Tag Archives: Military History

THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION IN THE SECOND MADAGASCAR CONFLICT

MadagascarPreviously Balladeer’s Blog has examined Garrison Tales From Tonquin (Tonkin), the 1895 collection of short stories by James O’Neill, an American who served in the French Foreign Legion in Algeria and Vietnam during the 1880s and 1890s. I’ve also covered the Legion at Camerone and during the Great Syrian Revolt of the 1920s.

SECOND MADAGASCAR AFFAIR – This time around I’ll take a look at the French Foreign Legion during the 2nd Madagascar Conflict/ Expedition. The fighting went on from December 11th of 1894 to September 30th of 1895. This entire affair was so mishandled by French politicians in Reunion, by the War Minister and by General Jacques Duchesne that they basically killed thousands more of their own troops than were killed by the opposing forces.

TAKING IT FROM THE TOP – Typically for my French Foreign Legion posts, I’m not on their side in the war that the French government sent them to fight. It was the usual colonial nonsense, in this case exploiting unrest in the targeted country to use as an excuse for intervening and making Madagascar a French Protectorate. Regular readers know I don’t write sentiments like that to please politically correct fools, it’s just how I sincerely feel. If I felt any other way I wouldn’t hesitate to say so. 

map of madagascar picDECEMBER 1894 – On December 11th France declared war on Madagascar after its rulers refused to willingly become a French Protectorate. Though the French Army would be running this military campaign, the French Navy and their Marines kicked off the action by bombarding and then seizing Toamasina/ Tamatave on the eastern coast of Madagascar.

              Though that location would have been ideal for a fairly quick march on the capital city of Tananarive/ Antananarivo, the French Army had beat out the French Navy for control of this war by UNDERCUTTING THEIR BID. (!) To stay within the lower costs the War Ministry had allocated, the army’s General Duchesne instead insisted on starting their campaign at Majunga/ Mahajanga on the northwestern coast of Madagascar, nearly doubling the amount of territory to be fought through.

JANUARY 1895 – In a relative feeling of “Team Spirit” the French Navy cooperated by now taking the area designated by the army for their landing site. On January 15th Majunga/ Mahajanga was bombarded and seized, fortress and all. Soon, however, the cosmic unsuitability of this location became apparent. Continue reading

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11 MEMORIAL DAY ARTICLES ABOUT NEGLECTED CONFLICTS AND UNITS

mascot sword and gun pic

BALLADEER’S BLOG

With Memorial Day Weekend fast upon us, Balladeer’s Blog has been getting requests for readers’ favorite holiday-themed blog posts from the past. I want to post some new ones, too, so let me first post this item synopsizing items from the past complete with links if you want to read the entire article.

THE TOP FOUR FORGOTTEN CONFLICTS IN U.S. HISTORY – A brief look at 1781-1782, the neglected final year of fighting in the Revolutionary War, plus takes on the Mexican War (1846-1848), the Nicaragua Conflict (1926-1928) and the Philippine War (1899-1902). Click HERE.

AMERICA’S NAVAL WAR WITH FRANCE (1798-1801) – Often called a “Quasi-War” because of how few land battles there were and because no formal declaration of war was made, this conflict featured a lot of fascinating action on the high seas. The men who died fighting in it deserve to be remembered just as much as those who died in more high-profile wars. PART ONEPART TWO.

TWENTY COLD WAR ATTACKS ON AIRCRAFT – Throughout the Cold War, soldiers, sailors and pilots faced danger and even death in multiple clashes which were downplayed at the time to avoid an escalation of hostilities. Click HERE.

Oneida Nation flag

Oneida Nation’s First Allies Unit

TOP FOUR FORGOTTEN UNITS IN AMERICAN MILITARY HISTORY – A look at Doniphan’s Thousand from the Mexican War, the Oneida Nation’s First Allies Unit from the Revolutionary War, the Yankee Samurai Unit from World War Two and the country’s very first racially integrated army unit, the First Rhode Island Regiment in the Revolutionary War. Click HERE.

