A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences
This Week in History: A wooden hand becomes a treasured relic, two Iron Ladies, and a no-hitter.
Your Lost Battalion Dispatch
The Lost Battalion Dispatch #44 for the Week of April 30, 2023
The Wooden Hand of Captain Jean Danjou
The Battle of Camorone took place on April 30th, 1863. It was a crucial moment in the French Foreign Legion’s history. 62 Legionnaires, led by Captain Jean Danjou and two other officers, were sent to reconnoiter the route of a convoy of gold bullions, siege guns, and ammunition bound for the siege of Puebla. Along the way, they encountered a large Mexican force led by Colonel Francisco Milan, who intended to ambush the convoy.
The Legionnaires set out at 1 AM and marched 15 from to Palo Verde, where they were to scour the countryside for enemy soldiers. While they were making their morning coffee, a sentinel raised the alarm. A troop of about 250 Mexcian cavalry rode by, leaving them unmolested. Nevertheless, Captain Danjou decided to pull back from Palo Verde to a more defensible position. They marched for an hour back to the Camorone and then skirted around the town to avoid contact with any Mexicans. After they hacked their way through the jungle back and back onto the road, they discovered more Mexican cavalry. The Mexicans charged. The Legionaries formed a square and repulsed them. More Mexicans appeared. Danjou’s men dispersed them too, then made their way to La Trinidad Hacienda, a farmhouse protected by 10-foot stone walls. About a dozen men, most already wounded, became separated from the company and were captured.
Unfortunately, the Legionnaires found Mexicans had already occupied two rooms of La Trinidad Hacienda. So they barricaded the gates, occupied the third room, and prepared their defense. Sharpshooters were positioned to keep the Mexicans in the farmhouse pinned down.
A Mexican negotiator arrived at about 9:30 AM. Captain Danjou’s answer was, “We have munitions. We will not surrender.” After this, he passed his bottle of wine around to the men and had them swear on his wooden hand to fight to the death. Fifteen minutes later, the Mexcian assault began.
Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Legionnaires fought valiantly, inspired by Captain Jean Danjou’s heroism. Even after Danjou was killed at about 11 AM, his men continued to fight and refused two additional offers of surrender. The battle raged until 6 PM when the five remaining Legionnaires fired a last volley and charged with bayonets. Three of them survived and surrendered after being surrounded by Mexicans. When the captives were brought to Colonel Milan he remarked, “That’s all that is left. These aren’t men. They are devils.”
Of the estimated 3000 Mexicans involved in the battle, about 300 were killed and 500 wounded. Forty-one Legionnaires died. Seventeen were wounded, including the company’s drummer, who was left for dead at the farmhouse and later rescued.
The Battle of Camorone came to symbolize the French Foreign Legion’s bravery and courage. Every year, on April 30th, the Legion celebrates Camorone Day to honor the soldiers who fought in this legendary battle. Captain Danjou’s wooden hand is the Legion’s most venerated relic.
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Jackson and Lee at Chancellorsville by Mort Künstler
The fighting at Chancellorsville began on May 1st, 1863. General Joseph Hooker, who had replaced Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac, attempted to outflank General Robert E. Lee’s army by crossing the Rappahannock River at Chancellorsville the previous day. Lee, however, anticipated Hooker’s move and divided his army in two, sending about four-fifths of his army on a surprise attack against the Union’s right flank while leaving a small force to deter any advance by the Union’s left.
Hooker held the initiative on the first day. The divisions Slocum, Meade, and Sykes led were making good progress and nearing their objectives when Hooker ordered them to fall back to defensive positions around Chancellorsville. His reasoning seems to have been influenced by the heavy losses the Union had suffered during their attack at Fredricksburg in 1862. He hoped to inflict the same kind of losses on Lee’s army by forcing it to attack, knowing that the Confederacy would be unable to restore their casualties as effectively as the Union could.
That night, Jackson and Lee conferred about the plan of action for the next day. Jackson expected Hooker to retreat. Lee believed the enemy had too much invested in the campaign to pull back so quickly. During the conference, J.E.B. Stuart arrived with news from his cavalry scouts that Hooker’s right flank was “in the air.” Lee decided to split his army again, sending Jackson on a 12-mile march around the Union flank with 28,000 men and keeping just 13,000 to face the 70,000 Union troops entrenched at Chancellorsville. Stuart was tasked with screening Jackson’s move from Hooker’s men.
