(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War

“The fog of war”*….

McKinley Valentine (in her wonderful newsletter, The Whippet) on a fierce battle “between” a single army…

The battle happened on the night of 21 September 1788, in what is now Romania. The Habsburg and Ottoman empires are Austria and Turkey (but bigger, because empires).

I’m just going to give you the bullet-point summary:

• The vanguard (part that goes ahead of the regular army) of the Austrian army crosses Timiș River to scout for Ottomans. They are ‘hussars’, light cavalry. The hussars don’t find any Ottomans, but they DO find some Romani people who sell them some barrels of schnapps.

• Some Austrian infantrymen cross the river, see the other soldiers getting drunk, and ask them to share.

• The (very drunk) hussars refuse, and set up makeshift fortifications around the schnapps barrels.

• The argument escalates until eventually shots are fired.

• Someone shouts “Turks! Turks!” Both groups think the Ottomans are attacking and try to run away – it’s enormously chaotic. An officer shouts “Halt! Halt!” to try and restore order, but the troops (who are from a bunch of different countries and don’t understand German) think they hear “Allah! Allah!” and the Ottomans are definitely attacking.

• The hussars flee on horseback back through the main army camp. The General of Artillery thinks it’s an Ottoman cavalry charge and orders the cannons to fire on them.

• Entire army camp wakes up and goes into a terrified panic.Holy Roman Emperor (head of the Habsburgs) orders the whole army to withdraw and get itself together.

• Ottomans turn up two days later, discover only some dead and wounded Austrians and no army, and easily capture the city of Karánsebes.

There are some who suggest that the account is apocryphal (e.g. here, source of the image at the top), But as Valentine observes…

Did this really happen? Some of it is a bit too neat, too story-like – esp the Halt/Allah thing – which ought to make you suspicious. But Wikipedia reckons there are a lot of contemporary accounts of it (I can’t read them because they’re in German, French and Italian), so at the very least it’s a story that sprang up at the time, rather than being internet-era misinfo. And certainly Karánsebes is a real city that the Turks captured in 1788 (you’d be amazed how many internet-era historical myths fall at 1-inch hurdles like that). My guess is: in broad strokes, yes; the specifics probably added for colour.

The Battle of Karánsebes: possibly history’s dumbest skirmish,” from @mckinleaf.

* a paraphrase of Clausewitz (“War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”)

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As we promote peace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781 that that French Navy defeated the British Navy in the Battle of the Chesapeake (AKA the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes). The French victory kept supply lanes open for the Franco-American army, providing them siege artillery and French reinforcements which were decisive in the Siege of Yorktown, which in turn effectively secured victory in the American Revolution and independence for the Thirteen Colonies.

The French line (left) and British line (right) do battle

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“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack”*…

Over the course of 2020, Elon Musk’s wealth skyrocketed from $27.7 billion to $147 billion. Musk even overtook Bill Gates, to become the second richest person in the world. This was a tremendous jump in fortune: Musk was only at 36th place in January 2020. Musk’s enrichment was mainly due to Tesla’s rising stock price (TSLA:US), which surged from $86 in January to $650 in December. Tesla is currently one of the ten most valuable companies in the US stock market. 

In an already record-breaking year, Tesla’s largest and most rapid increase in valuation came in November, due to its announced inclusion into the S&P 500 index, now scheduled for 21 December 2020. Within a week of this announcement, Tesla’s share price rose by 33%, as passive funds now have to invest more than $70 billion. This was a remarkable boost for stock of a company that many analysts say is already obviously overvalued.

Just a few weeks earlier, on 21 September 2020, Yinghang ‘James’ Yang was arrested for insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Yang was an employee at S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI), sitting on an index committee that decided about which companies were to be included and excluded from S&P DJI indices. Yang had used this insider knowledge, to trade options on these companies through a friend’s account, making almost $1 million in the process. The case is currently being investigated by US authorities.

