Lost Battalion Publishing Dispatch #16

A Curated Weekly Review of
Interesting Historical Occurrence

Lost Battalion Dispatch #16 for the Week of October 17, 2022

This Week in History

John Brown’s Insurrection, a Whale of a Tale, and Gas Lines

“John Brown’s Fort” in 1885

On the night of Sunday, October 16, 1859, John Brown and 18 other men seized the US Armory and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Brown was an abolitionist who hoped to arm slaves with weapons taken from the armory and start a rebellion against Southern slave owners.  As Armory workers arrived the Monday morning, Brown took them as hostages.

Expecting thousands of slaves to join him, Brown lingered too long at the Armory. He would later call this his one mistake. Local militia companies soon arrived, cutting off his routes of escape, killing several of the raiders, and forcing him to take refuge in the fire engine house which would later become known as John Brown’s Fort. At about 10 PM, Colonel Robert. E. Lee arrived on the scene with orders from President Buchanan to “repair” Harper’s Ferry. Buchanan also dispatched a detachment of about 100 Marines from the Washington Naval Yard who arrived about the same time as Lee.

At 6:30 AM on Tuesday, Lee sent Lt. J.E.B. Stuart under a flag of truce to offer Brown the option of surrender. Brown refused. Stuart walked away, signaling the refusal by a wave of his hat, and Lt. Israel Greene immediately led the Marines in an attack. Greene and 12 of his men used a ladder as a battering ram to break down the door of the engine house. Two of Brown’s men were killed. The rest were taken prisoner and had to be protected by Lee and the Marines from an angry crowd of citizens crying, “Shoot them!”

Brown and six other surviving raiders would later be tried and executed. Brown’s raid created a sensation in the country. It was one of the first events widely reported using the new telegraph system. It was a proximate cause of the Civil War. The Richmond Examiner noted, “The Harper’s Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of Disunion, more than any other event that has happened since the formation of the Government; it has rallied to that standard man who formerly looked upon it with horror.”

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SDF fighter in central Raqqa

The Second Battle of Raqqa ended on October 17, 2017. After a four-month long campaign, Syrian Democratic Forces destroyed the last stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and captured its defacto capital. Logistical support and air and artillery attacks by military units from the US, France, UK, and Germany contributed significantly to the victory.

Raqqa was rendered “80% uninhabitable” by the fighting. The result was extremely displeasing not only to ISIS/ISIL but to the Russian Defence Ministry whose spokesman stated, “Raqqa has inherited the fate of Dresden in 1945, wiped off the face of the Earth by Anglo-American bombardments.”

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian ethnic groups, is devoted to creating a secular, democratic, and federalized Syria and is not recognized by the government of Syria which considers Raqqa to still be an occupied city that will only be liberated when the Syrian Arab Army enters it.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale was first published on October 18, 1851. Author Herman Melville drew on his experience as a sailor and extensive research into whaling to write the novel. It recounts the adventures of the sailor Ishmael aboard the whaling ship Pequod under Captain Ahab leading up to the climactic battle with the white sperm whale Moby-Dick. Melville’s realistic depiction of life aboard a whaling ship and his Shakespearean-inspired narrative style was not appreciated at the time of publication, making the book a commercial failure. Only in the 20th century did it receive its reputation as a “Great American Novel.” The opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael,” is now among the most famous in all world literature, and Captain Ahab’s obsession with killing the whale that bit off his leg has become a widely used metaphor for any self-destructive fixation.

Moby-Dick by book cover artist James E. McConnell

Gas Shortage!

Saudi Ar King Faisal announced a total embargo of oil to the United States on October 19, 1973, precipitating the Oil Crisis of 1973. Faisal wielded the “oil weapon” in retaliation to the announcement that the United States Congress had voted to send $2.2 billion in arms to Israel for use in the Yom Kippur War. That war had begun on October 6th when Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked, attempting to retake land lost during 1967’s Six-Day War.

As a result of the embargo, the price of oil quadrupled from $3 to $12 per barrel. This raised the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States from 38 cents to 55 cents and created shortages that caused long lines at gas stations and prompted rationing measures. Efforts to save gas included the imposition of a national maximum speed limit of 55 mph on federal highways and regulations regarding the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Both the birth of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the establishment of the Department of Energy as a cabinet-level agency were big government responses to the crisis.

