HMS Macedonian vs USS United States

Painters have a fascination with the ocean. Monet’s “La Terasse de St.-Adresse”, Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa”, and Turner’s “The Fighting Temerarie” all illustrate the sea’s crashing waves, ships tossing about, and the serenity of the water. Some paintings are of war, and the combination of these two themes create masterpieces. This painting, by Thomas Chambers, is “Capture of H.B.M Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Firgate United States, October 25, 1812.” It is time to explore both the art and the history behind Chambers’ piece.

Capture of H.B.M. Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Frigate United States, October 25, 1812

The painting is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. on a wall in the second floor corridor. Painted in 1852, the image shows a duel between HMS Macedonian and the USS United States, early in the War of 1812. First we must understand the background to the piece. The War of 1812 began on the seas as the US and Britain became involved in a series of disputes over impressment. The United States’ claims to parts of Canada and the Franco-American sympathies helped turn the tide and war was declared in 1812. The USS United States was the first American frigate ever built, ordered in March of 1794. The ship’s captain, Stephen Decatur, allegedly made a bet with the commander of the Macedonian, John Carden, in Norfolk, Virginia. If the two were to meet in battle, Carden owed Decatur his beaver-felt hat. The United States was sent to patrol North Africa where it came into contact with the Macedonian off the Azores.

USS United States had a strong advantage over HMSMacedonian in its firepower. Most of the United States’ guns were 24-pounders, while HMS Macedonian was equipped with primarily 18-pounders. The United States also had six more guns and was a larger, more-powerful ship. The United States‘ broadsides riddled the British frigate at a long range and demasted the ship. Carden surrendered his ship after suffering some 100 casualties. The Macedonian was the first British ship to be bested by an American ship and the first to be returned to an American port (Newport, Rhode Island). HMS Macedonian was recommissioned as USS Macedonian and served until 1824.

Carden and the Macedonian

The close-up above shows Capt. John Carden of HMS Macedonian announcing his surrender to the United States with a loudhailer as the American ship fires a broadside into the Macedonian‘s hull. The sails next to him are covered in holes from the shot. It is important to note the damages around the ship as the USS United States fired about seventy broadsides. Chambers’ painting shows the ship in a much better state than it would have been. Many of the crew on both side are on deck, but on the United States, they would have been below decks firing the broadside illustrated.

USS United States

The whisps of smoke are my favourite part of this painting. Think how difficult it is to paint smoke and even show the wooden hull behind it. The American crew cheers from the deck and further to the right stands Decatur, responding to Carden over the roar of the cannon. Notice how the American ship is in the light of victory. Chambers was born in England, but moved to the United States where he would paint this in 1852. It is interesting to see where his loyalties lie.

While this painting is not as famous as “The Coronation of Napoleon” which I previously reviewed , it is still a very intriguing painting as it shows the different aspects of naval combat and the differences between each nation’s ships in one of the first naval engagements of the War of 1812.

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Uniforms of the Ages: Russian Guards in the Napoleonic Wars

Russia’s Imperial Guard is overlooked by many Napoleonic historians, as the Imperial guard of Napoleon is concentrated upon. Yet the personal guard of Alexander I (Paul I before his death in 1801) is still a massive part of the history, as Russia and Austria held against the French invaders. Russia’s common infantryman wore a dark green coat with white pants and a plumed shako, but the guards wore more elaborate and complex uniforms that rivaled any ornate French uniforms. Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich’s Imperial Guard became an integral part of the Eastern Napoleonic Wars and helped the Russians all the way to Paris in 1814.

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Different Russian Guard Infantry regiments

Infantry

The Imperial Guard in 1800 was four regiments strong: Preobazhensky, Semenovsky, Ismailovksy, and Guard Jagers. Two more regiments – Lithuanian Life Guard and Finnish Life Guard – were added in 1812 in time for the Battle of Borodino. Finally, two grenadier regiments joined as the “Young Guard” in 1813. What made these units different from regular Russian infantry. First of all, their height was drastically different. The minimum height of a guardsman was 1.71 m (5’6 ft) compared to the diminutive 1.56 (5’1 ft) of a regular. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, the guards served mostly in St. Petersburg as guards of the Czar and sent officers to regular units. Many of the guards came from Russian nobility rather than the basic origins of regular soldiers. The guards outranked regular privates in the Russian Army and were also given Prussian drilling- arguably the best in contemporary Europe.

Russian guards wore the same coat and pants as the regular infantryman, except with different facings and cuffs. For example, the Semeonvksy Regiment had blue collars, red facings, and blue cuffs. They each had specific colour restrictions on drumsticks and in 1800,  Imperial Guard Infantry even had mustache restrictions. Their shakos were the main difference than regular troops. A guard had white cord on their shako as well as a much more elaborate badge than the standard Russian eagle or grenade symbol.

Cavalry

Napoleonic cavalry is always associated with vivid colours, and the Guard Cavalry is no exception. The cavalry consisted of dragoons, hussars, cossacks, lancers, the Lifeguard Horse, and the Guard Cavalry Regiment. Each unit wore a different coloured coat:

  • Cuirassiers: White
  • Dragoons: Green
  • Lancers (Uhlans)- Blue
  • Cossacks- Red

Veterans were moved into both guard units and the cuirassiers after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The cavalry set restrictions on horse colour between certain squadrons of each regiment as well. The oldest of the seven guard cavalry regiments was the Lifeguard Horse, founded in 1721.

