Did famed French marshal end his days as NC schoolmaster?

Marshal Ney at Waterloo

As improbable as it seems, in some circles there is still doubt as to whether Michel Ney, one of France’s greatest military minds, was executed for treason in 1815 or instead ended his days as a North Carolina schoolmaster three decades later.

Ney was among the ablest of Napoleon’s military leaders, commanding troops during both the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded at least four times during his career, fought in scores of battles and commanded the rearguard of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it withdrew from Russia during the ill-fated invasion of that country. Ney was said to have been the last Frenchman on Russian soil during the Patriotic War of 1812.

Napoleon himself called Ney “the bravest of the brave.”

It was Ney, however, who in April 1814 led the Marshals’ revolt and demanded Napoleon’s abdication.

Initially, Ney was lauded by the Bourbons when they reclaimed the French crown, but the newly restored monarchy was said to have reacted coolly to Ney’s non-aristocratic beginnings.

Marshal Michel Ney.

Marshal Michel Ney.

When Ney heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815, he organized a force to stop his former leader’s march on Paris in a bid to keep France at peace and show his loyalty to the newly restored regime. But despite Ney’s promise to King Louis XVIII, he found himself unable to resist Napoleon’s siren song and rejoined his former commander on March 18, 1815.

Three months later, Napoleon appointed Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On June 16, 1815, Napoleon’s forces split up to fight two separate battles simultaneously.

Ney attacked the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras while Napoleon attacked Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher’s Prussians at Ligny. The French won the initial battle, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

At Waterloo two days later Ney again commanded the left wing of the French army. At mid-afternoon, Ney ordered a mass cavalry charge against the Anglo-Allied line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannon, but found the enemy infantry arrayed in cavalry-proof square formations.

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Insanity of World War I summed up in conflict’s final hours

Saint Symphorien Cemetery

Today is recognized as Veterans Day in the United States. Decades ago, it was known as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

Given the inane nature of the First World War, it’s not surprising that fully 11,000 men were killed or wounded during the final few hours of fighting on the last day, even though it was known by nearly all in positions of command that the war would, at a minimum, be suspended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.

Germany, after four-plus years of fighting and being subjected to a naval blockade that left it on the brink of starvation, was in chaos and nearing internal collapse. Following days of intense negotiations with the Allies just outside of Compiegne, France, the German government had ordered its representatives to sign any terms put on the table by the Allies.

The armistice was signed shortly after 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, but the actual ceasefire would not start until 11 a.m., to allow word of the agreement to travel throughout the Western Front.

“Technology allowed the news to go to capital cities by 5:40 a.m. and celebrations began before very many soldiers knew about the Armistice,” according to the History Learning Site webpage. “In London, Big Ben was rung for the first time since the start of the war in August 1914. In Paris, gas lamps were lit for the first time in four years. But on the Western Front, many tens of thousands of soldiers assumed that it was just another day in the war and officers ordered their men into combat.”

But it wasn’t mere accident that the lives of thousands of men were forfeit on the morning of Nov. 11. Many generals actually ordered their troops to fight on, even knowing the war was likely over.

Some hoped to secure additional ground in case the ceasefire didn’t hold, while others, such as American Gen. John Pershing, wanted to further punish the enemy.

Callously, a number of artillery units ordered barrages that morning for no other reason than to avoid having to haul crates of unused ordnance back to the rear once the guns were silent

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Efforts underway to conserve South Carolina’s oldest book

records of the province 1671-75 inside

The state of South Carolina is seeking funding in order to conserve its oldest book.

Titled Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina: 1671-1675, the work contains records dating from just after the founding of the colony by English settlers in 1670.

The earliest record listed is a property deed recorded only months after the first settlers landed at Albemarle Point on the Ashley River, according to the SC Department of Archives and History.

The book is in serious need of restoration and the South Carolina Archives and History Foundation is in the process of raising money for the effort.

“Last conserved in 1944, the record book’s pages are now acidic, dirty, and falling out of their binding,” according to the department.

South Carolina’s concern for preserving its government records dates back to the very beginning of the colony.

“Joseph Dalton, the first secretary of the province, worked hard to get ‘an orderly method’ to record keeping in the fledgling settlement,” according to a 1995 work South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663-1721.

records of the province 1671-75Records of the Secretary of the Province contains key documents from the colony’s founding, “including evidence of early support for the colony by Barbadians; wills by Governor William Sayle and Henry Woodward as he was preparing to explore the ‘hazardous and dangerous’ wilderness; and two complete inventories, including the names and terms of indentured servants, for a plantation established as a partnership,” according to the Department of Archives and History.

The goal is to send the record book to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, regarded as one of the best conservation facilities in the country.

There the 54-page volume will be conserved and housed in a period binding and a specially constructed case. In addition Archives and History staff will create digital images of the restored volume to make its information more widely available.

(Top: Pages from Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina: 1671-1675, South Carolina’s earliest book.)

Australian searchers may have located long-lost submarine

ae1-submarine

The latest effort to locate the Australian submarine HMAS AE1, lost 100 years ago this month, have proved tantalizing but inconclusive so far.

Earlier this month an Australian navy vessel searching for the submarine, which went missing Sept. 14, 1914, with 35 men on board, reported “a contact of interest” in the Papua New Guinea search area.

