Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Zimmermann Telegram

On January 19, 1917, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram. It was addressed to the German ambassador to Mexico, and was an attempt by Germany to keep the United States too distracted in the new world to intervence in the old; that is, if Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare impelled United States to enter the First World War on the side of the Entente. The message read as follows:
Arthur Zimmermann.




Robert Lansing.

At first, the plan was to have a submarine carry the telegram to across the Atlantic to Mexico; it did not work out that way, so Zimmermann sent it to Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador in Washington, who was to forward it to Mexico City. Unfortunately, the Royal Navy had cut Germany's transatlantic cable. Consequently, Zimmermann had to utilize one owned by the British, which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had given them permission to use if the conveyances pertained to ending the war. There was also another factor that nobody in the German government knew off: the British had the Germans' code book.

When the intelligence chief at the Royal Navy's headquarters saw a sufficiently deciphered version of the Zimmermann Telegram, he knew that Germany had played right into their hands. Yet how, he asked himself, was he supposed to impart this information to the Americans? The Kaiser would surely know that his enemy was reading essentially all of his communications. Eventually, he found a solution. After five weeks, in which the telegram was locked away in a safe, the Zimmermann telegram was shown to London, accompanied with an explanation: it was found on a vessel.

The coded Zimmermann Telegram.
Events now proceeded at a rapid pace.

On February 23, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour shared the message with the American ambassador, who in turn shared with Washington. In the American capital, Secretary of State Robert Lansing convinced an angry Wilson to not tell the American people until it was certain that such an announcement would be as effective as it could possibly be.

On February 28, Wilson gave Lansing permission to promulgate the Zimmermann telegram. The next morning, March 1, the message was the top story in many papers across the country; but such an act on Germany's part was inconceivable to much of the public. It was, cried the isolationists, simply a British attempt to deceive the U.S. into thinking the Kaiser wanted give Uncle Sam grief on the American continent.

On March 3, Arthur Zimmermann, interviewed by the press, stated that the telegram was his.

As historian Martin Gilbert wrote in The First World War, "One more nail had been knocked into the coffin of American neutrality."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Douglas MacArthur

On February 26, 1918, Colonel Douglas MacArthur of the U.S. 42nd Division approached General Georges de Bazelaire, the commander of the French VII Corps. MacArthur wanted to accompany a French raiding party. De Bazelaire hesitated. "I cannot fight them if I cannot see them," MacArthur said. The general gave his approval.

MacArthur in St. Benoit Chateau, September 19, 1918.
That night, the group entered no-man's land. They were almost at the enemy trench when a German detected them. MacArthur describes what happened next:

His [the German's] gun flashed into the night. The alarm spread through the trench, across the front. Flares soared and machine guns rattled. Enemy artillery lay down a barrage in front of the lines, trapping the party. But the raid went on. They leaped from the trenches, and the fight was savage and merciless. Finally, a grenade tossed into a dugout where the surviving Germans had fled, ended it.

Suffice it to say that for his bravery, MacArthur received the Croix de Guerre and the Silver Star. "The award seemed a bit too much to me," he would write, "but I was, of course, glad to have it."

The son of a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, Douglad MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880 at the Arsenal Barracks in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was very athletic as a young man, playing football, baseball, and tennis. It was perfect way to prepare for his dream: entry into the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At this time if someone wanted to enter West Point, the there had to be a vacancy. It just so happened there was one in the spring of 1898. So to prepare and take the competitive examinations that would take place in Congressmen Theabold Otjen's Fourth District in Milwaukee, Douglas, along with his mother, went to St. Paul. There, Douglas attended West Side High School. "Every school day I trudged, there and back, the two miles from the hotel to the school." he remembered. "I never worked harder in my life."

After a sleepless night, MacArthur arrived at city hall, keeping in mind the "cool words" his mother had conveyed to him: "Doug, you'll win if you don't lose your nerve. You must believe in yourself, my son, or no one else will believe in you. Be self-confident, self-reliant, and even if you don't make it, you will know you have done your best. Now, go to it." He passed, and on June 13, 1899, MacArthur entered West Point.

