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July 21, 2019

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Short Rounds

Contradicting the Field Marshal

The Battle of Blenheim (August 13, 1704 – known in some circles as the Second Battle of Höchstädt), was the Duke of Marlborough’s masterpiece, the crowning action of a brilliantly conducted campaign.

At the outset, Marlborough seemed to have an insoluble problem. His army was in the Netherlands, while that of his Austrian ally, Prince Eugene of Savoy, was in Germany. Between them lay enormous French forces. Effecting a junction between the two armies would provide the strength to break the French. But how to do it? Marlborough solved the problem by some clever deception, which fooled not only the enemy, but also his allies, the Dutch, who were reluctant to have him wander far from their frontiers with a major chunk of their army, and some brilliant logistical arrangements, that enabled him to march his polyglot army from the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium), some 250 miles to the Danube in just five weeks. Once on the Danube, the Duke and Eugene were able to bring the French and their Bavarian allies to battle at the little village of Blindheim.

There, after the French had managed to beat off several attacks by Eugene’s Austrian and Imperial German troops on their left, Marlborough’s British and Dutch forces managed to break the French right, and crushed their army.

In the aftermath of the battle, Marlborough chanced to be looking at a column of prisoners as they were marching past. He spotted a wounded fellow whom he had earlier seen in the thick of the battle, fighting with extraordinary courage.

So he stopped the column, and chatted with the fellow, inquiring as to his injuries and exchanging pleasantries.

After a short time, Marlborough said, “If thy master had many soldiers like thee, he would be invincible.” To which the wounded man replied, “My master does not want of soldiers like me, but of generals like you.”

 

Some Curious Logistical Problems When Using War Elephants

Upon encountering war elephants during his campaign in India in 326 B.C., Alexander the Great promptly began incorporating them in his army. By the time he died, in 323 B.C., he had about 200 of the beasts at Babylon. Elephants took part in the Wars of the Successors (323-301 B.C.), and soon became a common place of military life around the Mediterranean basin. Several states maintained large numbers of war elephants. Pyrrhus of Epirus used many during his war against Rome (280-275 B.C.), finding them less than effective against Roman valor. Carthage reportedly maintained 200 on active duty at all times, and often fielded 100 or 150 for particular campaigns, though Hannibal only brought 37 on his march across the Alps in 218 B.C., and most of those died soon afterwards. Thereafter the use of elephants in warfare tended to decline.

There were a number of reasons for this decline. Despite their fearsome appearance, as the Romans demonstrated to Pyrrhus, they were no match for well disciplined, intelligent troops. They are also unsuited to operations in colder environments; in fact, most of Hannibal’s elephants perished during their first winter in Italy, hardly the coldest place in the world. In additional, elephants can sometimes go berserk, with unpleasant consequences. But there were also logistical problems connected to the use of elephants.

Depending upon size, elephants require 200 to 300 pounds of fodder a day, and typically will eat lots of fruit, grain, and leaves as well. They also drink 20 to 40 gallons of water a day. As a result of an inefficient digestive system (they only get about half the food value out of their rations that cows do), elephants “go” rather often. On average, an elephant will defecate about every 90 minutes and urinate about every two hours, and in prodigious amounts. Daily “productivity” can easily reach about 250 pounds of feces and about 15-30 gallons of urine.

Now consider the problems associated with (1) feeding and watering and (2) cleaning up after, several hundred elephants every day.

Note: Those interested in learning even more about the life and lore of war elephants, should avail themselves of War Elephants, by John M. Kistler (Lincoln, Nb.: Bison/University of Nebraska Press, 2007)

 

Terry Allen and the Cowboys

Well, one cowboy, anyway. It all happened long before Terry de la Mesa Allen gained fame from his virtuoso performances commanding the 1st Infantry Division in North Africa and Sicily and later the 104th in France and Germany.

Brooklyn-born Terry Allen (1888-1969) was the son of Samuel Edward Allen (USMA, 1881), who retired from the army as a colonel in 1919, and Consuelo de la Mesa, the daughter of Carlos Alvarez de la Mesa, a Spanish officer who had risen to captain in the Union Army during the Civil War. Young Allen was raised to be a soldier from childhood, and actually accompanied his father’s troops on patrols in the waning days of the frontier army. Admitted to West Point in 1907, Allen’s antics and lack of devotion to his studies caused him to be held back a year, and then led to his expulsion. Determined to enter the army, he attended Catholic University and after graduating in 1912 applied for a direct commission. He served in the 14th Cavalry in Texas from 1912 to 1918. By then, the U.S. had entered World War I. Since cavalrymen weren’t in much demand on European battlefields, Allen was given a temporary promotion to major and command of the 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry, in the 90th Division. He distinguished himself at St. Mihiel, where he was wounded, earning a Silver Star in the process. After the Armistice he remained in Germany on occupation duty. Shortly before returning to America in 1920, Allen served on the U.S. Olumpic polo team, which placed third. Newly promoted to the permanent rank of major, Allen was assigned to the 2nd Division, headquarterd at San Antonio. It was routine garrison duty, but Allen could ride horses and play polo to his heart’s content.

Now, by chance, in 1922, the Texas Cattlemen’s Association challenged the Army to a cross country race that would determine who were the better riders, U.S. Cavalrymen or Texas ranch hands. (One can well imagine that this challenge arose by the chance encounter of several well lubricated members of each group in a crowded speakeasy.) The Army chose Allen to represent it, while the Cattlemen selected Key Dunne, a veteran ranch hand, champion bronco buster, and sometime wagon master, who was the manager of a four million acre American-owned ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The conditions of the race were simple. Allen would start in Dallas and Dunne would set out from Fort Worth. Each would have to pass through Waco, Temple, and Austin en route to the Alamo in San Antonio. Each man had his choice of mount and gear he thought necessary for the trip. Allen chose a black horse named Coronado, apparently part thoroughbred and part quarter horse. He also opted to ride in proper cavalry field kit, including a McClellan saddle and wore a proper uniform from well-polished boots to broad-brimmed campaign hat. Dunne selected a small Texas-bred mustang and Western saddle, and wore a Stetson, cowboy boots, and a flashy shirt.

The event attracted considerable attention all across Texas, so much so that someone said it almost rivaled football. Needless to note, a good deal of money was wagered on the outcome.

The first day was a good one. Allen reportedly made 51.9 miles, Dunne rather less. On the second day, with men and horses beginning to tire, they covered less ground, and on the third still less, as foul weather kicked in, with lots of chilly rain. Both men pressed on. At one point during the grueling event, Allen learned that Dunne was having trouble finding fodder for his horse, and actually arranged for the Army to deliver a carload of oats and hay, so the cowboy could stay in the running. But even with Allen’s help, Dunne couldn’t keep up. On the fourth day, Allen rode up to the Alamo after 101 hours and 56 minutes on the trail. In that time he had covered some 275 miles, averaging slightly over 2.6 miles per hour, and beating Dunne by seven hours.

Reportedly, after taking a short break Allen went to play polo!

 

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