Archive for May, 2014

Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara

May 31, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War, Weekly Video by

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
The brave and daring few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumour of the foe’s advance
Now swells upon the wind;
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
The warrior’s dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shivered swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed;
Their haughty banner trailed in dust
Is now their martial shroud,
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And their proud forms in battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing steed, the flashing blade,
The trumpet’s stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout are past;
No war’s wild note, nor glory’s peal,
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that never more shall feel
The rapture of the fight.

Like the dread northern hurricane
That sweeps this broad plateau,
Flushed with the triumph yet to gain
Came down the serried foe;
Our heros felt the shock, and leapt
To meet them on the plain;
And long the pitying sky hath wept
Above our gallant slain.

Sons of our consecrated ground,
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land’s heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from War his richest spoil –
The ashes of her brave.

So ‘neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field;
Borne to a Spartan mother’s breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred hearts and eyes watch by
The heroes’ sepulcher.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood you gave,
No impious footsteps here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless songs shall tell,
When many a vanished age hath flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, or winter’s blight
Not Time’s remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of holy light
That gilds your glorious tomb.

How the US Government Tried to Censor News of Germany’s Surrender in WWII

May 28, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in World War II by

Civil War Cemetaries

May 27, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War, Videos, Weekly Video by

Gustavus Adolphus – Battle of Breitenfeld

May 26, 2014 with 1 Comment and Posted in Reformation by

Landing in Germany

After landing in northern Germany Gustavus Adolphus had a strong army and funding from France, but he lacked German allies. He wanted to fight for the German Protestants, but they were not so sure they wanted to join him. They were more interested in using the presence of the Swedish army as a threat in their discussions with the emperor.  The imperialists were not in any hurry to fight the Swedes, as they hoped that the Swedish discipline would fall apart, and they would anger their German allies. It was over a year from Gustavus’ landing to the first main battle.

As Adolphus worked his diplomacy with the Germans, one city he formed an alliance with was Magdeburg. The city’s Protestant population had risen against the Catholics during the war, and now they signed a treaty with Sweden for protection. However, it was not long before the army of the Holy Roman Empire, under the County of Tilly, arrived and lay siege to the town. According to the terms of the alliance, it was Gustavus’ duty to relieve Magdeburg, and it was doubly important that he do so, as it would show the hesitant German princes that he was serious about protecting them. In this he showed his honesty, as he worked to fulfill his treaty instead of seeking more conquests for himself.

Sack of Magdeburg

The Swedish king could not go to the help of Magdeburg without securing his rear. He had to first win the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony as allies, to ensure he was not attacked in the rear. Diplomacy dragged out, and Gustavus became frustrated, as time was running out for Magdeburg. He used harsh words with George William of Brandenburg:

I tell you plainly I will hear not a word of neutrality. Your Serenity must be either friend or foe. As soon as I get to your frontier you will have to declare yourself. Here strive God and the devil. If you will hold with God, come over to me, If you prefer the devil, you will have to fight me first. Tertium non dabitur [There is no third choice,] of that you may be sure.

Finally the electors were convinced by Adolphus’ promises and threats. Treaties were signed, but the Swedes were not able to reach Magdeburg in time. The city fell on May 20, 1631. In the ensuing confusion the city was lit, and the imperial soldiers began to loot and kill. By the time they left the city, it was a burnt rubble. Only 5,000 of 30,000 civilians remained alive. News of the sack of Magdeburg, as it was called, was received with horror by Protestants across Europe. It was good publicity for Gustavus, and he had pamphlets printed declaring that this is how the Emperor Ferdinand planned to treat his Protestant subjects. It intensified the war, and in future engagements the Protestants threatened the Catholics with “Magdeburg quarter.”

After capturing Magdeburg, Tilly next decided to invade Saxony, which up to that point had not been ravaged by war. This drove John George of Saxony to ally with the Swedes. They united their armies, and set out to engage the Imperialists.


