June 2, 1763 – Pontiac’s Rebellion

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw in 1765, but the often genocidal actions on both sides seem to have led both sides to conclude that segregation and not interaction should characterize relations between Indians and whites.

The Seven Years War, experienced in the American Colonies as the French and Indian War, ended in 1763 with France ceding vast swaths of the territory of “New France” to the British.

The fourteen Native American tribes involved in Pontiac’s Rebellion lived in a loosely defined region of New France known as the pays d’en haut (“the upper country”), which was claimed by France until the Paris peace treaty of 1763.

Unlike the French, who had cultivated friendships with their Indian allies, the British under Lord Jeffrey Amherst tended to treat indigenous populations with contempt. The first grumblings among the tribes could be heard as early as 1760. The full scale uprising known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion” broke out in May of 1763.

Pontiac's_war

Indian nations of the time divided more along ethnic and linguistic rather than political lines, so there was no monolithic policy among the tribes. Not even within members of the same tribes. Some of the fighting of this time resulted in the murder of women and children.  There was torture. There was even an instance of ritual cannibalism. At least one British fort was taken with profuse apologies by the Indians, who explained that it was the other nations making them do it.

The brutality was anything but one sided. The British “Gift” of smallpox infected blankets from Ft. Pitt was hardly the first instance of biological warfare in history, but it may be one of the nastier ones.

The siege of Fort Detroit which began on May 7 was ultimately unsuccessful, but the series of attacks on small forts beginning on May 16 would all result in Indian victories. The fifth and largest of these forts, Fort Michilimackinac in present Mackinaw City, Michigan, was the largest fort taken by surprise. Local Ojibwas staged a game of baaga’adowe on June 2, an early form of lacrosse, with the visiting Sauks in front of the fort.

Native American StickballNative American stickball had many variations, but the object was to hit a stake or other object with a “ball”. The ball was a stone wrapped in leather, handled with one or sometimes two sticks. There could be up to several hundred contestants to a team, and the defenders could employ any means they could think of to get at the ball, including hacking, slashing or any form of physical assault they liked. Lacerations and broken bones were commonplace, and it wasn’t unheard of that stickball players died on the field. The defending team could likewise employ any method they liked to keep the opposing team off of the ball carrier, and they played the game on a field that could range from 500 yards to several miles.

Fort Michilimackinac

The soldiers at Fort Michilimackinac enjoyed the game, as they had on previous occasions. When the ball was hit through the open gate of the fort, both teams rushed in as Indian women handed them weapons previously smuggled into the fort. Fifteen of the 35 man garrison were killed in the ensuing struggle, five others were tortured to death.

Three more forts were taken in a second wave of attacks, when survivors took to the shelter of Fort Pitt, in Western Pennsylvania. The siege which followed was unsuccessful, but a mob of vigilantes from Paxton village – “The Paxton Boys” – slaughtered a number of innocent American Indians, many of them Christians who had nothing to do with the fighting. Many of these peaceful Indians fled east to Philadelphia for protection, when several hundred Paxton residents marched on Philadelphia in January of 1764. Paxton_massacre

The presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented them from doing any more violence, when Benjamin Franklin, who had helped organize the local militia, met with their leaders and negotiated an end to the crisis. Mr. Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense we suffer from today, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that injury on all Indians?”

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw in 1765, but the often genocidal actions on both sides seem to have led both sides to conclude that segregation and not interaction should characterize relations between Indians and whites.

October 7, 1763 proclamationThe British Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, drew a line between the British colonies and Indian lands, creating a vast Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. For the Indian Nations, this was the first time that a multi-tribal effort had been launched against British expansion, the first time such an effort had not ended in defeat.

The British government had hoped through their proclamation to avoid more conflicts like Pontiac’s Rebellion, but the decree had the effect of alienating colonists against the Crown. For American colonists, many now found themselves on the road to Revolution. The Indian Nations, as they existed at that time, were on the road to ruin.

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June 1, 1918 Belleau Wood

White crosses and Stars of David stand silent witness over the graves of fallen servicemen at the American cemetery, 2,289 of them. 250 mark the final resting place of the unknown.  The names of another 1,060, missing for all time, appear on the wall of a memorial chapel. Visitors there may also stop at the nearby German cemetery, where 8,625 are buried.

After three years, the Great War could be likened to two evenly matched and exhausted fighters, each holding the other by the throat while attempting to beat the other to death.

Swaths of the European countryside were literally torn to pieces.  Every economy on the continent tottered on the edge of destruction, or close to it.  The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire were on the edge of extinction.  The Russian Empire was dying.WW1

No fewer than 1.7 million Russian troops lay dead at the dawn of 1917, and food shortages plagued the countryside.  The Czar was forced to abdicate by February, as the largest belligerent of the war descended into civil war.  By March, Imperial Russia was all but out of the war.

