February 13, 1945 Of Battles and Beignets

So what does Joan of Arc have in common with pancakes, pigs and potatoes? Why, I’m glad you asked.

We fancy ourselves a land of sand and fun here on Sunny Cape Cod™, not the kind of place for an epoch changing clash of arms. Truth be told the place really IS “Mayberry by the Sea” but even we, have had our moments.

On April 3, 1779, local militia sallied forth to the beaches of Falmouth, to oppose a landing by some 220 of the King’s Regulars. The invaders were indeed repulsed but not before little Falmouth sustained a cannonade of ball and grape lasting from eleven in the morning, until well after dark.

falmouth1779_350

During the War of 1812, locals once again took up squirrel guns along the beaches and fired, on British warships. HMS Nimrod fired back holing no fewer than thirty buildings, with cannon shot. Until recently, three of those buildings yet stood, holes and all. Sadly, the Nimrod Restaurant is no more. Today there are but two cannonball holes but you can still see them still, one at the Elm Arch Inn and the other, at the former home of Captain Silas Bourne.

And who can forget that battle for the ages remembered far and wide, as the “Herring War”. “The Cape” has always been a sport fisherman’s paradise (and still is) but the earliest settlers were more focused on more important things. Like eating. The earliest mill was built in 1700. Others came into service over the next 100 years, mostly grist and woolen mills.

Before the age of internal combustion such enterprises harnessed the power of running water, and there came the rub. There were those who plied the waterways in search of a migratory and tasty little silver fish, called a Herring.

Long simmering animus between the two groups came to blows in 1800 when new mill construction threatened to block a herring run, in East Falmouth. Locals took to a cannon on the town green to express their ire. Packing the barrel with powder and herring they though to touch the thing off but, if some is good then more just has to be better. Right?

A herring left strictly to nature is an unlikely object to put in a cannon, but these guys figured it out. By the time they were done there must have been fish tails, hanging from the muzzle. Match was touched to to powder and the fuse was lit BOOM! The barrel exploded killing the gunner and raining down fish guts, for half a mile.

Thus ends another chapter of the never ending Herring Wars. And yet, this wasn’t the first conflict coming down to us with a funny sounding name. This wasn’t even the first Battle of the Herrings.

Today, the Siege of Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War marks the first appearance of Joan of Arc, at the head of a French Army. On February 12, 1459, Joan was making her final plea for support and safe conduct to enter the battle. The future saint prophesied that very day the King’s forces would suffer a dreadful defeat as indeed they did in an action remembered, as the Battle of the Herrings.

The city of Orléans was under siege for five months when an English supply train of 300 carts and wagons set out to provision the besieging force. Set upon by a vastly superior force of French and Scottish allies the English took refuge behind walls bristling with sharpened wooden stakes and wagons laden with – you guessed it – herring, in barrels. The tactic served them well at Agincourt and again, on February 12. Three to four thousand French forces attacked with gunpowder artillery, a new and poorly understood weapon, at that time. The Scots deplored such unmanly tactics and went to the attack, only to be cut down by a torrent of English arrows. The French cavalry then charged to the rescue while English longbowmen finished the job. The battle ended in a rout resulting in the loss of 500-600 French and Scots allies at the cost of a negligible number of English.

Word of the disaster reached the Dauphin, days later. Plunged into despair the young King-in-waiting and his ministers decided it couldn’t hurt to let this illiterate peasant girl take part. Thus we remember the Battle of the Herrings and the legend, of the Maid of Orléans.

In many Christian nations, Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent and the last day (for now) to gorge on pancakes, beignets and other sweet treats. Also known as “Fat Tuesday”, “Mardi Gras” and “Pancake Tuesday”, Christians across the nation turn to pantries and supermarket shelves in the quest for some sweet confection. Many of those will see the face of Aunt Jemima smiling back. At least they once did, but then there was 2020.

Sigh.

Speaking of Aunt Jemima, Shrove Tuesday fell on February 13 in 1945, a day marking the continuing effort to evict the Japanese occupier from pre-communist China. In the US, OSS operatives, precursor to the modern CIA, devised an explosive compound with a color and consistency very much like, pancake flour. You could even cook with the stuff and eat it though it wasn’t recommended and probably not very tasty. As it was explosives were easily smuggled into occupied China in Aunt Jemima packages for the use of Chinese patriots, in the war against Imperial Japan.

Today Nancy Green, the original (and very real) Aunt Jemima is once again relegated, to anonymity. Her descendants don’t understand and neither does anyone else, why her likeness was removed from grocery store shelves and replaced by the impersonal, “Pearl Milling Company Original”. But hey, who are we to stand in the way of the conspicuous display of meaningless virtue?

Today the United States and the United Kingdom enjoy a “Special Relationship” and may it ever be thus, but it wasn’t always that way. Three epoch changing clashes of arms were to unfold before we got to this place: the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Pig and Potato War.

Wait…What?

Yeah. The Oregon treaty of 1846 failed to make clear who governed the tiny but strategically important San Juan Island in the Gulf of Georgia, near Vancouver. Despite the diplomatic limbo British and American settlers alike lived in the place and got along perfectly well. Until June 15, 1859. A pig belonging to an Irishman named Charles Griffin was helping himself to potatoes belonging to the American farmer, Lyman Cutlar. Cutlar shot the pig. Scorning the farmer’s £10 peace offering Griffin insisted the farmer be arrested as indeed, he was. Anger boiled over on both sides and before long, a 461-man force of pissed off Americans armed with with 14 cannon faced over 2,000 British soldiers and five warships.

Very little ends well that begins with armed and angry men but sometimes, cooler heads prevail. British Admiral Robert Baynes had no intention of fighting with Americans over a dead pig. US President James Buchanan felt the same way and, before long, ruffled feathers were soothed. The island was handed over to US administration in 1872 following thirteen years, of mediation.

Now, wouldn’t I just love to talk about the Battle of the Cheeses, and how Mad Honey laid low the legions of Pompey the great? Yes I would, this is too much fun but, sadly, work awaits. That must remain a tale, for another day.

Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a father, a son and a grandfather. A widowed history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m well over a thousand. I do this because I want to. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anyone else. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thank you for your interest in the history we all share. Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: