Category: History (page 1 of 6)

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great into the Marshes 5 Jan 878

Photo Credit: Odejea [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Beginnings of an English Monarchy

King Alfred the Great of Wessex (Present day western England) was the youngest son of five of King Athelwulf, but did not become king at Athelwulf’s death. The throne went  through most of his older brothers who promptly died, leaving Alfred. After a series of devastating Viking raids from the north of the English isle, Alfred knew that he was too weak to fight off the Vikings that were on his territory in the 870s, so he made a series of treaties, sealed with large quantities of Danegeld, with the Vikings that they promptly broke. Guthrum, the Danish Viking, knew that the Christian Alfred would be celebrating Epiphany on the 12th night (5/6 January) in 878, so Guthrum struck at Chippenham with the hopes of capturing Alfred as well as taking the important town of Chippenham.

King Alfred the Great on the Run

The attack so soon after a peace treaty surprised the English and drove many to France where they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some say Alfred was in Chippenham that night and fled with his people. Others say he was in Dorchester. Either way,  Guthrum chased King Alfred the Great into the marshes of the Somerset Levels. There Alfred began his guerrilla days fighting out of the marshes and bogs near Athelney. Only a few warriors were with Alfred, but he soon began recruiting local militias throughout modern day Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. By building a resistance force from the ground up, Alfred was able to remain the only major kingdom in modern day England to successfully hold out against the onslaught of the Vikings. This success and eventual victory in southern England is what established the legend of Alfred the Great in Anglo-Saxon history.

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great Motorcycle Ride

If you have a full day, try the long circular ride from Chippenham to Box and down to Athelney on the A4, then back up to Melksham and Devizes on the A365 and back to Chippenham on the A342. Good biking roads all. The route to Box and Athelney is a likely route that Alfred could have taken out of Chippenham.If you are in the area of Athelney, also check out this ride around the Battle of Langport from the Battlefield Biker English Civil War series. When near Devizes, you can also zip up to Roundway Down to see the site of the English Civil War battlefield of that name from the Battlefield Biker series.

Battle of Wolf Mountain 8 January 1877

Background

After the disaster of the Battle of Little Bighorn where George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out and Custer was killed, the U.S. Army tried desperately to get the Indians back onto the reservations and secure concessions. The Army Indian fighters of the upper American plains went hell for leather in harrying American Indian leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. However, the harsh winter of 1876-1877 made it hard for the US Army to conduct the pursuit. General George Crook called an end to the campaigning season until the weather eased. However, the aggressive, but vain General Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles wanted none of Crook’s waiting and launched new offensives over Christmas 1876 and into early 1877 in search of Crazy Horse’s Oglala Sioux. The Indians had felt they were secure for the winter, because the Army did not normally pursue them in the think of the northern plains’ winter.

Sioux and Cheyenne Join Forces

The Sioux were in decent shape, but some of their Cheyenne allies who joined them were ragged from lack of provisions and the weather. Most of the Cheyenne wanted to re-enter the reservation to secure provisions. However, others, including most of the Sioux, did not want to concede the Black Hills in return for the provisions. These fractures in the coalition caused many discussions  amongst the Indians in search of consensus throughout December 1876. In the mean time, Miles was wading through the deep snow in search of Crazy Horse’s trail. The situation for the Sioux was growing tense with Miles stalking them. On 7 January 1877, Crazy Horse found and attacked Miles’ column on the Tongue River, but the Indians were rebuffed and Miles took a Cheyenne contingent prisoner.  Thereafter, Miles encountered repeated raids to free the prisoners, so he decided to set up a defensive position near Wolf Mountain. Simultaneously, the Sioux and Cheyenne moved their villages further north along the Tongue River to get away from Miles.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain

On the morning of 8 January 1877 the battle commenced in a blizzard with Crazy Horse attacking from various angles, but he did not find a crease to exploit. As the weather cleared a bit, Miles was able to get range with his artillery which prompted an advance on Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had no choice, but to retreat to save his force. The numbers lost by both sides were small and the battle may have gone down as a draw. However, the larger point was made on the Indians by the Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known as the Battle of the Butte. They were not safe from US forces in their own areas, even in the dead of winter. Total capitulation was to follow shortly. Miles was not liked by much of anyone, but his successes were rewarded and he eventually became the Commanding General of the US Army in 1895.

