and Wallachia and the war could have been over. British and French politicians, however, were influenced by public opinion to continue punishing the Russians. The Allied armies decisively defeated the Russians at the Battle of Alma but failed to pursue them and capture Sevastopol. British and French troops then laid siege to the city.

In late October, a large Russian force attempted to destroy the Allied supply base supporting the siege at Balaclava. It was at this battle where the 95th Highlanders became immortalized as a “thin red line” by turning back a Russian cavalry charge while remaining in line formation rather than forming square. Also at Balaclava, the Light Brigade was memorialized after suffering nearly 40% casualties while charging across the length of the Balaclava Valley under fire from Russian artillery on the hills. The Russians followed up this battle with a direct assault on the besieging armies which was also defeated at the Battle of Inkerman. As the siege of Sevastopol wore on, another Russian thrust toward the Balaclava supply base was defeated by French, Sardinian, and Ottoman troops at the Battle of Chermaya. The city finally fell on September 9, 1855, after a 337-day siege.

Public opinion, especially in Britain where a “snowball riot” occurred, had turned against further conflict and peace negotiations were conducted in Paris resulting in a treaty of March 30, 1856. All the areas occupied by the Russians were returned to the Ottomans and the Crimean cities occupied by the Allies were restored to Russia. Russia agreed not to establish any naval or military bases on the Black Sea coast. Moldavia and Wallachia, which had been occupied and annexed by the Austrians in support of their Ottoman allies, were nominally returned to the Ottoman Empire. In practical terms, they became independent.

The war is also famous for Florence Nightingale’s reforms in the treatment of wounded soldiers, the use of railroads and the telegraph in its prosecution, and the advent of “instant” reports from journalists on the front lines.

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.
The Whiff of Grapeshot
October 5, 1795 (or 13 Vendemiare, Year 4) marked the beginning of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power. A widespread popular uprising against the excesses of the French revolutionary Committee of Public Safety culminated in a Royalist attack on the Paris headquarters of the National Convention. When other Patriotic commanders were slow to oppose the Royalist forces, Napoleon ordered his soon-to-be Marshall Joachim Murat to retrieve 40 cannons from the reluctant commanders and deploy them in defense of the Convention. Firing grapeshot into the ranks of 7000 Royalists advancing on the Convention, these cannons and the Patriot battalions supporting them broke the Royalist assault. The event was famously described by Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle as a “whiff of grapeshot.” A cavalry charge by Murat’s Chasseurs finally dispersed the Royal, leaving about 150 dead in the streets of Paris. While nominally saving the French Revolution, the action effectively ended it by laying the groundwork for Napoleon’s French Empire.
A Marine mortar team at Matanikau
The Third Battle of Matanikau began on October 6, 1942. A large force of US Marines crossed the Mantanikau River on the island of Guadalcanal, forcing Imperial Japanese forces to retreat from their positions and hampering Japanese plans for an attack on Henderson Field. Having lost the Matanikau positions, the Japanese were forced to undertake a long inland march through the jungle before the Battle of Henderson Field. Many believe that exhaustion from this march was a major contributing factor to their defeat in that battle.
The battle of Bemis Heights (also known as the Second Battle of Saratoga) occurred on October 7, 1777. After the Pyrrhic victory suffered by the British at Freeman’s Farm on September 19th, General John Burgoyne was anxious to eliminate the American forces opposing his advance but, upon learning of General Henry Clinton’s advance up the Hudson Valley toward his position, he delayed for three weeks.

During this time, drama arose in the American camp due to the rivalry between General Horatio Gates and his most effective subordinate Benedict Arnold. A series of insulting messages and orders nearly caused Arnold to leave the army. A petition from his officers succeeded in stroking his ego to the extent that this was avoided.

On October 7th, the British, now short of supplies, emerged from their fortified lines and approached the American positions. This advance was first opposed by Daniel Morgan’s riflemen and later by Major Henry Dearborn’s light infantry. Hearing the growing sounds of battle while having lunch with Gates, Arnold urged his commander to allow him to bring reinforcements into the fray. Gates hesitated, not wanting Arnold to precipitate a full-scale battle, but relented when Arnold promised not to do so.

Arnold’s arrival on the field inspired cheers from the American lines and the British advance was halted. Burgoyne fell back into his entrenchment to prepare for a defense. Arnold ordered an attack on the British fortifications, precipitating the general engagement Gates had desired to avoid. Repulsed from one British redoubt, Arnold led an assault against another which carried through, exposing the flank of the British lines. Arnold was wounded during this attack.

Burgoyne retreated during the night due to the threat of American troops on his flank, falling back to the town of Saratoga where Gates surrounded him. Ten days later, Burgoyne surrendered to Gates, giving the Americans their first real victory of the Revolutionary War.

Surrender of General Burgoyne by John Trumbull
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 8, 1970, “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.” Among Solzhenitsyn’s large body of work is the historical novel August 1914, which details the World War I battles around Tannenberg. His depiction is sympathetic to the Russian commander, General Alexander Samsonov, attributing his defeat to blunders by his staff and personality clashes among his subordinates. He movingly describes Samsonov’s suicide in the wake of the defeat. In accord with his “ethical force,” he ends the novel with a telegram to the Russian High Command declaring the colossal defeat as a Russian victory and closes with the epigram, “Untruth did not begin with us; nor will it end with us.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn speaking at Harvard in 1978

Coming Soon from Lost Battalion Publishing

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the near future, where the government has stepped up censorship of online and broadcast media content, Jack Richards, a curmudgeon and hack writer, develops a relationship with an unusual woman named Brandy and begins to pen a dystopian novel at her prompting. Brandy wants Jack to “red pill” America about what might happen if current trends go unabated. The mysterious Brandy continually disrupts Jack’s mundane, mildly decadent existence, pushing him out of his well-established comfort zone. His writing reflects this personal struggle. In a book within the book, he tells the story of 22nd Century protagonist, Kelly Wallace who becomes embroiled in a sequence of events that force her to break away from her complacent but relatively untroubled life under the regime of the Central Authority and strike out into the unknown. Jack’s metaphysical journey toward healing his self-inflicted wounds is reflected in Kelly’s physical trek from the dystopian town of New Destiny to the promised utopia of Liberty City. Along the way both find mentors, face emotional challenges, and experience real danger.

Blood of Patriots, book one of the Dystopia Redeemed series, is now available for preorder as an Amazon Kindle e-book here. The publication date of the hardcover edition from Lost Battalion Publishing will be announced soon.

About the Lost Battalion Dispatch

This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne forest during World War One.

At Lost Battalion Publishing we take inspiration from the historical Lost Battalion that never gave up, never lost hope, and persevered despite a series of devastating setbacks.

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