Call to arms

I would just to remind everyone that I am hosting the second Military History Carnival on 13th May.

If you would like to submit a post either email me directly or use the form here.


Who was Zebulon Pike?

Zubulon Pike

On this day in 1813, Zebulon Pike a brigadier general in the United States army, lead a successful attack on a British garrison at York (Toronto). However, as the battle drew to a close Zebulon was hit and killed by a rock, sent flying by an exploding ammunition store.

But who was Zubulon Pike?

Pike, Zebulon, and Stephen Long, American explorers of the West. The American exploration of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains began with the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The northern part of this new territory was first explored by the Corps of Discovery led by captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804–1806. Farther to the south it was initially explored primarily by the expeditions led by Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779–1813) in 1806–1807 and Major Stephen Harriman Long (1784–1864) in 1819–1820.

Pike was born in Somerset County, New Jersey, near Trenton and was the son of a veteran of the American Revolution and the grandson of a veteran of the French and Indian War. Largely self-educated, he enlisted in the army at fifteen, was commissioned a lieutenant in 1799, and after his return from the Greater Southwest in 1807 he was promoted to captain. Pike died a brigadier general at the Battle of York (Toronto) during the War of 1812.

In 1805–1806, Pike led an important scouting expedition from Saint Louis to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. Less than three months after his return, he was sent into the southern reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. He mapped the valleys of the Arkansas and Red rivers that formed the vague boundary between New Spain and present-day Louisiana, eventually reaching the site of present-day Pueblo, Colorado. He explored the environs of what later became Pike’s Peak—it was identified on his published map of 1810 only as “Highest Peak”—and crossed the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Thereafter, Pike and his men were captured by the Spanish, accused of spying, and conveyed via Santa Fe to Chihuahua. His captors confiscated all of Pike’s maps and notes, but he secretly reconstructed and smuggled out some of them in the barrels of his guns. Pike’s party was eventually released and was escorted across Texas through San Antonio to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Pike added substantially to the geographic knowledge of the American West, above all Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. His cartography helped to fill in the uncharted space on the map of the expanding American frontier, and successive explorers, including Stephen H. Long, followed Pike’s trails and maps for more than a quarter of a century.

Long was born in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1809. He became an army engineer and a member of the U.S. Topographical Bureau, formed in 1813, and he investigated the upper Mississippi to the Fox-Wisconsin River portage in 1817 before going to the Rockies. In 1819–1820, he explored the Platte and Arkansas valleys and climbed and mapped Pike’s Peak and a number of other mountains. His surveys and notes were the primary sources for a large-scale map of the American West that he produced in 1820. The map was published in ten sheets in 1823, and served as a “master map” for commercial map publishers such as Henry S. Tanner of Philadelphia for more than two decades. On his map, Long first applied the deceptive label of “Great American Desert” to the West.

Upon his return from the Rockies, Long went on to explore and map the source of the Minnesota River and the U.S.–Canada boundary west of the Great Lakes in 1823, and to survey the route for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Throughout his career, Long’s work was highly regarded and served as a manual for the future exploration and recording of the American West.

By Dennis P. Reinhartz (

If you want to read more about Pike, try here and here.

Britain’s slave trade records go online

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s slave trading past gets a human face on Friday as an ancestry-tracing Web site starts putting the personal histories of the victims online for the first time.

The UK Web site,, posted 100,000 names of Barbados slaves registered in 1834 in the colony.

By December the site will contain the names of three million slaves from 700 registers in 23 British colonies, from South Africa to Sri Lanka between 1812-1834.

Members of the site can search free for ancestors by entering their relatives’ first and last names and place of enslavement during that period.

In Search of Adam

In Search of Adam
As some of you may know, my wife is a novelist. She was the first person to have her novel discovered via her blog. It is now a couple of months until the novel is released and the media frenzy is beginning to build.

This said Caroline’s blog has always been separate from her novel. However, she is currently experimenting with bringing the two projects closer together.


If you want a free badge, go here.
If you want to join the search for Adam, go here.

War hero honoured 70 years after death

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my local council adding the name of a deceased servicemen to a local monument. At the time I suggested that this action was in some way a reflection British communities having no formal avenue for commemoration.

I argued that:

The British public’s attitude to the current war in Iraq is complex and politically charged. It is the sensitive nature of the debate that has made it difficult for society to memorialise the sacrifice of the modern soldiers. For many the link between opposition to the war and the ability support the solders, irrespective of political standing, is indistinct. This result is an absence of a suitable system of public memorialisation. The lack of major conflict since the Second World War has left our society unused to publicly recognising the sacrifice of its soldiers. Though we openly commemorate Armistice Day, this has become a very general event; dedicated to ALL the soldiers who have been killed whilst fighting abroad. Yet in a way this is an escapist approach. It allows us to avoid addressing our deeper lack of unquestionable support for our soldiers, irrespective of personal political feelings.

I wonder if we are in fact suffering from a feeling of collective guilt, which makes open recognition of the deaths of solders in Iraq and Afghanistan difficult. Politically many people oppose these wars; an opposition I feel is often based on flimsy evidence and understanding. Therefore, when faced with the real consequences of these conflicts, we have no viable outlet for our collective grief.

