Behind the Lines

Two awards of the Navy Cross; a Legion of Merit; two Purple Heart medals; Officer Order of the British Empire; Chevalier du Legion of Honor; Medaille Militaire, three Croix de Guerre; Order of Quissam Alaoouite.  These were the personal decorations of one Marine during his service in World War II representing the gratitude of three allied nations.

ORTIZ PJ 001Friends and enemy alike called him Peter.  His eventual rank was colonel, but long before he arrived at that point, he was in the trenches, behind the lines in German-occupied North Africa and France.  His full name was Pierre Julien Ortiz (5 July 1913—16 May 1988) and he was a U. S. Marine attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Born in New York, his mother was an American of Swiss descent, his father a French-born Spaniard.  Educated in Europe, Peter spoke ten languages fluently.  There was a reason for this—at the age of 19, on 1 February 1932, Peter enlisted in the French Foreign Legion for a period of five years. He was assigned to North Africa and received his initial training at Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria.  While serving in Morocco, he was promoted to corporal (1933) and sergeant (1935).  He received two awards of the Croix de Guerre during a campaign against the Rif [1].  During his service as an “acting lieutenant,” Peter was awarded the Médaille militaire [2].  The Legion offered Peter a commission as a second lieutenant, but he instead opted to accept his discharge in 1937.

With the outbreak of World War II and the neutrality of the United States at the time, Peter re-enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in October 1939; he was reappointed to the rank of sergeant.  In May 1940, he received a battlefield commission.  During the Battle of France, Peter was wounded during the process of blowing up a German fuel dump and was taken captive by the Germans.  He escaped in 1941 and made his way back to the United States.  On 22 June 1942, Peter enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps.  His previous training and experience prompted the Marines to commission him a second lieutenant after only 40-days service.  In December 1942, Peter was advanced to the rank of captain and placed in the service of the OSS.

With his in-depth knowledge of the region, with the cover of his assignment as Assistant Naval Attaché, Tangiers, the OSS sent him to North Africa, where he performed behind-the-lines reconnaissance operations.  According to Kermit Roosevelt [3], in his official history of OSS operations in World War II, “In War Report of the OSS and an official history of OSS operations in World War II, “Participation in this British operation constituted the first OSS experience in sabotage and combat intelligence teams in front areas and behind enemy lines.  That the jobs actually done by the handful of OSS men who joined the SOE Tunisian campaign were not typical of future activity was due as much to the exigencies of the battle situation as to the misunderstanding of their function by the British and American Army officers whom they served.” In other words, rather than conducting intelligence collection and sabotage missions, staid military officers ordered these men to locate and destroy Germans.  Highly qualified intelligence operatives were being under-utilized.

In February 1943, Peter Ortiz witnessed the American disaster at Kasserine Pass [4].  Ortiz found himself traveling alone across the battlefield area, observing the panicked flight of American soldiers.  Ortiz briefly fought alongside a British armored reconnaissance unit and then attached himself to an element of the US 1stArmored Division.  In this capacity, Ortiz fought a desperate action near Pichon.

In March, Ortiz was handed a series of deep-penetration missions.  One of these was launched on 18 March supporting General Robinett’s Combat Command Bravo.  Ortiz almost lost his life.  After setting up a base camp in the dead of night, Ortiz struck off alone in search of indications of the presence of enemy forces.  The weather was horrible, the knee-deep mud from days of rain hampered Ortiz’ progress. He was about to turn back when a burst of automatic fire shattered his right hand and wounded him in the leg. Ortiz fell to the ground and spotted a machine gun and vehicle thirty or so yards distant.  With his good left hand, he tossed a sticky bomb and scored a direct hit.  Avoiding further enemy fire, Ortiz managed to crawl back to his camp, despite his loss of blood and suffering from shock.  Ortiz was airlifted to the United States and assigned to Washington DC during convalescence.

When Peter was back on his feet, the OSS sent him for training in preparation for his new assignment with the Jedburgh Group [5].  His training was completed at the end of December 1943.  In early January 1944, Ortiz air-dropped into the Haute-Savoie region of the Alps, along with British SOE colonel H. H. A. Thackthwaite and French Colonel Pierre Fourcaud [6] of the French Secret Serviceas part of Operation Union I.  Their mission was to assess the capabilities of the maquis units operating in SavoieIsere, and Drome, and assist them in organization and supply.  After landing, Thackthwaite and Ortiz changed from the covert clothing into their military uniforms —thus becoming the first allied officers to appear in uniform in occupied France since 1940.  In Ortiz’ case, he wore his U. S. Marine Corps service uniform with American and French decorations and badges, which was designed to impress the French resistance. Colonel Thackthwaite later wrote of this: “Ortiz, who knew not any fear, did not hesitate to wear his Marine Corps uniform into town, which cheered the French, but alerted the Germans and the mission was constantly on the move.”

ORTIZ PJ 002
Peter Ortiz, behind the lines. Picture by Raymond Bertand.

The Union I team soon discovered that the French Resistance, while willing to fight, lacked everything needed in order to do that: arms, ammunition, radios, money, and clothing.  The team quickly organized base camps, medical facilities, and for the families of French fighters to receive stipends.  Morale among these men dramatically improved.  Then, as war materials arrived, the team began to train the resistance in their use.  While wearing his Marine Corps uniform, Ortiz helped to lead covert missions; he believed that his uniform would give courage to the resistance.

(Then) Captain Ortiz was also instrumental in helping downed airman evade German capture and reach the safety of neutral Spain. His role in rescuing four RAF flight officers in February 1944 resulted in his spectacular act of theft, one that infuriated the Gestapo, and led to the award of the Order of the British Empire.  In his citation, we can read: “In the course of his efforts to obtain the release of these officers, he raided a German military garage and took ten Gestapo vehicles, which he used frequently.  He procured a Gestapo pass for his own use, even though he was well-known by the enemy.”

During this same period, Ortiz (by now notorious in his reputation with the Germans) committed an even greater act of daring: A group of officers from the German 157th Division, which had previously suffered at the hands of Ortiz and his resistance, were drinking in a local bar … one that Ortiz regularly visited.  They were loudly cursing the “American Marine,” President Roosevelt, and the United States Marine Corps.  Sitting at a table in the bar was Ortiz dressed in civilian attire.

He soon returned to his safehouse, changed into his Marine Corps Uniform, armed himself with two .45 pistols, pulled on his civilian raincoat, and returned to the bar.  Ortiz ordered drinks for the German officers and when all had been served, Ortiz removed his raincoat, revealing his Marine Corps uniform with accoutrements. The German officers were stunned into silence.  Ortiz then produced the sidearms and said in German, “A toast to the President of the United States.”  When the Germans downed their drinks, Ortiz ordered another round.  “Gentlemen, a toast to the United States Marine Corps.”

The story has more than one version.  In one of these, following the German toast to the U. S. Marine Corps, Ortiz then shot all the officers, killing them.  Ortiz claimed that he didn’t shoot anyone.  He left them alive because, by letting them live, the story of his action would boost even more his legend and further erode German morale.  The story is true, even if it would make one of the greatest of all Marine Corps sea-stories, and so too is the account of Ortiz wearing his uniform throughout all of his “covert” operations (See picture of Ortiz, above).

The Union I team was evacuated to England to await reassignment on 20 May.  In England, Ortiz was promoted to major and awarded his first Navy Cross.  In August 1944, Ortiz returned to the Haute-Savoie as the leader of Union II.  He was supported by Gunnery Sergeant Robert LaSalle, Sergeant Charles Perry, Sergeant John Bodnar, Sergeant Fred Brunner, Sergeant Jack Risler, USAAF Captain John Coolidge, and a Free French officer named Joseph Arcelin.  Arcelin carried papers that identified him as a US Marine.  This mission reflected the OSS’ change in priorities in the post-D-Day period: readiness for Operation Dragoon and the Allied landings in southern France.  Union II was an operational group: heavily armed and capable of direct action against retreating Germans.

In addition to acts of sabotage, Union II resistance units were ordered to seize and hold key installations and, if possible, prevent their destruction by the Germans.  In spite of this increased activity, the Germans were not intimidated.  On 14 August, Ortiz and his men found themselves in unfamiliar territory and they narrowly avoided capture.  Ortiz’ luck finally ran out two days later when his team encountered a German troop convoy near the village of Centron.  The fighting was intense, and significantly outnumbered, mindful of German reprisals against innocent civilians, Ortiz consulted with his team and they agreed to surrender.

An officer named Major Kolb commanded the German force.  Ortiz spoke to Kolb in German, saying that he and his men would surrender provided that Kolb give his word as an officer and a gentleman that none of the villagers would be harmed.  Kolb, thinking that he opposed a company sized unit, agreed to these terms.  Kolb was furious when only Sergeants Bodnar and Risler emerged from cover.

Ortiz remained in German custody until April 1945, when he and three other prisoners escaped while being transported to another camp.  After ten days without food, the three men returned to their old POW camp, only to discover that the prisoners had taken control.  The camp was liberated by allied forces on 29 April.

In 1946, Peter Ortiz was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and released from active duty.  From 1946 on, Peter worked in Hollywood as an actor and advisor to such film directors as John Ford.  He appeared in a number of films, not all of them credited.  He played a supporting role in the 1950 Ford production of Rio Grande, which starred John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Chill Wills, and Victor McLaglen.  Ortiz played the part of Captain St. Jacques.

According to Peter’s son, who also served as a U. S. Marine, “My father was an awful actor, but he had great fun appearing in movies.”  Two Hollywood films were based on Peter’s exploits during World War II: 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), directed by Henry Hathaway, starring James Cagney and Richard Conte, and Operation Secret (1952), directed by Lewis Seiler, starring Cornel Wilde, Steve Cochran, and Karl Malden.  He  participated in several additional films, although not always in a credited role: Task Force (1949), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Sirocco (1951), Flying Leathernecks (1951), What Price Glory (1952), The Desert Rats (1953), and The Wings of Eagles (1957).

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Ortiz, Sr., retired from the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1955.  In recognition of his extraordinary combat service, he was advanced to the rank of colonel upon his retirement.  Ortiz passed away in 1988 at the age of 74 years. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources:

  1. Lacy, L. H. As a Young Man and Legionnaire, Ortiz: To Live a Man’s Life.  Phillips Publications, 2014
  2. Edwards, H. W. A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa.  USMC Training and Education Command, Quantico, Virginia, 2010
  3. Zimmerman, D. J. The Incredible Saga of OSS Colonel Peter J. Ortiz in World War II.  Defense Media Network, 2014.

