A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

Lost Battalion Dispatch #15 for the Week of October 9, 2022

This Week in History

The Birth of a Great Author, an Arrow to the Eye, and the Death of Mata Hari

Bruce Catton
Bruce Catton was born on October 9, 1899, in Petoskey, Michigan. As a boy, he was profoundly moved by the reminiscences of Civil War veterans, later writing, ” I was always subconsciously driven by an attempt to restate that faith and to show where it was properly grounded, how it grew out of what a great many young men on both sides felt and believed and were brave enough to do.”

He left college without completing a degree because of World War I, during which he served with the Navy. After that war, he worked as a journalist. When World War II began, he was too old for military service. Instead, he took a position as Director of Information for the War Production Board. In 1948, he wrote The War Lords of Washington: The Inside Story of Big Business Versus the People in World War II. The book was not a commercial success. It condemns the War Department for inefficiency and political infighting, concluding that the production miracle that was the foundation for America’s victory occurred in spite of government involvement rather than because of it. Pre-dating Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex by 11 years, Catton advances the idea that in winning World War II the United States also lost its republic.

Despite the commercial failure of his first published work, Catton quit federal employment and became a full-time author. In the early 1950s, he wrote the Army of the Potomac trilogy consisting of Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox. The latter, his first commercial success, also won him a Pulitzer Prize for History in 1954. He would go on to write two more Civil War trilogies, one centered on the career of Ulysses S. Grant and another honoring the Centennial of the war, along with several single-volume works. In one of these, 1958’s America Goes to War, he proposes that the Civil War was the first “total war” in which civilian infrastructure was regarded as a legitimate target for military action.

Catton was the founding editor of American Heritage magazine for which he wrote over 100 essays. In one of these, he warned against “regarding the past so fondly we are unable to get it in proper focus.” Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough regarded his time as an editor and writer for the magazine under Catton’s direction as “my graduate school.” Catton continued to write for American Heritage until his death in 1979.

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Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
On October 10, 1868, sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and a group of other Cuban landholders proclaimed independence from Spain, sparking the Guerra de los Diez Años, or Ten Years’ War. This was the first of three liberation wars fought by Cubans against Spain. The last of these escalated to include the involvement of the United States in 1898, beginning the Spanish-American War.

In his 10th of October Manifesto, de Céspedes outlined several aims of the insurrection including enjoying “the benefits of freedom, for whose use, God created man,” “freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the freedom to bring back honest governance,” and the abolition of slavery. He freed his own slaves and asked them to join him in the fight.

The revolution was centered in the eastern provinces of Cuba where the insurrectionist quickly achieved success, taking eight towns and enlisting 12,000 volunteers. A constitutional assembly was held in April of 1869, creating a House of Representatives for the Republic in Arms, electing de Céspedes as the first president, and naming Manuel de Quesada as Chief of Armed Forces. The colonial government responded by passing laws that allowed insurgent leaders, males 15 and older caught outside the grounds of their plantation, and the occupants of ships carrying supplies to the rebels to be executed without trial. Women caught away from their residences were to be taken to concentration camps and any town not surrendering immediately to colonial forces was to be burned to the ground. Acts related to these laws were mostly performed by a pro-colonial militia known as the Voluntary Corps.

After de Céspedes was surprised and killed by a Spanish patrol on February 27, 1874, the rebels became embroiled in political strife which hampered further operations. In 1876, a quarter of a million Spanish troops, freed up by the end of the Third Carlist War, arrived on the island. Neither side was able to achieve any clear victory, but it was clear that Spanish numbers would prevail in the end so the Pact of Zanjón was signed on February 10, 1876. The pact allowed for a constitution and Cuban government and for reforms to improve the financial situation of residents. It eventually led to the abolition of slavery on the island with former slaves continuing to work for their owners in indentured servitude.

Sixteen-year-old Jose Marti, a student and ardent supporter of the rebellion, had been arrested for treason and sentenced to six years of hard labor early in the war.  When he became ill during his imprisonment, he was exiled to Spain and allowed to continue his education in the hope that studying in the home country would renew his loyalty. Instead, it inspired him to pen revolutionary tracts. After stints in Mexico, Guatemala, and Venezuela, he would return to the island during the final war of revolution against Spain where he would be killed at the Battle of Dos Rios and become a Cuban national hero.

