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27 July 1880, #onthisday, 45 miles west of Kandahar during the Second Anglo-Afghan War, an Anglo-Indian army under Brigadier General George Burrows was cut up by Afghan forces under Mohammad Ayub Khan at the Battle of Maiwand.

Almost half of Burrow’s army was killed at Maiwand, the rest made its 45-mile retreat to Kandahar. And the battle left a sound impression on the Victorian mind. From Bobbie the Dog, the regimental mascot of the 66th Berkshire Regiment of Foot, who survived the last stand at Khig and the war and was awarded by the Queen with the Afghan War campaign medal, to the sheer disbelief of another native force trashing the world’s best infantry, just a year after Isandlwana. And there was the 66th’s surgeon, wounded in the shoulder by a Jezail bullet at Maiwand, who left the Army to set up shop at 221B Baker Street, St, Marylebone, London NW1, one Dr John H. Watson. But it was Rudyard Kipling, who summed it up, “That Day”, in his Barrack-Room Ballads:

"There was thirty dead an' wounded on the ground we wouldn't keep -
No, there wasn't more than twenty when the front began to go;
But, Christ! along the line o' flight they cut us up like sheep,
An' that was all we gained by doing so.

I 'eard the knives be'ind me, but I dursn't face my man,
Nor I don't know where I went to, 'cause I didn't 'alt to see,
Till I 'eard a beggar squealin' out for quarter as 'e ran,
An' I thought I knew the voice an' - it was me!

We was 'idin' under bedsteads more than 'arf a march away;
We was lyin' up like rabbits all about the countryside;
An' the major cursed 'is Maker 'cause 'e lived to see that day“
An' the colonel broke 'is sword acrost, an' cried."

But read more on:

Depicted below is Richard Caton Woodville (1856 - 1927): "Maiwand: Saving the Guns" (1883)

#militaryhistory #victoriana #victorianage

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29 December 1860, #onthisday HMS “Warrior”, the first British seagoing ironclad warship, was launched at Blackwall, London.

The advent of steam power was supposed to change everything in seafaring. By and large, steam-powered ships were faster than rag wagons, more manoeuvrable and, of course, quite independent from which way the winds blew, close to dangerous lee shores as well as in the doldrums of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. However, the large paddle-wheels necessary to propel a vessel were highly vulnerable, diminished the space a warship needed for her broadside mounted guns considerably and, on a strategic level, required large coal bunkers around the world to keep an ocean-going fleet going that was supposed to rule the waves and protect the sea lanes of a world-spanning empire. The British admiralty had thus every reason to remain conservative and commission further wooden sailing ships-of-the-line and frigates, but a generation after the Battle of Trafalgar, the industrial age came at the Royal Navy with a vengeance and a few groundbreaking inventions made the old wooden walls useless almost overnight - screw propellers that superseded the paddle wheels, explosive shells, the armour necessary for protecting a ship against them and the possibility to construct iron hulls.

But read more on:

#ageofsail #europeanhistory #history #militaryhistory #navalhistory

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17 November 1869, #onthisday the Suez Canal was inaugurated in the presence of a host of European guests with a three-day event costing the Khedive of Egypt more than 20 million Francs.

In the middle of the night, with her lights doused, Commander George Nares sneaked his 145’ gunboat HMS “Newport” undetected through the crowd of ships waiting for the opening ceremony of the canal, put her right before Napoleon III’s imperial yacht “L’Aigle” and when the sun rose over the newly constructed harbour of Port Said on November 17th, the Royal Navy vessel stood in the entrance of the canal, unmovable like the Rock of Gibraltar. The French were aghast, the “Newport” was the first ship that sailed through the canal, Commander Nares was officially reprimanded and received an unofficial pat on the shoulder and a promotion to the rank of captain. Actually, the British had tried with diplomatic wire-pulling if not to stop then at least delay the construction of the canal over the previous 15 years. During the 1850s and 60s, lots of goods traffic with the East was still handled by square-rigged sailing ships, more or less unable to pass through the new waterway. The opening of the canal was an immense time-saver for steamships only and meant a quick and costly conversion of large parts of the merchant fleet was necessary. Six years later, the Disraeli government bought the majority of canal shares from the bankrupt Egyptians and the British kept the guardianship over the Canal until 1956.