THE TEXAS NAVY – A very neglected aspect of the Texas War of Independence from Mexico. Click HERE. Continue reading

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CAMERONE DAY: THE 158th ANNIVERSARY

French Foreign Legion flagCAMERONE DAY – A month ago Balladeer’s Blog examined the 1895 collection of short stories Garrison Tales From Tonquin (Tonkin), written by American James O’Neill. The tales were fictionalized accounts of his experiences in the French Foreign Legion in the 1880s and 1890s in Algeria and Vietnam. O’Neill’s insights into the French occupation of Vietnam during and after the Sino-French War were astonishingly ahead of their time.

Today’s blog post is nowhere near as profound or steeped in existentialism as Garrison Tales From Tonquin, but I couldn’t help but reflect on it since the yearly anniversary of the Battle of Camerone in Mexico has been THE major event on the French Foreign Legion’s calendar since 1863. It is often viewed as the battle that helped cement the Legion in the imaginations of people around the world in the 19th Century, and no doubt its legend was well known to James O’Neill by the time he enlisted in the fighting outfit in the 1880s. 

White Kepis of the French Foreign LegionTHE BATTLE OF CAMERONE (Camaron in Spanish) – Getting back to the topic of this blog post, it’s sort of the French Foreign Legion’s central Alamo event. And I say central because many of the most famous battles of the Legion are like a long series of Alamos. Camerone set the standard, though. As usual, the Legion’s cause was not a virtuous one by our standards. The execrable Napoleon the Third was using the FFL and other French forces to try to prop up his Austrian ally Maximilian, the so-called “Emperor of Mexico.”

The Mexicans wanted the foreign-imposed emperor out and ultimately prevailed in 1867, but on April 30th, 1863 a mere 65 members of the French Foreign Legion held off what ultimately grew to a force of THREE THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED (3,300) Mexican soldiers. Continue reading

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TWENTY COLD WAR ATTACKS ON AIRCRAFT

Mascot new lookBalladeer’s Blog’s theme of Top Twenty lists for 2020 continues. With Memorial Day coming up in a few weeks let’s take a look at some servicemembers who died in assorted neglected Cold War hostilities.

APRIL 8th, 1950 – A U.S. Navy Privateer Electronic Intelligence aircraft was shot down by Soviet Union fighter planes over the Baltic Sea. All 10 crew members were either killed or captured by the Soviets with no further information ever becoming available.

NOVEMBER 6th, 1951 – A U.S. Navy Neptune patrol aircraft was fired upon by Soviet fighters off the coast of Siberia. The plane disappeared along with all 10 crew members.

JUNE 13th, 1952 – A U.S. Air Force Superfortress on a reconnaissance mission was reportedly attacked by Soviet fighters over the Sea of Japan and disappeared without a trace along with all 12 crew members.

SuperfortressOCTOBER 7th, 1952 – Another U.S. Air Force Superfortress encountered Soviet fighters off the coast of Japan and was presumed to have been shot down with 8 crewmen losing their lives.

NOVEMBER 29th, 1952 – A U.S. cargo plane was shot down over northeast China. Two crewmen died in the crash and were buried near the craft. The surviving pair – John Downey and Richard Fectau – were captured and imprisoned. Fectau was not returned to the U.S. until 1971 and Downey in 1973.

JANUARY 18th, 1953 – A U.S. Navy Neptune plane was shot down by Chinese anti-aircraft guns over the Formosa Strait off Swatow, China. It ditched, with 2 crew members presumed captured by the Chinese and 5 presumed dead. A U.S. Coast Guard “flying boat” crashed during the search for the downed crew, leaving 4 more men dead.    Continue reading

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CONCLUSION: AMERICA’S QUASI-NAVAL WAR WITH FRANCE (1798-1801)

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! Ending this holiday weekend’s dose of seasonal posts is this concluding part of Balladeer’s Blog’s look at America’s undeclared naval war with France from 1798 to 1801. FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE  . 

Enterprise

MAY ?, 1800: (Some sources place this action in late April) The USS Boston, commanded by “the American Horatio Nelson” himself, Captain George Little, was in the Bight of Leogane, where it fought and sank a force of six French-allied ships in the navy of Hyacinth Rigaud. (Rigaud’s infamy was covered in Part One)

MAY ??, 1800: The Adams recaptured an unidentified vessel which had previously been taken by the French and converted for its navy’s use.