Battle of Wolf Mountain Motorcycle Ride

For a good long run all around the area of Miles’ and Crazy Horse’s actions in the Tongue River area, try this ride from Sheridan, WY to Decker, MT to Birney, MT to Ashland, MT to Busby, MT, and finishing at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, which I highly recommend. This is a long run for bikes with smaller gas tanks with few fuel points. Make sure you top up in Sheridan, WY before making this run. Some of it is gravel road too, so be careful out there. The Battle of Wolf Mountain Battlefield is approximately 4 miles southwest of Birney, MT. It is under the private ownership of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The Battlefield Biker’s fellow riders are a polite and respectful bunch, so please ask for permission before entering private lands.

New York Herald Story on Events Leading to Civil War

This article from the New York Herald of 11 January 1861 gives a feel for what it must have felt like to see the terrible events leading to Civil War in America unfolding to display the bloody outbreak of war. This article focuses on the gravity of the situation when federal troops aboard the The Star of the West were denied landing at Ft Sumter.

Events Leading to Civil War

As this article makes clear, President James Buchanan‘s administration (4 Mar 1857 – 4Mar 1861) was left for hopeless in settling the quarrels between north and south. All hope was pinned on the incoming administration of Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward. What I find interesting is the last paragraph of the Herald article.

“As the present administration can do no more toward pacification — the Executive having exhausted its constitutional powers, as Mr. Buchanan states in his message — it is the new administration which must accomplish this grand result, by fairly and boldly settling the differences between the southern States, who are contending for their constitutional rights, and that party at the North which, for the sake of a mere abstraction, is disposed to deny them.”

Don’t forget this is a New York newspaper making a point that the south thinks it is fighting for constitutional principles, even if those principles are tied to the abhorrent issue of slavery. I think that we, as modern Americans,  have turned the crisis of the Union into a simple dichotomy of all of the north felt one way and all of the south felt another. The American Civil War was much more complicated than is often presented. Why is this important? If we as a people cannot understand how complicated a topic was at the time of our darkest hour, how can we learn the lessons of it? Even if we arrive at the correct conclusions, understanding how we came to those conclusions is important. I hope we never need to face circumstances like those again, but wouldn’t it be good that if we have to, we know how we dealt with those of the past?

Events Leading to Civil War Motorcycle Ride

Try the ride from Myrtle Beach, SC to Ft Sumter National Park along US Highway 17/701 which takes in the length of Francis Marion (the legendary “Swamp Fox” of the Revolutionary War) National Forest.

The Crittenden Compromise Fails in Senate 16 January 1861

Background

John Jordan Crittenden, one of Kentucky’s most prolific politicians, attempted to broker a compromise to save the Union in the U.S. Senate and avoid civil war. The Crittenden Compromise failed on 16 January 1861 and virtually guaranteed civil war. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed the southern states and new states south of the 36’30” latitude to continue slavery, whilst the northern states and new states north of that line couldn’t. The Compromise of 1850 changed this and allowed the new territories’ residents to vote on the issue regardless if south of the 36’30”.

The Crittenden Compromise

Crittenden tried to mitigate the Compromise of 1850 in favor of the South. However, the Crittenden Compromise was a step too far in reverse for the Republican party which had formed specifically to oppose the expansion of slavery.
Crittenden was especially torn over the issue, as he had one son (Thomas L. Crittenden) and a nephew (Thomas Turpin Crittenden) who fought for the North and one son who fought for the South (George B. Crittenden). In the end, the gulf was just too wide for even a despairing father to stop. J.J. Crittenden died in the middle of the Civil War.

The Crittenden Compromise Motorcycle Ride

If you find yourself traversing western Kentucky on I-24, get off near Eddyville, KY and try the backroads through Crittenden County, Kentucky, named after J.J. Crittenden. It also gives me a good reason to recommend another ferry, and you know the Battlefield Biker likes to put the Red Rover on a ferry. Try the free (well, the KY taxpayer is paying) Cave-in-Rock ferry over the Ohio. This is the Battlefield Biker’s ancestral homeland and they are the back roads that Battlefield Biker learned to ride on as a young boy. Enjoy a little slice of rural Kentucky. From Eddyvile, you are not too far from Fort Donelson either, if you are looking for another local ride.

Photo Credit: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

British and Kentucky Riflemen Battle of Frenchtown 22 Jan 1813

Since its shameful fall in August 1812 with scarcely a shot fired in defense, the Americans wanted Detroit back. So embarrassed by it, a winter campaign was conceived to win it back. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, was selected to take back the area and further the American goals in the War of 1812. Harrison’s second in command was General James Winchester. The two split their forces to move on Detroit.

