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Short Rounds

Congress Adjusts The Ranks

While the officer rank structure of the U.S. Army emerged during the Revolutionary war, with a full “ladder” from what we would call O-1 (second lieutenant) through O-8 (major general), the evolution of the Navy’s rank structure took a very long time.

During the early republic the navy essentially had just three ranks, midshipman (who served afloat and had many privileges and duties of officers), lieutenant, and captain. Worse, there were some, even in the naval service, who believed that a Navy captain was the equivalent of an Army captain.

During this period, naval officers, interested citizens, and political leaders often pressed Congress to institute a proper rank structure, matching that of the army at all levels through rear admiral, pointing out that not only would this reduce confusion when officers of the two services had to work together, but it would improve the status of naval officers on foreign stations, and thus enhance American prestige abroad. Although bills to institute a more appropriate rank structure for the Navy were introduced from time to time, little was done. That “little” amounted to the introduction of two new ranks, “passed midshipman” for men who were qualified to serve as lieutenants but for whom there were no slots available, and “master commandant” fitting between lieutenant and captain. But arguments about the relative rank of Army and Navy officers, which involved questions of privilege and status, not to mention some benefits, continued. So, in 1834 Congress published what can only be termed a formal table of equivalence for the ranks of the two services.

Navy Army
Midshipman 2nd Lieutenant
Passed Midshipman 1st Lieutenant
Lieutenant Captain
Master Commandant Major
Captain, under five years’ service Lieutenant-Colonel
Captain, five to ten years’ service Colonel
Captain, ten to fifteen years’ service Brigadier General
Captain, fifteen or more years’ service Major General

This stop-gap helped things along for a few more years, though with the institution of the Naval Academy in 1845 midshipmen were clearly the equivalent of West Point cadets rather than second lieutenants. Nevertheless, at least the arrangement allowed senior captains to flaunt flags like their foreign equivalents, pretending to be commodores or rear admirals, which was now also as permitted under the legislation.

It would be another two generations before the Navy’s rank structure evolved to the point where it matched that of the Army at each step..

 

Mettius Fuffetius Gets a Quick Lesson in Division

Although today it’s well inside the Eternal City, during the seventh century B.C., Fidenae was a small town about five miles north of the center of Rome, to which it was a subject ally. Unhappy with Roman suzereignity, around 665 B.C. Fidenae revolted. Veii, an Etruscan city of considerable power about ten miles or so north-northwest of Rome quickly jumped into the conflict to support the Fidentines. King Tullus Hostilius of Rome (r. 672-641 B.C.) prepared for war, and summoned Rome’s allies to his support. Among these was the city of Alba Longa, a dozen or so miles to the southeast.

Now Alba Longa was ruled by Mettius Fuffetius, and this war was something he’d been looking forward to. In fact, he’d worked hard to bring it about. Some years earlier, Mettius had engineered a deal with the Romans by which each city would send three warriors to fight a duel to determine the leadership of Latium. Each city sent a set of brothers, triplets by some accounts. The resulting “Battle of the Horatii and the Curiatii” (traditionally October 1, 670 B.C.) ended with one of the Romans, Publius Horatius, as the only survivor. The loss of it’s ancient primacy among the Latins naturally rankled the Albans. To reverse this situation, Mettius had undertaken a conspiracy

Mettius convinced the Fidentines to revolt against Rome, by arranging an alliance between them and Veii, and promising that at the most opportune moment he would betray the Romans and align himself with the allies.

So, as the armies began to gather, Mettius led the Alban troops to the support of the Romans. The Romans and their allies concentrated on the left bank of the Tiber, just above where the Anio River enters the greater stream. This was only about 2½ miles south of Fidenae, and thus naturally the Fidentines and Veintines formed between the Romans and the town. (The armies were small, of course, both sides together probably totaling no more than 20,000.)

As the armies deployed for battle, the Veintines formed the allied right, resting on the Tiber, while the Fidentines were on the left, with their flank resting on some rugged hills. King Tullus placed the Roman troops on his left, against the river, facing the Veintines, and assigned the Albans to face the Fidentines, on his right. Mettius procrastinated in getting his men into battle order, while in the process gradually moving them further to the Roman right, towards the hills. Meanwhile, the fight had begun, as the Romans became engaged with the Veintines. From his new position, Mettius could have fallen on the exposed Roman flank. And, indeed, the Roman historian Livy says the Roman troops “were astounded to find that their allies had withdrawn and left their flank exposed.” Naturally, this would have been the optimal moment for Mettius to fall on the Roman flank.

But Mettius seems to have lost heart, or perhaps he decided to wait and see who was winning and then jump in to help. As Mettius hesitated, King Tullus, alerted to the Alban movement by some panicked shouting from his right, loudly declared that all was well, for the move had been made on his orders, in order to flank the enemy. Tullus’ words reassured the Romans, and also carried over to the enemy lines. The Fidentines, seeing that Mettius was indeed well-positioned to crush their flank, began to withdraw. Seeing this, Tullus ordered his cavalry to harry the retreating Fidentines, while his infantry renewed their assault on the Veintines, and began pushing them back.

As the Fidentines and Veintines began to flee the field, Mettius sent some of his troops into action against them, so that he could claim to have helped the Romans win the battle.

Afterwards, as the troops were regrouping, Mettius congratulated King Tullus on his victory. The king received these congratulations in a friendly manner, and proposed that the armies camp on the field, and make a joint sacrifice to the gods on the morrow to celebrate their victory. Mettius accepted.

During the night, while most people were asleep, Tullus interviewed some of the prisoners from Fidenae, and learned of Mettius’ plottings. He immediately summoned the leading senators from Rome, and after conferring with them, laid plans for the morrow.

When morning came, Roman troops, with arms concealed on their persons, quietly surrounded the Albans, who were unarmed as appropriate for men attending a sacrifice. After the ceremonies, Tullus addressed the combined armies. His speech soon turned into a denunciation of Mettius’ treachery. Then Tullus announced that the Roman Senate had decreed that Alba would be abandoned and its people transferred to Rome as full citizens. When the Albans began to object, they found themselves unable to cope with the armed Roman troops.

Then, the historian Titus Livius – Livy – tells us,

King Tullus said, “Mettius Fuffetius! if you could have learnt to keep your word and respect treaties, I would have given you that instruction in your lifetime, but now, since your character is past cure, do at least teach mankind by your punishment to hold those things as sacred which have been outraged by you. As yesterday your interest was divided between the Fidentines and the Romans, so now you shall give up your body to be divided and dismembered.” Thereupon two four-horse chariots were brought up, and Mettius was bound at full length to each, the horses were driven in opposite directions, carrying off parts of the body in each chariot, where the limbs had been secured by the cords. All present averted their eyes from the horrible spectacle.

 

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