MAY ??, 1800: The Insurgent and the Adams teamed up to liberate an unidentified British privateer ship from the French craft which had captured it.

MAY ??, 1800: The Adams recaptured the Nancy (one of many vessels with that name), a ship previously seized by the French for their own navy.

MAY ??, 1800: The Adams defeated and captured the French ship Grinder

MAY ??, 1800: A very busy month for the Adams came to an end as the feisty vessel overcame three to one odds to defeat and capture the French ships the Dove, the Renommee and a third ship whose name has not come down to us.   

MAY 31st, 1800: The John Adams (separate vessel from the Adams) recaptured the American brig Olive from the French.  

JUNE 6th, 1800: The Merrimack battled the French vessel L’Hazard in order to free the French ship’s latest capture – the American Ceres.  The Merrimack succeeded in liberating the Ceres. Continue reading

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AMERICA’S QUASI- NAVAL WAR WITH FRANCE: 1798-1801

USS ConstellationMemorial Day Weekend rolls along with another topical post from Balladeer’s Blog. This one covers some naval actions from America’s undeclared, neither fish nor fowl, quasi-Naval War with France. Often called Stoddert’s War in reference to Benjamin Stoddert, America’s first Secretary of the Navy, this conflict was waged largely in the West Indies.

John Adams

John Adams

President John Adams wanted the infant United States Navy to protect American shipping in the West Indies from French vessels seizing our ships and sailors. The French Revolutionary government had adopted this policy to (in their view) “punish” the U.S. for not declaring war on France’s side in the Wars of the French Revolution.

Thus far America had remained neutral due to divided public opinion on the matter. Some voters felt the U.S. should join the war on the side of France but others felt that the current French Revolutionary government had overthrown, imprisoned and slain virtually all of the French figures who had aided America during our war against England, therefore negating any obligation on our part. (The paranoid French government had even jailed Thomas Paine when he visited the country.)

President John Adams later took great pride in keeping America out of an all-out land war. (Sentiment against France grew so strong that 80,000 men volunteered to serve against her. And don’t forget the rallying cry of “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute!” following the X, Y and Z Affair.) Adams chose instead to act largely on defense by protecting our coastline, safeguarding U.S. shipping and expanding our Navy from three whole vessels (WOW!) to FIFTEEN.

Here are a few of the battles from this virtually unclassifiable conflict:

Stephen Decatur

U.S. Naval hero Stephen Decatur

JULY 7th, 1798: Off the New Jersey Coast, Captain Stephen Decatur, Sr led his 20-cannon Delaware against the 10-cannon French privateer craft La Croyable. The French vessel had just plundered the American merchant ship Alexander Hamilton. After a long chase and running fight La Croyable was seized by the Delaware. The French ship was renamed Retaliation and joined the growing U.S. Navy.

NOVEMBER 20th, 1798: Off Guadeloupe, the Retaliation (commanded now by William Bainbridge) ran afoul of two French vessels: the 40-cannon L’Insurgente and the 44-cannon Volontaire. The French opened fire and soon captured Retaliation, then imprisoned the crew in the hellish Basseterre Prison on St Kitts.   

FEBRUARY 9th, 1799: Nearly fifteen miles off the coast of the island of Nevis, American Captain Thomas “Terrible Tom” Truxton took his kickass nickname and his 36-cannon ship the Constellation into battle with the 40-cannon French vessel L’Insurgente. The battle began shortly after Noon and roughly two and a half hours later the French surrendered.     Continue reading

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FOUR NEGLECTED MILITARY UNITS FROM AMERICAN WARS

As part of this Memorial Day weekend Balladeer’s Blog offers an examination of neglected areas of United States military history.

Oneida Nation's First Allies Unit

Oneida Nation’s First Allies Unit

4. THE ONEIDA NATION’S FIRST ALLIES UNIT 

Conflict: Revolutionary War

Comment: The Oneida Nation of Native Americans were America’s first allies. During the Revolutionary War most Native American tribes sided with the British but the Oneida Nation’s Chief Shenendoah (sic), led his people to ally themselves with the emerging United States instead. The Oneida alliance with the U.S. therefore PREDATED France’s recognition of an independent America.

