Bastille Day and Les Sammes

Friday, July 14, AD 2017

Uncle Sam shaking hands with the Marquis de Lafayette, French poster-1917

On Bastille Day 1917, General John J. Pershing reviewed French troops and pinned the Croix de Guerre on men who had earned the award by their valor.  The Star Spangled Banner and the Marseillaise were played and many of the civilian observers wept with joy and emotion that American help was on the way.  Today the French are honoring Les Sammes, as they are all year, who came to France in World War I to fight to keep France free.  US Marines will march down the Champs-Elysees with French troops in Paris, a symbol of the good relations that have usually existed between the old Allies.

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One Response to Bastille Day and Les Sammes

  • When celebrating the 14th of July – for those who are celebrating it… –, one doesn’t celebrate the “Bastille Day” (July 14th, 1789) but the « Fête de la Federation » (Federation Celebration) which took part on July 14th 1790, (one year later) with King Louis XVI and the Royal Family presiding over this event. When passing the law establishing the National Day, on July 6th, 1880 (nearly one century later…), il was officially stated that this National Day was commemorating the « Fête de la Fédération ». So forget the Bastille Day… God bless.

June 14, 1917: Pershing Arrives in France

Friday, June 16, AD 2017

On June 14, 1917 General John J. Pershing and 190 of his staff, military and civilians, arrived in France.  The first American combat troops would land on June 26, 1917.  America would not have a full division in France until the arrival of the last elements of the First Division in October 1917.  Eventually two million doughboys would serve in France but the buildup was initially a slow process.  No doubt many Allied leaders were wondering if the Americans would arrive in time to turn the balance against a Germany that was in the process of winning the War in the East.  Perilous times for America and its allies a century ago.  We forget today what a monumental task it was to raise an army of millions, train and equip it and to ship it across the Atlantic, and to do this from a starting stop in about a year’s time.  No wonder that some Allied leaders were skeptical, as Winston Churchill noted after Pearl Harbor:

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May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

Wednesday, May 10, AD 2017

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier.

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Fearless Freddie Dies

Tuesday, May 9, AD 2017


All but forgotten today, Major General Frederick Funston would almost certainly would have led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I if he had not died at age 51 of a heart attack on February 19, 1917.  Nicknamed “Fearless Freddie” he was perhaps the most famous American soldier between the Civil War and World War I.  He had a very unique career.  Always in ill health, he was a physically small man, 5 foot, 5 inches, and throughout his life never weighed more than 120 pounds.  After failing an admissions test to West Point in 1884 he pursued a career in botany.  Tiring of the quiet life he enlisted in the Cuban Revolutionary Army fighting against Spain.  Contracting malaria his weight fell to an alarming 95 pounds and he was granted medical leave in the United States.

After the declaration of war against Spain he was commissioned colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry.  Fighting against the Filipino Insurrection, he became a national hero by capturing the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  A separate action earned him a Medal of Honor.  Playing a leading role in putting down the Insurrection, Funston came under attack by critics for the severe measures he took.  The pen of Mark Twain was enlisted against him:

If this Funstonian boom continues, Funstonism will presently affect the army. In fact, this has already happened. There are weak-headed and weak-principled officers in all armies, and these

are always ready to imitate successful notoriety-breeding methods, let them be good or bad. The fact that Funston has achieved notoriety by paralyzing the universe with a fresh and hideous

idea, is sufficient for this kind—they will call that hand if they can, and go it one better when the chance offers. Funston’s example has bred many imitators, and many ghastly additions to

our history: the torturing of Filipinos by the awful “watercure,” for instance, to make them confess—^what? Truth? Or lies ? How can one know which it is they are telling ? For under

unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless. Yet upon such evidence American officers have actually—but you know about

those atrocities which the War Office has been hiding a year or two; and about General Smith’s now world-celebrated order of massacre—thus summarized by the press from Major Waller’s


“Kill and burn—this is no time to take prisoners—the more you kill and burn, the better—Kill all above the age of ten—make Samar a howling


Funston was completely unrepentant:

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller’s ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages’? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.