As a son of a soldier, MacArthur was probably one the most best-prepared cadets for the rigors of West Point. However, he even he was impeccable there. In December 1900, Congress investigated incidents of alleged hazing at the Academy, and MacArthur had to testify as a victim of such abuse. MacArthur, taught by his parents neither to lie nor tattle, refused to tell which upper classmen bullied him, but what if he was ordered to? Thanks to message his mother imparted to him, he eventually decided to stand by the principles he was brought with.

Even then, when the court of inquiry convened once more, MacArthur wavered in what was perhaps of the most trying moment in his early years:

Although more than sixty years have come and gone since then, I can still feel the beads of sweat on my brow, still feel my knees giving way under me and that dreadful nausea that I had felt once before when I faced my competitive examination at the city hall in Milwaukee. I did my best to fend off the question, to dodge the issue, but I was no match for the shrewd old heads who sat in judgment. And then the order came, short, peremptory, unequivocal. At the end I grew weak and pleaded for mercy: that my whole life's hope lay in being an officer; that always I had been with the colors; that my father, then on the battleline 10,000 miles away, was their comrade-in-arms of the Civil and Indian Wars; that I would do anything in the way of punishment, but not to strip me of my uniform. And then- I could not go on- I heard the old soldier who presided say, "Court is recessed. Take him to his quarters."

He was never arrested, and the identities of the bullies were "obtained through other means."

In another incident, MacArthur was caught by a tactical officer performing some public displays of affection with a girl. The officer simply smiled. "Congradulations, Mister MacArthur." The cadet did not receive any demerits.

MacArthur also had his troubles academically. The space-time relationship that eventually would be a part of Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity was so hard to get that he simply decided to memorize it. Upon being called by the teacher, Colonel Feiberger, to tell the class what the lesson was all about, MacArthur "solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said.

"Do you understand this theory?" Feiberger asked.

"No, sir." MacArthur replied.

"Neither do I, Mister MacArthur." said the Colonel after a pause. "Section dismissed."

MacArthur never did manage to put his head around the theory.

By the time of he graduated on June 11, 1903, MacArthur had been a First Captain of the Corps and ranked first in his class. Indeed, it was the highest scholastic record in the past 25 years. He was now Second Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur of engineers.

He definitely got to see the world, going to far off places like the Philippines, India, and Japan, where he, along with his father, studied the Japanese Army when it was fighting against the Russians, getting a good look of the men he would eventually confront in World War II and even meeting the commanders who would forge victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). "It was here that I first encountered the boldness and courage of the Nipponese soldier." MacArthur later wrote. "His almost fanatical belief and reverence for his Emperor impressed me indelibly." Still, he had his worries:

I was deeply impressed by and filled with admiration for the thrift, courtesy, and friendliness of the ordinary citizen. They seemed to have discovered the dignity of labor, the fact that a man is happier and more contented when constructing than when merely idling away time. But I had the uneasy feeling that the haughty, feudalistic samurai who were their leaders, were, through their victories, planting the seed of eventual Japanese conquest of the Orient. Having conquered Korea and Formosa, it was more than evident that they would eventually strike for control of the Pacific and domination of the Far East.

More success was to follow. He entered and graduated from the Engineer School of Application at Washington Barracks; served as an aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt; became a lecturer in the General Service Schools and the Cavalry School at Fort Riley and a member of the Engineer board and, in September 1913, of the General Staff; and, the following April, went to Veracruz during the dark days of the Mexican Revolution. When the U.S. entered the First World War, MacArthur was made Chief of Staff of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division.