But read more on:

Depicted below is a contemporary German illustration showing the ships’ procession after the opening ceremony, omitting, of course, the “Newport”

#culturalhistory #engineeringhistory #europeanhistory #history #victoriana

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9 November 1848 #onthisday on the Brigittenau in Vienna, the publicist, revolutionist and member of the National Assembly Robert Blum was executed by firing squad.

A couple of years after his summary execution, the expression “erschossen wie Robert Blum”, shot like Robert Blum, began to spread into German common parlance, denominating a state of complete exhaustion or losing at Skat, a popular meaning- and identity establishing German trick-taking card game or, generally speaking, of being in the soup. The rest of Blum’s life, his role during the Revolution of 1848, his revolutionary achievements and his death that was received as an outrage back then, had been more or less forgotten. Blum had been replaced by other icons of the failed uprising. For a while, though, he was a guiding figure of the young labour movement in the years after 1848, there was a Blum biography by the founder of the Spartacist League and later the Communist Party of Germany, Karl Liebknecht, who had declared the formation of a Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) in Berlin two hours after Philipp Scheidemann had proclaimed the Weimar Republic exactly 71 years after Blum’s execution. But, usually, the Communists dismissed Blum as far too moderate while the Conservatives perceived him as just another rioter.

But read more on:

Depicted below is “Robert Blums Hinrichtung” (1849), Robert Blum’s execution, as imagined by the German painter Carl Steffeck (1818 – 1890)

#culturalhistory #europeanhistory #history #socialhistory

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25 October 1854, #onthisday the Charge of the Light Brigade was ordered during the Battle of Balaclava near Sevastopol.

It was as if the whole chain of command was competing to win Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year” award. Admittedly, the prize should have been given to Field Marshal FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, GCB PC, without much ado anyway. Lord Raglan, then 65, had last seen action at Waterloo 40 years before and was one of the most inept commanders in military history. At the height of the Battle of Balaclava now, after issuing a series of hare-brained commands, he saw an artillery position of his Turkish allies taken by the Russians on the Fedioukine Heights and ordered “…the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate." General Lord Airey, slightly challenged by anything beyond a steeple chase, copied down Raglan’s command and sent his galloper, Captain Nolan, with the verbal addition “post haste” to Lord Lucan, commander of the British cavalry in the valley below, who had already been given the nom de guerre “Lord Look-On” for being held in reserve during the Battle of Alma a few weeks before. Sensibly enough, Lucan asked to which guns, pray, Raglan was referring, since he couldn’t see the redoubts up the hills. Unfortunately, there was a Russian battery at the end of the valley, well emplaced, and unfortunately, Captain Nolan, a bit of an authority in all cavalry matters, thought Lucan was a dullard, and, unfortunately, Lord Lucan hated his brother-in-law and subordinate, the Lord Cardigan, commander of the Light Brigade, and then Nolan waved his sword about and pointed at the Russian position in the valley, crying “There! There is your enemy, my lord!” and Lord Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan to advance the Light Brigade.

But read more on:

Depicted below is Richard Caton Woodville’s: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1898)

#europeanhistory #history #militaryhistory #victoriana

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26 June 1876, #onthisday 140 years ago, the Battle of the Little Bighorn or Battle of the Greasy Grass to the Lakota finally ended after the death of Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer on the previous day and the attacks on Benteen’s and Reno’s position finally ceased with the confederation of Lakota, Cherokee and Arapaho leaving the area.

In the spring of 1876, the US Army was supposed to pin down the hostile Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho with a so-called “three-pronged approach”, eradicate any resistance and drive the survivors back to the reservations. The Great Sioux War had begun. And since all US Army commanders involved occupied themselves with how to catch the Injuns, expecting anything but a stiff resistance, the first real contact with the enemy on Rosebud Creek in Montana on 17 June came as a bit of a surprise to General Crook’s northbound column. A more or less equally strong contingent of Lakota and Cheyenne braves under the Oglala war chief Tȟašúŋke Witkó, Crazy Horse, had fought the advance of Crook’s 1,000 army regulars and Crow and Shoshoni allies to a standstill, putting his column out of action. The commanders of the Dakota and Montana column, General Alfred Terry, Colonel Gibbon and Terry’s cavalry leader Lt. Colonel Custer met on 21 June on board of the supply ship “Far West” on the banks of the Yellowstone River and discussed their further proceedings. Custer opted for leaving infantry support beind, along with a battery of Gatling machine guns, and headed his 7th Cavalry straight for the Bighorn River where scouts had located a large Indian encampment. Just how large nobody could say for certain, but Custer was anxious they might still escape him and pressed ahead into the Powder River Country. He was in for a rather nasty surprise.