Endnotes:

[1] A Berber speaking people of Northwestern Africa who derive their name from the Riff region in the northern edge of Morocco.  They belong to six separate tribal groups and five tribal confederacies.

[2] A decoration awarded for acts of bravery by the French Republic, the third highest decoration in France but the most senior award for military service.

[3] Highly energetic, unquestionably courageous, psychologically fragile son of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.

[4] The battle was the first major engagement between American and Axis forces in World War II. Inexperienced and poorly led American soldiers suffered many casualties and were quickly pushed back over 50 miles from their positions west of Faïd Pass.

[5] A clandestine group consisting of American, British, French, Dutch, and Belgian personnel whose mission was to collect intelligence, conduct sabotage, form and lead local resistance groups against German forces.

[6] Fourcaud (1898-1998) was among the first in France to rally to Charles de Gaullein 1940. He was prominent in the creation of the French Secret Service of post-War France, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE).

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part III

Marion Twiggs, the daughter of Major General David E. Twiggs, married a young Army officer named Abraham Charles Myers, from Georgetown, South Carolina.  Myers was born on 14 May 1811, the son of Abraham Myers, a practicing attorney.  Myers was accepted into the US Military Academy at West Point in 1828 but was held back at the end of his first year due to deficiencies in his studies.  He graduated with the class of 1833.  Upon graduation, Myers was brevetted to Second Lieutenant and posted at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Myers AC 001Myers served two tours of duty in Florida during the Seminole Indians Wars—from 1836-38, and 1841-42.  During this time, he was promoted to captain in the quartermaster department.  During his service in Florida, Myers was responsible for the construction of a key fortification and re-supply center—Fort Myers was named for Captain Myers, although I suspect that most people living there do not know this bit of history.

During the Mexican-American War, Myers served under General Zachary Taylor in the Texas campaign.  In recognition for his gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, Myers was brevetted to major.  He was later transferred to Winfield Scott’s command, where he again distinguished himself in combat at Churubusco and received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel.

From April to June 1848, Myers served as the chief quartermaster of the Army in Mexico.  After the war, and for the next thirteen years, Myers served at various posts and stations in the southern regions of the United States.  It was during this time that he married Marion, the daughter of Major General David E. Twiggs, who at the time was the Commanding General, Department of Texas.

On 28 January 1861, Myers was serving in New Orleans, Louisiana.  On this date, by virtue of the outbreak of the American Civil War, Louisiana officials demanded that Myers surrender his quartermaster and commissary stores to the Confederacy.  Myers promptly resigned his commission from the United States Army and turned his supplies over to Confederate authorities.  On 16 March 1861, Myers accepted appointment to lieutenant colonel in the quartermaster department of the Confederate States Army.  On 25 March, he assumed the duties as acting quartermaster-general until December, when he assumed the post of quartermaster-general of the Confederate States Army.  In this capacity, he was advanced to colonel on 15 February 1862.

During the first months of the war, Myers was able to purchase much-needed supplies from the open market, contracting with local manufacturers for cotton, woolen cloth, and leather goods.  He also established shops for making clothing, shoes, tents, wagons, and other equipage, and purchased livestock at market prices for as long as possible.  By the spring of 1862, however, he was forced to resort to impressment of necessary supplies. The problem was two-fold: the availability of goods and insufficient funds provided to him by the government of the Confederacy.  Added to this was the devaluation of currency, poor railway transportation.

By mid-1863, Myers had established an extensive organization of purchasing agents, local quartermasters, shops, and supply depots. It was still insufficient, and the Confederacy soon resembled a rag-tag army, particularly in clothing and footwear. The quartermaster department soon became the target of much criticism, and in spite of his personal efficiency, he was unable to overcome the laxity and carelessness of remote subordinates. There was no doubt a considerable black-market operation in the works, as well.

On 7 August 1863, President Jefferson Davis (formerly a US Senator and Secretary of War) replaced Myers with Brigadier General Alexander Lawton.  Jefferson reasoned that the change was in the interest of efficiency.  Colonel Myers and his many friends resented his removal from office.  In January 1864, the Confederate senate reinstated Myers to the post, claiming that Lawton had not been properly nominated for either the post or his promotion. President Davis then formerly nominated Lawton, and Lawton was finally approved to serve as the new quartermaster-general.  Myers, humiliated and deeply offended by Davis’ actions, refused to serve under Lawton and resigned his commission.  He lived throughout the rest of the war in Georgia, and according to records found in the Bragg papers (Western Reserve Historical Society), lived “almost in want, on the charity of friends.”  This may not be true, since Myers traveled extensively  in Europe between 1866 and 1877.  His son John was born in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1871.  Eventually, Colonel Myers made his home in Maryland and later in Washington DC, where he passed away on 20 June 1889.  Myers never reconciled with Jefferson Davis.

John Twiggs Myers (1871-1952) is quite literally the kind of man that Hollywood films are made of, with two blockbuster films surrounding his exploits as a United States Marine.  Moreover, “Handsome Jack” was the last in a long line of tremendously patriotic Americans stretching from the American Revolution to the conclusion of his own forty-years of service in 1935.  He was the great-grandson of General John Twiggs, a revolutionary war hero, the grandson of Major General David Emanuel Twiggs, a leading figure in the Mexican-American War, and the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, who served as the quartermaster-general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. His uncle was Major Levi Twiggs, U. S. Marine Corps, who was killed during the Battle of Chapultepec, Mexico, and a cousin of Second Lieutenant David Decatur Twiggs, US Army, who was also killed in Mexico—a mere thirty days before the death of his father, Levi.

After resigning his commission as quartermaster-general of the Confederate Army, Abraham C. Myers traveled in Europe for about eleven years.  John Twiggs Myers was born in Wiesbaden, Germany on 29 January 1871.  Returning to the United States with his family at the age of eight years, Jack was appointed to attend the United States Naval Academy in 1892.  Two years later, he received an appointment as an assistant engineer, and six months after that he applied for, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.  By virtue of his grandfather’s service in the Mexican-American War, he was granted Hereditary Companion of the Military Order of Foreign Wars, and later, a Veteran Companion of the same order by virtue of his own service in the Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion, Philippine Insurrection, and World War I.

Twiggs-Myers 002Having completed his studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Myers began his service with the line during the Spanish-American War.  Stationed with the Asiatic Fleet, Myers led a Marine Detachment that participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison.  He served successively aboard the USS Charleston, which operated off the coast of the Philippine Islands, and then with the USS Baltimore.  During the Philippine Insurrection (also known as the Philippine-American War), Myers led several amphibious assaults against Filipino rebels in 1899.  These resulted in Myers gaining a reputation for gallantry and coolness under fire. He was promoted to Captain, U. S. Marine Corps in 1899.

In May 1900, Jack was sent to China aboard the battle cruiser USS Newark and put ashore with a detachment of 48 Marines [1] and three sailors to guard the US Legation at Peking, China from rampaging “Boxers,” known to history as the “Boxer Rebellion” [2].  Captain Myers and his Marines occupied a wall defending the international legations, the most vulnerable section of the wall.  Supported by Russian and British troops, Myers led an attack that dislodged the main Boxer position along the war [3].  The battle that ensued was, by every account, up-close and personal.  Myers was wounded in the leg by a Chinese lance, but the Chinese were pushed back.  British Consul Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald reported through diplomatic channels that Myers’ attack was one of the most successful operations of the siege.  As a result of his courage in the face of overwhelming odds, Myers was brevetted to Major.  He was later awarded the Marine Corps Brevet Medal for this action.

After recovering from his wound, Myers was assigned as Provost Marshall on American-Samoa, with later service at the Marine Barracks, Bremerton, Washington.

In May 1904, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, a Moor bandit, kidnapped Ion Perdicaris, Ellen Varley (the wife of British telegrapher C. F. Varley), and Ellen’s son Cromwell, demanding a ransom for their safe return. It sparked an international incident because Ion Perdicaris was the son of a former US diplomat and because President Theodore Roosevelt [4] felt obliged to react militarily to the situation in North Africa.  The president dispatched a naval squadron to Tangier and, leading a detachment of Marines aboard the USS Brooklyn, Myers played a significant role in obtaining the release [5] of Ion Perdicaris and Ms. Varley.

In later assignments, Jack Myers attended the US Army War College (1912), participated in expeditions to Santo Domingo (1912), Cuba (1913), and during World War I, Myers served as the counterintelligence officer of the US Atlantic Fleet.  As he progressed through the ranks, General Myers served severally as Fleet Marine Officer in both Atlantic and Asiatic fleets, as the officer commanding several Marine Barracks at different locations, as a battalion commander with the 2ndProvisional Marine Regiment, Commanding Officer, 1stBattalion, 4thMarines, Adjutant and Inspector General, Department of the Pacific, Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, Commanding General, 1stMarine Brigade, and Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific.  Myers retired as a Major General in 1935.  He was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant General on the retired list in 1942 in recognition of his highly decorated combat service while on active duty. General Myers lived out the balance of his years in Coconut Grove, Florida.  He passed away on 17 April 1952.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] Including a Marine private by the name of Dan Daly.

[2] The Boxer uprising was an anti-Imperialist, anti-colonial, anti-Christian uprising that took place in China between 1899-1901.  The Boxers, so called because they belonged to an organization that was known as The Righteous and Harmonious Fists.  See also: Send in the Marines; China Marines (series).

[3] This action formed the basis of the 1963 Hollywood film, “55 Days at Peking,” which starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and David Niven.  The film was constructed around a novel of the same name by Noel Gerson.

[4] Whatever Theodore Roosevelt’s faults, he was a fierce nationalist and not at all inclined to accept foreign insult.  Given the history of the Barbary Pirates, he may have wanted to squelch the renewal of North African kidnappings.

[5] This was the second action involving Jack Myers that eventually became a major Hollywood film. Titled The Wind and the Lion, the film starred Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, and John Huston—released in 1975.  While the story was restructured to fit Hollywood artistry, actor Steve Kanaly did a superb job as “Captain Jerome,” a portrayal of John Twiggs Myers

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part II

TWIGGS Levi 001Major Levi Twiggs was the younger brother of David E. Twiggs, born in Richmond County, Georgia on 21 May 1793.  Upon the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the nineteen-year-old Levi Twiggs wanted to join fight but was prevented from doing so by his parents, who insisted that he remain with his studies.  Levi obediently continued his studies at Athens College for several more months.  Ultimately, however, Levi was unable to repress his passion for military service and, having been motivated by the reported exploits of Commodore Decatur of the American Navy, Levi left school and begged his parents’ permission to join the United States Marine Corps.