I suspect that the addition of David Hunt’s name to the town’s memorial has much to be with a transposed reaction to the current conflict in Iraq.

This week I read our local free rag in my usual uninterested fashion, until I came across this article:

War Hero honoured 70 years after death

Basically it’s the same story. Family have found out their relative is not mentioned on a memorial, the council add name, story in paper.

However, this has a few elements I wanted to highlight.

The first is the length of time. In this case it took 70 years for the name to be added. But why now? Why has the daughter suddenly felt the need to include the name at this moment in time?

The second is the manner of commemoration. This is a very local affair, with small service and speech by local dignitary (Deputy Major). This seems to be a pattern – I feel the community element is particularly important. This is reinforced by the sister’s statement that ‘there was no mention of her father locally.’

The third is the picture of the daughter. She is wearing her father’s medals. Is it me or is this a bit strange. Carrying them or holding them up to the camera I would understand, but to wear them implies they are her medals!

None of the family now live in the Parish (the closest is Len, who is about 5 miles away). Yet, they still feel the need to commemorate their relative in the community in which he lived prior to the war. To me this implies they feel their relative died as much for his community as for the country. This idea is reinforced in this post, which suggests the same of an American Civil war veteran.

VC Sold for 155,350 pounds

John Bythesea
LONDON (Reuters) – An early Victoria Cross awarded for a daring raid on Russian enemy couriers during the Crimean War was sold for 155,350 pounds at auction in London on Thursday.

“The fact that this is the second Cross ever awarded is quite important, particularly as it’s such a rare decoration. The soldier had an amazing life and the story of how he won it was spectacular,” a spokeswoman for auctioneers Spink said.

The buyer was agent Michael Naxton, who acts for the Conservative Party’s millionaire chairman Lord Ashcroft. He owns the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses.

The medal sold on Thursday was awarded to Lieutenant John Bythesea who volunteered with William Johnstone in 1854 to intercept a crucial dispatch from the Tsar to the Baltic fortress Bomarsund, which was a Russian military stronghold.

In 1857, both men received the Cross in a special ceremony from Queen Victoria. Johnstone’s medal is on display in a Los Angeles history museum.

Swords, medals and soldiers

I believe that high level gallantry awards, such as the Victoria Cross & the Medal of Honor, are not rewards for soldier’s actions. Instead, they are items of recognition, a physical representation of society’s gratitude for a serviceman’s sacrifice.

If you look at British society prior to the inauguration of the Victoria Cross in 1856, you find a number of interrelated systems in place, for unofficial ‘communities’ to recognise the actions of its soldiers. One of the most common of these was the presentation of an engraved sword.

On 16th July 1856, The Times reported a ‘presentation of a sword to Colonel Lake,’ writing that ‘on Monday there was a public breakfast at the Music Hall, Ramsgate, the object being to present a sword to Colonel Lake, C.B., in acknowledgement of his gallantry at Kars.’ The article went on to describe the reaction of the crowd stating that ‘the sword was presented amidst vociferous cheering, the whole company standing.’

The banding together of a community to recognise their heroes actions was not uncommon and another typical example is that reported in The Times on the 3rd September 1845. Under the heading ‘Gallantry rewarded’ the reporter comments:

‘We are happy to learn that a sword worth 100 guineas has been presented by the inhabitants of Kirkandy, on the river Nunez, to Lieutenant Cockcraft, R.N., for his gallant conduct in destroying the piratical post of the Naloos, on that river in the month of February, 1844.’

This is part of research that I had carried out a number of years ago. Up until recently I had only considered British 19th century society, until I read this fascinating article at the John David Hoptak’s excellent blog: The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry.

He talks about an US soldier called James Nagle, who had fought in the Mexican-American War(1846-1848). John writes this about Nagle’s return to his community:

‘Captain Nagle was presented with a beautifully inscribed sword from the citizens of Pottsville in recognition of his service. He carried this sword with him throughout the Civil War as Colonel of the 48th PA and as general of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps.’

John confirmed that the inscription on the sword reads:

‘Presented to Capt. James Nagle by Whigs of Pottsville for his Gallant Services in Mexico.’

Here are my thoughts:

It appears to me that the words ‘Gallant’ and ‘Service’ are important.

Gallant suggests the following thoughts:

  • It is a stronger word than brave.
  • It has connections with chivalric behaviour.
  • It has an implication of the involvement in combat.
  • The same word is mentioned in connection with Colonel Lake and Lieutenant Cockcraft.

Whilst Services conjures the following thoughts:

  • Nagle is serving the community.
  • The community is recognising the services.
  • An unspoken contract exists between the soldier and his community.
  • The community feels the need to recognise the services, implying they are beyond what was expected.
  • His services are given a location – Mexico. This suggests that the sword is not for ‘Gallant Services’ elsewhere. This may possibly imply that it is only his services in Mexico that are worthy of recognition.

This has started me thinking about the relationship between mid 19th century American and British society. It appears that the two societies may have followed the same models of recognition. In the UK, the Crimean War in (1854-56) demonstrated the need for a system of recognition, which resulted in the introduction of the VC in 1856. In the US the Mexican-American war stimulated a similar concern over awarding soldiers, with the Medal of Honor being introduced in 1862.