Battle of Breitenfeld

The two armies met at Breitenfeld, just north of Leipzig on September 17, 1631. The Protestants had 42,000 men, the Imperialists, 35,000. Although Tilly had fewer men, he had more that were well trained. There were 9,000 untrained Saxons present, which contributed little to the fight. The Saxons were positioned to the left of the Swedes, and Gustavus put most of his cavalry on his right.

Positions at Breitenfield

After a few hours of artillery bombardment the battle began in earnest with the Imperial cavalry attacking on both flanks. Seven times the Black Cuirassiers charged the Swedish lines, but each time they were driven back by the steady fire. On the other flank, the untrained Saxons were broken. John George ingloriously led his men in their retreat. Tilly seized this opportunity, and sent most of his infantry to pursue the Saxons, and strike the now vulnerable Swedish left.

The Swedes strike the Imperial rear

Abandoned by his Allies, Gustavus ordered his second line, under Gustav Horn, to realign and meet this threat. Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry, with the king himself at their head, charged the Imperial left. When Tilly had ordered his infantry to attack, he had left his artillery unprotected. The Swedish cavalry captured these with little difficulty, and turned them to fire into the flank and rear of the Catholic infantry. The Imperialists, unable to break Horn’s line and under heavy fire from several directions, broke after several hours of bloody fighting. In that night’s retreat the Catholic army completely disintegrated. They lost 7,600 killed, 3,000 wounded and 12,400 captured. Thousands more deserted and never returned to the army. The Swedes lost 3,550 killed and the Saxons 2,000.

Monument at Breitenfeld. Source.

In this brilliant victory Gustavus Adolphus had eliminated the main Catholic army. He was hailed as a hero by Protestants all over Europe. He was called “The Lion of the North and the Bulwark of the Protestant Faith.” However, the thirty years war was far from over.

The Thirty Years War by C. V. Wedgwood
Gustavus Adolphus and the Struggle of Protestantism for Existence by C. R. L. Fletcher

The Dead at Spotsylvania

May 21, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

These photographs were taken 150 years ago today on Spotsylvania Battlefield by photographer Timothy O’Sullivan. For an indepth look at these images, check out a post on Mysteries and Conundrums and another by John Cummings.

Casualties Spotsylvania Alsop House SMALL

Casualties Spotsylvania Alsop House2

Casualties Spotsylvania Alsop House3

Casualties Spotsylvania Alsop House4



Gustavus Adolphus’ Revolutionary Army

May 19, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

When Gustavus Adolphus landed in Sweden, he was hailed as the savior of the Protestant cause. But before that could become a reality, he had hard fighting to do. To do that, he had developed one of the best armies that Europe had ever seen. Since childhood the king had been studying the art of war, and he had developed principles and techniques that would change the way war was fought.

The King as General

Overall, Gustavus was the best commander in the Thirty Years War. He was a brilliant battlefield commander, leading his army from the front. Many of the other armies were commanded by mercenaries. Their kings had to try to control them, while getting the resources they needed from the civilian governments. For Sweden the control was centralized in Gustavus. He was the battlefield commander of the major army, commander in chief of all of Sweden’s armies, and head of the civilian government. As a great commander, he was able to efficiently run the war and assign the troops where they were needed most.

The Home Front

The Swedish war machine started back on the home front. The armies were conscripted, with every tenth man being taken for the army. The army going to Germany contained about 40,000 soldiers from Sweden, and about 40,000 more recruited elsewhere in Europe. Even with the money from France, the Swedish people still had to pay heavy taxes to support these troops. Five sevenths of Sweden’s budget went to the army. Although this was a major burden for the people, they still liked their king. The house of Vasa, including Gustavus, was able to maintain their popularity because they tended to favor the people rather than the nobles.

17th century Musketeers. Source.


The Swedes had the best army, especially in artillery and cavalry. Gustavus was a military innovator, constantly looking for ways to improve his technology and tactics. He developed cannon that could be fired much more rapidly. Sometimes they could be fired quicker than muskets. He also used smaller cannons distributed throughout his army, instead of having one concentrated battery. Therefore his guns could be used on the regimental level, helping the infantry just where they were needed. The king put great emphasis on accurate firing from his gunners. Often he would aim the guns with his own hand, to drive that point home for the troops.

