The Week in History.
A roundup of last week’s coolest historical events.
Issue 2: Wednesday 22 February (1732) George Washington is Born. Thursday 23 February (1836): Siege of the Alamo Begins, (1820) Cato Street Conspiracy Foiled. Friday 24 February (1525): Battle of Pavia. Sunday 26 February (1815) Napoleon escapes from Elba.
“The Greatest Character of the Age” is born
That title quote comes via Benjamin West and Rufus King from the lips of no less a person than George III, who nonetheless pales as a man in the eyes of Thomas Paine, when set beside the immortal Washington.
“The character and services of this gentleman are sufficient to put all those men called kings to shame. While they are receiving from the sweat and labors of mankind a prodigality of pay to which neither their abilities nor their services can entitle them, he is rendering every service in his power, and refusing every pecuniary reward. He accepted no pay as commander-in-chief; he accepts none as President of the United States.”
Rights of Man, 1791-92. Thomas Paine.
“Victory or Death” in Texas.
Santa Anna gets allot of stick for his string of defeats against the USA, but back when Texas was Tejas, and the issue was about the Mexican constitution, he did get the drop on the Republican Rebel Garrison of San Antonio. After a surprise victory, the Texians were equally surprised to find Santa Anna knocking at the gates of the Alamo one winters morning. Colonel Travis’ fatalistic streak is plain to see from the get go. This written the day after the Mexicans occupied Bejar.
“To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World:
Fellow citizens & compatriots—I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna—I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch—The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country—Victory or Death.
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. comdt
P.S. The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
Arrest of some “Diabolical” Plotters.
For some time previous to the day on which the arrests took place, it had been known to his Majesty’s government, that an attempt at the assassination of his Majesty’s ministers was meditating, and that Arthur Thistlewood was at the bottom of it. On Tuesday, the 22nd of February, certain advice was received, that the attempt was to be made on Wednesday night, at the Earl of Harrowby’s, in Grosvenor-square. It is supposed that the Earl of Harrowby’s was fixed upon, because, being nearer the outlet from London than the residence of any other of the cabinet ministers (Lord Westmoreland’s excepted, who lives in the same square,) escape out of town, after the attempt had been made, would have been more easy. Be this as it may, the conspirators, as soon as they had ascertained that the cabinet dinner was to be held there, lost no time in arranging their dreadful and diabolical project. The place chosen to arrange finally their proceedings, to collect their force, and to arm themselves, was near the Edgware-road. John-street is a short distance on the road, and intersected by another street, called Cato-street. Cato- street is rather an obscure street, and inhabited by persons in an humble class of life ; it runs from John street into Queen street, and is parallel with Newham-street. It is open at one end for the admission of carriages, but is closed by posts at the other. The premises occupied by the conspirators consisted of a three-stall stable, with a loft above, in a very dilapidated
condition. They are the property of General Watson, and have been recently in the possession of an old servant of his, who had turned cowkeeper. From this man they had been engaged by some of the diabolical crew whose machinations have been so happily discovered. The people in Cato-street were utterly ignorant that the stable was let until Wednesday, when several persons were seen to go in and out, and carefully to lock the door after them. Some of these individuals carried sacks, and parcels of various descriptions. For two or three hours previous to the entrance of the stable, the police officers were on the spot, making their observations, but still no suspicion was excited of the real object of their attack ; and so well was the plan of surprise laid, that, until the discharge of fire-arms was heard, every thing remained perfectly quiet. Thus accurately informed of the intentions of the conspirators, warrants were issued to apprehend them while they were assembled. These warrants were put into the hands of the police officers, under the able direction of Richard Birnie, Esq., the chief magistrate of Bow-street. A detachment of the Coldstream Guards from Portman-street barracks, were also ordered to accompany the police-officers. They proceeded to the place of meeting in Cato-street, the police-officers proceeding first. The conspirators had taken the precaution to place a sentinel below. The military consisted of the picket-guard of the 2nd Coldstream Regiment, which was stationed in Portman-street barracks. It consisted of thirty men, including a sergeant and corporal, and commanded by Captain Frederick Fitzclarence, who happened to be on duty at the time. They were called out about a quarter to eight o’clock; each man provided with twenty rounds of ball cartridge. The detachment immediately proceeded ill the direction of the Edgware-road. The men were not acquainted with the business on which they were called out. They supposed a fire had taken place, and that they had been sent for to protect the property. On their arrival within about sixty yards of the house in Cato street, John-street, the place of the meeting, they were halted for a few minutes, during which they were ordered by Captain Fitzclarence to fix bayonets and shoulder arms. They were also enjoined to observe the strictest silence. The detachment then marched on, but had not proceeded more than a few yards when they heard the noise of fire-arms. They were then ordered to advance in double quick time, and instantly came in junction with the civil officers, who had arrived previously on the ground, and were engaged with the party in the house. The only approach to this pandemonium was by a narrow ladder. Ruthven, one of the principal Bow-street officers led the way, and he was followed by Ellis, Smithers, Surman, and others of the patrol. On the door being opened, about twenty-seven or thirty men were seen within, all