Tag Archives: The French

Franco-Prussian War

Progressive emperor, progressive cape

Sadly, veterans of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War have (likely) passed away.  But it was not so long ago that French newspapers would run occasional mentions of an ‘incident’ involving a grizzled French military vet throwing his Merlot at a middle manager from an international conglomerate.  Those irrepressible old coots came to their loathing of MBAs honestly, as the last survivors of a war which helped turn the world into the dull, competence-worshipping boot factory we find ourselves in today.

In the middle years of the 19th century, the European balance of power was shifting (as was its wont).  France found itself with another Napoleon as Emperor, albeit one pursuing liberal economic policies and looking after the French reputation for classy living.  Just as one great album can make a band’s reputation, so too did the recent memory of Napoleon Bonaparte kicking everybody’s ass linger in European minds.  Or at least in French minds.  Napoleon III felt this strongly enough, in fact, that he took the time to declare, “The Empire means peace,” as if everybody was still worried.

Moltke spent years looking for a young boy named Andrew Wiggin

To the Northeast, meanwhile,  Prussia was on the rise.  The 1866 Austro-Prussian War had made Prussia the dominant German state, and now they were busy constructing a modern military.  Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke turned Prussia’s General Staff (already unique in Europe) into its most formidable weapon of war.  His intense and superb officer training created highly skilled and motivated officers who could be trusted to ably and quickly maneuver the armies placed under their command.  While France maintained the European tradition of an officer corps concerned with carefully sculpted facial hair and chic winter tunics, the Prussian General Staff was an unparalleled war-mongering think tank, devoting all their time to applying science, industry, and history to military advantage.

In addition to a superior, if somewhat less entertaining, army structure, the Prussian state also benefited from the leadership of the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck.  This aristocrat spent a rather unimpressive spell in the Prussian army among the bosoms of buxom beerwenches.  As he aged and the wenches’ affections waned, Bismarck turned his attention to the other great pastime of the aristocratic class: political machinations.  Armed with the forward-thinking notion that the great questions of the day are decided “through iron and blood,” Bismarck set out to unify the German states.  Goaded by tension relations and Bismarck’s cagey diplomacy (or lack thereof), France declared war on Prussia on July 19th, 1870.  Seen as the victims of French aggression, the other Germanic states came to Prussia’s defense.

France’s war mobilization effort was hampered by paperwork, confusion, and fur-trimmed parade gaiters which did not match the regimental livery.  By contrast, the Prussian General Staff used the dense Prussian railroad system to mobilize nearly half a million troops in three weeks.  The well-equipped and well-trained Prussian forces won a series of victories over the French in August 1870.  As the Prussians moved into France (the beginning of that habit), Napoleon III and his top general Marshal MacMahon decided it was a good time to tackle the pressing issue of prison reform.  They formed an army out of 130,000 pressed-in prisoners from Parisian jails.  Surprisingly, this army lacked discipline.

The hardened criminals of 1870 Paris jails report for military duty

In a last-ditch attempt to stop the Prussian advance, Napoleon and MacMahon fortified their forces on high ground around the city of Sedan in Northern France.  Sadly, they did not occupy the highest ground (a reoccurring problem: see Dien Bien Phu).  The Prussians surrounded Napoleon’s army, set up their best-in-class artillery on the higher ground, and fired down upon the French troops.  On September 1st, after a few days of shelling and some disastrous charges, Napoleon III surrendered.  The Prussians captured the French Emperor, over 100,000 French soldiers, and several thousand monogrammed silver cigarette cases.  While fighting continued until 1871, the war was essentially over.

So if you find yourself at work, frustrated by a mirthless Wharton graduate unimpressed by your sharp tie and demanding that you attend a conference titled Dynamic Deliverable Solutions for Bi-Cameral Production Trees, try throwing your Merlot at him.  Or just blame the French.

Drink: Iron and Blood

[ingredients:]

  • German apple cider
  • Goldschlager
  • Jagermeister
  • Bierstiefel (aka the German beer boot)
  • iron shot glass
  • red food coloring

[preparation:]

  1. Lay the groundwork for a unified drink by placing the ingredients together on a table.
  2. Prepare a hearty shot of 60/40 Goldschlager to Jager.
  3. Pour yourself a Bierstiefel of warm apple cider.
  4. At the opportune moment, drop the shot into the cider, unifying the German ingredients.
  5. Add red food coloring to taste (depending on your views on the necessity of blood in solving the questions of the day).
  6. Drink victoriously and salute a brilliant future!
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French and Indian War

The Siege of Quebec was a pivotal 1759 battle in the North American theatre of the Seven Years War.  In the battle, British General James Wolfe’s derring-do defeated an undisciplined French and Indian force, striking a blow against the French colonial presence in North America.  The eventually-victorious British allowed some French colonials to remain in North America, paving the way for Canada’s peculiar cultural makeup and marking the end of the NHL’s “Original Two” era.