The Oneida warriors fought alongside American forces throughout upstate New York, most notably at the Battles of Oriskany and Saratoga. They also provided desperately needed food and medical supplies for the Continental Army during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. Two treaties were signed and honored to this very day regarding Oneida sovereignty, retention of their land and a yearly ceremonial delivery of bolts of cloth to the Oneida leaders. That ceremony continues once a  year.    Continue reading

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EVEN MORE MEDAL OF HONOR WINNERS FROM THE PHILIPPINE WAR (1899-1902)

With the Memorial Day Weekend coming up, here’s another seasonal post looking at Medal of Honor Winners in the overlooked Philippine War from 1899-1902.

Medal of Honor picFRANK C HIGH

Branch of Service: Army

Rank: Private First Class 

Citation: May 16th, 1899. Near San Ysidro in the Philippines. PFC High was yet another member of the legendary unit Young’s Scouts to receive a Medal of Honor during the Philippine War.

Along with 21 other members of Young’s Scouts, Frank charged across a bridge that the Filipino forces had set fire to. The 22 men rushed under heavy fire to cross the burning bridge before it collapsed. In one of those “Truth is Stranger Than Fiction” moments the soldiers routed roughly 600 Filipinos from their entrenched position.

George W MathewsGEORGE W MATHEWS

Branch of Service: Army

Rank: Captain

Citation: October 29th, 1899. Near Labo, Luzon. Captain Mathews, an Assistant Surgeon, was tending to officers and wounded of his unit when he came under severe fire from the enemy. Grabbing a carbine he returned fire and drove off the enemy soldiers attacking the patients under his care.

I like to think he shouted “Say hello to my little friend Hippocrates,” but I’m kind of weird.

WILLIAM REMSBURG GROVE

Branch of Service: Army

Rank: Lieutenant-Colonel Continue reading

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WORLD WAR ONE: SOME INTRIGUING BOOKS

With today’s marking of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War here are some books on that often neglected topic. (I will omit Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August because of how well-known it is.) 

Hat in the Ring GangTHE HAT IN THE RING GANG: THE COMBAT HISTORY OF THE 94th AERO SQUADRON IN WORLD WAR ONE – Written by Charles Woolley, this excellent book covers America’s 94th Aero Squadron aka The Hat in the Ring Gang.

When it comes to Flying Aces of World War One the Americans in the Lafayette Escadrille get the lion’s share of the attention. That’s ironic since Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s greatest ace of the war, served in the Hat in the Ring Gang along with many other famous paladins of the skies. To buy it click HERE 

Doughboy WarDOUGHBOY WAR: THE AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE IN WORLD WAR I – Written/ edited by James H Hallas. I feel this book is perfect for people who are just diving into World War One and don’t want inundated with all of the overwhelming details of more involved works. Doughboy War covers every aspect of American soldiers’ experiences in the Great War, often in their own words.

Follow them from enlistment, training and crossing the Atlantic to facing action in Europe, including accounts of the ordeals faced by wounded Doughboys. To buy it click HERE    Continue reading

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FOUR AMERICAN SERVICEMEN WHO WERE KILLED IN WORLD WAR ONE

This Veterans Day, November 11th, will be the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. Here is a look at four Americans who met their death during that conflict.

Navy CrossCHARLES AUSBURNE

Ausburne joined the United States Navy February 25th, 1908 and had risen to the rank of Electrician First Class by the time of his death on October 17th, 1917. Charles was serving on the Antilles, which was sunk by torpedoes fired by the German U-Boat U-105.

Ausburne stayed at his post manning the vessel’s emergency wireless station while the ship slipped beneath the waves. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. Two naval craft were named after the 29 year old. 

Albert BaeselALBERT E BAESEL

Baesel got his first military experience in peacetime, serving in the Ohio National Guard beginning in 1912 when he was 22. In 1918 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Albert was killed on September 27th, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. For the details of his death here is the citation for his Medal of Honor: Continue reading

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