armed in some way or other; and some of them engaged either in charging firearms, or in girding themselves in belts similar to those worn by the military, while others were in close and earnest deliberation. There were tables about the room, on which lay a number of cutlasses, bayonets, pistols, sword-belts, pistol balls in great quantities, ball-cartridges, &tc. As the officers entered the room, the conspirators all started up, when Ruthven, who had been furnished with a warrant from the magistrates, exclaimed — “We are peace officers lay down your arms!” In a moment all was confusion. The notorious Arthur Thistlewood, opposed himself to the officers, armed with a cut and-thrust sword of unusual length. Ruthven attempted to secure the door, and Ellis, who had followed him into the room, advanced towards the man, and, presenting his pistol, exclaimed “Drop your sword, or I’ll fire instantly !” Thistlewood brandished his sword with increased violence, when Smithers, the other patrol, rushed forward to seize him; and on the instant the ruffian stabbed him to the heart. Poor Smithers fell into the arms of his brother-officer, Ellis, exclaiming — “Oh, God! I am-” and in the next instant was a corpse. Whilst this deed was doing, the lights were extinguished, and a desperate struggle ensued, in which many of the officers were severely wounded. Surman, one of the patrol, received a musket-ball on the temple, but fortunately it only glanced along the side of his head, tearing up the scalp in its way. The conspirators kept up an incessant fire ; whilst it was evident to the officers that many of them were escaping by some back way. Mr. Birnie exposed himself every where, and encouraged the officers to do their duty, whilst the balls were whizzing round his head.
At this moment Captain Fitzclarence (a young officer well known for his gallantry and gentlemanly conduct) arrived at the head of the detachment of the Coldstream Guards. They surrounded the building, and Captain Fitzclarence, with Sergeant Legge and three files of grenadiers entered the stable, where the first object that presented itself to their sight, was one of the party running out of the stable, apparently with intention to make his escape. He was seized by one of the soldiers, when the ruffian instantly approached the gallant captain, and presented a pistol at his breast ; but, as he was in the act of pulling the trigger. Sergeant Legge rushed forward, and, whilst attempting to put aside the
destructive weapon eceived the fire upon his arm. Fortunatly for this brave man, the ball glanced along his arm, tearing the sleeve of his jacket, from the wrist to the elbow, and only slightly woimding him. A black man was the next that was started from
his place of concealment ; he was armed with a cutlass. He also aimed a blow at captain Filzclarence, but was seized and secured by one of the soldiers, James Basey, without any injury to the latter but a slight cut on the finger. Then addressing himself to his friends in the house, he exclaimed, “Fight on while you have a drop of blood in you — you may as well die now as at another time!” The detachment was then ordered to rush forward which they did, headed by their captain, who darted into a stall, and seized by the collar a fellow who was standing in it, and who grappled with him with one hand, while he attempted to fire a pistol at him with the other, which did not go off, the powder flashing in the pan. The miscreant still holding hrmly by the coat, the captain called out to his men to disengage him. Two of them, James Revel and James Basey, immediately seized him, and he surren-
dered himself, saying, “Do not kill me, and I’ll tell you all.” This scene took place in the stable on the ground-floor. It was a three-stalled stable, with a hay-loft over it, with which it communicated by a ladder placed at one end. The detachment led by Captain Fitzclarence then mounted the ladder and into the loft, now filled with smoke, and only illuminated by the occasional flashes of the fire-arms of the conspirators. In the confusion naturally occasioned by the contest, Thistlewood contrived to make his escape, almost unobserved, and the constables had by this time retired for the purpose of surrounding the house, and intercepting the flight of any others of the gang”. On entering the loft, the military came in contact with the dead body of the murdered Smithers, (the constable), and a ruffian lying at his side all covered with the blood of the dead man. The fellow rose, and did not appear to have sustained any hurt or injury. Addressing himself to the soldiers, he said, “I hope they will make a difference between the innocent and the guilty.” Three others were next taken together; they were huddled in a corner among some shavings. One of them jumping out said, “I resign myself ; there is no harm; I was brought in here innocent this afternoon.” These four were all of them found by the soldiers in the room, making, with the man taken below in the stall, and the two outside, seven
prisoners. The constables had previously taken two, one of whom made his escape down the street, but was pursued and re- taken. The moment he was caught he fired a pistol, which he had concealed on his person : it went off, but did no injury. Muddock, one of the soldiers, when he entered the loft, in the midst of darkness, ran against something which he at the moment conceived to be a part of the building. He was, however, soon un-
deceived, by a wretch snapping a pistol at him, which happily missed fire. Failing in this detestable purpose, the miscreant threw himself on the ground, exclaiming, ” Use me honourably’ and the gallant soldier contented himself with making him prisoner. When this was mentioned to Captain Fitzclarence, he asked Muddock why he had not stuck his opponent ; the reply of the brave fellow was, ” Why, your honour, I had him by the heels, and I took his pistol from him, and I wanted no more.” The pistol was loaded nearly to the muzzle. It is impossible to give a minute detail of the desperate conflict which took place, or the numerous instances of personal daring manifested by the peace officers and the military, thus brought into sudden contact with a band of assassins in their obscure den, and in utter darkness. Unfortunately, this darkness favoured the escape of many of the
wretches, and the dreadful skirmish ended in tlie capture of only nine of them.”
