Lost Battalion Publishing Dispatch #29

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

This Week in History

In 1814 he took a little trip, the flight of the Sea Eagle, and Folsom Prison Blues.

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #29 for the Week of January 15, 2023
The Capture of Fort Fisher
On January 15, 1865, a combined assault by Union army and naval forces took Fort Fisher, NC. The fall of the fort deprived the Confederacy of its last port at Wilmington, cutting it off from trade with the rest of the world. The blockade runners that had kept the Confederacy afloat by exporting cotton and importing arms no longer had a safe transshipping facility and could now only operate by ferrying loads over the beach using boats. Even with Robert E. Lee’s army still intact, this doomed the Confederacy.
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The Moonlight Battle
British Admiral George Rodney sent his fleet into action against the Spanish on January 16, 1780. The Battle of Cape St. Vincent, also known as the Moonlight Battle, came as a result of Spain’s frequently overlooked role in the American War of Independence.

Spain declared war on Great Britain in 1779. The Spanish were allied with France and entered the war partly in solidarity and partly to advance their own goals at the expense of the British. One of Spain’s aims was to recapture Gibraltar which the British had held since capturing it during the War of Spanish Succession in 1704. The Spanish army laid siege to the fortress in June of 1799 while the navy blockaded the port. By late in the year, the British were running short of supplies and the garrison commander appealed for help.

Rodney was in command of a fleet bound for the West Indies. Before he sailed, he was given secret orders to first relieve Gibraltar. Once at sea, he split his fleet, sending some westward and taking command of 19 ships of the line and six frigates to escort a convoy of supply ships to Gibraltar. One of his ships suffered damage and put in at Lisbon for repairs. Her arrival alerted the Spanish to the relief effort and the blockading fleet sailed to intercept.

The opposing forces spotted one another around 1 PM. The Spanish admiral, Juan de Langara, started to form line of battle but then discovered he was outnumbered two to one. He then ordered his fleet to flee for the port of Cadiz. Rodney gave chase, keeping leeward of the Spanish to cut them off from the coast and make it impossible for them to open their lower gunports.

The chase was facilitated by the copper-clad hulls of the British ships. Copper cladding was expensive, but it reduced the accumulation of barnacles and other sea life, making the ships faster. By 4 PM the trailing Spaniard Santo Domingo had been overtaken. She exploded and sank 40 minutes later after taking broadsides from three British ships. Another Spanish ship was engaged and struck her colors at 5:30 after an hour-long battle. By 6 PM darkness was falling. A council was held aboard HMS Sandwich, Rodney’s flagship where it was decided that the action would continue into the night. This was unusual for a naval engagement of the period and so earned the Moonlight Battle moniker.

Langara’s flagship, Fenix, surrendered around 7:30 after having her mainmast shot away. The British ship accepting the surrender had smallpox aboard and so no prize crew was sent over. The battle raged on in stormy seas until 2 AM with four more Spaniards striking their colors. At dawn, the British found themselves dangerously close to the lee shore. One of the prizes was too badly damaged to maneuver away and was wrecked. Another prize, San Eugenio, was retaken by her crew after the British prize crew appealed to them for help escaping the lee shore. They imprisoned the British and escaped to Cadiz.

Admiral Rodney sailed into Gibraltar on January 19th. After driving away a small Spanish fleet, he delivered the supplies to the garrison and offloaded his Spanish prisoners. His report about the benefits of copper sheathing during the battle was influential in persuading the Admiralty to broadly deploy the technology.

While returning from his aborted invasion of England, Charles Edward Stuart, known to the Scots as Bonnie Prince Charlie, laid siege to the English occupiers of Sterling Castle. On January 17, 1746, his Jacobite army fought an English relief force at the Battle of Falkirk Muir. In a confused engagement, fought during a snowstorm at dusk, both sided right wings routed their opponents. The Jacobites could have enveloped the English right, but poor visibility and bad communication allowed the English to fall back. It was a hollow victory for the Bonnie Prince. The government artillery at Sterling Castle soon destroyed his siege guns and the Jacobite army withdrew to the north.
Highlanders Rout English Dragoons at Falkirk Muir
Roman Mosaic Depicting Chariot Racer
Emperor Justinian appeared in Constantinople’s Hippodrome on January 18, 532 in an attempt to appease rioters from the Blues and Greens chariot racing factions. Five days earlier, violence had broken out when Justinian refused to pardon two men, each a member of the rival factions, who had escaped execution and fled to a monastery. This gave the two gangs a common cause and they began to chant, “Nika! Nika!” The word means “Conquer!” in Greek. The chant was traditionally used to cheer the drivers at the races, but now it took on a more sinister tone. The mob spilled out of the Hippodrome, broke into the city jail, released all the prisoners, and set the building on fire. From there the flames and violence spread. The rioting was encouraged by aristocrats who saw it as an opportunity to dispose of the reform-minded Justinian.