Now, he had just received his first taste of modern war, and he would prove himself to be foolishly brave on the battlefields of France, refusing to don neither a helmet nor a gasmask when visiting the front lines. He was a prima donna even then.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Baron de Steuben

I have since had several long Conversations with the Baron Stuben. [He] appears to me a man profound in the Science of War and well disposed to render his best services to the United States.
Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, aide-de-camp to General Washington, to his father, Henry Laurens, the president of the Continental Congress, February 27, 1778

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben by Charles Willson Peale.
Near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania on February 24, 1778, General George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, rode out to greet a distinguished man who was to return to soldiering once more. After a few amicable remarks made to each other in their native tongues, the two men, along with their staffs, made their way to Valley Forge. The man Washington had welcomed was Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben.

Von Steuben was fluent in French and well-versed in Enlightenment thought and Classical History. His favorite pastime was reading. He loved to quote Cervantes's Don Quixote, his favorite book, as well as Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, and from the time he left Paris until the end of the American Revolution, always had his dog Azor-- described as a large "Italian greyhound," which was a contradiction-- at his side. More importantly, to Congress and the patriot cause he was a superb organizer, trainer, logistician, and planner.

Born on September 17, 1730, Steuben, a week later, was baptized in the Calvinist Reformed Church in Magdeburg. He was a product of Prussian society; as a member of its lesser nobility, the Junker class, he joined his kingdom's pride and joy, the army, considered at the time to be the best career choice for young men of such social status. In terms of promotion and pay, the prospects as an officer (almost all of whom were Junkers) looked bleak. Nevertheless, there was one advantage that invariably won out against these factors: to have served in the Prussian army was deemed to be a privilege of the highest order.

His military career started in 1746, when he joined Infantry Regiment von Lestwitz (Regiment Nr. 31) in Breslau. However, he did not receive his commission immediately; he had to first be an officer cadet- in German, Gefreiten-korporal or Freikorporal. Two and a half years later, he became an ensign, a rank which entailed many jobs an officer would do but none of the benefits. Finally, at 22 years of age, he attained his lieutenancy.

Lieutenant von Steuben showed himself to be a competent officer. He cared deeply about his men, believing that good officers endure the same adversities as their men. When his company was digging trenches in a cemetery immediately outside Breslau in the summer heat of 1754, disinterring decaying corpses that filled the air with their putrid smell and perspiring profusely, he expressed his worries to a friend: "I fear for my poor soldiers. As yet I have no sick, but I fear the month of July. In order not to alarm them, I am continually at work, notwithstanding my disgust for this abominable occupation." Von Lestwitz's commander observed that von Steuben was "clever"... but "not capable as a manager"-- a sign of financial issues to come.

It was during the small amounts free hours that von Steuben stood out among his fellow officers: He didn't gamble; he didn't drink; he didn't visit the bordellos of Breslau. He found much entertainment in his comrades' stories, much of which no doubt sounded like something out of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, but he didn't participate in any of them. Rather, he read widely-- fiction, military science, the history of ancient Greece and Rome, bawdy comedies like Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, works espousing Enlightenment thought, learning arithmetic and becoming fluent in French, a language that was a prerequisite for success in the Age of Reason.

Still, he hungered for action. To Count Henkel von Donnersmark on June 4, 1754, he wrote, "If there is a war, I promise you, at the end of the second campaign, that your friend will either be in Hades, or at the head of a regiment."

Fortunately for him, war was just around the corner. Ever since she lost the province of Silesia to Prussia in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), Austrian Empress Maria Theresa waited, like a cat about to pounce on a yarn ball, for the perfect time to strike. Friedrich II, Frederick the Great, beat her to it, attacking Saxony in August 1756, one of those "territorial states" that would eventually be a part of present-day Germany. So began the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

