A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

This Week in History: Napoleon escapes, Constantine is born, and King Kong ravages New York City

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #35 for the Week of February 26, 2023
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Napoleon Boneparte’s Escape from Exile
One of history’s most incredible “prison” escapes occurred on February 26, 1815, when Napoleon Bonaparte escaped exile on the island of Elba. The island was technically part of France, but the terms of the Treaty of Fountaneblue, whereby Napoleon was dethroned and stripped of his property, turned Elba into a Principality. It was “possessed by [Napoleon] in all sovereignty and property.” He retained the title of Emperor and established a miniature court in Elba. The cunning “Little Corporal” chose the island because of its good weather and natural defenses. He inhabited a villa overlooking the harbor the Medicis built in the 1700s.

Ruling the island allowed him to assemble and train a defense force of about 2000 men, a small navy, and a 600-man Imperial Guard. Frequent visitors from France, including the Polish countess Marie Walewska, informed him of developments on the mainland, the disposition of the occupying Allies, and the difficulties faced by the restored Bourbon monarch Louis XVIII.

One of the guests at Napoleon’s court was Neil Campbell, a British officer assigned to keep track of his activities. In Campbells’s presence, Napoleon claimed he was a “dead man,” subdued and beaten, whose time of greatness had passed. But he was merely bidding his time and plotting vengeance against those who had subjected him to exile and humiliation.

Rumors of a rebellion brewing against Louis and discord between the Allies during the Congress of Vienna encourage him to take action. Campbell took note of his restlessness and departed for England to report on it. Taking advantage of a temporary absence of the French and English guardships patroling Elba’s harbor, Napoleon took 1000 of his men aboard his tiny fleet and set sail for the south of France. Landing near Cannes, he marched his small army through the Alps toward Paris to avoid the staunchly Royalist region of Provence. The army steadily grew as his old soldiers joined it along the way. Finally, Louis XVIII fled the capital, and Napoleon entered it on March 20 without firing a shot. Thus began the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s return to power.

Look for an in-depth article about the Hundred Days and the War of the Seventh Coalition that ended Napoleon’s temporary triumph in our Locals community later this week.

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Statue of Constantine in York, UK
Constantine I, regarded by some as the first Christian Roman Emperor, was born on February 27, 273. Highlights of his reign include: separating the civil and military authorities of the empire, issuing a new currency, the gold “solidus” that would become the standard coinage of Byzantium and Europe for the next thousand years, reorganizing the army into a system of garrison troops and mobile reaction forces, prosecuting successful campaigns against the Franks, Alemmani, Goths, and Sarmations that secured Roman borders, resettling previously abandoned lands with new Roman citizens, and founding Constantinople.

During the civil war which resulted in his becoming the sole emperor, he reported having been given a dream that he would be victorious if his troops bore the Chi Rho symbol of Christ on their shields. He ordered the symbol painted on and then defeated an army twice the size of his own at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

Although he continued to live a pagan lifestyle afterward, he stopped the persecution of Christians, restored confiscated Church property, convened important Church councils, and was baptized into the Church. Scholars still debate the extent of his personal devotion to and understanding of Christianity.

Marshall of the Soviet Union Nicholai Fyodorovich Vatutin, the hero of Stalingrad, was ambushed and wounded by partisans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army on February 28, 1944. He died of his wounds six weeks later. Vatutin’s tenacious defense of Stalingrad did not prevent the Germans from entering the city. Still, they failed to breach his lines and eliminate Russia’s toehold on the western bank of the Volga. This allowed reinforcement to continue to pour into the city.

During the campaign, Vatutin met Ivan Chernyakhovsky; impressed by the young commander of the 18th Tank Corps, he convinced Stalin to give Chernyakhovsky command of 60th Tank Army. Chernyakhovsky went on to become one of the top Red Army generals.

Vatutin played a role in the subsequent winter counteroffensive that trapped Germany’s 6th Army in Stalingrad. In Operation Little Saturn, his forces encircled and destroyed the Italian 8th Army that was helping protect the flanks of the German advance.

