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Battles On Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is the holiest feast in the Christian calendar.  Yet on a number of occasions this day, celebrating the resurrection of “The Prince of Peace”, was the occasion for a battle in which the troops of one side, and often of both, were Christians. 

Some examples 

  • Pollentia (April 6, 403):  Stilicho's Romano-Alan army defeats Alaric's Visigoths.
  • Callinicum (April 19, 531): The “Unnecessary Battle” -- a drawn fight between Belisarius’ Romans and the Sassanid Persians.
  • Barnet (April 14, 1471): Critical victory for Edward IV’s Yorkists over the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses.
  • Ravenna (April 11, 1512):  During the Fourth Italian War, the French defeat the Spanish-Imperialist forces, with very heavy losses on both sides.
  • Almanza (April 25, 1707): Decisive Franco-Spanish defeat of British-Dutch-Portuguese forces in the War of the Spanish Succession.
  • Toulouse (April 10, 1814): Wellington’s British-Portuguese-Spanish army defeats the French in the final battle of the Peninsular War.
  • Rangoon (April 11, 1852): British victory in the Second Anglo-Burmese War.
  • West Point, Georgia (April 16, 1865): Union forces  capture Ft. Taylor.
  • Columbus, Georgia (April 16, 1865):  Union forces capture the city after a brief action.
  • Colfax, Louisiana (April 13, 1873): White militiamen massacre 80 to 120 African-Americans. 
  • Belgrade (April 13, 1941): The Germans capture the city from the Yugoslavs.
  • Ceylon (April 5, 1942): The Japanese First Air Fleet sinks two heavy cruisers, two other warships and several merchantmen, and inflicts heavy damage on port installations, an action termed by Churchill, “"The most dangerous moment of the War, and the one which caused me the greatest alarm.”
  • Okinawa (April 1, 1945): U.S. troops land to begin the bloody 82-day battle for the island. 

Now while the Persians at Callincum, the Burmese at Rangoon, and the Japanese at Ceylon and Okinawa were not Christian, and thus the date had no special meaning for them, all the other combatants listed were at least nominally Christians of various sorts, yet do not seem to have been overly bothered by fighting on so holy an occasion.

FootNote: Although the Easter Rebellion is the name commonly used for the Dublin uprising that initiated the Irish War for Independence, the uprising actually began on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916.

 

The Courtesies of War

Following the Battle of Lake George (Sept. 8, 1755), German-born French Maj. Gen. Baron Jean-Armand de Dieskau (1701-1767) was captured by the victorious British, Colonial, and Iroquois forces under Maj. Gen. William Johnson (1715-1774).  It being the eighteenth century, Johnson extended the honors of war to his defeated foeman, housing Dieskau in his own tent, where the two generals, both seriously wounded, could enjoy a glass together while recuperating.

At this point a problem reared its head that was unknown in European warfare, for Native Americans didn’t quite get certain European military customs.  An inability to control one’s Indian allies had led to serious massacres of prisoners of war on both sides during the various Anglo-French wars for North America.  Johnson’s Indian allies decided they wanted to kill the French commander in various interesting ways, in vengeance for the death of their comrades in the recent battle. 

Several Iroquois forced their way into Johnson’s tent.  But, although greatly desiring to kill Dieskau, they had too high a regard for Johnson, who was not only an honorary sachem of the Mohawk nation but also had a long-standing informal relationship with Elizabeth Brant, a member of one of the most noted Iroquois families.  So, rather than immediately slay the Frenchman, the warriors hovered about in the tent in a threatening fashion, hoping Johnson would by some sign express his willingness to proceed.

Seeing these warriors, Dieskau remarked to his captor-host, “These fellows have not been looking at me with a look indicative of much compassion.”

Johnson promptly replied, “Feel no uneasiness, you are safe with me.”

And so it was the case.

Dieskau was held in honorable confinement until the end of the Seven Years’ War, in 1763.  Returning to France, his wounds proved debilitating, and he was retired from military service, to die in 1767 from the lingering effects of his injuries.

As for Johnson, his victory earned him a baronetcy and the job of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern colonies, not to mention much money and land, and eventually marriage to another member of the prominent Brant family. 

 

Although some Jacobite leaders continued to plot, and even discussed invasion proposals with the French during their wars with Britain, the “Forty-Five” was the last substantive Jacobite attempt to return to the throne, and, arguably the most successful.

The last Jacobite pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland was Henry Benedict Stuart, the younger brother of the “Young Pretender”, a Roman Catholic cardinal who died in 1807.  The claim to the throne then passed through several female connections, so that the current pretender is Franz von Wittlesbach, the Duke of Bavaria, a grandson of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria who had commanded a German Army Group on the Western Front in the Great War.

 


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