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4 Responses to Fearless Freddie Dies

  • Sanity and actions of warriors…. rarely do they dance nicely together all the time. Depending, I suppose, on the amount of hand to hand in your face combat, one could easily become the savage he so desperately despises.
    The rarity are the likes of Desmond Doss. Heroism bordering the supernatural realm.

    As for Freddie? I wouldn’t want to be fighting against him. He would never run out of rope.

  • “As for Freddie? I wouldn’t want to be fighting against him. He would never run out of rope.”

    That is a very safe statement!

  • You want to really have some fun? Here in the Most Perfect and Highly Intellectual Society :roll:, San Francisco, Fort Funston is a park and part of the Golden Gate Natl Recreation Area:

    If they only knew they were desecrating their feet with a memorial to Funston, what would our dear safe-place friends do?

  • 👿 You know, this article, if forwarded to the City and County of the Most Perfect Society, would cause an uproar.

May 14, 1916: Patton Shootout

Saturday, May 14, AD 2016


The Punitive Expedition had been an exercise in frustration for General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.  Pancho Villa, predictably, had eluded the Americans, refusing to stand and fight.  Thirty year old Second Lieutenant George S. Patton had been an aide to Pershing.  Requesting a chance to command troops, he was assigned by Pershing to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry.  In that capacity Patton took part in efforts to locate Captain Julio Cardenas, commander of the elite bodyguard of Villa, the Dorados, “Golden Ones”.

On May 14, 1916 Patton was on a mission to buy corn, his force consisting of a corporal, six privates and a civilian interpreter, all in three Dodge touring cars.  Learning from locals that Cardenas might be present at a ranch, which Patton had searched the previous week, near the town of Rubio, Patton decided to investigate.  Leaving two cars to block the southwest exit from the ranch, Patton, a driver, the civilian interpreter and a private took the remaining car to the northwest exit.  Patton advanced on the ranch with the civilian interpreter.  He spotted  an old man and a boy butchering a steer near a fence.  Suddenly three horsemen charged out from the ranch.

Initially they rode to the southwest.  Encountering Patton’s soldiers they then charged to the northwest, estimating presumably that the odds were in their favor against the lone American officer.

The Mexicans opened up at 20 yards.  Ignoring their fire, Patton coolly aimed his Colt single action pistol at the lead rider, knocking him off his horse.  Patton fired at the two remaining riders as they rode past him.  He then ducked around a corner of the ranch house and reloaded. Patton brought down the second horseman.  Patton waited while the bandit freed himself from his dead horse, Patton only shooting him when the Mexican attempted to fire rather than surrender.  The third bandit was brought down in a hail of fire from Patton and two of his soldiers who were now joining the fight.

The first bandit Patton had shot, got to his feet, made the mistake of going for his pistol, and was quickly brought down by the Americans.

The first bandit was identified as Captain Julio Cardenas, the second as Juan Garza and the third was never identified.

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7 Responses to May 14, 1916: Patton Shootout

  • Or, not incorrect henceforth to call him “Blood and Guts”, because to stand and face 3 armed horsemen with a handgun takes a lot of guts, and the outcome was verifiably bloody for the foes, and not the easy pickin’s they were expecting.

  • Gen’l Patton also demonstrated his courage and devotion to duty by personally leading his tanks in the first US tank attack in WWI. My uncle (RIP) in North Africa and Sicily, and friend’s father (RIP) in France and Germany served with Patton’s successful armies, and were “happy” (as if you can be happy in war) to have.
    Also, MacArthur was sent into Vera Cruz, Mexico to personally (under cover) reconnoiter a railway in preparation for a possible US amphibious operation. He got into a shoot-out, which he too won.
    In days of yore, men could shoot. When youths, they had been taught to ride, shoot straight, and tell the truth. Today, youngsters are taught that they can make poo-poo in the girls room.