Scottish Mercenaries


Gustavus’s main philosophy was mobility on the battlefield. Cavalry held a major position on his battlefields. He used two types. Cuirassiers were lightly armored and armed with long swords. They were the heavy cavalry, and were used to deal a major blow to the enemy. The second type was dragoons – mounted infantrymen who could quickly ride where they were needed, and then dismount and fight as infantry.

Swedish soldier. Source.


The Swedish infantry was made lighter and more mobile than their opponents. They used preloaded cartridges, so they could reload their weapons quicker than other armies, which had to measure the powder and add the ball. Gustavus’s pikemen were also equipped for mobility, with shorter pikes and less armor. The king himself was said to be predisposed against armor, as he could not comfortably wear a breastplate because of a wound.

The tactics of the Swedish army were also different than their opponents. The units were small. Their lines were thinner, only six men deep instead of ten or more. The artillery was interspersed among the infantry. The Swedish army contained more musketeers, and they were trained to fire in volleys two rows at a time, so they could maintain a consistent, but destructive fire. All six ranks were also trained to be able to fire at once, to give a very heavy volley to break an enemy charge. Since his pikemen were more lightly armored, they could be used on the offense instead of just defense, as other armies did.


The soldiers in Gustavus’ army held their king and commander in high regard. He demonstrated great care for them, sharing in the privations of the soldiers. He tried as much as possible to pay them on time. During battles he had field hospitals established and medicine chests with the units to care for the health of those who were wounded. Because of all these things the king’s men were devoted to him, and were that much better soldiers because of it. This did not mean that Gustavus slacked on discipline. During his war with Poland he introduced his famous Articles of War. You can read the entire code of more than 150 articles here, but here are several of the most important:

Swedish cavalry engaged in battle

  • “Seeing … that all our welfare and prosperity, proceedeth from Almighty God; and that it is all mens duty to feare and serve him above all: Wee streightly hereby charge all manner of Persons whatsoever, that they by no meanes use any kind of Idolatry, Witch-craft, or Enchanting of Armes, by Devils inchantment any manner of way whatsoever. And if any herein be found faulty he shall be proceeded against according to Gods law and the Swedens….”
  • “If any shall blaspheme the name of God, either drunk or sober, the thing being proved by two or three witnesses, he shall suffer death without mercy”
  • There was a system of courts from the regimental level up to the king himself.
  • If a regiment ran away during battle, every tenth man who could not prove his bravery was hung and the rest had to carry the filth from the camp until they redeemed themselves
  • Punishments for individual soldiers included riding the wooden horse, imprisonment, fines, bread and water, but not flogging
  • “No Colonell or Captaine shall command his souldiers to doe any unlawful thing; which who so does, shall be punished according to the discretion of the Judges. Also if any … Officer … shall by rigour take any thing away from any common souldier, he shall answer for it before the Court.”
  • Soldiers who fell asleep or were drunk on watch were to be shot
  • “Hee that forceth any woman to abuse her, and the matter bee proved, hee shall die for it”
  • Soldiers could bring their wives, but other female camp followers were not allowed
  • Prayers were held in the morning and evening, and a sermon every Sunday and twice in the week when time permitted
  • Dueling was not allowed
  • No buildings were to be burnt in friendly territory, and in enemy territory only under orders from the officers with approval from the king

With all these elements, Gustavus was able to create a cohesive, well disciplined army, with tactics that integrated the infantry, cavalry and artillery. He was well prepared for the greatest war of his life.