The trouble was too widespread and dispersed to be effectively contained by the city’s military forces under Belisarius, Justinian’s famed general. After the use of force failed, the emperor tried an appeal to reason. When he appeared at the Hippodrome, his words fell on deaf ears. The mob clamored for a new emperor. Hypatius, the nephew of a former emperor, was suggested. As he was being brought to the throne in the emperor’s box, Justinian and his retinue headed back to the palace through the connecting tunnels. According to Procopius, Justinian thought his only option was to flee the city but his wife, Theodora, convinced him to find a new plan by refusing to go with him. “As for myself, I approve of a certain ancient saying that royalty is a fine burial shroud,” she is quoted as saying.

Justinian sent the eunuch Narses back to the Hippodrome with a bag of gold. Speaking quietly with various leaders of the Blues faction, he told them that Justinian favored them over the Greens and reminded them that Hypatius was of the Greens faction. Swayed by words and bribes, many of the Blues began to leave. Meanwhile, Belisarius had assembled his troops at the entrances. When Narses’ work was done, Belisarius stormed in and massacred the Greens and any Blues that remained. Since the majority of the rioters were in the Hippodrome, Belisarius’ violent attack put an end to further violence. It is estimated that 30,000 of Constantinople’s 500,000 people were killed as a result of the riots and their suppression.

The Zeppelin from Hell’s Angels
On the morning of January 19, 1915, two Zeppelins set out from Hamburg, Germany. The first arrived over the seaside town of Great Yarmouth, England around 9 PM and dropped its load of ten bombs, wrecking several houses and killing two people. The second airship dropped bombs on King’s Lynn, killing two more people. 16 were injured in the attacks. This was the first in a series of nighttime Zepplin raids authorized by Kaiser Wilhelm. He intended them to strike industrial targets, but the airships were at the mercy of weather conditions and usually ended up dropping their bombs on something else.

The British reacted to the “terror from the air” quickly. Searchlights and antiaircraft artillery were installed in many towns. Fighter aircraft were equipped with incendiary ammunition that could set afire the hydrogen gas used to keep the Zeppelins aloft. Airship raids continued despite these measures. 557 people were killed by them over the course of the Great War, but the damage done to Britain’s vital infrastructure was minimal.

A Zepplin raid featured prominently in Howard Hugh’s 1930 film Hell’s Angels. You can watch it here.

The battleship USS Mississippi helped deliver the personnel and equipment for the Navy’s first aviation school to Pensacola, Florida on January 20, 1914. The entire naval aviation establishment consisted of a few wood and fabric biplanes under the command of Lt. John Towers. Creating the base was the job of Mississippi’s commanding officer, Lt. Commander Henry Mustin. In a letter to his wife, Mustin wrote, “the yard is a wreck and the beach we have to use for hangars [full of] driftwood…and all kinds of junk; the whole place is in scandalous condition, and I surely have a job on my hands. It looks as if it had been abandoned 50 years ago and since then had been used as a dump. However, there are fine possibilities in the place.” By February 2nd, Mustin had done enough work to get the first two aircraft in the sky. The Pensacola Journal said they looked like giant buzzards.

NAS Pensacola would become known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and the “Annapolis of the Air.” It went from graduating 100 pilots a year in the decades after World War I to training 1100 a month during World War II.

NAS Pensacola in 1918 (left) and during World War II
The first DMC DeLorean rolled off the assembly line in Dunmurry, Belfast, Northern Ireland on January 21, 1981. The gull-winged, stainless-steel sportscar was high-priced and underpowered. The base model cost $25,000 ($75,000 in 2021 dollars). Quality control and performance issues led to slow sales. Only about 9000 were built before the company filed for bankruptcy. Of those, an estimated 6500 survive.

The car is popular with collectors because of Doctor Emmitt Brown’s DeLorean Time Machine from Back to the Future. When fitted with a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor providing 1.21 “jigowatts” of power for its Flux Capacitor, the Time Machine could transport its occupants to any point in time between 0000 and 9999 AD.

DMC DeLorean Time Machine Model
Fight your own Moonlight Battle

Enemy in Sight lets you relive the Age of Fighting Sail. Send your ships of the line into harm’s way, deliver a broadside that sets the enemy afire, and try to stay off that lee shore. Get a copy today by clicking here.

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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