On 18 January 1813, Winchester’s lead elements entered Frenchtown (near modern day Monroe, Michigan) and took it in a short battle with a handful of British Regulars and a couple of hundred of local Indians. The American soldiers were militia that had recently been recruited in Kentucky and marched north with severe privation. The Kentuckians found great stores of food and gorged themselves for several days. Unfortunately, their officers had not ordered them to fortify the area for a counter-attack.

Battle of Frenchtown

A mixed force of British, under Colonel Henry Procter, and Shawnee, under Chief Tecumseh, counter-attacked on 22 January 1813. There followed a fierce battle that would go down as one of the biggest ground battles in the War of 1812. The British and Indians attacked across the American front. The American right flank was enveloped and surrendered, including Winchester. The left flank, however was holding well along a fence in the west of the area. The Kentuckians there were not surprised to see a British truce party arrive, but they were surprised to hear that it was the Kentuckian’s surrender they were after. Winchester had sent word that they should give up. The Kentuckians did surrender, but only with the assurance that the captured would be protected from the Indians.

The British then quickly unoccupied the area of operations for they feared that Harrison’s column would soon descend on Frenchtown. They left the prisoners with Tecumseh’s force. Some, but not all, of the Kentucky prisoners left with the Indians were massacred. The remainder were taken to Detroit for ransom. The Raisin River Massacre became a rallying point for remainder of the war in the old northwest. The event had a solidifying effect on the frontiersman for the war that was not there previously. Future Kentucky units rushed north yelling, “Remember the Raisin!” The area was re-captured by Kentucky cavalry units in September 1813.

Trivia; Although born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer lived in Monroe as a boy and married a local girl. No doubt, young Custer would have heard the story of the massacre in his local school.

Battle of Frenchtown Motorcycle Ride

Check out the Raisin River Battlefield National Park. Then go from the Raisin River Battlefield Visitor’s Center and follow the Raisin River out to Raisinville, Dundee and back to Monroe to the Sterling State Park.

Marias River Massacre 23 January 1870

Background

At the confluence of the Two Medicine and Cut Bank Rivers is where the Marias River begins and flows east for approximately 60 miles to Lake Elwell, then on for another 80 miles where it meets the Missouri River near Loma, Montana. Somewhere along this stretch of river (possibly here), there lies an ancient American Indian site where Major Eugene Baker of the U.S. Army took his mixed detachment from the 2nd US Cavalry and the 13th Infantry to surround an encampment of Piegan Indians on 22 January 1870. What happened next is clear, but why is not so clear.

A Tragic, Familiar Story

The area had seen an altercation between two hotheads, one white, Malcolm Clarke, and one Indian, Owl Child. Clarke beat Owl Child, who he claimed had stolen his horses. Owl Child retaliated by killing Clarke. As so happened in those days, this caused cries for the army to make sure another white was not killed by another Indian, so Major Baker was sent to teach the Indians a lesson. Baker’s detachment left Fort Shaw on 15 January 1870 and rode north to find a group of Indians known as the Piegans. Baker found an encampment at a big bend on the Marias River and surrounded it in the winter’s night of 22/23 January 1870. There is some debate as to whether Baker knew it was the camp he was looking for or another one.

The Marias River Massacre

On the morning of the incident, also known as the Baker Massacre and the Piegan Massacre, Chief Heavy Runner tried to stop the attack by showing papers that he claimed gave him and his people clear passage in the area. Regardless, Baker issued the order to fire on the camp and many women, children and elderly were killed, the camp was burned and the survivors set afoot in the Montana winter without provisions.

Some said Baker knew that it as the wrong encampment. Some said he didn’t care. Some said he was a drunken commander and didn’t know what was happening. None of the PR options were good and the Army made it worse by ignoring, at the least, but probably covering up the massacre. As so often happened in these cases in the U.S. Army, a young soldier steps up where his superiors have fallen down and tells the truth. Lieutenant William Pease, acting as a Blackfoot agent, reported the massacre to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely Samuel Parker. Parker, a Civil War veteran, confidante to U.S. Grant and an Iroquois Indian whose Indian name was Donehogawa, demanded a investigation, but the outcome was prevarication as the U.S. Army closed ranks with General William Tecumseh Sherman saying he would prefer to believe his soldiers.

In the end, no official recognition of the Marias River Massacre was forthcoming and only time has brought a gradual acceptance of the fact of this massacre. Author Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, puts the casualties at 33 men, 90 women and 50 children. Stan Gibson has investigated the topic deeply. He and Jack Hayne are working on a book on the topic.