The Thirty Years War by C. V. Wedgwood
Gustavus Adolphus and the Struggle of Protestantism for Existence by C. R. L. Fletcher

The Wreck of Columbus’s Ship, the Santa Maria, May Have Been Found

May 13, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Colonization by

Gustavus Adolphus – Thirty Years War

May 12, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

As the Thirty Years War began to rage through Germany, Gustavus Adolphus wanted to join in the conflict, but he could not do it alone. If his troops were engaged in Germany, the undefended homeland would be attacked by Poland, or another of Sweden’s unfriendly Catholic neighbors. At this point kings were concerned primarily with gaining power for their dynasty or nation. They would gladly violate the sovereignty of a neighbor and conquer them to give a buffer against a powerful adversary. One problem that was encountered by the Protestants during this great war was that each of the nations was too concerned about its own welfare. The rulers weighed many different issues, and were not able to come to agreements to stand together. So during the first part of the war several Protestant princes were defeated one by one, by Catholics like Ferdinand, Holy Roman Emperor.

Gustavus Adolphus

Gustavus Adolphus once wrote that, “All wars in Europe hang together.” If Ferdinand was successful in creating a centralized Catholic Germany, Sweden would be in danger. So he wanted to join the war, but he would only do it under certain conditions. He would be risking his nation, and he would not do it without reward, so if the war was won he would require a German port on the Baltic sea. Sweden’s finances had been improved under his reign, but he would need money from England or France to maintain a large army. He would also need an English fleet to sail into the Baltic to protect him from Denmark, and last he would only fight if he was in command of all the armies raised. He was willing to put aside his differences with Christian of Denmark, but the rest of the Protestant powers would not agree to his requirements. So in 1625 Denmark entered into the war, and Gustavus resolved to stay out of it for the time.

Christian IV of Denmark

War with Poland

Gustavus instead turned his eyes back to Poland. He attacked in 1625. The Swedes were better provided with winter equipment, and they won some success, being treated as deliverers by the local Protestants. But when a siege of Dantzic was begun, the Swedes were unable to capture it. It could be resupplied by water, since the Swedes did not have a powerful navy to blockade. As always, Gustavus was on the front lines, twice receiving minor wounds during the siege.

Preparing for War

After two years he again turned his attention to Germany. He did not think Sweden could stay out of the engulfing conflict much longer, “for the danger is daily drawing nearer our doors.” He was farsighted enough to see that with the Catholic armies controlling Northern Germany, they were but a step away from attacking Sweden. He wrote at length to Christian of Denmark on October 21, 1627:

I have now little difficulty in discerning that the projects of the House of Hapsburg are directed against the Baltic; and that, partly by force and partly by cajolery, the United Netherlands, my own power, and finally yours are to be ousted therefrom. On the one side I understand that they intend to offer you the title of Admiral of the Roman Empire … in the same breath they have offered to help me to a safe and durable peace with Poland … nay even the Kingdom of Denmark for myself as Imperial fief, if I will ally myself with the Emperor against you. Obviously such offers are illusory, and only meant to hinder an alliance between you and me. I know well how united and diligent they are; well how disunited and slothful all those, who ought to be for us, have as yet proved themselves. As present not one of them dares to defend the other: each will look on quietly at the ruin of all. I am now putting everything aside, which can possibly hinder a swift termination of this wretched Polish business of mine. … I am not ignorant of the deplorable condition in which you stand at this moment; but I wish you had been able to call upon me for help earlier. Now we must positively during the winter concoct measures for our mutual defence, and for the defence of the Baltic.

Christian and Gustavus were able to arrange a treaty, which they signed in 1628, it was clear that Denmark would not fight Germany, as they had already been whipped by them. Sweden also signed a treaty on favorable terms with Poland on September 25, 1629. The stage was now set for war with Germany.

Having set his affairs with his neighbors in order, Gustavus was ready to face the Catholics of Germany. Around this time a Protestant Germany pamphleteer wrote of him:

Now is the time for the good towns to arm, to drive the enemy back over the Elbe. There is one at hand, who will help; who has already helped. God has raised up for us a hero, a Gideon, the like of whom lives not among men, nor in history.

When he determined that it was time to enter the Thirty Years War, Gustavus was careful to first obtain the consent of his council. He asked for the opinion of each in writing, so that their opinion would not be quelled by others.