—–

In the 17th and 18th centuries, France and Great Britain held a series of “exhibition wars” in North America.  The purpose was to introduce European colonialism to a new market, and get developing soldiers more playing time.  These wars had all the good parts of European play (glory, death, spoils) without the bad parts (unruly peasants, despoiled fox-hunting grounds).  Everybody also got to say “North American theatre” a lot, which is really fun.

The fourth war took place between 1754 and 1763.  Sadly, poor branding resulted in way too many names: The French and Indian War, aka The War of the Conquest, aka The Seven Years’ War (note that 1754 to 1763 is nine years).  This list doesn’t even include names the Native Americans gave to this latest round of colonial fisticuffs.

Boras kept the top 2 fur trappers out of the draft

The backstory was familiar.  The French and British were trying to outmaneuver each other for economic and military opportunities, and for the rights to the best Native Americans in the amateur draft.  In 1754, tensions in both North America and Europe caused the two nations to throw down their sticks, pull off their gloves, and go at it.  Both sides brought starters over from the Old World, and the play was spirited.  The hearty French “Les Habs” (as their fans called them), with their entertaining coalition of stocky fur trappers, Iroquois Confederacy warriors and French soldiers, scored major victories at Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry.

In June of 1758, British coach King George pulled the goalie and instructed General Wolfe to take Quebec before the horn.  The British sailed twenty-two ships up the hazardous St. Lawrence River right into the heart of French Canada, much to the surprise of the Habs capitaine the Marquis de Montcalm.  The British hoped to bombard Quebec into submission, but Montcalm’s “stay at home D” and Habs rookie keeper Patrick Roy made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.

thanks for reading the alt-text!

Is it "Roy" or "Wah"? Let the War decide.

After three months of plotting, General Wolfe decided to attempt a risky upstream troop landing.  The British sailed up the river, past the French D line, who apparently missed the conspicuous British whispering and even-louder “sssshhh, lads!” from the officers.  Wolfe managed to land 3,300 first-string troops on the outskirts of Quebec during the night of September 12th, 1758.  Montcalm had almost 14,000 troops in the area, and had he waited for them to amass, he could have attacked the British from two sides.  Instead, he hastily attacked the British line on September 13th with only 3,500 troops, a motley O-line of French soldiers, Native Americans, and French militia.

The “Siege of Quebec” ended within the regulation three 20-minute periods.*  The British troops’ mastery of musket fire and the neutral zone trap, combined with Montcalm’s poor field generalship and puck control, led to a British rout.  The first British volley sent the French line into a retreat, although Wolfe was killed almost immediately by a brutal Iroquois enforcer’s cross-check.  Brigadier-General George Townshend organized two battalions to turn and face French reinforcements approaching from the rear (the reinforcements Montcalm had failed to wait for).  Those French also retreated, allowing the remainder of Montcalm’s army to complete their retreat into Quebec.  This is the first known use of the famous French military tactic called Two French Armies Retreating In Opposite Directions.

Montcalm's enforcers spent the entire siege in the penalty box.

Montcalm, who was not required to wear a helmet (having been in the league prior to the 1747 helmet rule) was struck by a stray puck and died the following day.  Most of the French forces abandoned Quebec and the remaining garrison signed over the city to the British on September 18th.  The British won a resounding naval victory in November 1759 which ended French hopes of reinforcing their colonies.  By 1760 most of the fighting had ended, and the Treaty of Paris formally ended the exhibition season on February 10, 1763.  The British allowed French colonists remaining in Canada to keep their property and Roman Catholic religion, resulting in the bilingual problems Canada experiences today.

Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic approved of the off-season trades.

The following off-season was a busy one.  Britain offered France the choice of keeping either its North American possessions or the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (all of which Britain had invaded).  French chose to cede Canada.  That same season Spain traded Florida to Britain for Cuba and five navigational sextants, then spun those sextants off to obtain Louisiana from France (a move Don Cherry called outstanding).  France was unperturbed by the loss of Nouvelle France; French hockey blogger Voltaire declared that the Treaty of Paris cost France only “a few acres of snow; France ftw!”  No one anticipated, however, that the Spain-Britain trade would eventually result, two centuries later, in that most unholy of apparitions, ice hockey in Florida.

*Another example of poor branding.  A siege that lasts an hour is no siege at all.