Levi was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on 10 November 1813.  After his initial training and indoctrination, Levi was assigned to the Marine contingent at Patuxent River.  The mission of these Marines was to oppose any passage of the British fleet, which was then hovering along the coastal regions of the Chesapeake Bay.  During this initial assignment, Lieutenant Twiggs displayed exceptional leadership ability and energy in leading his small force of Marines, traits that would continue to distinguish his service as a U. S. Marine.

He was next assigned to the frigate USS President, then commanded by Commodore Decatur. Twigg’s assignment would be as second-in-command of the Marine Corps detachment, then numbering around 56 seasoned Marines.  Upon reporting aboard ship, however, his senior officer was not present, and Twiggs assumed command of the detachment.

USS President sailed from New York on 14 January 1815.  Due to ill-marked channel markers, the ship ran aground along the outer banks of the harbor.  Stranded on a sandbar for a full lunar cycle, the ship lifted and dropped with the incoming tides.  It was not long before her hull had been significantly damaged, her timbers twisted, and masts sprung.  Damage to the keel caused the ship to sag amidships.  It was Commodore Decatur’s judgment to return to port for repairs, but once the ship was clear of the sandbar, strong winds and tidal currents contrived to push her out to sea.

Decatur realized that his ship was unseaworthy. Under these circumstances, he set a course to avoid the British fleet, which was believed to be operating along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay.  Decatur set out in search of a safe port for much-needed repairs.

Within a few hours, Decatur spotted enemy sails on the horizon.  President being sluggish underway, Decatur ordered expendable cargo thrown overboard, but the British frigate HMS Endymionsoon overtook President and began delivering broadsides.  President put up a gallant defense and unmercifully raked the enemy with ball, bar, and chain shot, but ship’s damage adversely affected her maneuverability and HMS Endymion was a better ship.  The battle raged for hours as Endymion and President jockeyed for advantages.  Decatur finally surrendered his ship to the British at midnight.

During the President’s engagement, Twiggs acquitted himself with gallant energy and a cool frame of mind while under fire, displaying the composure of a more experienced officer.  His men having discharged more than 5,000 cartridges with accurate and deadly fire, Commodore Decatur pronounced the detachment’s combat efficiency as “incomparable.”

Taken as prisoners of war, the President’s officers were transported and detained in Bermuda until the peace accord was signed.  Upon return to the United States, Commodore Decatur and ship’s officers were referred to a court of inquiry and court-martial but all were acquitted of wrong-doing.  Meanwhile Commodore Decatur offered First Lieutenant Twiggs glowing praise for his performance of duty.

From 1816 to 1823, Twiggs was attached to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  During this time, he became engaged to and married Pricilla Decatur McKnight [1].  In 1824, Twiggs was once more ordered to sea, this time under the command of Commodore Lewis Warrington’s West Indian Squadron where he served for two years in efforts to suppress piracy in the Caribbean, Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and Lucayan Archipelago.  On his return, Twiggs was assigned to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia.  He was advanced to brevet Captain on 3 May 1825. In November of that year, he assumed command of the Marine Barracks at the Norfolk Navy Yard (in Virginia).  In June 1826, Captain Twiggs was ordered to Florida where he participated in the Seminole Indian wars.

The Seminole Indian Wars were a trial for the Americans. They confronted with dangerous hostiles, of course, but also had to contend with dangerous reptiles, pestilence, swamp fevers, and dehydrating heat and humidity.  From 1828 until 1843, Major Twiggs served in routine assignments at various posts and stations in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. His overall performance of duty was regarded as exceptional.

In 1843, Major Twiggs assumed command of the Marine Barracks at the Philadelphia Navy-Yard.  By this time, Twiggs had earned an enviable reputation as a professional Marine and a refined southern gentleman.  During his long period of thirty-four years’ service, Major Twiggs requested leave of absence on one occasion: the illness of a member of his family.  He was absent from duty for one week in 34 years.

Considering the size of the United States in 1846, comparing that to its population, the Mexican-American War was a massive undertaking. If one were looking at a list of navy vessels in 1846, one might easily conclude that the size of the Navy was massive. It was not.  There were but two squadrons: The Home Squadron (Commodore David Conner, later Matthew C. Perry), and the Pacific Squadron (Commodore John Sloat, later Robert F. Stockton, W. Branford Shubrick, James Biddle, and Thomas ap Catesby Jones).  Each of these squadrons had ships, of course, and a list of them would appear impressive. There were ships of the line, but most of the Navy’s vessels were cargo ships, revenue cutters, paddle steamers, riverine craft, and barges.  Nor was the war (which is to say, the Navy’s mission) confined to old Mexico.  There was a war to be won in California, as well—which was largely a Navy operation supported by the Army.  In Mexico, it was an Army operation, supported by the Navy.

The missions included blockading Mexican ports, or seizing and hold them, amphibious operations, and riverine assaults.  At this time, the entire Marine Corps consisted of only 63 officers and 1,200 enlisted men.  These were distributed about the Navy’s ships of the line, and guarding shore activities (Navy Yards).  In order to provide a battalion of fighting Marines, the Commandant of the Marine Corps (Colonel Archibald Henderson) was required to strip the barracks at Boston, Gosport, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia to no more than a sergeant’s guard. Additionally, new recruits were shipped out with inadequate training.  There were simply an insufficient number of Marines to man a 600-man combat regiment.  Henderson decided to form a battalion, instead.  Three hundred Marines formed the battalion, divided into six-line companies.

General Zachery Taylor approached Mexico through Texas. He commanded a force of about 4,000 soldiers.  General Winfield Scott commanded a force of about 12,000 Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel.  The Mexican force outnumbered the Americans —by 20,000 troops.  The Mexicans had the ability to replace their war casualties. The Americans didn’t have this flexibility.

With only 63 Marine officers serving on active duty, there was a scramble to be included in the Marine Battalion.  Major Levi Twiggs one of these.  The battalion departed the United States on 2 June 1847.  More than 300 officers and men sweltered in the heat as the sailing ships slowly made their way south.  The ship stopped for supplies at Havana, Cuba on 17 June with only two days in port.  The battalion of 22 officers, 2 Navy doctors, and 270 enlisted men arrived at Veracruz on 29 June under the command of brevet Lieutenant Colonel Samuel E. Watson. Another 66 Marines arrived from Pensacola, Florida a few days later.

Watson’s battalion remained near Veracruz for two weeks before marching inland.  He was ordered to join Winfield Scott’s army, then at Puebla.  Upon arrival, the Marines were attacked to General Franklin Pierce’s [2] brigade.  Bad weather, deep sand, and enemy harassment hampered the Marine’s progress.  Pierce assigned the Marines to form a rearguard for the brigade

On 21 July, Pierce’s brigade reached the National Bridge over the Antigua River.  The Marines repulsed an enemy attack as they approached the bridge.  In the fighting there, young Second Lieutenant George Decatur Twiggs, Levi’s son, serving with the 9thUS Infantry, was killed in action.

The march had taken three weeks; the Marines and soldiers of Pierce’s brigade were weary as they finally reached Puebla.  Scott was ready to move —but the troops needed a rest. They got two days.  Scott assigned Watson’s Marines to General Quitman’s 4thInfantry Division.  Quitman assigned Watson to command a brigade consisting of a detachment of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment and the Marine Battalion.  Major Twiggs, as Watson’s executive officer, assumed command of the Marine Battalion.

Meanwhile, Mexican President-General Antonio López de Santa Anna fortified Mexico City and all approaches to it.  Scott was taking a big risk marching inland; outnumbered, hampered by citizen insurgents and unfamiliar terrain, Scott faced the real possibility of being cut off from any retreat to the coast.  It was a rough route of march, the same one taken by Cortez in 1519.  The Americans marched through wide valleys and scorching deserts.  There was a steep climb to a narrow plateau, the apex of which was 10,500 feet above sea level.  From the point, the Americans could see the valley of Mexico, encircled by rugged mountains.

Scott’s force moved steadily toward Mexico City. The Americans fought a series of minor engagements along the way.  On 20 August 1847, the Mexicans were defeated at Contreras and Churubusco and fled toward the capital.  Enroute to Mexico City, the Marines were assigned to guard the supply train. When engagements erupted, the Watson’s Brigade (and the Marines) were kept in reserve. On 23 August, both sides agreed to an armistice and a peace commission met in an attempt to bring an end to the fighting.  From the Mexican point of view, the willingness of the Americans to even discuss peace at this stage was a sign of weakness; they used the armistice period to further reinforce their positions.  The ceasefire ended on 6 September—Scott claiming that the Mexicans had violated the terms on several occasions and the Americans moved forward once more.

On 11 September, General Scott convened a war council to discuss the next step.  After listening to what his subordinates had to say, Scott decided on an assault upon the Castle of Chapultepec before going into Mexico City.  Sited on a hill overlooking Mexico City, the citadel was the key to the city …  American batteries began shelling the citadel on 12 September.  Major Twiggs led a detachment of Marines to reconnoiter to determine enemy concentrations.  Twiggs and his Marines came under heavy fire, and Major Levi Twiggs fell, mortally wounded. The Marines, however, had accomplished their mission by drawing the Mexicans out of the fortress.

On the day the Marines entered the citadel, Sam Watson was directed to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, and with Twiggs killed in action, Major William Dulaney assumed command of the Marine Battalion.  Watson’s health, however, had given out and he departed Mexico City for return to the United States in early November.  He died at Veracruz, Mexico on 16 November 1847.  He was laid to rest in the same grave as Major Twiggs at Veracruz.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] Priscilla was the daughter of Captain James S. McKnight, U. S. Navy.  When McKnight was killed in action, she was adopted and raised by Stephen Decatur.  Priscilla was the mother of Lieutenant George Decatur Twiggs, US Army, who was killed in action during the Mexican-American War while serving with the 9thUS Infantry, engaged with the enemy at Natural Bridge in the Mexico City campaign on 12 August 1847.  She never recovered from the loss of both her husband and her son in the same war.

[2] President of the United States, 1852-1856.

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part I

TWIGGS John 001John Twiggs (c. 1750-1816) was a prominent military leader during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), leading Georgia militia against both the British and back-country Cherokee Indians.  After the war, Twiggs remained politically and militarily active in the area of Augusta, Georgia.  Twiggs County, Georgia was named in his honor.