Castle in Germany

Reasons for War

One question that historians still debate is Gustavus’ motives for engaging in the war. Many have said that he did it to defend Protestantism, and that certainly was part of it. The German Protestants had been overrun by the Catholics, and the Swedish king wished to recover their rights, and restore Protestantism to power. But there were other motives that could have played in. We have already seen where he said that the safety of Sweden was at risk. He said it again in a farewell speech to the Swedish estates:

This is a war for the defence of our Fatherland. Either we must go and find the Emperor [Ferdinand] at Stralsund [a German port of the Baltic,] or he will come and find us at Kalmar [a port city in southern Sweden.]

A victory would also increase the Swedish power, giving it control of the Baltic, and possibly even control of Germany. Was he fighting for Christianity or personal power? Did he want to restore the rights of the German princes, or make them vassals of the Swedish crown? In the end we cannot know how pure his motives and intentions were. But he did embark boldly into the struggle, emploring the help of God in his cause.

Landing in Germany

Gustavus Adolphus left Sweden for Germany on May 19, 1630, never to return. Sweden had little money and only one ally, Transylvania, which was far from his field of actions. He did not have money to pay his troops for long, and even the German princes he was coming to support were not sure they wanted his help. Gustavus wrote to Oxenstiern, his chancellor:

You say that we haven’t money to pay troops for more than four months: granted; but once let us plant our foothold sure, and God and the hour will teach us how to strengthen ourselves further.

The financial issues were arranged soon after landing, from what might seem to us from an unexpected source – France. Although France’s religion was Catholic, in foreign policy they sided with the Protestants. This was because they opposed the House of Hapsburg, the great Catholic dynasty. Cardinal Richelieu, France’s main minister, arranged to give a large amount of money to Gustavus, paying him to fight the German Hapsburg Catholics. Gustavus simply had to guarantee the right of Catholics in conquered land to practice their religion. Although Richelieu was a powerful and necessary ally for Gustavus, he would also want to be sure the Swedes did not get too powerful, as their interests just happened to coincide in this instance.


Another important event not long before Adolphus’ landing was the Edict of Restitution, which served to swing the reluctant German Protestants to his side. Up to that point, there had been important religious elements in the war, but one of the major issues was the balance of power between the emperor and the lesser German princes. But in the Edict the emperor declared that all of the church lands that had been seized by the Protestant government, or given to the Protestant religious leaders, had to be restored to the Catholic church. On hand to enforce this edict was an army of more than 130,000 men under Wallenstein, who said he would “teach the Electors manners. They must be dependent on the emperor, not the emperor on them.”  The Catholics were also allowed to try to convert the Protestants by force. In a meeting with the princes in 1630, just before Gustavus’ landing, the emperor refused to back down from this edict. For this religious and economic reason, the Protestant German princes were reluctantly pushed over to the side of Gustavus, the foreigner. Gustavus’ challenges were not only in war with the Catholics, but also from diplomacy with the Protestants.

The Thirty Years War by C. V. Wedgwood
Gustavus Adolphus and the Struggle of Protestantism for Existence by C. R. L. Fletcher

Enlisting in the Navy for World War II

May 12, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Weekly Video, World War II by

Dr. Benjamin James, officer and beachmaster in the US Navy during World War II, describes how he joined the navy.

Battle of the Wilderness

May 8, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

We have just past the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, one of the greatest battles of the Civil War. It was the first battle in the famous contest between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Although Grant was not able to destroy Lee, he demonstrated his perseverance and proclaimed that he would not retreat and give up after one reverse.Read an entire series of posts on the battle on our Civil War 150th blog, and stay tuned for our coverage of the Battle of Spotsylvania.