  • Patton was an Olympic-level shooter, though. They couldn’t have known they were heading out of the frying pan and into the fire….

    Of course, Americans have historically had a tendency to make enemies regret meeting up with our really good shots who join the military.

  • Today Patton’s actions would be regarded as racial injustice against Hispanics. Oh for more such “injustice!”

  • George S. Patton, the original GSP. Only UFC fans will understand d that one.

  • for some of “the rest of the story”, google patton and “jim thorpe”.

  • And a handsome pair of Colt revolvers, replete with ivory grips, politically incorrect and beautiful works of art.

Punitive Expedition Gets Under Way

Monday, March 14, AD 2016


In the wake of Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, go here to read about it, the US wasted no time in putting together a punitive force to enter Mexico and destroy or disperse Villa’s forces:

Fort Sam Houston, Texas,
March 11, 1916.

Fort Bliss, Texas.
Secretary of War has designated you to command expedition into Mexico to capture Villa and his bandits. There will be two columns, one to enter from Columbus and one from Hachita, via Culber- son Is. Rachita column will consist of Seventh Cavalry, Tenth Cavalry (less two troops) and one battery horse artillery. Columbus column will consist of Thirteenth Cavelry (less one troop) a  regiment of cavalry  from the east, one battery of horse artillery, one company of engineers and First Aero Squadron with eight aeroplenes. Reinforced brigade of Sixth Infantry, Sixteenth Infantry, First Battalion Fourth Field Artillery and auxiliary troops will follow Columbus column. Two companies of engineers will be ordered to Fort Bliss awaiting further orders.  Necessary signel corps will be orderedf rom here. Will furnish you War Departmen instructions later. Have you any recommendations to make?

The troops designated  to comprise the expedition were the 7th, lOth, 11th and 13th Regiments of Cavalry, 6th and 16th Regiments of Infantry, Batteries B and C, 6th Field Artillery, 1st Battalion 4th Field Artillery, Companies E and H, 2nd Battalion of Engineers, Ambulance Company Number 7, Field Hospital Number 7, Signal Corps detach-ments, 1st Aero Squadron and Wagon Companies, Number 1 and 2.   Throughout the course of the expedition, much press attention would be given to the 1rst Aero Squadron deploying the cutting edge technology of airplanes.  Pershing organized his force into a division of two cavalry brigades and one infantry brigade.

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March 9, 1916: Villa Raids Columbus, New Mexico

Wednesday, March 9, AD 2016

The Mexican revolts against dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910 led to a complex and ever shifting mixture of groups and personalities fighting for control of Mexico in an intermittent vicious civil war that would last for over two decades.  Inevitably the US became involved in this vast complex with the US occupying the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914 for six months.  In early 1916 part time revolutionary general, and full time bandit, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his “Army of the North” were on the run after being defeated by the forces of José Venustiano Carranza Garza, who would go on to become President of Mexico until assassinated in 1920.  Villa was angered that the United States no longer gave him clandestine support and had switched its support to Carranza in hopes that he could form a stable government.

Desperate for supplies, Villa launched a raid on Columbus, New Mexico by five hundred of his men.  Villa, relying on faulty intelligence thought that Columbus was garrisoned by 30 US troops.  Actually, 341 troopers of the 13th Cavalry were stationed in the town.

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7 Responses to March 9, 1916: Villa Raids Columbus, New Mexico

  • My old National Guard unit, the 3rd Infantry Regiment, later to become the 162nd Infantry was mobilized during that time to secure the border against further raids by Villa. It is commemorated on the unit insignia by a cactus.

  • The punitive expedition was a much needed shakedown cruise for the National Guard just prior to the ordeal of World War I.

  • Very true. My grandfather was part of the pursuit of Villa into Mexico, and he later served in the trenches in France. I probably heard more stories about his life than any other veteran in the family.