George T Wilkinson. An authentic history of the Cato-Street conspiracy.
The Capture of a King.
The decisive victory of the Italian Wars famously saw the French King lose everything but his honour.
“Then did the horse-hoofs stamp, when the horsemen also put the battle in array, and the earth shook at their voice. And the chief captains of the imperial hosts placed five hundred foot–men bearing guns in the midst of the cavalry with subtlety. And it came to pass, as they were fighting, that they suddenly fired their guns on the cavalry of the French, and many of them fell; and the rest fled for their lives, for they feared lest the evil should overtake them; and the viceroy of the emperor and the duke of Bourbon also filled their hands at that time. And the king also, as well as his nobles, fought on that day, and all his mighty men fell before his face slain to the ground; and the king ran with his sword drawn in his hand, and slew the chief of the Germans, and he fell slain to the ground; also, the Marquess Pescara was wounded in his face, his belly and his thigh; for all this his anger was not turned away, and he spoke kindly to his men, and they again put the battle in array, and the French were smitten before them, and fled; and they slew the horse of King Francis, who fell to the ground, and they took him, and he was delivered into the hand of the viceroy of the emperor at that time. And also the king of Navarre and, many nobles and honorable men who were with them, were taken in that battle. And many were slain by the edge of the sword; and they were like dung upon the face of the field, and like the corn after the reaper, which none gathered. And it came to pass, as they were fighting, that the duke of Alencon saw their distress, and went out from the camp and four hundred horsemen with him. So they fled, and went on their journey to France. And the hosts of the emperor came into the camp of the king upon the slain and took great spoil, and came to the city with gladness. And the city of Pavia rejoiced and was glad.”
The Chronicles of Rabbi Joseph ben Joshua ben Meir, The Sphardi
An Eagle Flies the Nest.
Napoleon had been preparing for days to leave Elba, but his window of opportunity was closing, having already bluffed Captain Adye into thinking all was well, he was now at the mercy of the weather.
“He came at daybreak, he left in the mysterious gloaming, and his passing was so swift that it seemed to have lasted but one long day. The same splendid serenity of sky and waves prevailed, unruffled by the slightest breeze. The warm, pure air was impregnated with a scented fragrance, for an early spring had already burst the buds, and caressed the fields of flowers in the maquis into blossom. Yet the calm of this divine night would, if it
continued, be the ruin of all hope, and bring disaster from the outset. If the convoy had not progressed sufficiently far before dawn, which fortunately came late at this season, they would meet the English sloop returning from Livomo with Campbell on board, and fall an easy prey to her superior speed and big guns. The French squadron would hasten
to the scene at the sound of the firing, and the only possible sequel would be to sell their lives dearly. The Emperor said not a word. He paced up and down the quarter-deck of the Inconstant, in his grey overcoat, and waited, like the rest. The sails
hung from the yards, and lapped the masts, in sullen inactivity. Four mortal Hours went by. At last, towards midnight, a slight breeze ruffled the waves. The sails filled. The watcher at the semaphore, and the fishermen sent out to reconnoitre, announced that the south wind, damped by the circle of mountains round the Gulf, was blowing strong outside. Wind from this quarter brought salvation. It blew the expedition along with a following gale, and held the English frigate stationary at Livorno. The crews and soldiers took oars to get out of the Gulf and the flotilla, rallying round the lantern suspended from the mainmast of the brig, moved silently away in the moonlight.”
Napoleon, King of Elba Paul Gruyer. 1906.
See you again for another adventure in Historyland. Josh.