While these seem like unrelated incidents, both these episodes in index committee decision making are part of a tectonic shift that has fundamentally transformed capital markets globally. That is, the move towards passive index investing — and the concomitantly growing power of index providers...

A wonderfully-clear exploration of the history of index funds and consideration of their implications: “It’s the index, stupid! Our New Not-So-Neutral Financial Market Arbiters.”

* John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group and creator of the index fund

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As we watch the watchmen, we might recall that it was on this date in 1773 that a group of colonists known as the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British tea ships and dumped 342 chests of tea (worth $18,000– over half a million dollars in today’s currency) into Boston harbor.  The provocation was the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by the Townshend Acts— which American Patriots strongly opposed as a violation of their rights. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “no taxation without representation.”

The Boston Tea Party was, of course, a triggering event in the gestation of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Intolerable Acts, which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce.  Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn replied with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts– and probably more impactfully, coordinated colonial resistance to them.  The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

by-nathaniel-currier
The Boston Tea Party, as rendered by Nathaniel Currier

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“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

300px-Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men”*…

 

After 20 years of roaming the Americas brawling, gambling and murdering close to a dozen people, the man known as Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán had one last option. Having often turned to the church for sanctuary when waist-deep in trouble, and now facing execution, the soldier and explorer chose the nuclear option: admitting to the bishop that he was actually a woman.

Now known as Catalina de Erauso, a mesmerizing and confusing figure in Basque history, the prisoner not only avoided being executed but also got to meet the pope…

The amazing true tale at “The ruthless conquerer who cross-dressed her way to infamy.

* Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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As we speculate on the spectrum, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to Mary Katherine Goddard; she was born on this date in 1738.  A Colonial printer and publisher, she published the Maryland Journal, a revolutionary periodical, throughout the Revolutionary War.  She was also the second publisher of the Declaration of Independence (considered at the time a treasonable document by the British); her copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the second printed, and the first to contain the typeset names of the signatories.

She was the first female postmaster in the U.S., heading the Baltimore Post Office from 1775 to 1789, and ran a book store and published an almanac.

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Happy Bloomsday!

 

“A dull, decent people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter of a million bayonets”*…

 

BritEmpGlobe

On the heels of the Scottish Referendum, a meditation on the scope of the U.K…

Mitch Fraas, curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections, recently sent me this image and GIF of a moveable toy distributed by the Children’s Encyclopedia in Britain in the early twentieth century. The toy, which doubles as an ad for the encyclopedia, takes the old saying “The sun never sets on the British empire” and represents it physically, through the medium of a spinning wheel.

The Children’s Encyclopedia, one of the first such projects directed exclusively at young people, was first sold in Britain as a serial in 1908. The illustrated Encyclopedia addressed a grab-bag of subjects, structured not alphabetically but thematically, with each volume holding information on nineteen different topics (animals, history, literature, geography, the Bible). Like the text on this movable map, the overwhelming tone of the Encyclopedia was optimistic and patriotic, with the United Kingdom’s achievements in science, literature, and war always emphasized.

The Encyclopedia was republished in the United States as The Book of Knowledge,where (its publisher claimed) it sold three and half million sets between 1910 and 1945. Here’s a poem by Howard Nemerov about his childhood experience reading the project’s American edition, which he describes as “The vast pudding of knowledge,/With poetry rare as raisins scattered through/The twelve gold-lettered volumes black and green”…

 

More at the invaluable Rebecca Onion’s “‘The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,’ Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy.”

* George Orwell’s harsh judgement of British imperialism, in Burmese Days

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As we break for a cup of tea, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor who’d immigrated to America and was fighting for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War, became the first American naval hero when he won a hard-fought engagement against the British ships-of-war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England.  Though Jones went on to serve in the Imperial Russian Navy, he is often called the “Father of the United States Navy” (an honorific he shares with John Barry).

A 1781 painting of John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

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