It was in this conflict that Steuben saw his first action, in at Prague on May 6, 1757, where, as a military apprentice in 1744, he had watched his father, an engineer officer, perform the tricks of his trade. His regiment suffered a casualty rate of 50 percent, and Steuben was wounded. Having recovered from his wounds, he joined a Freibataillone-- a light infantry battalion whose job was to gather intelligence and conduct raids, essentially an 18th century version of a commando unit-- becoming an adjutant of Free Battalion No. 2. In this formation he participated in the Battle of Rossbach on November 5, 1757, a shining example of Frederick the Great as the master tactician. Two years later, Steuben was transferred to the staff of a Prussian general, under whom he fought at Kay (July 23, 1759); Kunersdorf (August 12, 1759), where, once again, he was wounded; Liegnitz (August 15, 1760); and Torgau (November 3, 1760). In May of 1761, with Frederick's brother, Prince Henry, pulling the strings, he was moved to the "Royal Suit," the Prussian monarch's headquarters, in which, as a stop-gap measure, Steuben, now a first lieutenant, served as Quartiermeister-Lieutenant, an officer who was to help Frederick's staff in planning and the whereabouts of the enemy.

While his tour of duty in the Royal Suite was important to Steuben's development as a soldier, it did not last long. The Officer corps, where replacements were hard to find, had been suffering heavy losses in the war and were needed desperately, so Steuben, that summer, was sent to the staff of General J. von Platen, who had been given the thankless task of fighting against the Russians. Eventually, Platen's forces capitulated to the enemy at Treptow in October 1761.

As a prisoner in St. Petersburg, Steuben, who was a very sociable character, made friends with Karl Peter Ulrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, the future Tsar Peter III. When Tsarina Elisabeth died at the beginning of 1762, it was Steuben who wrote Prussia's foreign minister that Peter III, a Prussofile if their even was one, wanted to commence peace negotiations between the two kingdoms. Peace was attained, and it had all started with the initiative that Steuben took.

Steuben then became one of 13 students who were to be taught by Frederick himself the rudiments of generalship. It was called the Spezialklasse der Kriegskunst, the "Special Class on the Art of War," but for some reason, upon completion of the course, he fell out of favor. Captain von Steuben became a company commander of Infantry Regiment von Salmuth (No. 48) in a middle-of-nowhere post at Wesel, and was subsequently discharged. Friedrich von Steuben was out of a job.

Fortunately, he managed to procure another one: Hofmarschall to Prince Josef Friedrich Wilhelm of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. As Hofmarschall, Steuben was to ensure that the prince's children were nurtured and educated properly; advise Prince Josef on personal management; direct the many servants' activities; and make certain that everything functioned smoothly in the court. The woman who had open this avenue for him, Princess Margravine Friederike Dorothea, also got the margrave of Baden-Durlach, in June 1769, to induct Steuben into the Hausorden der Treue, a chivalric order, and bestow upon him the title of Freiherr-- "free lord" in German, which was about the equivalent of Baron in French. Consequently, he referred to himself as the "Baron de Steuben."

Nevertheless, such rewards could not make the life of a Hofmarschall any less boring. Steuben longed to resume what he did best: soldiering. He sought employment in the British East India Company's army (the 18th century's Blackwater), France's, Baden's, even the army of Prussia's rival, Austria. But all of these attempts came to naught.

Yet when the door closed before him at Karlsruhe, home of the court of the Margrave of Baden, another one opened. It was May 1777, and Steuben was talking to Peter Burdett, an English map maker working for the margrave. Burdett told him (not in English; the Baron couldn't speak that language) all he knew of what was going on across the vast Atlantic-- of the unjust Townshend, Stamp, and Intolerable Acts that Britain forced upon her American colonies, of a rebellion that turned from a fight for the rights of Englishmen into an attempt to forge a new nation. It was evident that he had been doing a good job at staying abreast of affairs over there. He also let von Steuben known that he was a Rebel sympathizer... but he did not tell him he was on the payroll of Benjamin Franklin, the American commissioner in Paris.

Franklin and Silas Dean, another American emissary, the Englishman told the Baron, were looking for officers experienced in the higher levels of command and organization. True, plenty of Europeans had embarked to fight in the New World against the British, but none of them had such experience on their credentials. Von Steuben liked what he was hearing. If I there is an opening, he replied to Burdett, I might want to seek employment there, too. He then told him of his military career in the army of "Old Fritz." Now it was Burdett's turn for his eyebrows to be raised.