Despite Stuart’s efforts, Hooker detected the movement but took action against it too late. His spoiling attack only impacted the very rear of Jackson’s column. At 5:30 PM, Jackson launched his flank attack on Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s weak and inexperienced XI Corps. Howard had done little or nothing to prepare for the flank attack he had been warned about. Whole regiments disintegrated in minutes under the fierce Confederate assault. Colonel Robert Reily, commander of the 75th Ohio, would later write about the rout, “A rifle pit is useless when the enemy is on the same side and in the rear of your line.” As the disordered mob of the routed XI Corps poured into Chancellorsville, Hooker was propelled into frantic action, but nightfall and the disordered condition of the pursuing Confederates did more than the general to prevent total disaster.
Jackson wanted to press his advantage before Hooker could reposition his still superior force for a counterattack. He rode out beyond the Confederate lines to assess the feasibility of a night attack under the light of a full moon. His staff warned him that he was in a dangerous place. He replied, “The danger is all over. The enemy is routed. Go back and tell A.P. Hill to press right on.” He and his staff were mistaken for Union cavalry as he returned to Confederate lines. The 18th North Carolina Infantry opened fire. Jackson was hit three times. None of the wounds were fatal, but his left arm had to be amputated. When Lee heard the news, he said, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.” The loss was more significant than Lee knew at the time. While Jackson was recovering, he contracted pneumonia and died on May 10th.
Despite Jackson’s victory on May 2nd, Lee was still in a precarious position on May 3rd. Sickle’s division that had attacked the rear of Jackson’s column still held Hazel Grove, separating the two halves of Lee’s army. As Lee formulated a plan to evict Sickle, Hooker inadvertently cooperated by ordering Sickle to move to a new position. As a result, Lee reunited his lines. The artillery he massed at Hazel Grove soon made the Union position at Chancellorsville crossroads untenable. Hooker himself was injured when a Confederate cannonball struck the wooden pillar he was leaning against at his headquarters. He was unconscious for over an hour but refused to relinquish command when he woke. The likely concussion he suffered probably weakened his already suspect judgment.
At 10 AM on the 3rd, Lee rode into Chancellorsville crossroads on Traveller to survey the scene of his victory. Shortly after that, he received the disturbing news that John Sedgwick’s Union troops had broken the lines of Jubal Early’s delaying force at Fredricksburg. Early organized a fighting retreat, but Sedgwick’s road to Chancellorsville was now open. Fortunately for the Confederates, Sedgwick did not pursue his advantage aggressively. In the words of Confederate General Cadmus Wilcox, Confederate reinforcements arrived and delivered Sedgwich, “a bloody repulse…rendering entirely useless to him his little success of the morning at Fredericksburg.”
Lee concentrated more forces against Sedgwick on May 4th. Hooker provided no support, and Sedgwick could only think about protecting his line of retreat. He withdrew across the Rappahannock during the pre-dawn hours of May 5th. Hooker also retreated across the river the next day, ending the battle.
The Chancellorsville campaign was costly for both sides. The Union army suffered 17,287 casualties, while the Confederate army suffered 12,764. The effect on the morale of the two sides was more significant than the loss of life. The Confederate army proved to be a formidable force. This gave Lee the confidence to launch his invasion of Pennsylvania later that year. The Union was demoralized, and Hooker was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac. Newspaperman Horace Greely wrote, “My God! It is horrible—horrible; and to think of it, 130,000 magnificent soldiers so cut to pieces by less than 60,000 half-starved ragamuffins!”
Despite being outnumbered by over two to one, Lee won his greatest victory of the war. Military historian Trevor Dupuy referred to it as his “perfect battle.” But many historians also believe that the loss of Thomas J. Jackson significantly contributed to Lee’s greatest defeat later that year at Gettysburg.
The Battle of Lützen was fought on May 2nd, 1813. An allied army of the Sixth Coalition consisting of Prussiand led by Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher and Russians under the command of Prince Peter Wittgenstein engaged a superior number of French troops led by Napoleon. They were hoping to catch the Emperor by surprise and prevent the capture of Leipzig.
The Prussian’s initial attack did achieve a modicum of surprise, but Blücher paused to bring up artillery when he found more Frenchmen in position than expected. He pushed the French back after softening them up with his cannon, but the delay allowed reinforcements to begin streaming in, including Napoleon himself, who had been playing tour guide for his staff at the site of Gustavus Adolphus’ 1632 victory at Lützen when the engagement began.
Napoleon quickly assessed the situation and began concentrating his forces. He developed a plan for a double envelopment of the Allies. As the day drew on, both sides poured troops into the villages south of Lützen. The Allies occupied most of these and believed they held the advantage as they were unaware of French troops arriving on the flanks. When the Coalition advance had been halted, the Emperor unleashed a devasting artillery barrage against the center of the Russian line and followed it up with an assault by the Imperial Guard. This attack, along with the threat of envelopment on the flanks, compelled the Allies to withdraw.