If you are teaching this topic to 7-12th grade students, there is a good looking lesson plan that uses the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook by Holmes, Krys, Susan C. Dailey, and David Walter. Helena, Mont: Montana Historical Society Press, 2008. You can find the relevant chapter 7 online.

Marias River Massacre Motorcycle Ride

This is a long ride starting and ending at Browning, Montana at the Museum of the Plains Indians. The ride passes through the origin of the Marias River and also runs about 5 miles north and parallel to the Marias for a good while on the beautiful U.S. Highway 2. This is a good description of the things to see along this route, including a Cold War missile Silo. As always, good Battlefield Biking requires the courtesy to ask for permission to travel on private roads. Be polite and ensure the rest of us can enjoy the ride too.

Battle of Nantwich 25 January 1644

Background – English Civil War

With the arrival of Irish forces (somewhat) loyal to the King in late 1643, the Royalists had developed a strong footing in the northwest of England and were besieging the strategically important town of Nantwich. The Royalist commander Lord Byron decided to complete his conquest of Cheshire by quickly capturing Nantwich, which was being defended by Parliamentarian Sir William Brereton. However, the Parliamentarian Sir Thomas Fairfax had other plans. Showing his grasp of the whole war and not just that of his eastern England locality, Fairfax pulled together his disparate forces around Lincolnshire and marched to the relief of Nantwich. The two forces met near the present day Shropshire Union Canal on the close, flat pastures to the west of Nantwich.

Battle of Nantwich

Having deployed tightly coming out of Nantwich, Fairfax had to fight on each flank to open up space for his cavalry. On the other hand, Byron, converging on Nantwich, had to deal with over-extension. One has to imagine an inner concentric arc pushing against an outer concentric arc to understand the tension between the two forces. Fairfax was able to hold both flanks as his centre made the advance into Byron*s centre who were unsupported by their flanks due to the over-extension. Eventually, the Royalist centre cleaved in two and flanked away in opposing directions. This saved the left side, but doomed the right which fell back near Acton church.

Things went from bad to worse for Byron, as the blocking force meant to hold the Nantwich Roundhead forces at bay, failed. These Parliamentary forces proceeded to attack the Royalist baggage train near Acton church and the Royalist right flank near the present day Acton Bridge (footbridge) over the canal. In the melee, the Royalist lost many, but many more surrendered, including whole Irish regiments who felt they had been tricked into coming to England to fight for the King.

Nantwich was a clear win for the Parliamentary forces, having relieved the siege, captured the Royalist baggage train and not a few senior officers. Strategically, it kept the centre of England in play and established Fairfax as a Parliamentarian commander of national stature.

Battle of Nantwich Motorcycle Ride

Try this circular ride from Nantwich to Whitchurch and back

Abenaki Attack York in Candlemas Massacre 1692

Image Credit – New England Historical Society

In the late 1600s, tensions rose between the Abenaki people and the English settlers of Maine. As so often was the case, the tensions which might have arisen over local grievances took on a more Atlantic nature due to war in Europe.

Situation in Europe

In Europe, at the time, William of Orange had taken the English throne in the Glorious Revolution in 1689 and had joined the League of Augsburg (the Grand Alliance) to halt French King Louis XIV’s aggression in the low countries (The Netherlands and Belgian coastal lowlands) and German palatinates. In New England,  the Wabanaki Confederacy Indians, goaded on by French Jesuits, fought the English colonists for dominance as part of “King William’s War.” The wars in the English colonial northeast were less like wars than raids and counter raids between settlements.

Abenaki Attack York

The most disastrous of the Wabanaki Confederacy attacks was on Candlemas  in early February, 1692(New Style / Gregorian date). At the break of day on 25 January 1692 (Old Style – Julian date), Chief Madockawando of the Eastern Abenaki (also called Penobscot), led his warriors on a raid of the village of York, Maine. The Indians, probably with the verbal backing of the Jesuit priest, Father Louis-Pierre Thury, killed almost 50 villagers and took more than that hostage, including many children of slain parents. Madockawando’s forces  also torched the farms around York on their way out to deprive the Maine settlers of food supplies. Like much of the warfare on the American frontiers, the result was to make tireless Indian haters and fighters of the captive children who were later returned to the European settlements. Those who remembered the atrocities in York most acutely were to figure prominently in future conflicts.