On October 11, 1954, French troops complete their withdrawal from North Vietnam in accordance with the Geneva Conference of 1954, formally ending the First Indochina War. France had begun negotiations with the Viet Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, after being defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Geneva Accords promised elections in 1956 to create a national government for a united Vietnam. When these elections failed to take place, North Vietnam invaded the South, starting the Second Indochina War which is more commonly known in the West as the Vietnam War.
French POWs after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Columbus reports the results of his journey to sponsors Ferdinand and Isabella
Christopher Columbus landed and the island of San Salvador on October 12, 1492. His first expedition, intended to find a shorter route to the Orient, was inspired by his incorrect belief in the calculation for the size of the globe by Greek geographer Marinus of Tyre in preference to the later, more nearly correct, calculations of Claudius Ptolemy. He called the inhabitants of the island indios, Spanish for Indians, in the mistaken belief he had reached the East Indies. As a result, the islands of the Caribbean are termed the West Indies even though they are nowhere near India. He returned to Spain with tobacco, pineapple, and turkeys, all previously unknown to Europe, but none of the valuable spices such as pepper, ginger, and clove he was hoping to find. Nevertheless, most Europeans initially accepted the idea that he had reached the East Indies. One notable exception was Italian historian Peter Martyr who described Columbus as the discoverer of a “New Globe” in a letter to the Vatican months after the explorer returned.
Ankara Castle overlooking the capital of Turkey
Ankara replaced Istanbul as the capital of what would become the Republic of Turkey on October 13, 1923. After the Ottoman defeat in World War I, the Allies occupied Constantinople and much of Anatolia. When Ottoman officials were on the verge of approving a partition of the Empire that would have left much of it in the hands of France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Armenia, Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk began a resistance movement. During the four-year-long Turkish War for Independence, he succeeded in bringing his various opponents to agreements that essentially gave Turkey its modern borders. As Istanbul (not Constantinople) had been occupied by the enemy during the war, Ankara had served as Ataturk’s headquarters and the seat of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. A vote of this body affirmed Ankara as the capital shortly before abolishing the Ottoman Empire and establishing the Republic on October 29th.
The Battle of Hastings was fought on October 14, 1066, between a Norman army of William, Duke of Normandy and an English army under Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson. When Edward the Confessor died without an heir in January 1066 a succession struggle began. Claimants to his throne included both the aforementioned, Harold’s brother Tostig, and Norwegian King Harald Hardrada. Harold, being closest at hand, had himself crowned but soon faced an invasion by the combined forces of Tostig and Hardrada. Five days after defeating and killing these two rivals at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold was forced to march swiftly to the south to confront another invasion by William.

The Ango-Saxon shield wall repelled attacks by Norman infantry and mounted knights and apparently resisted Norman efforts to break it by “feigned flights” on the part of the cavalry during the initial phase of the battle. However, during a second Norman attack in the late afternoon, Harold was killed, and the leaderless English force collapsed. One contemporary account records that Harold was simultaneously wounded by a Norman knight and killed by an arrow in the eye. Modern historians continue to debate the cause of his death. Regardless of how he died, his defeat led to the Norman conquest of England and added yet another layer of complexity to the language we call English today.

The Death of Harold from the Bayeux Tapestry
Margaretha MacLeod (née Zelle), a Dutch exotic dancer better known by her stage name Mata Hari, was executed by a French firing squad on October 15, 1917. Shaken by the Great Mutinies in the French army following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, the new French government of Georges Clemenceau was eager to find a scapegoat for this failure. Blaming it on a single German spy would fit the bill nicely. French military intelligence, knowing Mata Hari was selling the Germans worthless gossip about the sex lives of French politicians and generals, had sought to employ her to seduce German Crown Prince Wilhelm into divulging military secrets that he probably didn’t possess. Now, needing a spy, they portrayed the Dutch woman as a double agent. At her trial, the defense was denied permission to cross-examine prosecution witnesses who depicted Mata Hari as a femme fatale, a depiction that lingers in popular lore. After her execution, the French released news that she had finally confessed to spying but, during the trial, she steadfastly insisted her loyalty was to the Allies. She may not have been entirely innocent, but she certainly wasn’t guilty of causing the deaths of thousands of French soldiers as her prosecutors maintained.
Mata Hari
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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