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September 23, 2019

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Short Rounds

The Battle of the Potomac, June 28, 1898

On June 27, 1898 Brig.-Gen. G.A. Garretson’s 1st Brigade of the 1st Division, II Army Corps, recently formed at Camp Alger, Virginia, for the Spanish-American War made a ten mile march, from Camp Alger, near Dun Loring, Virginia, to a campsite on the banks of the Potomac northwest of Washington. The next day, the brigade held a sham battle.

On the morning of the 28th, the 6th Massachusetts was sent ahead to established a defensive position. Several hours later the balance of the brigade moved out.

The 3rd Battalion, 8th Ohio, formed the advanced guard, with balance of that regiment and the 6th Illinois following behind. The advanced guard encountered the outposts of the 6th Massachusetts north of Dun Loring, where they had assumed a position holding a prominent rise. A skirmish soon developed between the brigade's advanced guard and the pickets of the 6th Massachusetts. As these forces skirmished with each other, the balance of the brigade came up, deployed and attacked.

Under considerable pressure, the pickets of the 6th Massachusetts fell back on the regiment's main position. A full scale "battle" developed, which about a half hour, with the "fire" at times being described as heavy. Towards the end of the action the troops got to hand-to-hand fighting, with a few casualties when some of the men wielded rifle butts with rather too much enthusiasm, as the brigade dislodged the 6th Massachusetts from its position, although as one observer reported, "only the use of real ammunition" would have made it possible to determine a winner.

 

Preble’s Potables

Commodore Edward Preble (1761-1807), was one of the greatest heroes of the early days of the U.S. Navy. During the Revolutionary War he rose from "Boy" to lieutenant, in which rank he commanded a ship and took five prizes in 1782. With the end of the war, he entered merchant service. In 1798 Preble was commissioned a captain in the newly reformed U.S. Navy. He fought in the Quasi-War with France (1798-1801), taking several prizes. In 1803, after war with the Barbary States brewed up, Preble was dispatched as commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron, displaying his pendant in the famous U.S.S. Constitution.

Preble proved very capable. He force peace on Morocco, and cut out and burned the frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured by the Algerians after running aground, a feat called one of the greatest of the age by Lord Nelson himself. Shortly thereafter, Preble was recalled, at least partially due to service politics. Although he never commanded in war again, his influence on the infant Navy reached well into the next generation, for many of the men who were junior officers under Preble – Decatur, Bainbridge, Rogers, Hull, Porter, known collectively as “Preble’s Boys – gained undying glory during the War of 1812..

Of course, although one of the most notable sea dogs in the history of American naval service, like many other sailors throughout history, Preble enjoyed a little taste of something interesting from time to time.

He was especially fond of his “special cider,” which he apparently arranged to have aboard what ships in which he happened to be serving.

He once outlined the recipe for this notable potable, which he brewed up using barrels of good apple cider.

Put into each barrel one quart of French brandy, one pound brown sugar, and the whites of six eggs. Beat to a froth, roll it over a few times, then place in a quite situation and in a fortnight or sooner it will be sufficiently refined for drawing. And if placed in a cool cellar, well bunged-up and vents stopped, it will keep good for two years.

While it’s unlikely that Preble’s brew would measure up to the standards established by the federal government for purity and safety, one suspects that it probably packed a considerable “kick” and probably had a relatively high proof.

 

The Gentlemanly English

On the eve of Turkey’s entry into World War I, British Rear-Ad. Arthur Limpus was the head of a naval mission in Constantinople. Of course, when it became clear that Turkey was about to enter the war on Germany’s side, the British naval mission was recalled home. Surprisingly, Limpus saw no further significant service in the war; promoted to vice admiral, he was sent with his staff to run Royal Navy Dockyard in Malta, a post which he held from September 1914 until October 1916.

Now this is odd, because early in 1915 Britain and France decides to undertake a naval expedition against Constantinople, with the intention of forcing the Dardanelles and Bosphorus to capture the city and open an all weather sea route to Russia. The man chosen to lead that effort was Vice-Adm Sackville Carden, who was given a formidable Anglo-French fleet, including 16 mostly older battleships. But Sackville Carden proved to lack the physical and moral strength to gain success.. After frittering away several weeks in fruitless “organizing,” he essayed two attempts to bombard the defenses (February 19th and 25th), and then suffered a physical collapse. Rear Adm. John de Robeck inherited his command, a man whose most recent experience had been as commander of the Cape Verde Station, a small squadron of cruisers charged with helping to clear the seas of German ships.

On March 18th de Robeck boldly steamed into the Straits, and promptly had three old battleships sunk and two damaged by Turkish mines, not to mention one disabled by enemy coast artillery. This set the stage for the even more disastrous Gallipoli Campaign (April 26, 1915 – January 9, 1916), which would cost the Allies a quarter of a million men killed and wounded.

Now it’s just possible that had Limpus been in command, the Anglo-French expedition might actually have been able to force the straits. After all, he probably knew more about the capabilities of the Turkish Navy and the defenses of the straits than any other Allied officer. So why hadn’t he been given the job?

The answer is an odd one, though very, very British. At the highest levels it had been decided that to give Limpus the job of fighting the folks he had so recently been advising might not be considered quite gentlemanly – not “cricket” as it were. And so Limpus was sent to Malta, "having been instructed not to supply any information which could be used against the Turks."
--Richard Garczynskì*

* I first “met” Dick Garczynskì in the early 1970s, when he wrote me with some questions regarding series of articles that I had done for Strategy & Tactics. A long-time resident of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, Dick raised hogs for a living and engaged in other similar rural pursuits totally alien to this Brooklyn boy’s world view. But Dick had a passionate interest in military history, with a notable focus on the North African Campaign. He possessed an outstanding collection of materials on the campaign and maintained an amazingly voluminous correspondence with a great many people all over the world, including some very interesting veterans of the desert fighting. From time to time Dick penned occasional short articles for S&T and later for CIC, such as is given here. In poor health for many years, Dick passed away in the Spring of 2002. Oddly, although I considered him one of my oldest friends, we’d never met.
–A.A. Nofi

 

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