The English would settle with the largest of the tribes in the Northeast, the Iroquois, in 1694, which effectively put an end to French hopes for rallying the tribes of the New England against the English. However, it did not stop the French and Abenaki from trying for five more years, two more than the war in Europe. The Abenaki finally came to peace with the settlers in 1699 at Casco Bay, Maine.

Abenaki Attack York Motorcycle Ride

Start at the John Paul Jones Memorial in Kittery Maine and follow the coast through York and on to Kennebunkport and Biddeford Pool.

King Charles I Executed for Treason 30 January 1649

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was beheaded on a scaffold at Whitehall in London. The Regicide of King Charles I came after a long and bloody civil war. The country was not totally united in the killing of the king, but Parliament went to great lengths to give the judicial proceedings the force of law.

Background

After putting the country through the English Civil War from 1642-1646 that his Royalist forces lost, Charles I launched another attempt in in 1647 which was quickly, but bloodily put down. The New Model Army, under Oliver Cromwell, which wielded enormous power at the time was furious, so when they captured Charles I, they proceeded to try him. Charles I would not answer to the court as he felt it was unfit to try him. The King claimed “No learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King… one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.” The court proceeded anyway. They convicted and sentenced him to death on 27 January 1649.

King Charles I Executed

On the day of his beheading, it was so cold that Charles I put on two shirts to ward off the cold, lest he be thought to be trembling at his fate. Charles I dignity in his execution made him a martyr to the Royalist cause. Some subjects in England still vociferously hold that Cromwell was the traitor, not their King. Read here for the Charles I speech and actions on the scaffold.

King Charles I Executed – Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Start at Windsor Castle, ride past Runnymede (where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215)and  into central London to Buckingham Palace, along the Mall, into Whitehall, on to Parliament and ending up at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend this ride early in the morning in mid-June when the sun rises before 5 AM. You can see everything and avoid the atrocious London traffic. At the National Army Museum in Chelsea, you can find a Full English Breakfast at the nearby King’s Road and wait for the museum to open to find out more about the English Civil War.

Image Attribution – Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt 30 January 1944

After a nearly unopposed beach invasion at Anzio and an impressive beachhead built up over a week, the Allied forces began their Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt on 30 January 1944.

Background

The decision to heavily fortify the intial beachhead, rather than advance on the Alban Hills, was the source of great rancor between British and Americans. The British Chiefs of Staff who planned the attack and General Henry Wilson who gave the orders for Anzio thought they had made it clear that it was their intent to get to the Alban hills ASAP. The Alban Hills commanded the road to Rome and would be the meeting place with the rest of the main assault coming up from the Cassino area further south. The British also felt an immediate push agains the Alban Hills would also relieve some of the pressure on the Rapido River crossing. General John Lucas (US VI Corps commander), who would command the Anzio campaign, and his commander General Mark Clark (US Fifth Army Commander), who would lead the US push from Cassino, thought the orders only meant a link up point and the timing would be determined later. Lucas and Clark also thought German counter-attacks would make getting to tha Alban Hills almost impossible immediately. Their idea was to fortify the beachhead to the point of impregnability, then move out. This is what they did. However, the Germans were not lax. They spent the week building up a force of 70,000 to oppose the breakout.

Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt

In the early morning of 30 January 1944, the Rangers under the command Colonel William O. Darby, began the assault by getting within a kilometer of their objective of Cisterna. That would be as close as they got that day. They were found out by the Germans and ambushed which drove them to ground. By mid-morning, they were being attacked by tanks of the Herman Goring Division and attempted a fighting retreat. By noon, only 6 out of 767 Rangers in the attack made it back to friendly lines. The US 3rd Division continued the attack, but still were a mile away from Cisterna by end of 31 January.

The other prong of the breakout was to capture the town of Campleone near the Alban Hills. Here the British 1st Division and a regiment from the US 1st Armored Division pushed forward with great difficulty. They spent a lot of time just reaching the start line, because of mines and obstacles. Over two days, they got tantalizingly close, but once again the Allied push was stopped short of the town objective. The Allied high command was surprised by the lack of progress and this led them to think the German were preparing a major counter-attack soon. The Allies rushed to re-enforce the Anzio beachhead.

Whether Clark and Lucas were correct about the initial speed of the push out of Anzio or not is immaterial, but the fact remains that the Germans did not counter-attack quickly or decisively and this made the decision to stay near the beachhead potentially catastrophic. It is also conceivable that the lack of an immediate move out of the beachhead contributed to the fiasco at the Battle of the Bloody Rapido River.

Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride from Nettuno to Cisterna to the Alban Hills and back down to Anzio going through Aprilia.

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