Posted on

Tours, Blue Springs, Heartbreak and “Landing Day”

Most weeks this blog discusses births, deaths, and the occasional battle, but today battles in France, Tennessee and Korea will occupy us.  Decisive warfare, defined as an action that concludes a conflict, has been an elusive thing.  More common before national and industrial warfare, the subject was covered exhaustively by the late Russell Weigley in Age of Battles: the Quest for Decisive Battle brom Breitenfeld to Waterloo.

But Tours, our first battle from 10 October, 732, predates any battle in Weigley’s work by nearly a thousand years.  Also called Poitiers (which makes it confused with the 1356 battle between the English and the French by that name) and, by Arab sources, the Palace of the Martyrs, Tours was one of the actions covered by Victor Hanson’s Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.  After two centuries of incursions into former Roman provinces of Gaul, the Franks and Burgundians (proto-French) under Charles, Prince of the Franks, defeated an army of the Umayyad Caliphate under the command of Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, the Governor-General of al-Andalus, a province of modern Spain that then bordered Aquitaine.  Very little definitive is known about the battle itself.  Strength for both sides is given as somewhere between 30,000 and 80,000, thought the lower figure seems more likely.  The battle did stop further Umayyad incursions into “Christian” Europe, and formed the basis for the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne.  Three things are known for certain: Charles, the grandfather of Charlemagne, earned the nickname “Martellus, the Hammer” (Martel), Al Ghafiqi was killed in the fight, and the Franks fought the battle without horse cavalry. The location, thought to be at the junction of the Clain and Vienne rivers between Tours and Poitiers in north-central France, has been the site of several archeological digs with mixed results, other than to establish that at least two pre-industrial battles were fought there.

Very little definitive is known about the battle itself.  Strength for both sides is given as somewhere between 30,000 and 80,000, thought the lower figure seems more likely.

Much more recently, much more is known about a little-known 10 October, 1863 skirmish in Tennessee. Confederate forces under John S. Williams met a part of Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio. A Federal cavalry division under Samuel Carter at Bulls Gap on the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad in Greene County clashed on 3 October, sparred for a week, and met in earnest a Blue Springs on 10 October. By then, the Federal horse soldiers had been reinforced by infantry. After a day of indecisive fighting, Edward Ferrero’s 1st Division of IX Corps attacked the Confederates, breaking their line just before dark.  The Confederates withdrew into Virginia.  Though casualties at Blue Springs were minor (less than five hundred) compared to Tours (depending on accounting, probably over 10,000), the effects were similar: East Tennessee was being cleared of Confederate troops.  Much less well known than Tours, the Civil War in East Tennessee has been graced with a good account by Earl Hess, The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennesseea few memoirs, and that’s about it.

Though casualties at Blue Springs were minor (less than five hundred) compared to Tours (depending on accounting, probably over 10,000), the effects were similar

On 10 October 1951, after a little more than a year of bloody and inconclusive fighting in Korea, a rather messy and prolonged fight over another mass of hills began.  This one was nearly seven miles long and about a mile north of Bloody Ridge, near Chorwon, and was called Heartbreak Ridge by the American forces, Bataille de Crèvecœur by the French, Wendengli by the Chinese (who also confuse it with Triangle Hill a year later). The fighting for Heartbreak started as early as 13 September, but the main UN attack began on 10 October.  The US 2nd Infantry Division and an attached French battalion were savaged in piecemeal fights over limited objectives by well-entrenched NKPA (North Korean) and PVA (Chinese) forces before a concerted armored thrust was mounted 11 October into the Mundung-ni Valley west of Heartbreak to destroy the communist supply dumps there. While the fighting was savage on the track-called-a-road into the valley, the tanks barely made any headway while the 2nd Division clawed its way up the main hill mass.  Eventually, forces from South Korea, the Netherlands and the Philippines joined the American and French in the battle.  While the United Nations forces “won” Heartbreak, senior planners were horrified at the cost (nearly 3,700 UN to over 25,000 Chinese and North Korean).  The cost of such attacks by the casualty-averse UN forces would be weighed against the “benefits” gained against opponents that disregarded losses.  Arned Hinshaw’s Heartbreak Ridge: Korea 1951 is a worthy effort, and the only known book-length treatment of Heartbreak, aside from a couple of novels (one of which was the basis for the 1986 Clint Eastwood film Heartbreak Ridge that had absolutely nothing to do with Korea).  There is also an excellent description in T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War.

While the fighting was savage on the track-called-a-road into the valley, the tanks barely made any headway while the 2nd Division clawed its way up the main hill mass.