The loss of the AE1 in the opening weeks of World War I took place after the Australian fleet sailed to New Guinea to capture the Germany colony on Britain’s behalf. The objective was to take out telegraph stations providing key communications for the German Pacific Fleet, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We need to get more detailed analysis. That is what we are doing at the moment,” according to a source with the Australian defense department. “Different sources, not only military, need to see if it fits the submarine’s profile. We have found items here before.

“If you look on the chart it is one of the most wreck-strewn areas in the region.”

The AE1 was the first submarine to serve in the Royal Australian Navy and was lost after less than seven months in service.

The disappearance was Australia’s first major loss of World War I.

Military historian and author Dr. Kathryn Spurling told Fairfax Media she believed the submarine stumbled across a hidden German boat.

“It didn’t even have to be an armed German boat,” she said. “The submarine was so small it would only have to be rammed by the German boat to go over topsy-turvy and it would go straight down.

“The only way the submarine could protect itself or attack the German boat was to submerge and as a submarine just goes beneath the water it is incredibly vulnerable and unstable, especially if you have a bad engine, which they did,” Spurling added. “I think that is the most logical way it was lost.”

(Top: Image showing HMAS AE1 in 1914, shortly before it set out on its final voyage.)

Independence movements around globe watching Scotland

With a week until the people of Scotland vote on independence from Great Britain, separatist movements around the world are watching closely.

“From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely – sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote next Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union,” writes the New York Times.

“A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland,” it added.

The Telegraph reports that a record-breaking 4.3 million have registered to vote in Scottish referendum, the highest number in Scottish electoral history, and recent polls show the pro-independence movement gaining steam as the vote nears.

As of yesterday, the No campaign had a slim lead over the Yes campaign, 47.6 percent to 42.4 percent. But when the 10 percent who said they were still undecided were removed from the equation, the survey suggests that the Yes campaign would win, 53-47, according to The Telegraph.

The referendum is gathering attention around the globe.

“Busloads of Catalans, South Tiroleans, Corsicans, Bretons, Frisians and ‘Finland-Swedes’ are headed for Scotland to witness the vote,” according to the Times. “Even Bavaria (which calls itself ‘Europe’s seventh-largest economy’) is sending a delegation.”

“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey. Across the Iraqi border (or “the Kurdish-Kurdish border,” as Mr. Bezwan puts it), where a confluence of war, oil disputes and political turmoil has renewed the debate about secession, Kurds pine for the opportunity of a Scottish-style breakup, the publication added.

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The three Canadian heroes who hailed from a single street

During the past century and a half, fewer than 100 Canadian soldiers have earned the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded to members of that country’s military. Of those, the vast majority, 71, earned the award for action during World War I.

Amazingly, three recipients lived on the same street in the city of Winnipeg.

Cpl. Leo Beaumaurice Clarke, Sgt.-Major Frederick William Hall and Lt. Robert Shankland were separately awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of valor, or “valour.” as our Canadian friends spell it, during World War I, which Canada entered 100 years ago this month.

The three men all lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, which was renamed Valour Road in the 1920s to honor the trio. The name reflects the inscription on the Victoria Cross: “For Valour.”

The medals, now the property of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, have been loaned to the Manitoba Museum, which is commemorating the beginning of the Great War with a display of the three medals. This marks the first time all three Victoria Crosses have appeared together in Winnipeg, according to Global News.

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories.

Clarke and Hall died during the war, while Shankland survived. In all, 30 of Canada’s 71 World War I Victoria Cross recipients died during the 1914-18 conflict, which claimed the lives of approximately 67,000 Canadian soldiers, or nearly 1 percent of the nation’s population.

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Idiot fined for pretending to be ghost in graveyard

It was said that Samuel Colt’s famed revolver was the great equalizer in that it put men on a comparable footing when it came to defending themselves. That wasn’t necessarily the case, however, unless one knew how to wield a weapon.

The real equalizer has always been and will always be alcohol, for if one imbibes enough one can sink to a level of idiocy on par with most any other Grade A souse.

Take Anthony Stallard of Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, who was fined for, among other things, pretending to be a ghost in a cemetery, according to The Guardian.

The unemployed 24-year-old had been out drinking with friends when they went to Kingston cemetery in Portsmouth, where they started to play soccer.

Witnesses reported the group then began engaging in rowdy behavior, with one – Stallard – throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” within earshot of mourners visiting graves, according to a Hampshire police spokesman.

Stallard was fined £35 (nearly $60) and ordered to pay a £20 (nearly $35) victim surcharge and £20 in costs.

Stallard also had an extra three months added to a conditional charge for previous harassment which he was found to be in breach of, according to a Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman.

A charge of causing criminal damage to gravestones was dismissed.

Sure, some potted lout throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” is good for a laugh, but the part about doing it while people visit the graves of family members and the damaging of gravestones is hardly funny.

As the photo above indicates, Kingston cemetery is filled with many old gravestones; just because Stallard is without self-respect doesn’t mean he should get away with disrespecting others, whether they be dead or living descendants of the dead.

Wreaking havoc in cemetery may seem to some a victimless crime, but the desecration of gravestones shows a very real contempt for society as a whole.

A more fitting punishment would have been to have Stallard repair damage done and spend weekends maintaining the graveyard. While unlikely, there’s always the chance he would have gained at least a small understanding of why cemeteries are held to be reverent and historic locales by many.

However, one suspects this won’t be Stallard’s last brush with the law, so it’s likely there will be future opportunities for a judge or judges to consider interesting sentences for this miscreant.

(Top: Kingston cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Photo credit: The Guardian.)