Drink: The Siege of Quebec

[ingredients:]

  • 1 recently-emptied (not cleaned) 16 oz maple syrup jug
  • 2 oz French Brandy (cognac/Armagnac)
  • 1 oz Canadian Ice Wine
  • 1 tsp Drambuie

[preparation:]

  1. Pour ingredients into jug
  2. Shake or swirl to mix.
  3. Garnish with a maple leaf.

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Charge of the Light Brigade


I smell the makings of a kick-ass poem

I'm going to immortalize the shit out of this

You don’t need to be a Victorian poet to appreciate that a 19th century battle involving feuding commander-in-laws, tragic battlefield misunderstandings, the “Valley of Death,” at least three types of knitwear, and heroic French cavalry is going to be a total disaster. These were the ingredients of the Battle of Balaklava.

The Crimean War began in 1853, with the British, French and Ottomans fighting the Russians for control of the fading Ottoman Empire. Modern historians consider it the first modern war, due to the involvement of telegraphs, repeating rifles, and high-explosive artillery. How hilarious, then, that perhaps its most famous military action involved horses, sabers, and verbal misunderstandings.

Attack the Russian nuns? Where are the nuns?!?!

Attack the Russian nuns? Where are the nuns?!?!

On October 25, 1854, English and French troops were attempting to capture the Black Sea Russian port of Sevastapol. Their 4,500 soldiers faced 25,000 Russians across a U-shaped valley. While these odds may seem extreme, the Russians never approach a battle without waaaay too many soldiers. And, recall, that it was the first modern war. So everybody was excited and unsure of what, exactly, would be required of them in this bold new day.

Attack soon! Wheel about! Go that way! Why aren't you following orders?

Take the whosiewhatsits to the placeahmahut! Post haste!

Let’s cut to the charge. The British commander, Lord Raglan, kept giving his cavalry, commanded by Lord Lucan, confusing orders. The fourth, and worst of the bunch, was carried to Lucan by a snotty Captain named Nolan.

“Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.”

Besides sounding like a Mad-Libs battle command, it seemed to Lucan to have nothing to do with the battle whatsoever. The only guns he could see were the Russian artillery at the other end of the valley, more than a mile away (and what the hell are ‘horse artillery’?). Lucan asked for clarification. Nolan vaguely swept his hand across the valley and said contemptuously, “There my lord, there are your guns.”

The secret for these babies is honey and horse manure.

I couldn't have won this award without the help of...Cardigan's sister! Ba-zing!

Second place.

Second place.

Lucan took this order to Earl Cardigan, his direct subordinate and commander of the Light Cavalry. Lucan also happened to be Cardigan’s brother-in-law and, if that were not sufficiently galling, had just won the regiment’s coveted “Most Luxurious Muttonchops Award.” A reluctant Cardigan led his 600-odd men on a one-mile charge across the entire battlefield, being fired upon from three sides by Russians who probably felt like they were hunting buffalo in “Oregon Trail.” Tragically, the charge may have succeeded if Lucan had followed with the heavy cavalry (or at least the featherweight or welterweight cavalry). Instead, Cardigan’s Light Cavalry roughed up the Russians until the Russians realized they vastly outnumbered the British, at which point they sent the Light Cavalry back across the same one-mile gauntlet of artillery and rifles.*

Somehow, this guy survived, hat intact.

Somehow this guy survived, hat intact.

The Light Cavalry were probably saved from total annihilation by a flanking movement from the French Chausser’s d’Afrique, who sufficiently engaged one side of the Russian guns to cover the British charge and retreat. The whole action took 20 minutes. Of the approximately 660 British who participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade, 110 were killed, 161 wounded or captured, and 375 horses killed. Nolan was among the dead. Cardigan survived and argued bitterly with Lucan about who was at fault for the suicidal order.

Cardigan got the last muttonchop-quivering laugh when he had the button-front sweater named for him. Indeed, knitwear was thrown about after the battle like purple hearts. The town of Balaklava got its name attached to ski masks, Raglan ended up with a namesake sweater, and trendy trousers were named after British officer Duke Skinnyjeans. Lord Tennyson honored them all with his famous poem Charge of the Light Brigade, and his lesser-known essay, Totally Sweet Cavalry Charges, Poetry, and You.

Thanks, Battle of Balaklava!

Thanks, Battle of Balaklava!

*This strategy for chasing a superior enemy force was later made famous by Han Solo’s charge in the Battle of the White Subhallway in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Drink: The Valley of Death

[ingredients]:

  • chilled Russian vodka
  • currant liqueur
  • French champagne
  • one copy of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade

[preparation]:

  1. In a narrow champagne flute, pour one ounce of chilled Russian vodka.
  2. Mishearing something, recklessly pour one ounce of currant liqueur into the flute.
  3. Top off the glass with French champagne, stirring gently to mix until the concoction becomes poetic.
  4. Read Tennyson’s poem aloud, taking a sip every time you come across the word ‘death.’

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