"I Think He is a Goddamn Liar!"
In the course of the Second World War the principal Allied leaders held a number of "summit" conferences in order to hammer out strategy for the death of the Axis.
In January of 1943 one such conference, codenamed SYMBOL, was held at Casablanca, in Morocco. For eleven days (January 14-24), Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, each supported by his senior military advisors, hammered out Allied strategy for the coming year, with a cameo appearance by Charles DeGaulle.
A man of curious work habits, rising late and then working like a maniac into the wee hours, in the process puffing through numerous cigars and downing impressive amounts of champagne and brandy, Churchill stayed at the luxurious Villa Anfa, near the beach. Often after dinner, which was generally around midnight, Churchill would go for long walks alone on the beach. During these expeditions he would sometimes collect sea shells or chat with Allied servicemen whom he encountered. Once, falling in with a group of American sailors who were enjoying a guitar around a fire, he immediately joined the party, lending his strong, though unmelodious voice to the singing.
While on such a stroll, at about 3:00 a.m. on one particular morning, the Prime Minister happened to encounter an American sentry.
"Who goes there?" came the challenge, in a strong Carolina accent.
"Churchill," came the reply.
This perfectly natural reply quite naturally aroused the soldier’s suspicions. He again demanded that the intruder identify himself.
Of course Churchill’s response was no more satisfactory this time than it had been the first.
It’s not clear how many times this exchange went back and forth, but finally, the soldier yelled out "Corporal of the guard! I have a fellow here who claims he is the prime minister of Great Britain. I think he is a goddamn liar!"
Batman’s Service in the U.S. Army
No, not that Batman, a different one.
Mark Wolfe Batman was born into a poor Pennsylvania farm family shortly after the onset of the nineteenth century. Despite the family’s poverty, he displayed an aptitude for learning that impressed his congressman, who convinced Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to give the young man an appointment to USMA in 1819. Batman did well in academics, and graduated from West Point in June 1823, standing 16th out of 35 classmates, among whom were the later U.S. brigadier generals George S. Greene (2nd) and Lorenzo Thomas (17th).
Batman was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 6th Infantry on July 1, 1823, and shortly left to join his regiment on the northern plains. The frontier was quiet during the 1820s, and it’s likely that Batman may never have seen combat. During the course of 1825, however, he saw a lot of diplomatic action, serving as a witness to a series of treaties with northern Plains peoples, the Lakota on June 22, the Sioux and Ogallala on July 5, the Cheyenne on July 6, the Crow on August 4, the Otoe and Missouri on Sept. 26, and the Makah on October 6. As a result, the frontier continued to be very quiet for the next few years, while Batman attained the rank of first lieutenant on December 20, 1826. But in 1832, Batman and his regiment, then based at the Jefferson Barracks, at St. Louis, took part in the "Black Hawk War."
The Black Hawk War came about when a band of Sac and Fox Indians under Chief Black Hawk sought to return to their ancestral lands in Illinois from Iowa. The result was a lot of panic among settlers, though not much in the way of Indian depredations. Nevertheless, there was a massive call for militia and volunteers and the concentration of an unusual number of Regulars, so that ultimately about 5,000 men served, among them Abraham Lincoln, as a captain, and later private, of volunteers. Seeing the odds against them, the Indians decided to return to Iowa, but were intercepted where the Bad Axe River meets the Mississippi, in Wisconsin. It’s not clear whether Batman was at the Battle of the Bad Axe River, on August 2, 1832, when the 6th Infantry and a large band of militiamen caught the Indians as they were trying to recross the Mississippi into Iowa, where most of them were killed.
Things quieted down again for a few years. Meanwhile, Batman appears to have been assigned to the Army’s "Indian Department," for he is found listed as "disbursing agent" on an agreement with the Western Cherokee on December 29, 1835; among those signing for the Cherokee was James Rogers, brother of Tiana Rogers, Sam Houston’s paramour, and reputedly an ancestor of the famous humorist Will Rogers. This treaty was tied to "Indian Removal," a policy whereby members of the "Civilized Nations" were ejected from their homes in the southeast and relocated to Oklahoma. In mid-1836 Batman was given command of one of the detachments of Creeks that went west. Getting Opothleyaholo’s party of some 2,500 Upper Creeks to the west, partially by overland march and partially by steamboat, was difficult, and there was some hardship (though the Indians call this the "Trail of Tears," they rarely mention that it must have been harder for their slaves). Batman performed this duty ably, despite difficulties caused by limited support from the government for supplies, transport, and lodging during the movement, as some 13,000 Creeks went west over just a few months. On November 16, 1836, Batman was promoted to captain. By then he had returned to the U.S. Arsenal at Mount Vernon, in Alabama on the Mobile River, still assigned to the Indian Department, though his regiment had been sent into Florida to help fight the Second Seminole War. He died there, reportedly of apoplexy, on July 31, 1837, as reported by
The official report on his death, by a fellow officer, reads:
|J Edmond Blake (Lieut. 6th Infantry) to C. A. Harris,
Mount Vernon Arsenal, Alabama, July 31, 1837
I have the melancholy duty to perform of reporting the death of M. W. Batman late Capt. 6th Regt. Inf. He died this morning at the Post most suddenly and unexpectedly. He rose and after shaving himself proceeded to the Bath house. When discovered there he was stretched upon the floor having been seized with an apoplectic fit, and it is presumed had been in that situation from ½ to ¾ of an hour before he was discovered. The surgeon of the Post (Dr. Runstall) was immediately sent for and every means of restoring Capt Batman resorted to, without unfortunately success. He died at ½ past 10 o’clock this morning, about three hours after the commencement of the attack. In the death of Capt. Batman, the Army has lost a most efficient officer, and the Indian Department, a most zealous, indefatigable, and trust-worthy agent.
His death was immediately reported to Capt. Page at Pass Christian.
I am Sir, With the greatest respect
Your obdt ser
J Edmd Blake
Lieut. 6th Inf.
C. A. Harris, Esq.
Commissioner Indian Affairs,
Batman appears to have been a singularly well-liked officer. The officers present at Mount Vernon held a memorial service for him, and resolutions commemorating and praising him were passed in the officers’ mess of his own and several other regiments.
|Jacob Edmund Blake, the officer who reported Batman’s death, graduated from West Point in 1833 and served in the 6th Infantry until 1838, when he transferred to the Army’s elite Topographical Engineers. He served in Florida during the Second Seminole War (1838-39), took part in the survey of the U.S.-Texas border in 1841, and worked on surveys and fortifications on Lake Erie, at New Orleans, and in Florida, 1842-1845. In 1845 he was assigned to Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor's Army of Observation at Corpus Christi. On May 8, 1846, he conducted a dangerous reconnaissance of the Mexican lines before the Battle of Palo Alto. That night, after 24 hours in the saddle, he was shot by his own pistol while unsaddling his horse. Mortally wounded, he died early on May 9th, even as the battle of Resaca de la Palma was being fought.