    BTW, Don, remember the story about my wife’s grandmother’s fiancé being killed the day before the Armistice? I’ve now seen the condolence letter. He was killed when a shell exploded in the artillery piece his crew was operating. Doubly bad luck.

  • “He was killed when a shell exploded in the artillery piece his crew was operating. Doubly bad luck.”

    It is a tragedy when a loved one is killed in a War, and so much worse when the War was almost over. War poet Wilfrid Owen’s mother received the telegram announcing his death as Church bells throughout Britain were joyously ringing in the Armistice.

  • The Punitive Expedition into Mexico in chase of the brigand Pancho Villa was a fascinating chapter of American history. “Black Jack” Pershing’s commanding officer who sent him into Mexico, Frederick Funston, had been in charge of the relief efforts after the huge San Francisco earthquake 10 years earlier, at which time he had commandeered all private vehicles for use in the relief efforts (most of the horses were dead and/or useless for service with the city engulfed in flames). He became convinced of the usefulness of automobiles at that time, and it is no surprise that Pershing’s expedition into Mexicao was highly mechanized. At the National Archives are many photos which depict some of the hundreds of 1916 Dodge Touring cars, trucks, motorcycles, airplanes that were brought on that mission.

    Also a little known officer under Pershing by the name of George S. Patton, who ,with his men, was on the way to a Mexican farmhouse to buy some provisions when they stumbled on a contingent of Villa’s soldiers. Patton and his men were at the time in some of the 1916 Dodge Touring cars. He promptly ordered the very first mechanized cavalry attack ever. He returned to camp with a couple of dead Mexican soldiers strapped across the front of his car.

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Unspeakable Loss

Tuesday, March 1, AD 2016


Many posts on this blog will be dealing in the years to come with the involvement of America in World War I and the events leading up to it.  One of the key figures will be John J. Pershing.  In a military career that exhibited a dedication to hard work rather than brilliance, Pershing at 38 was still a First Lieutenant.  His opportunity came during the Spanish-American War when he had the good fortune to command black troops of the 10th Cavalry at the Battle of San Juan Hill and came to the attention of Theodore Roosevelt, who he knew slightly prior to the War.  In 1905 Roosevelt promoted Pershing from Captain to Brigadier General, over the heads of 900 officers senior to him, an almost unheard of move in the peacetime Army where promotion was almost entirely a result of seniority.

As Pershing’s professional career was taking off so did his personal life.  In 1905 the 45 year old bachelor married the 25 year old Helen Frances Warren, the daughter of  powerful Senator Francis Warren of Wyoming, who would serve in the Senate from 1895 until his death in 1929.  A veteran of the Union Army, and a Medal of Honor recipient, he would be the last Civil War veteran to serve in the Senate.  Pershing now had a firm advocate in the Senate, but it was love rather than calculation that lay behind his marriage as indicated by their rapidly growing family of three girls and a boy.

In 1913 Pershing was assigned to command a brigade at the Presidio in San Francisco.  With tensions running high with Mexico, the brigade was deployed to Fort Bliss in 1914, Pershing deciding to keep his family safe and comfortable at their house at the Presidio rather than having them at Fort Bliss, a decision he would come to bitterly regret.  In 1915, no fighting with Mexico having ensued, Pershing was making arrangements to have his family join him at Fort Bliss.  Just before his family was to move, Pershing received a telegram on the morning of August 27, 1915 informing him that his wife and three daughters, Mary, age 3, Anne, age 7, and Helen, age 8, had died in a house fire.  Only his 6 year old son Francis Warren survived, rescued by Pershing’s long time black orderly.

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Father Galveston

Tuesday, July 17, AD 2012

It is ironic that a priest who became so associated with Galveston and Texas was a Yankee!  James Martin Kirwin was born in Circleville, Ohio on July 1, 1872.  Kirwin was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1895.   Incardinated in the Diocese of Galveston, Texas, while in the seminary he attended, Father Kirwin was sent to the University of America in Washington, DC by the Bishop of Galveston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.  His ability being recognized early, Father Irwin was made rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston in 1896.