While there is not an abundance of information about his early life, we know that John Twiggs was born on 5 June 1750, in the Maryland colony.  His parents’ names are unknown, and his antecedents and early life are shrouded in obscurity. Unsubstantiated family history records indicate that he may have been descended from the Jamestown colony, but later biographical sketches place him in Georgia around the 1760s, accompanying the family of David Emanuel, Sr., who had emigrated from either Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Virginia to St. George’s Parish (present-day Burke County), Georgia.  In his youth, Twiggs may have been trained as a carpenter or millwright.

John Twiggs married Ruth Emanuel, a daughter of his guardian.  Ruth was the youngest sister of David Emanuel, a prominent Georgia politician and former acting governor.  Together, John and Ruth Twiggs had five sons and a daughter.

John Twiggs began his military career in the Georgia militia.  In August-September 1775 he was a member of Captain John Lamar’s militia company, a unit organized by the Council of Safety and the Committee in Augusta.  During the Cherokee War of 1776 he commanded a company in Colonel Samuel Jack’s Georgia regiment.

During the Revolutionary War, the Georgia militia opposed the British advance on Augusta.  Twiggs fought as part of Lachlan McIntosh’s [1] brigade at the abortive Franco-American attack on Savannah in October 1779.  Twiggs was commissioned a colonel and appointed to command the Fourth Militia Regiment.  When Tory troops reoccupied Augusta in June 1780, Twiggs and his family escaped to the Georgia backcountry.  In the following autumn, Twiggs accompanied Elijah Clarke’s exodus to the Carolina mountains.  John Twiggs’s name appears on a list of Georgia Whigs proscribed from political activity by royal decree, that of Georgia Governor Sir James Wright, in the summer of 1780.

Twiggs and his regiment participated with Colonel Thomas Sumter in the defeat of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at Blackstocks, South Carolina in November 1780.  Twiggs was promoted to brigadier general in August 1781.  He was tasked with two important missions: drive the British out of Georgia and quell disturbances among the Creek Indians.  As a result of his efforts, Twiggs became known as the “Savior of Georgia.”

In addition to his military activities, Twiggs was named to Governor George Walton’s executive council, and served as a land settlement commissioner in the Georgia backcountry.  Twiggs served as a member of the State Legislature in 1779, 1781, and 1782.  In 1782, Twiggs was appointed to serve as Justice of the Peace in Burke County.

After the Revolutionary War, Twiggs and his family settled in Richmond County, located south of Augusta along the Savannah River. He established a working plantation of approximately 1,500 acres which he called New Hope [2].  He continued his public service as State Indian Commissioner and in this capacity was able to conclude land cession treaties with the Creek Indians.  When George Washington visited Georgia in 1791, John Twiggs was part of the welcoming committee.  He also served on the commission that selected the site for the University of Georgia and served as a trustee during the university’s earliest days.

In 1795, Twiggs and six others formed a partnership to invest in the so-called Yazoo lands.  The effort didn’t work out, however, and after the scandal [3] was made public, Twiggs aligned himself with the efforts of James Jackson to demand land reform [4].

John Twiggs died on 29 March 1816 and was buried in the family cemetery, where his grave marker stands.  Among John’s six children included Major General David Emanuel Twiggs, USA/CSA, Major George Lowe Twiggs, USA, Abraham Twiggs, and Major Levi Twiggs, USMC, all of whom served during the Mexican-American War (`846-1848).  A great-grandson of John Twiggs was Lieutenant General John Twiggs Myers, USMC.

TWIGGS D E 002David Emanuel Twiggs (14 February 1790—15 July 1862) was the eldest son of John Twiggs, who served during the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War.  David Twiggs was born on the Good Hope plantation in Richmond County, Georgia.  He was the nephew of David Emanuel, a governor of Georgia, through his mother.

At the outset of the War of 1812, David was commissioned a captain and subsequently decided to make a career in the Army.  In 1828, he was dispatched to lead three companies of the First Infantry Regiment to Wisconsin in order to establish a fort at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers.  The fort was named Fort Winnebago, which became the primary base of operations during the Black Hawk War.

In 1836, David Twiggs served as the colonel commanding the US Second Dragoons during the Seminole Wars in Florida.  His fierce temper earned him the nickname “Bengal Tiger.”  Twiggs was an aggressive military commander who decided to launch pre-emptive offensive operations against the Seminole, rather than waiting for them to make the first strike.  To avoid the American army, many Seminole moved deep into the Everglade Swamps. The Seminole never surrendered and, with but few exceptions, the Seminole were able to avoid being forcibly removed to the Indian Territories in present-day Oklahoma.

During the Mexican-American War, David Twiggs led a brigade in the US occupation at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.  He was advanced to brigadier general in 1846 and in this capacity, commanded a division of infantry during the Battle of Monterey.  Subsequently joining Winfield Scott’s expedition, he commanded the 2ndDivision in all its battles, from Veracruz to Mexico City.  Twiggs was wounded during the assault of the citadel at Chapultepec.  After the fall of Mexico City, Twiggs was appointed military governor of Veracruz. In recognition for his service in Mexico, the US Congress awarded him a ceremonial sword.  Twiggs was a founding member of the Aztec Club of 1847, a society of US military officers who had served during the war with Mexico.

At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Twiggs one of four general officers serving on active duty in the United States Army [5].  Advanced to brevet major general, he was placed in command of the Army’s Department of Texas, a position he held until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

In 1860, Twiggs wrote to the Commanding General, U. S. Army (Winfield Scott) to inform him that as a son of Georgia, he would follow his state in the matter of secession from the Union.  At this time, Twiggs commanded about twenty percent of the entire US Army.  General Scott undertook no action to relieve Twiggs of his command in Texas.  As the southern states began to secede, Twiggs met with a trio of Confederate commissioners (including Philip N. Luckett [6] and Samuel A. Maverick [7]) and surrendered his command to the Confederacy. The surrender included the arsenal at the Alamo, all federal property in Texas, and all of his men (4,000) —including Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, who was then commanding Fort Brown (present-day Brownsville, Texas).  In addition to the 20 federal installations, Twiggs turned over 44 cannon, 400 pistols, 1,900 muskets, 500 wagons, and nearly 1,000 head of horses—all valued at around $1.6 million.

In his agreement to surrender, however, Twiggs insisted that federal officers be permitted to retain their personal firearms and all flags and standards of the U. S. Army.  Notwithstanding this chivalry, the United States government was not at all pleased with General Twiggs and he was subsequently “dismissed” from the service effective on 1 March 1861.  In May 1862, he accepted a commission as a major general of the Army of the Confederacy and appointed to command the Confederate Department of Louisiana (which included Louisiana and the southern portions of Mississippi and Alabama).  By this time, David E. Twiggs was 71-years of age and, owing to his poor health, Twiggs resigned his commission on 11 October 1861, turning his command over to Major General Mansfield Lovell.  Returning home to Augusta, Twiggs passed away from pneumonia on 15 July 1862.  He was placed to rest on the Good Hope Plantation in Richmond County.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] McIntosh emigrated to Georgia with his family from the Scottish Highlands in 1736.  Lachlan came of age during the time when Darien township Scots defended the Georgia colony during England’s commercial war with Spain (1739-1748).  After his father, John McIntosh Mohr was captured and imprisoned by the Spanish in 1740, Lachlan was placed in the care of George Whitefield at the Bethesda orphanage in Savannah.  In 1742, General James Oglethorpe appointed Lachlan to serve as a cadet in the military regiment at Fort Frederica.  Lachlan solidified his sympathies with the American protest movement and worked to help organize delegates to the Provincial congress.  Promoted to colonel in 1776, he was appointed to command the Georgia Battalion in the defense of Savannah.  McIntosh was later commissioned brigadier general in the Continental Army.

[2] This land was partially comprised of lands confiscated from British sympathizers awarded to Twiggs for his war time service. He farmed tobacco and engaged in shipping and warehousing.  Twiggs was a slave-owner, but as to the number of slaves he may have had, we only know that when he died, he left his widow with seven persons in human bondage. New Hope later became part of Augusta’s Bush Field Airport and the only remnant of the estate is the family cemetery.

[3] The Yazoo land fraud was one of the most significant events in the post-Revolutionary War period (1775-83) history of Georgia. The bizarre climax to a decade of frenzied speculation in the state’s public lands, led by then Governor George Mathews and cronies in the Georgia General Assembly.  In essence, Georgia politicians sold large tracts of land in portions of present-day Alabama and Mississippi to political insiders at very low prices.  The laws passed to enable this fraud were overturned in the following year, but the issue was challenged in the courts and eventually reached the US Supreme Court (Fletcher v. Peck (1810).  The Yazoo sale of 1795 did much to shape Georgia politics and to strain relations with the federal government for well over a generation.

[4] Land speculation was one frequently overlooked cause of the American Revolution.  In the 1740’s land companies (Ohio Land Company and Vandalia Company) formed to claim lands west of the Appalachian Mountains in territories claimed by France.  The shareholders of these companies had tremendous influence in the colonial assemblies and in the British Parliament.  Their first concern was to remove the threat to their claims by the French, achieved for the most part by the French and Indian War.  The land companies were then thwarted further by the British Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement in these western territories.  To remove British control over these western lands, the land companies supported the American independence movement, hoping for better terms and a stronger influence within a new government.  Federal land policy governing the expansion westward proceeded without clear direction throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Ordinance of 1785 initially laid out the orderly protocol by which the western territories were to be settled and incorporated into townships. Under the ordinance, each township was allotted 640 acres, in the expectation that no single farmer would be able to afford all 640 and that groups of farmers from the same region in the East would join together to form western townships. However, during the 1790s, the Federalist Party, in control of the national government, favored the sale of large parcels of land to wealthy speculators who bought the parcels in anticipation of their rising value, and then sold them in smaller pieces to farmers. To this end, the Federalists passed a law setting the minimum individual purchase at 640 acres and the minimum price at two dollars per acre, which was by far more onerous than land development in Texas in the next several decades.

[5] Along with Winfield Scott, John Wool, and William Harney.  As there was no mandatory retirement at this time, all four generals were over the age of 60-years, and three of these men had served in the War of 1812.

[6] Luckett was a graduate of the USMA and a physician who established roots in Texas after the Mexican-American War.  In Texas, he served as a physician with the Texas Rangers under Captain John Ford.  An ardent advocate of States’ Rights, he was elected as a delegate to the Texas State Secession Convention in late 1861 and when Texas voted to secede from the Union, Luckett was appointed to the commission of public safety, whose aim was to secure the transfer of federal military property to the Confederacy without engaging in hostile actions.  Luckett was later appointed as the Quartermaster General of the Confederate States’ Army in Texas, serving under Earl Van Dorn.