One month later, Steuben was in Paris, wearing nice clothing made for him in Strasbourg-- after all, he wanted to make a good impression-- and carrying a letter of introduction from Burdett:

The Bearer is Baron Steuben of whom I had the honor to write to you by the hands of a Friend about a month since. He is a Gentleman of Family, Merit and great experience, well known to some of the First Personages in Europe, and hereby gives you sir a strong proof of his Ambition to make the Acquaintance of Docter Franklin in actualy performing a Journey from Germany to Paris for that purpose.

However, as a man who had been disappointed before at interviews, von Steuben knew he would need more proponents. Fortunately he had a friend in the French Minister of War Claude-Louis, Comte de St. Germain, who he had met in Hamburg circa 1763-64. St. Germain also wrote a letter in the Baron's favor, and introduced to him the Comte de Vergennes, the foreign minister, and the influential entrepreneur and playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. They, too, became his advocates. With such support, Steuben, on the evening of June 25, finally went Franklin's residence in the village of Passy on the outskirts of Paris to have an audience with American commissioners.

Suffice it to say that through intrigue, rumors, lies, and a little bit of luck, Steuben was able to sail to America. A loan given to him by Beaumarchais to deal with the travel costs. Steuben once more had letters of introduction from American diplomats Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin. On September 26, 1777, he embarked from Marseilles for America aboard L'Heureux-- under cover as the merchant vessel Flamand, supposedly destined for the West Indies. On December 1, he arrived at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was welcomed heartily there, at Boston, and finally at Lancaster, a home to the Pennsylvania Dutch, Germans who had emigrated from the Old World to build their lives anew.

What hardly anybody knew was how much he deserved such greetings.

Recommended Reading:

Chartrand, RenĂ©. American War of Independence Commanders. Oxford: Osprey, 2003. Print. 

Lockhart, Paul Douglas. The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron De Steuben and the Making of the American Army. 1st ed. [Washington, D.C.]: New York, NY: Smithsonian Books; Collins, 2008. Print.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Forts Henry and Donelson 1862

Top: Battle of Fort Donelson.
Bottom: Battle of Fort Henry.

In the Antebellum days, rivers were a vital part of transportation in the United States, so much so that they would almost become a living, breathing character in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, in the great American Civil War, these avenues of invasion had strategic importance, since they were the key to Union victory. Among the Union Generals that recognized this fact was Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant asked his superior, General Henry W. Halleck, if he could take some men and gunboats- which were commanded by Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote, a deeply religious abolitionist from Connecticut- and capture Fort Henry along the Tennessee. Halleck initially refused; but he changed his mind and let Grant loose in late January of 1862.

On February 5, Grant's forces reached Fort Henry, and, after it was evident that Foote's boats had them outgunned, the Confederate Garrison evacuated to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, leaving behind only a single artillery company to delay the Yankee's advance. After the fleet and the rebel guns exchanged some fire, the Confederates capitulated. On February 6, the day of the fort's capture, Grant conveyed this message to Halleck: "Fort Henry is ours. I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson in the morning."

Mother Nature begged to differ. The deplorable weather impelled Grant and Foote to postpone the move and allowed the rebels some breathing space. Also, Albert Sidney Johnston and the recently arrived Pierre Gustave Beauregard, the Confederate commanders opposing them, discussed what would be the next best course of action for their men. Beauregard wanted to lick both Grant and General Don Carlos Buell, who was in charge of the Army of the Ohio; Johnston wanted to simply let the Yankees have Donelson so he could save the majority of his forces for a concentrated counterstroke against the invaders in the future, a brilliant plan that Johnston would eventually scratch, deciding instead to stand his ground there. The move was pure folly.