Battle of Navarino painted by Thomas Whitcombe

The Age of Fighting Sail ended on October 20, 1827, when the last major naval battle using wooden ships was fought. The Battle of Navarino pitted a coalition of English, Russian, and French ships against the Mediterranean fleet of the Ottoman Empire. The defeat of the Ottoman navy at Navarino was a crucial factor in the eventual success of Greek revolutionaries during the Greek War of Independence.

The Greek revolt against the Ottomans began in 1821 and, despite infighting amongst the rebels, had achieved some success. The Great Powers, intent on enforcing the Congress of Vienna of 1815 that had established the boundaries of Europe after the Napoleonic wars, were not initially favorable to the Greeks. But private interests, including the City of London and Lord George Byron, financially supported the rebellion. Russia had territorial ambitions at the expense of the Ottomans and encouraged the Greeks as “enemies of my enemy.” Attempting to restore the status quo, the British negotiated a treaty with France and Russia which called upon the Ottomans and Greeks to cease hostilities and allow Greek autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman rejection of this treaty led to the Great Powers sending fleets to impose an armistice. These ships were instructed to intercept supplies bound for Ottoman forces in Greece.

British Vice-Admiral Edward Codrington and French Admiral Henri de Rigny were the first upon the scene. Codrington warned the Ottoman’s Egyptian commander Ibrahim Pasha that if his ships sailed for anywhere other than their home port in Alexandria, he would be forced to destroy them. Ibrahim insisted that he had orders from the Sultan to destroy the Greek-held city of Hydra but would write to the Sultan for new orders. Accepting that the Ottomans would remain anchored in Navarino bay while awaiting new orders, Codrington and de Rigny sailed away.

Meanwhile, however, British captain Frank Hastings had destroyed an Ottoman squadron during a raid off Itea. When Ibrahim responded to Hasting’s attack, Codrington believed he was breaking his agreement and sailed for the entrance to Navarino bay where he was joined by the French and a Russian squadron. The allies sailed into the bay with gun ports half open and under orders not to fire unless they were fired upon. Ibrahim sent a message demanding the allies withdraw because he had not given them permission to enter the bay. Codrington rejected this message, replying that he had come to give orders, not to take them. At this point, the British frigate Dartmouth noticed a crew preparing to light off an Ottoman fireship and sent a boat to order them to desist. The Ottomans fired on the boat and lit the fireship starting a chain reaction of firing that broke out into a general engagement. The Allies were heavily outnumbered in terms of total ships but had the advantage of more ships-of-the-line and better crews. They overwhelmed the Ottomans in a close-quarters firefight lasting about three hours. Of the 78 Ottoman ships engaged, only eight remained seaworthy. Over 8000 Ottoman sailors were killed.

While the British public reacted favorably to news of the battle, the Admiralty was critical of Codrington. They believed that his instructions were to impose an armistice, not to provoke an engagement with the Ottomans. King George IV referred to the battle as “this untoward event” because it strengthened Russia’s hand in the growing conflict over the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire which would eventually become the Crimean War.

The County Class heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (II) experienced what some historians call the first attack by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft at the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 21, 1944. Australia was part of a task force covering amphibious landings on Leyte when an Aichi D3A dive-bomber crashed into the ship’s foremast. Most observers believed it was a deliberate attempt to ram the ship’s bridge. The attack killed Captain Emile Dechaineux and 29 crewmen and wounded 64 others including Commodore John Collins, the Australian force commander.

HMAS Australia damaged after kamikaze attack

The curiously named War of Jenkin’s Ear began on October 22, 1739, when British Captain Thomas Waterhouse made an aborted attack on the Spanish port of La Guaira, Venezuela. Nine years of sporadic fighting in South America and the West Indies was ostensibly sparked when the Spanish cut off the ear of Robert Jenkins after boarding his brig Rebecca in 1731, accusing him of smuggling. Seven years later Jenkins was brought into Parliament to display the missing ear during warmongering on the part of politicians with the interests of the British South Sea Company in mind.

Spain was successful in defending her American possession against a series of British attacks but suffered from British privateering against her shipping. In mid-1742 the conflict was subsumed into the larger War of Austrian Succession. Both Britain and Spain turned their attention to European alliances with France, Prussia, and Austria. The Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle ended the fighting in 1748.

Jenkin’s displays his severed ear to Prime Minister Robert Walpole

Take Command of ships like HMAS Australia

Battlegroup lets you refight the naval actions of World War II. You make the decisions that make the difference between a burning aircraft carrier and an impressive victory. Check it out by clicking here: Battlegroup.

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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