It was a bloody battle. Casualty figures are in dispute but may have been as high as 20,000 for the French and 30,000 for the Coalition. The French held the field, though, and Leipzig fell. So the immediate objectives of the Allies failed. Eighteen days later, Napoleon won another bloody victory at Bautzen. His heavy losses in these two victories prompted him to offer a truce. The pause in hostilities allowed financial aid from Britain to encourage continued resistance on the part of Prussia and Russia and also allowed the Austrians to enter the conflict when their armistice with France expired. Napoleon would come to regard the truce as a great mistake that caused him to lose control of the Germanies.
The Battle of Lützen
On May 3rd, 1979, the Conservative Party won the United Kingdom general election, and Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. She was the first woman to hold the office.
Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, England, in 1925. She studied chemistry at Oxford University and then worked as a research chemist. In 1951, she married Denis Thatcher, a businessman. They had two children together.
Thatcher became involved in politics in the 1950s. She joined the Conservative Party and was elected to Parliament in 1959. She quickly rose through the ranks and became leader of the party in 1975.
Thatcher served as Prime Minister for 11 years. During her time in office, she implemented a number of policies that became known as Thatcherism. These policies included privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts. Thatcher also took a tough stance on trade unions and crime, earning her the moniker “Iron Lady.”
Thatcher was a controversial figure. She was praised by some for her economic policies, but she was also criticized for her social policies. She was eventually forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1990.
Thatcher died in 2013 at the age of 87. She is remembered as one of the most significant figures in British politics.
The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher
May the Fourth Be With You
May the 4th be with you on the informal commemorative day for George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. The original movie debuted in less than 32 theaters nationwide on May 25th, 1977. It immediately began to break box office records, becoming the first so-called blockbuster film. 20th-Century Fox studios scrambled to broaden the release. Within three weeks, the company’s stock price doubled. Prior to 1977, Fox’s biggest annual profit was $37 million. They made $79 million in 1977. At its peak, the film was playing in 1,744 US theaters. Sixty of them played it continuously for over a year. The film retained the record for the highest-grossing of all time in its initial release until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial broke its record in 1983. With adjustment for inflation and after several re-releases, the film has earned over $2.5 billion worldwide.
But box office records aren’t the only source of Star Wars income. The merchandising of the film completely altered the action figure toys market. Kenner was the only toy company to license Star Wars figures. They were completely unprepared for the demand generated by the film’s success. For Christmas in 1977, they sold an empty box with a “Star Wars Early Bird Certificate Package” inside that could be redeemed for four actions figures to be delivered sometime between February and July of 1978. Jay West of the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “the most coveted empty box in retail history.”
On May 5th, 1904, Cy Young, pitching for the Boston Americans, threw a perfect game against the Philadelphia Athletics. It was the first perfect game in modern Major League Baseball history.
Young was already a star pitcher. He had led the league in wins five times, in ERA twice, and in strikeouts twice. In 1901 he won the Pitching Triple Crown by leading in all three categories. In 1903, he pitched Game One of the first World Series for the Americans, thus throwing the first pitch in World Series history. He lost that game but pitched twice more in the Series to finish 2-1 and help give Boston the first World Series title. He also drove in five runs in Game Five.
The perfect game was played in front of a crowd of 10,267 fans at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston against a tough Philadelphia squad led by future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell. Young had pitched a one-hitter against the Athletics on May 2nd, and Waddell taunted him to repeat that performance with Waddell on the mound. Young did better than that. He struck out eight consecutive batters before retiring Harry Davis on a fly ball to center field for the final out. The game was over in just 83 minutes. Waddell gave up three runs on ten hits and had some crow to eat after the game.
After Young died in 1955, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick created the Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in baseball as voted by the Baseball Writer’s Association. At first, there was only one award for the best pitcher from the National and American Leagues. However, since 1967, two awards have been given.
The Eiffel Tower was officially opened to the public on May 6th, 1889. Built as part of the 1889 Paris World Fair to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution, it was initially regarded by many of the French as an eyesore that marred the Paris skyline. The tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel, a French engineer and pioneer in the use of wrought iron in construction. Made from over 18,000 pieces of wrought iron that are held together by over 2.5 million rivets, it is the tallest structure in Paris at 1,063 feet.
One of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, the tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 906 feet above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.
Despite the early derision by Parisians, the tower quickly became a popular tourist destination. Today, it is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Over the years, the tower has served as a radio transmitter, a weather station, and even a military observation post. It has become a beloved part of Paris, nicknamed “La dame de fer” by locals. That’s French for “Iron Lady”
Eiffel’s Tower, the Iron Lady of Paris
Visit the Website of our Friend Mort Künstler
You’ll find a great selection of historical art to hang on our wall and books to keep on your coffee table. Click here for more info.
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