The United States entered WW1 relatively late, the first 14,000 Americans arriving ‘over there’ in June 1917.  General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing wanted his troops to be well trained and equipped before entering combat, and refused to disperse them, piecemeal.  Desperately wanting the Americans to fill in gaps in his own lines, British Field Marshal Douglas Haig called Pershing ‘Obstinate and Stupid.  Ridiculous’.  French Marshall Ferdinand Foch was apoplectic, but Pershing refused to allow his people to be used as cannon fodder.

The first small-scale American action occurred that October, near the trenches of Nancy.  Meanwhile, a mighty force was building at the French harbors of Bordeaux, La Pallice, Saint Nazaire and Brest.  Passenger liners, seized German vessels and borrowed Allied ships poured out of New York, New Jersey, and Newport News, as American engineers built 82 new ship berths, nearly 1,000 miles of railroad track and 100,000 miles of telephone and telegraph lines across the french countryside.

By May 1918, those initial 14,000 had grown to over a million, ‘over there’.

It was imperative at this stage for the German war effort, to throw a knockout punch before the Americans entered in force.  With close to 50 divisions freed up from duty in the east following the Russian surrender, Spring of 1918 was time for the ‘King’s Battle’.  The Kaiserschlacht.

Operation Michael, the first of four German offensives, exploded against the British 3rd and 5th Armies at 4:40am on March 21.  In the space of five hours, 1,100,000 shells were fired into an area 150 miles square.  This “Storm of Steel” was followed by storm troopers:  fast, elite German infantry armed with flame throwers and small arms, following a moving curtain of fire known as the ‘Feuerwalze’.  Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria, was succinct. “We chop a hole. The rest follows.”belleau-wood

At first, Michael was so successful that German troops outran their own supply lines.  The German advance began to falter as exhausted forces faced waves of fresh British and Australian troops.  By April 5 the western front was returned to stalemate, at the cost of 255,000 British, British Empire and French troops.  239,000 were lost to the German side.

Operation Georgette‘, the Battle of Lys, opened after preliminary bombardment on April 9.  The main attack all but destroyed the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, the British 2nd Division and elements of the British 40th Division.  In issuing his “Order of the Day” on April 11, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig stated, “With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.”

Technically a German victory insofar as they held the ground when the shooting stopped, Georgette too was a pyrrhic victory.  Killed, wounded and missing stood at roughly 220,000, split evenly between both sides.

M-Belleau-12-HT-Jun08-1

Operation Blücher–Yorck, known to history as the Third Battle of the Aisne, began with a German attack on May 27, toward Rheims.  The sector was nominally held by six British divisions, badly depleted and basically ‘resting’, following the mauling suffered in earlier fighting.  Making matters worse, French General Denis Auguste Duchêne was openly contemptuous of Marshall Philippe Petain’s order to maintain defense in depth, insubordinately massing his troops in forward trenches.

Marines-battle-of-belleau-woodThe results of the Feuerwalze were devastating, if not predictable.  Allied lines were smashed as German armies poured through, taking 19 kilometers in three days and reaching the Marne River, 50 miles from Paris.  On May 31, a dogged defense by the US 3rd Infantry Division turned the German advance at Château-Thierry, and toward Belleau Wood.

This and the following week’s fighting earned for the 3rd I.D. the nickname “The Rock of the Marne”.  To this day, the unit out of Ft. Stewart, Georgia, is known as the “Marne Division”.

On June 1, German Forces penetrated French lines to the left the US Reserve.  The US Army 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and an element of the Marine Corps 6th Machine Gun Battalion conducted a forced march overnight, covering over 6 miles to plug the gap and oppose the German line.Scott_Belleau_Wood

Arriving to find French forces retreating, Marines were urged to turn back.  2nd Battalion, 5th Marines Captain Lloyd Williams’ response would go down in Marine Corps History.  “Retreat? Hell, we just got here”.  Belleau Wood was one of the bloodiest battles US forces would fight in WW1.  Six times over the following days, 5th & 6th Battalion Marines attacked the better part of five German divisions in Belleau Wood.  The once-beautiful hunting preserve was reduced to a jungle of shattered timber.

An overwhelmingly superior German force threw everything they had at these two brigades of Marines, a few hundred soldiers and a handful of Navy corpsmen:  mustard gas, interlocking and mutually supporting fields of machine gun fire.  Fighting became hand to hand with rifle, bayonet and even fists. And still they came.Teufel Hunden

At Belleau Wood, Marines first heard the name “Höllenhunde” (“hellhound”), and the appellation that goes down in Marine Corps lore, to this day.  “Teufelshunde”. “Devil Dogs.”  In one attack on June 11, only 1 of the 10 Marine officers and 16 out of 250 enlisted men survived, or came out unscathed.

On June 26, Major Maurice Shearer was able to report, “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely,”  Belleau Wood was the first major engagement for American forces in WW1.  They came out of it with nothing to prove.

On June 30, the French 6th Army Commanding General Jean Degoutte officially renamed Belleau Wood as “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” – Wood of the Marine Brigade.

A German private, one of only 30 men left out of 120, may have had the understatement of the war, when he wrote “We have Americans opposite us who are terribly reckless fellows.”