But read more on:

Depicted below is Charles Marion Russell’s "The Custer Fight" from 1903.

#americanhistory #history #militaryhistory

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28 May 1905, #onthisday, halfway between the Korean mainland and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, the two-day Battle of Tsushima ended with the Japanese fleet rounding up most of the surviving Russian cruisers and torpedo boats and Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō accepting the surrender of what remained of the Russian Second Pacific Squadron.

With the idea of wrestling India from British control in the Great Game becoming increasingly unrealistic towards the end of the 19th century, Imperial Russian focus turned to further East towards crumbling China and her feudal vassals like Manchuria and Korea. Unfortunately for the Tsar, there was another Imperialist newcomer to the Far Eastern theatre, coveting the same territories as the Russians did: Japan. The two empires finally clashed in 1904. A year later, in the Tsushima Strait it fell to the “Nelson of the East”, Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, to decide the fate of the Tsar’s Imperialistic expansion into the Orient in the most consequential naval battle since Trafalgar. But read more on:

Depicted below is a scene from the second day of the Battle of Tsushima, reimagined in a contemporary traditional ukiyo-e print triptych by Toshihide Migita (1862 -1925).

#europeanhistory #history #militaryhistory #navalhistory

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27 February 1881, #onthisday, the British under Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Majuba Hill in Natal, concluding the First Boer War as the first conflict since the American Revolution that ended with unfavourable terms for the British Empire.

Sir Henry Bartle Frere had been already recalled over his unsolicited imperial adventures that had almost ended in a catastrophe in Zululand and provoked the Boer rebellion of 1880. His successor, Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, a military historian of some repute, should actually have known better than to underestimate highly motivated peasants who rode, shot their rifles and learned the lay of the land basically before they could walk. He did though, and what was planned as a quick suppression of a minor revolt ended in a military disaster.

But read more on:

Depicted below is Sir Richard Caton Woodville Jr’s (1856 - 1927): "Battle of Majuba" from 1889

#colonialhistory, #history, #militaryhistory

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22 – 23 January 1879, #onthisday , a few hours after the Battle of Isandlwana on the border of Natal and Zululand, about 150 British and colonial troops fought for their lives at the defence of the former mission station of Rorke’s Drift against a vast superiority of Zulu warriors under Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande.

“... it is monstrous making heroes of those who shut up in buildings at Rorke’s Drift, could not bolt, and fought like rats for their lives which they could not otherwise save", Sir Garnet Wolseley wrote bewildered after he had relieved overchallenged Chelmsford from his command in Zululand, alluding to the 11 Victoria Crosses awarded to the defenders of Rorke’s Drift, the greatest number of the highest British military decoration ever won by a single unit on one day. But besides fighting for their own lives, they had saved the reputation of the British Army, defeated at Isandlwana as well as that of Chelmsford and Sir Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner of South Africa, who had instigated the whole bloody mess of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 in the first place. 

But read more on:

Depicted below is Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler’s imagination of "The Defence of Rorke's Drift" from 1880

#history #militaryhistory  #victoriana  #victorianage

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#onthisday in 1854, during the first major engagement fought by the French and British allies against the Russian Empire in the Crimean War, FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan and Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud narrowly defeated Prince Menshikov in the Battle of the Alma a couple of miles north of Sevastopol.

One can hardly name one’s daughter “Inkerman”, but “Alma” is rather evocative and thus, the eponymous rivulet in the Crimea and site of the first allied victory in the “Russian War” became one of the most popular names during the second half of the 19th century. In fact, though, the engagement was a bloody proof of the complete ineptitude of the British C-in-C Lord Raglan and almost his complete general staff. The allies won nevertheless, due to the simply incredible discipline, bravery and skill of the common soldiers, petty officers and junior officer ranks. But read more on:

Depicted below is Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler’s (1846 -1933): “The Colours, Advance of the Scots Guards at the Alma, Crimea” (1899)

#europeanhistory #history #militaryhistory #victorianage
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