[7] Maverick was a signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1835, a land baron and cattle rancher.  His name is the source of the term “maverick,” which means “independently minded.” As a rancher, he steadfastly refused to brand his cattle or enclose his property.  Consequently, unbranded cattle found wandering the open range were called “mavericks.”

The Pork & Beans War

I’m always amused when historians label a particular incident “a war,” particularly when in spite of displays of hostility, not a single shot was fired in anger.  The Pork and Beans War [1] (also known as the Aroostook War) was more on the order of a diplomatic kerfuffle, an undeclared confrontation.  So —no war.  Sorry.

UK-US FlagsThe relationship between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1850 was one of continual disagreement and some of these had significant consequences.  In 1838-39, the United States and Great Britain had one of several disagreements over the international boundary between British North America (Canada) and the US state of Maine.  The dispute was eventually resolved but going down that road both sides began ruffling their feathers and squawking about going to war.  The rattling of swords did little more than upset people who lived in the area of contention.

High tensions and heated rhetoric in Maine and New Brunswick led both sides to raise a militia, arm them, and march them to the disputed territories.  President Martin Van Buren quickly sent Brigadier General Winfield Scott and Daniel Webster to work out a compromise —which they did.  It was called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, establishing an agreed-to boundary between Canada and the United States.  Most of the disputed area went to Maine and the British were accorded a vital connection between the Canadian provinces.

The Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the Revolutionary War, but it failed to clarify the British Canadian/US border.  Thereafter, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began issuing land grants in its (then) district of Maine —including areas that the British claimed were theirs. During the War of 1812, Great Britain occupied most of eastern Maine, including the counties of Washington, Hancock, and portions of Penobscot.  The British occupation lasted eight months.  While it was Britain’s intent to permanently annex the region to Canada when the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the initial understanding from the Treaty of Paris left intact.

Both the Americans and British made a collaborative effort to survey and mark the source of the St. Croix River, which was the primary geographical feature identified in the earlier treaty.  The eastern boundary of the United States ran north to the highland, where it met the northwest angle of Nova Scotia.  A marker was placed where the waters passed through the Chiputicook Lakes.

When Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 as a separate state, the status and location of the border emerged as a chief concern to the new state government.  Massachusetts asserted a continual interest in the matter, as it retained half of the public lands in Maine, including a large part of the disputed territory as its sole property.

As late as September 1825, land agents in both Maine and Massachusetts were issuing deeds, timber permits, collected census data, recorded births, deaths, and marriages within the contested area of the St. John River valley and its tributaries.  Massachusetts Land Agent George Coffin, exercising his duty, recorded that a thunderstorm had ignited a forest fire.  The Miramichi Fire destroyed thousands of acres of prime New Brunswick timber, killed hundreds of settlers, left thousands more homeless, and destroyed several thriving communities. The journal entries of the newly appointed Governor of New Brunswick also recorded this destruction with comments indicating that the economic survival of New Brunswick depended on the vast forests in the disputed area.

A mixed population inhabited this region, mostly early Acadians (descendants of the original French colonists) that settled in Saint John and the Madawaska River basins. Some Americans later settled in the Aroostook River Valley.  Between 1826-1830, provincial timber interests also settled the west bank of the Saint John River and its tributaries; British families made their homes in Woodstock, Tobique, and Grand Falls, in New Brunswick.

The French-speaking population of Madawaska were nominally British subjects —who considered themselves otherwise.  They belonged to the unofficial “République du Madawaska.“  They professed no allegiance to the United States or to British Canada. The population of the area increased with migratory lumberjacks, which caused some anxiety in the governments of Maine and Massachusetts.  After all, in their view, the states were responsible for the protection of natural resources within their borders and were entitled to the revenues of their respective states.  Some itinerant lumbermen eventually settled year-round in the Saint John valley.  The remoteness of the land and the penchant the states had for taxing settlers caused them to ignore making land claims.  Various groups maneuvered for control over the forested areas caused disputes.

Then, on 4 July 1827, patriotic John Baker raised a homemade American flag above his homestead; he was arrested by British authorities and fined £25.  To ensure the flag wasn’t raised again a second time, the British held Baker in jail until he paid the fine.

In preparation for the US census of 1830, the Maine Legislature sent John Deane and Edward James to northern Maine (also regarded as northwestern New Brunswick) to document the numbers of inhabitants and to assess the extent of British trespass. Their point of view was hardly subjective, however.  Later in that summer, several residents of the west bank of the Saint John River at Madawaska filed requests for incorporation into Maine. Acting on the advice of Penobscot County officials, a meeting was called to select representatives preparatory to incorporating Madawaska township.  A local resident from the east bank of the Saint John river alerted local representatives of the New Brunswick militia, who entered the meeting hall and threatened to arrest any resident attempting to organize.  Reflecting the stubbornness of local culture, these citizens continued their meeting.  The militia called for reinforcements and New Brunswick authorities ended up arresting some residents while others fled into the nearby wood.  Local Americans notified Maine authorities of the incident, and they also sent letters to the United States Government in the city of Washington, which prompted the US Secretary of State to contact his British counterpart.

The Acadian majority was ambivalent about joining either the United States or British Canada but they identified more with French-speaking Quebec and supported its territorial claims in Madawaska.

In 1830, someone even went so far as to petition King William I of the Netherlands to arbitrate the border dispute.  King William thought the best solution was a compromise between the squabbling parties. He suggested a border very close to the eventual settlement.  Surprisingly, the British accepted King William’s solution.  Not surprisingly, the State of Maine rejected it, arguing that King William exceeded his authority.  More to the point, the king represented an unwarranted (and unwanted) foreign influence upon the prerogatives of the United States.  Beyond this, King William’s proposal would surrender territory to Britain that US citizens and residents of Maine and Massachusetts had already surveyed, sold, and settled.  Neither Maine nor Massachusetts was interested in surrendering a territory held by them since 1800.

President Andrew Jackson was inclined to accept King William’s proposal, if for no other reason than to avoid diverting attention away from his Indian removal policy, and particularly with regard to the emerging Republic of Texas.  Moreover, the United States Constitution forbade the federal government from altering state ownership of properties without the consent of the state government, which Maine and Massachusetts would not grant.

US Senator Peleg Sprague of Maine was outspoken in his opposition to Jackson’s Indian policy and of the president’s interference in the internal affairs of the government of Mexico.  Sprague led the US Senate to reject King William’s proposal.

Great Britain and the United States agreed to a provisional settlement in 1831-32 —the band-aid approach.  Both government’s agreed that the territory already in the exclusive jurisdiction and authority of the respective state and provincial authorities would remain as such and that neither would be permitted to extend jurisdictional authority over areas still in dispute.

As a consequence of President Jackson’s closing the Second Bank of the United States in 1837, Maine decided to issue a refund to all its residents who paid taxes.  The state also created a special census to determine the identity of eligible recipients.  Penobscot County’s Census Representative thus began work in the upper Aroostook River territory.  Word of an official from Maine offering money to settlers quickly reached New Brunswick authorities.  The newly appointed governor of New Brunswick, Sir John Harvey, ordered the arrest of the Census Representative.  Additionally, New Brunswick accused the Governor of Maine of bribery and threatened military action if Maine continued to exercise jurisdiction in the basins of the Aroostook river and its tributaries. Maine Governor Robert Dunlap issued a general alert announcing that a foreign power had invaded Maine.

According to the legislature of Maine, both American and New Brunswick lumbermen were cutting timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838-39.  On 24 January 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized the newly elected Governor John Fairfield to send the Maine State Land Agent, Rufus McIntire, the Penobscot County Sheriff, and a posse of volunteer militia to the upper Aroostook to pursue and arrest the squatters from New Brunswick.  The posse left Bangor, Maine, on 8 February 1839 and established an encampment at the junction of the Saint Croix River and the Aroostook River.  They confiscated New Brunswick lumbering equipment and arrested foreign lumbermen. After learning of these activities, a group of New Brunswick lumbermen broke into the Woodstock arsenal.  Now armed, they formed their own posse and arrested the Maine Land Agent and his assistants in the middle of the night. Both men were transported in chains to answer charges in Woodstock.

Describing these two officials as political prisoners, Sir John Harvey notified the US government in Washington that since he lacked the authority to act on the arrests both men would remain in custody until he received instructions from the British government.  Meanwhile, he intended to exercise his authority over the Aroostook.  He also demanded the removal of Maine officials from the contested region.  To back up his demand, he dispatched a militia to confront Maine officials and order them to depart Brunswick territory.

Maine officials refused to leave the area and to underscore this point, arrested the senior Brunswick militia commander.  On 15 February 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized Major General Isaac Hodsdon to lead 1,000 volunteers to augment the posse on the upper Aroostook River.  Sir John Harvey warned that the British government had ordered in regular army reinforcements from the West Indies.  Beyond this, the Mohawk nation offered their allegiance and services to Quebec.

The Governor of Maine ordered the conscription of citizens to augment the State Militia.  Infantry and dragoon companies mustered in Bangor and on 26 February 1839, began moving toward Fort Fairfield along the Upper Aroostook.

Back in Washington, Representative Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith briefed the House of Representatives on these events.  Smith emphasized that it was the federal government’s responsibility to protect and defend American territory and its citizens but declared that Maine would defend its territory alone if the government chose to not fulfill its obligations.  It was at this point that President Van Buren directed General Winfield Scott, who was then involved with Cherokee relocation, to attend the area of the border dispute.  He arrived in Boston in early March 1839.

In May 1839, the US Congress appropriated $10-million and authorized a military force of 50,000 men, placed at the disposal of the President in the event foreign military troops crossed into United States territory.  Maine committed an additional 10,000 militia —one of these was a young lieutenant by the name of James Henry Carleton.

During the War of 1812, Sir John Harvey had supervised (then) Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott during the time he spent as a prisoner of war.  President Van Buren and his advisers saw this relationship as one of mutual respect.  Pursuant to the terms of the truce for administration within the disputed area, and with the advice of General Scott, Maine recalled its militia, substituting instead a civil posse of armed men.  Deputy Land Agent William Parrott and Captain Stover Rines supervised the posse. Meanwhile, the US Army began construction of permanent structures at Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent.  Major R. M. Kirby commanded the military barracks at Hancock near Houlton, Maine; his forces included an artillery regiment.

