A Curated Weekly Review of

Interesting Historical Occurrences

This Week in History: Einstein publishes a book, Patton repairs a tank, and Patrick Henry gives a speech.

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #38 for the Week of March 19 2023
Kublai Khan
The Great Khan Kublai completed the Mongol conquest of China on March 19, 1279, when his forces destroyed the remnant of the Song dynasty at the Battle of Yamen. It might surprise you to learn this was a naval battle.

The Song court, nominally led by a series of unfortunate child emperors, had been on the run since 1268 when Kublia established a permanent presence south of the Yangtze River. Unable to resist the Mongols on land, they had taken to boats. Kublai built a small navy and attacked them in Yamen harbor after cutting off the 1000-ship-strong Song fleet from resupply by land. Short of food and water, the Song chained their boats together to make a last stand.

The Mongols first attempted to destroy the massive fleet with fireships, but the Song had cleverly coated their hulls with fresh mud to prevent this. The Mongols then moved in, showered the defenders with massed archery, and boarded. The Song warriors, weak from lack of food and sick from drinking seawater, were no match for them. Several ships attempted to break out with the boy emperor Zhao Bing aboard but were intercepted. Zhao Bing, his Prime Minister, and numerous officials jumped into the sea and drowned rather than be captured.

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Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein published Relativity: The Special and the General Theory on March 20, 1916. Originally available only in German, the short book was intended “to give an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics.” It was an exposition on the theories of special relativity and general relativity he had published as academic papers in 1905 and 1915. Einstein expected the book would require “a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader.” It provided a geometrical and mathematical explanation for the shape of the universe and is regarded by most scientists as the most mathematically beautiful of all existing physical theories.
The Golden State Comic-Minicon was held in San Diego on March 21, 1970. Sheldon “Shel” Dorf organized the event as a “dry run” for a larger three-day convention he held in August of the same year. 300 people attended the August event. It was a disappointment to Dorf, who had hoped for 500.

From these relatively humble beginnings grew San Diego Comic-Con, holder of the Guinness record for the world’s largest annual comic and pop culture festival. Richard Alf, chairman of the event in the 1970s, attributed its success to “networking with other fandoms” such as the Mythopoeic Society and the Society for Creative Anachronism. It quickly grew from an event appealing to comic book fans into a pop culture phenomenon.

Over 130,000 people now attend the four-day event. It brings an estimated $180 million into the San Diego economy. Films and television shows are often made or broken by the support shown for them at Comic-Con.

Comic-Con in 2019
General George S. Patton
US 5th Infantry Division, part of General George S. Patton’s Third Army, crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim and entered Germany on March 22, 1945. Within 48 hours, four more divisions had made the crossing, and Third Army was racing through the Rhineland to encircle and capture the Ruhr valley, the heartland of Germany’s industry. During the advance, Patton came upon a tank stalled on the side of the road. When he was told the tank was being repaired, he crawled underneath to “assist” the mechanics. Half an hour later, he crawled back out, got into his jeep, and rode off. When his driver asked him what was wrong with the tank, he said, “I don’t know, but I’m sure that the word will spread throughout the division that I was on my belly in the mud repairing a tank.”
Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry gave a speech before the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, that convinced the delegates to provide troops in support of the American Revolution. He closed with these lines:

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Among those who heard the now famous Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech were future presidents of the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Johann Sebastian Bach
On March 24, 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated a collection of six concertos to Christain Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. Subsequently, these became known as the Brandenburg Concertos. They are the finest examples of Baroque-era orchestral music.

Always self-deprecating, Bach wrote in his dedication, ” I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honor me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments.”

The “several instruments” is as much of an understatement as that of Bach’s “little talents.” Scholars have noted that the scores of the Concertos utilize the talents of all 17 musicians Bach had at his disposal at the time. The wide range of instruments, combinations of instruments, and instrumental solos composed by Bach exploded the world of formulaic three-movement concertos performed primarily on stringed instruments written by contemporaries such as Vivaldi and forever changed music.

March 25th is the most significant date on the calendar for which nearly all significance has been forgotten.

As early as the 5th century AD, March 25th was celebrated as Annunciation, the day when the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. When Dionysius Exiguus invented the Anno Domini system of numbering years (instead of identifying them by the name of the Roman consul who held office), he chose March 25th as the first day of the New Year. Thus, the pagan Roman New Year’s Day of January 1st was replaced by a Christian day. A little over 200 years later, the Anno Domini system would become prevalent in the West when Venerable Bede used it to date the events in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. March 25th continued to be celebrated as the Feast of Annunciation and New Year’s Day by the entire Christian world until Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582 and moved New Year’s Day back to January 1st.

Many Protestant and Orthodox nations did not accept Gregory’s reform. England, and therefore the English colonies in America, continued to celebrate March 25th until 1751. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark also waited until the 18th century to adopt the new calendar. Russia and other Orthodox nations in Eastern Europe were even slower to change. Russia only went over to the Gregorian system as a result of the October (Communist) Revolution in 1918. Romania went Gregorian in 1919, Greece in 1923, and Turkey in 1926. Even then, the Orthodox countries only adopted the calendar for secular purposes. None of the Orthodox churches have ever accepted the Gregorian calendar for the dating of religious ceremonies. While March 25th is still always the celebration of the Annunciation in the Eastern Church, it sometimes gets moved in the West when it falls on the same week as Easter.

Since March 25th was the first day of the year, it was also the day taxes were due in England. When the Gregorian reform was adopted, 13 days were added to the calendar, moving Tax Day to April 6th. It remains there to this day as an echo of the significance of March 25th.

Scholars have identified March 25th as the date when Dante’s protagonist from Divine Comedy begins his journey since it took place on the date when, “Love divine first mov’d,” i.e., the date of Creation. Medieval popes decreed that the world was created on March 25th. This fact was not lost on medieval scholar J.R.R. Tolkien who chose March 25th as the date for the One Ring to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom and destroyed, marking the beginning of the Fourth Age of Middle Earth. Today, one of the few non-religious remembrances of March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day.

The One Ring, Destroyed on March 25th
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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.

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