Nicholai Vatutin
Oscar Underwood, the Man to Whom You Owe Credit for the Federal Income Tax
On March 1, 1914, the Revenue Act of 1913, enabled by the recent ratification of the 16th amendment to the United States Constitution, went into effect. It established a federal income tax of 1% on annual income over $3000 with 1% additions at $20,000, $50,000, $75,000, $100,000, $250,000, and $500,000. Thus, the top rate for income over half a million per annum was 7%. The Act also reduced tariffs. It was not the first federal income tax. Congress had passed a tax on income during the Civil War that was never challenged in the courts, but it was repealed in 1872.

Progressive Democrat Party members saw tariffs as unfair taxes on poor consumers. They argued that an income tax was a more equitable way to generate government revenue. The Supreme Court had struck down previous Progressive attempts to impose an income tax on the grounds that the Constitution required direct taxes to be proportionally distributed to the states. The 16th Amendment overcame this difficulty. It states simply: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Woodrow Wilson came into office shortly after a sufficient number of states ratified the amendment. He made tariff reduction and the imposition of an income tax his top priority. House Majority leader Oscar Underwood, a Democrat from Alabama, quickly pushed the measure through the House. It passed the Senate only after heavy lobbying on the part of Wilson.

King Kong Movie Poster
On March 2, 1933, the movie King Kong” opened in New York. The story of a gigantic ape from Skull Island who falls in love with a beautiful woman was a box-office smash. It brought RKO Studios a profit of $1.3 million during its initial release and another $2.5 million when re-released in 1952.

The movie is notable for its groundbreaking special effects created by Willis O’Brien. Stop-motion animation, in which models are moved in tiny increments while photographed on a single film frame, was used to create Kong and the other prehistoric inhabitants of Skull Island. It was a painstaking process. The iconic fight between Kong and the tyrannosaurus took seven weeks to create. While O’Brien did not invent stop-motion animation, he is widely regarded as perfecting it in his work on “King Kong.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proposed awarding a special Oscar to O’Brien for his technical effects work on the film. When he insisted that his entire crew be given Oscar statues, the Academy balked. O’Brien then refused to accept an Oscar.

A Crowd Blocks the Route of the Woman Suffrage Procession
The Woman Suffrage Procession occurred on March 3, 1933, in Washington, D.C. It was the first large march on the Capitol for political purposes. It was organized by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who had recently gained control of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founded in 1890 by Susan B. Anthony. The duo was intent on establishing a national strategy for the promotion of the right for women to vote rather than focusing on passing laws in individual states.

They planned the march to coincide with the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, taking place the day before, to put pressure on the new administration and gain maximum publicity. Large crowds were in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural ceremonies when 5 to 10 thousand women began their march down Pennsylvania Avenue and then on toward the White House. By the time the parade reached 5th Avenue, lask police preparation had allowed a crowd of hecklers and some supporters to block the route completely. A near riot ensued that was only broken up when an army cavalry unit arrived to clear the parade route. The chaos cost the Washington chief of police his job but served to bring even more publicity for the movement.

During Wilson’s second term as President in 1919, Congress sent the 19th Amendment, ensuring women’s right to vote, to the states for ratification. A personal appeal by Wilson was necessary to get the measure through the Senate. It took over a year to get three-fourths of the states to ratify the Amendment. Part of the delay was due to the fact that suffrage organizations had disbanded in many states where women already had the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State on August 26, 1920

England’s King Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn on March 4, 1681, for the area that would later become Pennsylvania. The commonwealth will celebrate its 342nd birthday this year by displaying the original document at the State Museum in Harrisburg between March 12th and 17th.

For more information about free admission to the museum and other sites on during the Charter Day celebration, click here.

Look for an in-depth article on William Penn in our Locals community later this week.

William Penn’s Charter
Clash with Cryptids!

Battle it out with your favorite strange creatures in this quick two-player card game. Can Bigfoot take down the Nessie? Is a Kraken more powerful than a Yeti? Find out by clicking here.

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