Gustavus Adolphus – Early Life

May 5, 2014 with No Comments and Posted in Reformation by

Gustavus Adolphus

Gustav Adolph, who we know by the Latinzied form of his name Gustavus Adolphus, was born to King Charles of Sweden on December 9th, 1594. He grew up in this era of turmoil in his native Sweden and the continent of Europe. He was raised as a warrior prince and taught the art of war. It is said that when he was at the harbor when only five years old he said that his favorite ship was the one with the most guns. He was also well educated in more peaceful pursuits. He knew seven languages including Latin, German and Greek. In his letters he would switch between languages, pulling from whichever was most convenient.

Gustavus later built this ship, the Vasa


His father wanted Gustavus to be the next king, so he deliberately raised him for leadership. He brought his son to the council meetings, and by the time he was ten he was giving official answers to foreign ambassadors. On one occasion the king wrote to his son with this advice:

Before all things, fear God, honour thy father and mother, be tender to thy sisters, love those who have served me faithfully, reward them according to their deserts, be gracious to thy subjects, punish the evil, trust all  men fairly, but only entirely when thou hast learnt to know them. Be no respecter of persons before the law; invade no man’s just privileges, provided they clash not with the law; diminish not thy regal possessions in favour of any man, except thou art sure that he will recognize the benefit and do thee good service in return.

Gustavus earnestly wanted to engage in war as soon as he could, and spent his spare time talking with officers experienced in combat. Finally in 1611, when he was only 17, he got his wish. He was knighted and sent off to fight in the war with Denmark. Gustavus spent his childhood preparing to take his role as a man, instead of wasting his time in frivolous pursuits. As one man wrote at the time, “He seems more occupied in ruling his kingdom than with the ordinary pleasures of youth.”

Gustavus’ coat and weapons

Appointed King

Axel Oxenstierna

That year would see Gustavus’ life change even more drastically. On October 30 his father died, leaving the Swedish throne empty. His son, still nearly a boy, rose to take his place. The Swedish law said that a king must be at least 24, but the requirement was waived in Gustavus’ case, and he was crowned king on December 17, 1611. He was already well fitted for the position. An ambassador who saw him at the time wrote that he was “a man of high courage, though not revengeful; keen of intellect, watchful, active; an excellent speaker, and courteous in his intercourse with all men; from a youth of such promise great things are to be expected.” His chief minister was Axel Oxenstierna, his Chancellor. He was only 24, and served as the counter to Adolphus’ fiery disposition.

Victory in War

Few men, regardless of their age, have assumed the throne under more difficult circumstances. At the time, Sweden was engaged in two wars – one with Denmark, from which they had gained their independence a few decades before, and the other with Russia, where a Swede was trying to become Czar. The young king dove right in, beginning first with the Danes. The king led his people in battle, inspiring the common man with his presence. Throughout his life he was always risking his life in battle, and at this time he nearly died after falling through the ice during a battle on a frozen lake. Peace was eventually signed on January 19, 1613. The nobles of Denmark did not want King Christian to gain power through victory over Sweden, and Gustavus gained the right to purchase two important cities, which he soon did.

Gustavus also won victories in the war with Russia, and signed a peace treaty on February 27, 1617, gaining two provinces, including where St. Petersburg was later built. These two victories increased the power of Sweden in the Baltic. But Gustavus Adolphus could not rest on his laurels. Sigismund of Poland still wanted to regain the throne of Sweden, and Gustavus worked to build a coalition of allies for the war he knew was coming. One alliance was made by marrying Maria Eleonora, the daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg, a province of Germany. Although the marriage was for political reasons, Gustavus had traveled through Europe to find a bride while using the name Captain Gars (which stood for Gustavus Adolphus Rex Sueciae, Gustavus Adolphus King of Sweden).

In 1621 Sweden was again engaged in war, this time with Poland. Sigismund, cousin of Gustavus, was trying to regain the Swedish throne. Over the next year Gustavus captured several important cities, but then the war stalemated, and a truce was agreed on in 1622. At this time Sweden entered a short time of peace, and the Swedish king turned his attention to the war which was raging in Europe.

The Thirty Years War by C. V. Wedgwood
Gustavus Adolphus and the Struggle of Protestantism for Existence by C. R. L. Fletcher