Throughout his priesthood Father Kirwin was always a whirlwind of activity, and he quickly became noticed for the heroism with which he attended the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1897.  During the Spanish-American War he helped raise the First United States Volunteer Infantry and served as its chaplain with the rank of captain.  Although the regiment never served over seas, the fate of most of the American units raised for the Spanish-American War, Father Kirwin’s service began a life long association for him with the Texas National Guard and the United States Army.

Father Kirwin rose to national prominence after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the worst national disaster in US history which killed approximately 8,000 people.   He helped found a committee of public safety which restored law and order to the city, he drafted the martial law plan, helped with the burial of the dead, and organized and served on the central relief committee which aided victims of the hurricane.  Together with his good friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, he spearheaded the efforts over the next few years to rebuild Galveston, including the building of a seawall for the city, the cornerstone of which he blessed in 1902 and saw through to completion in 1905.

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8 Responses to Father Galveston

  • Thanks for sharing, Donald. I didn’t know about Monsignor Kirwin. My ancestors were part of the Jewish community in Galveston. My great x3 grandfather was the local kosher butcher, a position of some religious importance. After the Hurricane my family moved to the swampy backwater town of Houston, and the rest is history. Galveston never fully recovered from the 1900 hurricane and regained its prominence economically. That may be for the best since it is a very vulnerable barrier island. Currently the island survives because of the University of Texas Medical School and seasonal tourism. The old Cathedral in Galveston is very beautiful, but I think the seat of the diocese has moved to a new Cathedral in Houston. I haven’t seen it since hurricane Ike so I don’t know if it has sustained much damage.

  • I LOVE this! My family visits Galveston a few times a year and I did not know this part of Galveston’s history. . I just purchased a used book about the history of the Ursuline convent there and find it hard reading knowing I’ll eventually have to read about the hurricane. . I’ll have to look up where this marker for Father Kirwin is located so I can make sure we visit it next time we go. .

  • Melinda what strikes me most about Father Irwin’s life is how eager he was to take on challenges that many of us, I know I would, would find overwhelming. We need a lot more of his spirit in this country today.

  • Msgr. Kirwin sounds like a priest after my own heart.

    Reading the article, I couldn’t help but think that so much of the activity that endeared
    him to the city– helping resolve disputes at the docks, his founding of the Home
    Protection League, his work to improve the fire department and the water system,
    building the seawall and blessing its cornerstone– wouldn’t those good things be
    grounds for complaints today?

    Imagine such a priest in 2012– he’d be told to respect the ‘wall of separation between
    church and state’, go back to his rectory and enjoy his ‘freedom of worship’. As for
    his work against the KKK, which was basically an arm of the Democrat party, well,
    today he’d be vilified for interfering in politics!

  • I was not aware of Father Kirwin. He led a very impressive life, in service to his fellow man and his community.

    God bless Texas!

  • I suspect that, in a world where any decent citizen would be “public-minded” and do lots of civic stuff, there’d be less worry about any particular person doing stuff. But of course, a lot of civic activities used to be more bipartisan, and by design. Nowadays, there’s very little agreement about what is normal and agreed by everybody, and it’s common for radical folks to try to “capture” organizations or leadership.

    So there’s not much room for bipartisan or apolitical civic groups. Radicals hate ’em and sue ’em.

  • The Right Reverend Monsignor James Martin Kerwin would be anathema to the one who says ‘no one actually achieves anything on their own’, who may have been speaking for himself, because the hand of God, cooperation of the inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the friend Rabbi Henry Cohen achieved so much through the work of human perseverence. He didn’t operate as a business, probably had no gov. salary or exemptions, and I imagine, in humility, Fr. Kerwin would take no credit for his accomplishments while in Galveston from 1896 to 1926. Love and service for God and neighbor.