Representing Canada were four companies of the British 11th Regiment from Quebec; they began to construct a barracks across the St. Johns River.  New Brunswick authorities provided regular and militia forces and stationed them at every tributary of the Saint John River that flowed from the Aroostook Territory.

In 1840, Maine created Aroostook County to administer the civilian authority of the area. However, reports of collusion resulted in the Maine Executive Council assigning Alphus Lyons to investigate County Sheriff Packard and County District Attorney Horace Tabor.  As Brunswick and Maine continued to squabble, American and British diplomats agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission.

Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton settled the boundary dispute in 1842.  Included in the agreement was not only a resolution to the Maine/Canada border issue but also the boundary between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota.  The treaty awarded 7,015 square miles to the United States and 5,012 square miles to Great Britain.  The British retained the northern area of the disputed territory, including the Halifax Road with its year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each for the loss of the lands of their states while the United States reimbursed them for newly acquired territory in the Northwest Territories and for expenses incurred during the time Maine’s armed civil posse administered the truce period.

Webster used a map that Jared Sparks, an American citizen, discovered in the Paris Archives (and which Benjamin Franklin supposedly marked with a red line in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. The map showed that the disputed region belonged to the British and so helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth should reach British ears and convince the British to refuse.

Later historians have varying points of view with regard to this map.  Some claim that the Americans hid their knowledge of the Franklin map.  Others say that Britain apparently used a map supposedly favorable to the United States claims but never revealed its reliance on this map.  Some even claim that Britain faked the Franklin map to pressure the American negotiators.  Available evidence today, however, suggests that the British map did place the entire disputed area on the American side of the border.

The only real losers to this dispute were native Indians in the region.  Moreover, the Aroostook War, though devoid of actual combat, did not lack casualties.  Private Hiram T. Smith from Maine died of unknown causes in 1828.  Additional Maine militiamen died from illness or injury while engaged on the Aroostook expedition and several more went out on patrol and were never seen again.

Endnotes:

[1] I would like to see what a Pork and Beans Campaign Medal looks like …

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

It was the greatest stand in British military history.

Frederic Augustus Thesiger, Second Baron Chelmsford, was promoted to major general in March 1877, and appointed to command British forces in South Africa with the temporary rank of lieutenant general in February 1878. In January of 1889, Henry Bartle Frere [1], a personal friend of Thesiger, engineered a war against the Zulu nation, then led by King Cetshwayo, previously a associate of the British Empire by treaty.  Consequently, Lord Chelmsford initiated a military expedition against the Zulu nation. On 22 January 1879, a large Zulu army attacked Chelmsford’s force at Isandlwana, overwhelming the British and destroying Chelmsford’s central (albeit separated) military column.  The attack was unexpected and the worst defeat of the British Army by native forces in the entire history of the British Empire.

On 11 January 1879, Company B, 2ndBattalion, 24th(2ndWarwickshire) Regiment of foot, under the command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead was detailed to garrison a post along the Buffalo River abutting the Zulu borderland.  The post had been turned into a supply depot and hospital under the overall command of Brevet Major Henry Spalding of the 104thFoot, a member of Chelmsford’s staff.

On 20 January, Chelmsford’s central (Number 3) column marched six miles further east, leaving Company B in charge of the garrison at Rorke’s Drift (in the local language, known as Jim’s land), a Christian mission station and the trading post of James Rorke, an Irish merchant. A company of the 2ndNatal Native Contingent (NCC) under Captain William Stevenson was detailed to remain at the post to reinforce Company B.  The NCC company numbered about 100 locally recruited militia. Later that evening, a contingent of Number 2 Colum under Brevet Colonel Anthony Dumford (Royal Engineers) arrived and camped along the river bank, where it remained through the next day.

Late in the evening of the next day (21 January), Dumford was ordered to Isandlwana, along with a small detachment of British Engineers under the command of Lieutenant John Chard.  Chard’s mission was to repair the pontoon bridge over the Buffalo River.  Chard rode ahead of his detachment to Isandlwana to clarify his orders, but was sent back to Rorke’s Drift with only a wagon and its driver to construct a defense for the expected reinforcement of a company of infantry.  En route, he passed Dumford’s column going in the opposite direction.

Sometime around noon on 22 January, Major Spalding departed the station for Helpmekaar to ascertain the whereabouts of Company G, which was overdue in its arrival.  He left Chard in command.  Not long after, two members of the NCC arrived at Rorke’s Drift with news of the defeat at Isandlwana.  Chard and Bromhead were informed that a large force of Zulu warriors was not far behind. Together with Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton, Chard and Bromhead decided that given their few wagons and the number of hospital patients at the mission, it would be best to stand and defend rather than to attempt a cross country withdrawal.

Rorkes Drift 002
Defense of Rorke’s Drift Station taken from the public domain

Chard, as senior officer with Bromhead serving as second in command, ordered preparations to defend the station.  Working quickly, a defensive perimeter was constructed out of sacks of maize and wooden biscuit boxes.  The perimeter included the storehouse, the hospital, and a stout stone cattle enclosure. The buildings were fortified with firing holes; external doors were barricaded with furniture.  Around 1530 on 22 January, a mixed troops of Natal Native Horse (NNH) arrived under Lieutenant Alfred Henderson, having withdrawn from Isandlwana in good order.  Henderson volunteered to picket the far side of Rorke’s Drift, a large hill that overlooked the station and from the expected avenue of approach of Zulu forces.  Chard was now in charge of around 400 men: Bromhead’s 104-man company, Stevenson’s NNC, and Henderson’s NNH troop, with a mixed bag of others (most of whom were hospitalized patients but regarded as walking-wounded).  A trooper of horse was sent to warn the garrison at Helpmekaar.

Chard believing that his force was sufficient to defend Rorke’s Drift, posted British soldiers around the perimeter, adding among them, hospitalized casuals and available civilians.  The NCC, armed mostly with spears, were posted outside the perimeter but within the stone-walled corral.  When the Zulu finally appeared, Chard must have been aghast at their numbers: between 4 to 6,000 men, none of whom had been involved in the assault at Isandlwana. It was a reserve force commanded by King Cetshwayo’s brother, Prince Dabulamanzl kaMpande.  By the time Dabulamanzl reached Rorke’s Drift, at around 1630, they had quick-marched some 20 miles in eight hours.

The Zulu were armed with a short spear and shield made from cowhide. As a force, they were tactically proficient and strategically efficient.  Some of the Zulus had antiquated muskets, but they were ill-trained in the use of this weapon and the quality and supply of powder and shot was inadequate.  Most warriors preferred the spear, since the use of firearms was regarded as cowardly. Nevertheless, Dabulamanzl was a rash and overly aggressive commander.  He disregarded Cetshwayo’s directive to act “in defense of Zululand” against the British. He was specifically told not to carry the war across the border of Zululand, which would have included Rorke’s Drift on the opposite side of the Buffalo River.

The follow sequence of events then transpired, this according to author Jonathon Mayo [2].

  • The Zulu were formidable, well-disciplined, and adept in hand to hand fighting. Their main weapon is the short spear, called “Iklwa” because that’s the sound it makes when pulled from an opponent’s body.  As the first Zulu arrive at the Buffalo River, they are fired on by British pickets serving under Lieutenant Henderson.  Henderson’s force, intimidated by the large force, make a rapid withdrawal.  Henderson shouts his apologies to Chard.  When the remaining NNC soldiers at the mission observe their fellows retreating, they leap over the barricades and join them.  The men of Company B fire upon the cowards, killing a British corporal.
  • Zulu scouts report that the station is weakly defended and full of stores of weapons and food. Dabulamanzl believes that such rich stores will be easy for the taking.
  • Chard realizes that the well-prepared perimeter was designed for a force of around 200 men; 100 of these have just ran away, leaving him with a force of only one-hundred. He orders Company B to construct a new barricade behind the previous structure; this will allow him a secondary position, if needed.  Private Fred Hitch is sent to the roof of the storehouse as a lookout.  At 1630, Hitch announces the arrival of the Zulu force.  Lieutenant Chard asks, “How many.”  Hitch’s answer, “Between 4,000 and 6,000 sar.”  Lieutenant Bromhead answers, “Is that all?  We can manage that.”
  • 28-year-old Private Henry Hook observes the Zulu speed of approach. It is as if they expect little resistance.  He announces their approach to the hospitalized men.  Although sick or injured, some of these men ask for weapons so that they can defend themselves.  Hook and five casuals are assigned to defend areas so small that “…you could hardly swing a rifle within them.”  When the enemy is within 500 yards, Hook and others begin to fire their rifles.  The Zulus continue the speed of march (a running trot).  They remain completely silent.  Within 300 yards, the Zulu force takes shelter behind large boulders on the rise across the Buffalo.
  • By 1700, Zulus mass in front and behind the Mission Station. They begin their assault by leaping over a garden wall and charging British positions. Dozens of Zulus in front of the perimeter are killed but are quickly replaced by second and tertiary ranks.  The attack continues; Zulus continue to fall, either killed or mortally wounded.  Private James Dunbar shoots one of the Zulu leader’s dead; Prince Dabulamanzl takes cover behind a tree only one-hundred yards from the perimeter and directs the ongoing attack from this near-in position.
  • By 1715, wave after wave of Zulu were hurtling themselves at the barricades. The length of the British bayonetted rifles provides them with a distinct advantage. Private Hicks descended from the roof of the storehouse to join the fray.
  • At 1730, rifled Zulus took up positions to fire upon the British; their weapons were inaccurate at that range and there were no casualties. Commissary James Dalton begins pacing behind the front rank offering calm-voiced encouragement to his men.  A Zulu warrior rushed the front rank; Dalton directed fire at the fellow and he was killed. Second later, Dalton was wounded in his shoulder.  Calmly handing his rifle to Lieutenant Chard, Dalton is led to the rear for medical attention before Chard is even aware that he’d been injured.  Within moments, however, Dalton is back at his post —his calm voice giving confidence to the riflemen.  Private Hook later wrote of Dalton, “…the bravest man I ever knew.”
  • Rorkes Drift 001
    Artist unknown, discovered via internet search engine

    By 1800, two British soldiers had been killed with four others wounded. Still, Company B was in grave danger of being overwhelmed by the onslaught of Zulu warriors. Lieutenant Chard ordered his men to take up their secondary positions as the Zulu surround the hospital. At 1820, Privates Hook and Thomas Cole were defending a corner room in the hospital. Hook described the ordeal as being like “trapped rats in a hole.”  One of the patients begs hook to remove the bandages from his hands so he can use a rifle.  Cole, who is claustrophobic, forces open a door and is immediately killed. The Zulu begin throwing torches on the thatched roof.  Hook, with no wish to be burned alive, slips through a door into the next room.  His situation has not improved.