Today, the second Monday in October, 2016, is designated as “Landing Day,” a Federal holiday in the United States, that is intended to “honor” all the many discoverers of the New World by concluding that the all arrived on some floating day in October.  Christopher Columbus landed somewhere in the Caribbean on 12 October 1492.  From the 19th century up to the 1970s Columbus was regularly honored in the United States on 12 October, but since then the Italian explorer has become associated with slavery, oppression, disease, and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of what are now North and South America.  Further, certain influential groups have determined that the “other discoverers” of the Americas, such as the Norse and Polynesians, should also be honored.  This gesture would have a great deal more meaning if, a) history had any idea who these discoverers were by name (Leif Erickson is thought to have led the Norse expedition that may have hung around Newfoundland briefly ca 1000 AD), and b) if there were any contemporary records of their “discoveries” that would have made them have some meaning.  As it is, the current reasoning only makes for an excuse to make another three-day weekend for banks and some Federal workers. While this correspondent doesn’t get a day off for it and doesn’t recall even the Active Army doing it, his wife does.

Eh, whatever.  Another excuse for pre-Christmas sales.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted on 1 Comment

Thanksgiving and Unity

Since this blog is published on Monday (for the moment), Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday it talks a great deal about.  But this year, it happens that discussions of Thanksgiving Day (American, not Canadian, nor Australian, nor Liberian, nor Dutch) has links to 3 October, and to a most miraculous Thanksgiving event in Germany.

Proclamations of “thanksgiving” were common in Britain for survival from floods, wars, famines, larger fires, plagues or invasions. In the American colonies, there are well-known stories of a “first Thanksgiving” being celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers and their Native American neighbors (surely at least some of my readers were turkeys or lobsters or something in at least one school pageant).  Records are scarce, but most historians agree that as early as 1621 there was a feast in October or November where much food was consumed in company with some of the locals.  No record, however, of football being played, or of Uncle Absalom imbibing in too much porter and trying to dunk Aunt Prudence in the river. As early as 1631 some fall day was declared a holiday somewhere in America, mostly in New England.  On 3 October 1789, George Washington (who had become president just that February) proclaimed that Thursday, 26 November should be “a day of public thanksgiving.”  There is some speculation about why a Thursday was chosen (to be exclusively a day of thanks separate from a day of worship) and why November (harvest in some parts of the new republic could last, in good years, at late as mid-November), but no one thought too much of it at the time.

No record, however, of football being played, or of Uncle Absalom imbibing in too much porter and trying to dunk Aunt Prudence in the river. 

By the American Civil War generations later, the Thanksgiving tradition had died out in parts of the country, or had been moved from November to as early as October (following several of the Canadian provinces, which had different dates). On 3 October 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that fixed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November.  This was an attempt to unify the states in at least something, but the Confederates weren’t interested.  Most southern states paid no attention until after Reconstruction in the 1870s, but as early as the 1880s Thanksgiving had become the beginning of the Christmas shopping season (yes, Virginia, that insanity really did start that early in history).  The holiday remained there until 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt, after much lobbying by the larger commercial outlets and the labor unions, fixed the day as the fourth Thursday as a goad to the economy, and as a tool to manage factory scheduling,.  Factory tooling improvements are traditionally performed during a “holiday shutdown” between Christmas and New Year’s.  Moving the Thanksgiving holiday earlier for most years allows for vacations before the shutdown for maintenance crews, adds as much as another week of “shopping days” till Christmas, and even more time for the mass media to saturate their audiences with ads for the same thing.

… as early as the 1880s Thanksgiving had become the beginning of the Christmas shopping season (yes, Virginia, that insanity really did start that early in history)

In 1989, mass migrations across the Hungarian frontier into Austria were not opposed. When this part of the Iron Curtain was drawn back, East Germans trickled through Czechoslovakia and into Austria and on to West Germany. Germans, like Israelis, have the “right of return” from anywhere.  Soon, as the news spread, the trickle became a flood, and in October 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn open by mobs of civilians and border guards.  This triggered the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe by the end of the year, the eventual breaking of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the end of that entity in 1991, and the traditional end of the Cold War. On 3 October 1990, one of the largest symbols of the Cold War was eliminated when East and West Germany were officially rejoined after more than half a century of separation.  The date is celebrated as Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) in Germany, a national holiday.  Though “Germany” has existed as a vague geographic idea, customs union, kingdom and empire off and on since anyone can remember, this was the first time it could have been called a “modern” state since 1945.

…as the news spread, the trickle became a flood, and in October 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Though Thanksgiving is a time for feasting and ODing on TV, for this family German Unity Day a month and a half earlier has a different meaning.  The wife was one of the Germans that the Americans and Soviets was willing to fight over, and many family members were still in Berlin when the Wall came down. The above image of the Brandenburg Gate is much different from this writer’s memory of Berlin when he was last there in 1976.  Besides, Uncle Absalom always made such a fool of himself on Thanksgiving it’s become a family embarrassment.  But that’s what family is for.