Actually, as James McPherson notes in Battle Cry of Freedom, " 'Fort' Donelson was not really a fort; rather, it was a stockade enclosing fifteen acres of soldiers' huts and camp equipment." Heavy guns watched the Cumberland for any of the enemy's naval attack like an eagle looking over the landscape, and there were three trenches, shaped like a semicircle, to deal with any threat posed by the Union Army. This is what Grant's men saw when they first caught sight of Donelson on February 12.

It was a hard fight. The rebel artillery exacted a heavy toll on Foote's ships, but the fact remained: the Confederates were surrounded on every side, three of them by enemy troops, the fourth by a navy that, although given a good beating, had the Cumberland River. However, this does not mean that the rebels fought defensively for the entire battle. Indeed, they tried to slash their way out of the encirclement. Covered by heavy winds and snow, the Confederates assailed General John A. McClerland's division on February 15, driving it back; but the Yankees inflicted a considerable amount of punishment on the attackers. His men having lost their cohesion and exhausted, General John Floyd, the garrison commander who had been secretary of war in the Buchanan Administration, ordered them to withdraw. 

Grant reacted to this development in characteristic fashion: he did not panic, telling his officers, "The position on the right must be retaken. Some of our men are pretty badly demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted to force his way out, but has fallen back: the one who attacks first now will be victorious and the enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me." Grant's demand was fullfilled; the ground lost was retaken later that day.

The next morning, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, the new garrison commander (Floyd had departed before sunrise earlier that morning), asked if terms of surrender could be discussed. "What answer shall I send to this?" Grant asked Charles F. Smith, who had been a commandant at West Point when Grant was a cadet there, upon receiving the message. "No terms with traitors, by God!" was the reply. Taking this advice, Grant responded with the following: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately on your works." Buckner, while miffed at these "ungenerous and unchivalrous" words, complied.

"The strategic consequences of this campaign were the most important of the war so far," asserts McPherson. With Buell's Army of the Ohio threatening Nashville and John Pope's Army of the Mississippi appearing as if it was marching on Columbus, the Confederates were compelled to abandon both of these cities, conceding to the Yankees all of Kentucky and the majority of Tennessee. Also, the capture of both forts brought renewed confidence to North, albeit temporary. As the New York Tribune promulgated even before Donelson's fall, "The cause of the Union now marches on in every section of the country. Every blow tells fearfully against the rebellion. The rebels themselves are panic-stricken, or despondent. It now requires no very far-reaching prophet to predict the end of the struggle."

Although the Confederacy did suffer from deep despair, it was nevertheless defiant. "It was," Jefferson Davis said of these reversals in his inaugural address, "perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were taught the value of our liberties by the price we pay for them." The Richmond Examiner agreed: "Days of adversity prove the worth of men and of nations... We must go to the work with greater earnestness than we have yet shown."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12


At 2:00 A.M., at the Anzio beachhead, the 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry once again assailed the Factory. However, when the sun was beginning to show, the Germans counterattack, pushing them back. "The Germans," wrote a GI, "just beat the holy hell out of us."


On February 5, General Joseph Hooker, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, abolished the grand divisions in his general orders. This meant that Franz Sigel was out of a job, and he was not happy about. "The reduction of my command," he wrote to Hooker on the 12th, "makes it exceedingly unpleasant and dispiriting for me to remain longer in my present command..."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11, 1944

In a response to message from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, General Sir Harold Alexander, the commander of all Allied forces in Italy stated, "[Major General John P.] Lucas was highly recommended by General [Mark] Clark and had been specially selected by Eisenhower... Amongst the American Corps Commanders he is probably their best but all the American higher commanders lack the years of practical battle experience we have had and this is an undoubted weakness when it comes to fighting difficult battles against veterans." As time would show, Alexander was dead wrong about Lucas being the most capable at leading a corps.

In the meantime, at the Anzio beachhead, GIs of the 1st Battalion, 179th Regiment, 45th Division, supported by elements of the 191st Tank Battalion, launched a counterattack against the Germans holding the Factory. Suffice it to say it was repulsed.