  • At 1830, chaos reigns within the hospital as the Zulu break down the barricaded doors. Private Joseph Williams and four patients are killed.  In the next room, Hook is fighting like a cornered tiger, bayoneting and shooting any Zulu he sees.  Private John Williams soon joined Hook, bringing with him a pickaxe. Williams begins to punch a hole in the wall furthest from the attackers.  The last patient left alive is Sergeant John Connolly, a large man who suffered a broken leg.  Hook crawls through the small hole made by Williams, grabbed Williams by his coat, and pulled him through the small opening.  Connolly’s leg is re-broken in the process, but he’s alive.  As Hook and Connolly exited the room, Zulus broke into the room and in a fit of rage, attempt to spear Hook through the opening. Hook kills as many as show their faces in the aperture.  Again, Williams begins to axe his way through the furthest wall.
  • By 1915, Hook, Williams, and the rest of the survivors have reached a room at the far end of the hospital building, closest to their fellows defending the storehouse. The room has a window barely big enough to get a man through.  The flames atop the building allow the men to see that they are fifty yards from the storehouse, but the yard is being raked by British and Zulu rifles.  The first man out of the window is Private Hunter, promptly killed by a Zulu spear. Lieutenant Chard called for two volunteers to help rescue the Hook party.  Private Fred Hitch and Corporal William Allen leap over the barrier and rush to the aid of their comrades; British soldiers provide covering fire. One by one, Hitch and Allen pull the men through the window as Private Hook remained inside killing Zulus with their bayonets.  They have run out of ammunition.
  • By 2000, all remaining redcoats have escaped from the hospital building and joined their fellows behind the barricades.Zulus butcher what remain of the hospital patients who didn’t get away.
  • By 2030, Prince Dabulamanzl’s force is assured of victory. He orders an assault of the storehouse, which is furthest away from the burning building, allowing his men to fight under the cover of darkness.  Lieutenant Chard realizes that his position is getting worse by the minute.  Company B will not be able to survive if the storehouse falls.  He orders his troopers to construct an 8-foot high redoubt from available sacks of maize.  The redoubt is constructed within ten minutes and the wounded are carried inside.  Now the British soldiers form a protective circle within the redoubt and they begin to deliver accurate fire over the heads of the soldiers firing from the barricade.
  • At 2100, the Zulu attack comes to a halt as a force of British appear in the distance from Natal. Reinforcements never arrive, however.  The British force can see the burning buildings and, assuming that Company B has been destroyed, retreat back to Natal.
  • At midnight on 23 January, the British have been without water for more than eight hours. To relieve their suffering, Chard orders a small detail to retrieve the water cart situated halfway between the ruins of the hospital and the storehouse. Private Henry Block and two others attack the Zulu who remain inside the yard and pull the wagon toward the redoubt and the men are promptly watered.
  • By 0100, both sides are exhausted. Zulu attacks are becoming less ferocious—they have had nothing to eat or drink for over 17 hours.  Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead have no idea what is going on outside the barricades.  It is pitch black.  The din of battle has subsided.  In turn, the officers climb to the highest part of the redoubt to watch and listen. Chard later reported, “It was an anxious watch.”
  • By 0330, excepting an occasional gunshot and a cry from the suffering, the battle area is completely quiet.
  • Sunrise came at 0520. As the sun lights the surrounding area, Chard and Bromhead observe that the Zulu have gone.  All that remained were pools of blood, dead bodies, broken spears, spent cartridges, and damaged shields.  A cloud of smoke hangs over Rorke’s Drift.
  • At 0600, Private Hook approached a sentry who stood near the barricade looking across the river. Hook asked, “What are you looking at?”  The soldier didn’t respond, so Hook tilted his helmet back. The man has been shot through the head and died at his post.
  • At 0700, Chard set his men back to work repairing barricades. Suddenly, a thousand Zulus appear from the southwest and perch themselves on the grass hill overlooking Rorke’s Drift.  Chard and Bromhead call their men back behind the barrier, but they are aware that ammunition is perilously short.  Another attack will be fatal to Company B.
  • 0800 arrived and there had been no activity among the Zulu. After an intense hour, the Zulu arise and begin walking away.  Chard and Bromhead are baffled until they observe a column of men approaching in the distance.  Private Hook wondered aloud: “Are they friends to relieve us, or more Zulus to destroy us?”  They were British mounted rifles.  Surgeon Reynolds surmised that the weary Zulu had no desire to clash with fresh troops.

It had been a long day.  Lieutenant Chard was refreshing himself with the water from the Buffalo River when Lord Chelmsford [3] approached him.  The general was emotional in thanking Company B for their heroic service under insufferable circumstances.  The biscuit boxes that saved Company B were opened and the men finally fed.  A barrel of rum is shared among the men.  Private Hook, who doesn’t drink … changed his mind on this one occasion.

The Zulu situation was equally dire: they had been on the move for six days; had not eaten for two.  Within their ranks were hundreds of wounded and they were several days away from any supply.  Of killed in action were 351 confirmed deaths, but this number may have increased to 500.  The British relief force did not spare the wounded Zulu; additional deaths may have resulted from among the wounded carried away by the main body of Zulu warriors.

British losses were 17 killed, 15 wounded.

Victoria CrossThe Victoria Cross (VC) is the most prestigious award in the British honors system.  Created on 29 January 1856, its recipients are cited for gallantry in the presence of the enemy.  Since established, only 1,358 brave men have received this award.  Eleven of these men distinguished themselves in this one battle.

The names of these men are:

Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard, 5thField Company, Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Corporal William Wilson Allen, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Private Frederick Hitch, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Private Alfred Henry Hook, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Private Robert Jones, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Private William Jones, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Private John Williams, Company B, 2nd/24thFoot

Surgeon Major James Henry Reynolds, Army Medical Department

Acting Assistant Commissary James Langley Dalton, Commissariat and Transport Department

Corporal Christian Ferdinand Schiess, 2ndNatal Native Contingent

Endnotes:

[1] 1815-1884, British colonial administrator, who enjoyed a successful career in India, became the governor of Bombay.  As high commissioner for Southern Africa, Frere, he implemented a policy which attempted to impose a British confederation in the region that led to a series of regional wars, culminating in the invasion of Zululand and the First Boar War (1879-1881).  British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone recalled Frere to London to face charges of misconduct.  He was eventually censured for his reckless behavior while in the service of Queen Victoria.

[2] Author of Titanic Minute by Minute, this section obtained from the Daily Mail, 15 January 2019.

[3] The British Government was not happy with Chelmsford’s performance as a field commander. The foreign office issued orders for his relief but the delay in securing his replacement left him in command, which in turn led to the Zulu War.  Chelmsford finally handed over command to Wolseley on 15 July at the fort at St. Paul’s, leaving South Africa by ship for England two days later.  Despite of his incompetence, Chelmsford was honored as a Knight Grand Cross of Bath —even though he was severely criticized by a subsequent inquiry initiated by the British Army into the events that had led to the Isandlwana debacle.  Lord Chelmsford would not again serve in the field.

The Battle of Danny Boy

It ought to be comforting to the American people, in an odd sort of way, to realize that when it comes to idiotic politicians and bureaucrats, self-serving senior flag officers, and agenda-driven anti-nationalists, we aren’t standing alone in the world.  Somehow, though, this is not at all reassuring —it’s downright worrisome.  Like our own government, the United Kingdom decided to send its young men off to war. These well-trained warriors did their jobs and completed their missions and were officially recognized for their performance above and beyond the call of duty. But then the British government publicly called into question their honor and their courage on the field of battle.

What kind of people are we?

(Then) Lance Corporal Brian Wood, British Army, 1stBattalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was called in to reinforce an insurgency attack directed against a combat patrol of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders near a checkpoint known as “Danny Boy.”  The incident took place near Majar al-Kabir on 14 May 2004.  It was one of the most ferocious engagements involving British forces in Iraq; it involved close-quarter combat against a larger force of the so-called Mahdi Army fighting to the death.

In the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, British forces were sent there to act as peacekeepers.  They were in Iraq to demonstrate solidarity with the western world, to win the hearts and minds of the local people, the goal of which was to help reconstruct the nation after the Iraq War.  This, quite naturally, was all political rubbish.  If these peacekeepers accomplished anything at all, they became the targets of a ruthless insurgency.  American and British forces were routinely sniped at, mortared, and attacked by armed extremists who were being cleverly manipulated by Moqtada al-Sadr. In this initial stage, and for the sake of brevity, we can call peacekeeping what it was: standing around looking stupid while senior military leaders figured out what was going on. Meanwhile, combat soldiers suffered the around-the-clock rocket and mortar fire,

When the leaders of these coalition forces finally decided that enough was enough, they planned several operations intending to confront the Mahdi army, locate and arrest key leaders, bomb-makers, and those who had no hesitation in sending children wrapped in explosives toward coalition camps.

Warrior Armored Vehicle 00114 May began with the usual rocket attack of the British position at Abu Naji.  The command ordered Corporal Wood and his men into the Warrior fighting vehicle; his mission: discover the location of insurgent (enemy) mortar positions. While on patrol, the Wood’s unit was redirected to reinforce elements of the Argyll Sutherland Highland, a platoon being ambushed near checkpoint Danny Boy.  As they sped to reinforce the beleaguered unit, vehicle commander Sergeant Broome provided Wood and his team with constant updates on the situation. Wood and his men, sitting in the rear compartment, had no way of observing the vehicle’s surroundings.

Suddenly, the Warrior began to receive overwhelming small-arms fire.  The vehicle commander hit the brakes and the gunner began delivering return fire. Wood and his men were completely in the dark as to what was happening outside the vehicle.  Broome evaluated the situation: there were ten to fifteen insurgents dug in some 125 yards from the highway directing fire at the Warrior. Entrenched, the firepower generated by the vehicle’s gunner is having no effect on the insurgent’s position. Broome ordered Wood and his men to dismount.  Wood said to his men, “prepare for a close-quarter assault.”  Wood informed his sergeant they were ready to go.  Broome replied, “On my mark … there’s a gully to the left, go for that, I’ll provide covering fire.”  On the count of three, Wood and his men exited the vehicle.

Brian Wood 001Woods (shown right, Royal Army photo) could see the enemy, well entrenched, their heads bobbing up and down as they fired the weapons and then took cover.  Wood realized immediately that his radio wasn’t working; there was no way to receive any further instructions from Broome.  He decided to attack the insurgents “hard and fast.”  His team of five scrambled out of the gully in team formation, running a zig-zag pattern across the open ground, stopping, kneeling, returning fire, advancing in a leap-frog pattern.  Enemy bullets whipped around them.  It was a demonstration of pure courage … and hope.

As the British team reached the trench, the insurgents seemed surprised.  What kind of crazy men were these to attack their well-manned and fortified position? Some of the insurgents began an immediate withdrawal.  Some threw down their weapons and raised their hands.  The Brits jumped into the trench, suddenly faced with dead bodies, prisoners, loosed weapons, shouting, and overhead fire.  The adrenalin was pumping.  Wood ordered those with their hands in the air to get on the ground; he ordered his men to ceasefire.  One insurgent was acting “jumpy,” as if he was getting ready to do something stupid, and the British team was still receiving fire from the withdrawn insurgents; they’d taken up a new position further back.  Wood grabbed Abu-Jumpy and threw him to the ground —for that man’s own protection, and his own.  He tied his hands with plastic cuffs, at the same time ordering his men to collect the enemy’s weapons and safe them.

Wood and his team were quickly augmented with reinforcements: two additional Warriors and a couple of battle tanks. Sergeant Major Dave Falconer made his presence known.  “Is the battlefield clear?”  It wasn’t clear.  Falconer ordered a clearing patrol, directing Wood to lead him in the direction of the withdrawing insurgents.  The two of them had just set off when an insurgent popped up and began firing at them.  Falconer dispatched him.  Another fighter stood up —but not for long before Wood shot him.  Two more Iraqis stood up, but they had their hands in the air. Wood recognized one of these men: an Iraqi policeman who had been working with the British forces.  Apparently, he’d switched sides.  It was a common occurrence among the Iraqis.  None of these people could be trusted.  Out of plastic cuffs, Wood and Falconer frog-walked these two men back to the British line.

The ordeal wasn’t over.  Falconer ordered Wood and his men to collect the bodies. It was a gruesome task and having to do these kinds of things are part of what causes combat veterans to have bad dreams.  The smell of death lingers for a lifetime.  In any case, a few days after the battle, military police conducted an inquiry of what had happened on the morning of 14 May.  Wood and his men made their statements.  As far as he was concerned, the issue was history.  In time, Wood rotated back home with his unit.

A few months later, while undergoing additional training, a couple of men from the special investigations branch appeared. They wanted to ask Corporal Wood a few more questions.  A few things needed clarification, they said.  They showed him some pictures of dead Iraqis and asked him to identify them.  It isn’t pleasant having to look at pictures of dead men, particularly men who’ve been killed in combat.  Wood didn’t recognize any of these men.  The interview lasted more than an hour.

Time progressed and Wood was notified that he was being awarded the Military Cross [1]. He received his medal from Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth.  It was an honor for Wood to have been so recognized. Her Majesty was kind toward Wood and offered him her thanks and appreciation for his service.

Phil Shiner 001In 2009, Wood learned of the so-called Al-Sweady investigation.  It had been five years since the Battle of Danny Boy.  The investigation had been initiated by a civil rights attorney named Phil Shiner (shown right, photo from the public domain).  A number of soldiers had been accused of assault, along with inhumane treatment of detainees.  One of these soldiers copped a plea and served one year in prison.  As a result of one man admitting inappropriate conduct, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) paid out £3-million to the aggrieved Iraqis for “substantive breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.”  The admission also led the liberal press to assume that human rights violations were prevalent within the British forces. A witch-hunt was started.  The Battle of Danny Boy resurfaced.

A group of six Iraqis and the uncle of Hamid al-Sweady, one of those killed at Danny Boy, claimed that they had been ill-treated by British forces in the aftermath of the battle.  They claimed to be innocent bystanders, simple farmers who were not part of the insurgency.  They were simply caught up in the crossfire.  They also claimed that the fighters who had been captured had been murdered in cold blood by the British troopers.  The MoD dismissed these allegations, but Solicitor Shiner persisted with his claims.  He suggested to the press that as many as 20 Iraqis had been murdered by British forces. In November 2009, it was announced that a public inquiry would be held to look into these claims.

Colour Sergeant [2] Wood was called to give evidence in 2013 … nine years later.  It wasn’t a trial; it was a public inquiry, but Wood was still placed in the dock and questioned by the attorneys representing the Iraqi complainers.  Wood thought the whole show was ridiculous—and indeed, it was.  Lacking any familiarity with military training or front line experience, the attorneys did not even know what questions to ask, and so they focused on the idiotic.  It was a fishing expedition: they wanted to know how long the firefight lasted, they asked Wood whether he went to the right or left when he exited the Warrior, and they wanted to know “how tightly” the plastic cuffs were placed on the Iraqi prisoners.  Was it true that Wood had denied a prisoner a drink of water?  Wood asked himself, “Why are we even discussing this?”

Wood gave his evidence and retired from the courtroom.  The result of the inquiry wasn’t announced for another nine months.  Meanwhile, Wood wondered what might happen next.  He’d not done anything wrong, so why was he now being made to suffer the stress of these unsubstantiated accusations?  And the liberal British press was having a field day. One might think that Wood was the reincarnated Jack the Ripper.

On 17 December 2014, the final report summed up 189-days of testimony from 55 Iraqi witnesses and 222 British servicemen. There were 328 statements from additional witnesses.  The final report consisted of more than 1,200 pages.  What were the findings?  “The vast majority of allegations made against British military were wholly and entirely without merit or foundation.  Very many of those baseless allegations were the product of deliberate and calculated lies on the part of those who made them, and who then gave evidence to this inquiry in order to support and perpetuate them.  Other false allegations were the result of inappropriate and reckless speculation on the part of witnesses.  The evidence clearly showed that the British soldiers responded to this deadly ambush with exemplary courage, resolution, and professionalism.”

The inquiry cost the British taxpayer £31 million. The firm called Public Interest Lawyers and Leigh Day, a second law firm involved in cases against British troops were referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.  In August 2016 Public Interest Lawyers went out of business, while the British government announced it would take steps to prevent further spurious claims against Her Majesty’s troops.  In December 2016, Phil Shiner was compelled to attend a hearing seated to consider the misconduct of attorneys.  He admitted guilt in relation to claims of wrongdoing by Wood and his men and.  The evidence against these lawyers was that they knew far in advance of the 2009 inquiry that allegations of murder and torture were false.  They knew that Hamid al-Sweady was a member of the Mahdi army —and knowing this, they allowed the allegations to go forward.

Martyn Day and Phil Shiner (and others) lost their license to practice law in 2017, but it didn’t undo the years of anguish and suffering among the British troopers and their families.

Neither Day or Shiner has ever apologized to these men.

John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”  How does the United States and the United Kingdom honor the men who serve?

It could be argued, of course, by distinguished jurists that the legal process must begin with allegations that are either substantiated or defeated in a court of law.  But there is another point of view.  Nations spend billions of dollars training and equipping their soldiers to fight; they spend billions more sending them into combat.  Some of these men never come home.  Far more are permanently injured while fighting these wars. What right do lawyers or politicians have to constantly look over the shoulders of these men, second-guessing what goes on within the space of mere seconds in lethal combat?  What right do these people have to question the actions of these men in moments of adrenalin, fear, and their quest for survival?  More to the point, what right do they have in accepting the testimony of known liars [3] (the insurgents) over the word of the men who fought against them?

Ed Gallagher 001Presently, in the United States, another warrior is facing life in prison owing to allegations of war crimes.  According to the New York Times, decorated Navy SEAL, Special Operations Chief Ed Gallagher (Shown right, photo from public domain) has been charged with indiscriminately shooting at civilians, premeditated murder of a “teenage [4]” ISIS fighter, obstruction of justice, and bringing discredit upon the armed forces by posing in a picture next to the body of aforementioned teenager.

Ed Gallagher has achieved 19 years of honorable service. He is a trained hospital corpsman and a sniper.  He is the recipient of his country’s third highest combat decoration, the Silver Star. Now, aged 39, Gallagher is facing life in prison.  He isn’t the first combat soldier or sailor to face such accusations.

Chief Gallagher denies all charges.  I hope he has a good defense team; he’ll need one, because there are other Navy chiefs who are lined up to testify against him, now claiming that he was blood-thirsty, reckless, and out of control. But one has to wonder, if these characterizations are true, then why didn’t his officers in charge and senior enlisted supervisors take action to remove him from the combat force?  Why wasn’t he referred to medical authorities for a proper psychiatric evaluation?

We cannot now know what actually happened in Gallagher’s case.  This is why we have courts of inquiry and, when necessary, formal court-martial proceedings.  And yet, here we are, once more examining a situation in which governments send their young men into battle, and have the audacity to question them about what actually happened in the heat of combat.  Last week, we learned about the plight of Major Fred Galvin and the Marines of Fox Company, MARSOC-7. In Galvin’s case, the exalted leadership didn’t have his back, and the British government sure didn’t support Brian Wood and twenty others who were falsely accused.  Now we are witness to another set of allegations unfolding in the liberal press.

The British and Americans have a long history of the warrior ethos.  Whenever called upon, young men from these two countries have always stepped up —twice against one another.  But despite this proud history, I have to wonder how much longer anyone, in either country, with any common sense at all, will willingly place themselves in harm’s way if all they can ever expect is punishment for doing what their governments paid them to do —which, for the record, is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.

Sources:

  1. Wood, B.  Double Crossed.  Virgin Books, London, 2019
  2. “Decorated Navy Seal is Accused of War Crimes in Iraq,” Dave Phillips, The New York Times, 15 November 2018
  3. “Lawyers in Foxholes,” Vassar Bushmills (vassarbushmills.com)

Endnotes:

[1] The Military Cross (MC) is awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and Royal Air Force in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land.  It is an ornamental cross in silver, with straight arms terminating in broad finals decorated with the Imperial Crown.  The Queen does not usually present this decoration but may do so at her pleasure, which she did on this occasion.

[2] In the British Army, a colour sergeant ranks above sergeant and just below warrant officer.

[3] See also: Fox Company, MARSOC-7.

[4] The age, sex, socio-economic status, level of education, or the worthiness of his or her parents do not matter when someone is trying to kill you.  It is either kill the enemy or be killed by the enemy. Choose wisely.