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Guard Cavalry

Guard Cuirassiers wore the traditional breastplate and a tall, plumed helmet which was blackened like the cuirasse. Saddle pads reflected a regiment’s facings and each had a star of St. Andrew stitched into the side. Dragoons were the same except they did not wear a breastplate. The hussars wore a white-plumed shako with a red coat and pelisse, each braided in gold. Uhlans wore a blue czapka and a white sash over their waists.

Artillery

The Guard Artillery were a small branch, but were still important. Their branch colour, red, adorned their shako cord and shoulder straps. Their collar was black, and they wore the traditional Russian dark green coats. White breeches completed their uniform. Guard Horse Artillery wore the same except their shako had a tall white plume and they wore green pants with two red stripes.

Indochine: The Kindling for Vietnam (Part 1)

Ken Burns and and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War” is a new 10 part miniseries on the conflicts between France, the US, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Viet Minh, and the Viet Cong over a period of about twenty years. The French presence in their colony of Indochine, or Indochina, was regarded as the instigation for the Vietnam War in which the US was flung into a massive conflict across the Pacific. It is important to understand the background of Vietnam’s relationship with the Western Nations before looking at the US involvement.

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Battle of Kep, 1884

The first Franco-Vietnamese relations were based on Catholicism in the 17th century as missionaries arrived to spread their religion across the world. The French East India Company set up trading posts in 1680 as their presence in the region grew stronger. The French were in India, Siam, and now Vietnam in the 17th century. Things soon turned sour as local Vietnamese people resisted the French missionaries. 200 years later, French ships arrived to rescue some captured missionaries and sunk Vietnamese vessels on their way.

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French Admiral de Genouilly

Napoleon III ordered the end of persecution in Vietnam of French Catholics, and sent Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly and Spanish allies on a Punitive Expedition called the Cochinchina Campaign in 1858. They captured Tourane (Modern-day Da Nang) but were eventually besieged themselves. Franco-Spanish troops in Saigon were also under siege and French troops tied up in Italy and China could not help. Francois Page replaced de Grenouilly s commander of the French forces, and reinforcements arrived in 1860 from China. Tourane was given up in favour of keeping Saigon, so the city was reclaimed by Vietnamese troops. At Ky Hoa, the Vietnamese army of 35,000 were pushed back, allowing French and Spanish troops room in Saigon. The French repeatedly offered peace but each time it was refused. With the fall of Vinh Long, the Vietnamese were in no place to win and peace was organized in June 1862. The Treaty of Saigon gave three provinces to the French and three more were added in 1867.

French expeditions into Tonkin soon exploded as resistance from Vietnamese members of the Chinese Black Flag Army and in 1873, French officer Francis Garnier was killed. The Tonkin Campaign began in 1883 as Henri Riviere brought French troops into Hanoi in an attempt to capture the region. The Black Flag Army were victorious at Paper Bridge, and Riviere was killed. The Tonkin Expeditionary Corps was sent to reinforce the French troops already there and was led by General Alexandre-Eugene Bouet. A victory at Nam Dinh pushed Vietnamese forces to the edge and the French troops had an opportunity to achieve a quick victory. French forces captured the Hue River at the Battle of Thuan An and forced four more provinces to be under French ownership.

At Phu Hoai and Palan, the French were pushed back by the Black Flag Army and the French outpost at Hai Douong fell to Vietnamese troops. The French were in trouble and had wasted their opportunity to end the campaign swiftly. In December, the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps met the Black Flag Army at Son Tay and the battle raged from the 11th until the 17th as the French bombarded their enemies and repeatedly attacked a set of redoubts. After a disastrous counterattack by the Black Flag Army, French Foreign Legionnaires and fusiliers-marins stormed Son Tay and claimed victory for the French.

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The Battle of Bac Ninh

In 1884, Chinese support of the Guangxi Army at Bac Ninh failed as 11,000 French troops crushed them under leadership of Charles-Theodore Millot. The sheer numbers of French troops was the most in the entire Tonkin campaign, managing to field two brigades including artillery. The force was made up of line infantry, Algerian tirailleurs, Foreign Legionnaires, marines, and Turcos. A Chinese ambush at Bac Le in 1884 sparked the Sino-French War over Tonkin. The French navy secured a massive victory at Fuzhou and allowed the French to create a blockade of Chinese ports. The French followed and crushed the Guangxi Army at the Battle of Kep and in retaliation to their high casualties, they massacred droves of Chinese wounded and prisoners to the dismay of the Western Powers. By 1885, the French were on the doorstep of Lang Son which was the main supply line for Chinese troops in Vietnam. After a series of engagements, the French managed to claim victory and the Guangxi were forced to retreat yet again. At Hoa Moc, the French were checked hard suffering some 300 casualties but opened the way to relieving a French outpost nearby. The Guangxi were thrown out of Tonkin the Battle of Dong Dang on Feburary 23rd. The French entered Southern China and were repulsed suffering heavy casualties yet again. The French finally were victorious at the Battle of Phu Lam Tao on March 25th 1885.

French troops during the Sino-French War

The French finally had Tonkin and Annam in June 1885 after years of bloody war. However, the locals still were against the French and constant attacks on supply routes along the Red River angered the French. Though Tonkin was French, it was still very much Vietnamese.

Part Two will discuss Indochina, French influences in the area, and how war broke out yet again in the Indochina War including the legendary of Dien Bien Phu.

Emigres in the British Napoleonic Army

Emigre units made up a sizable portion of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. Emigres were foreign troops in British service who chose to form regiments of a similar group.

One of the most notable units of emigres was the Kin’s German Legion, or the KGL. Made up of predominately Hanoverians, the KGL was created in 1803 from the remnants of the French controlled areas in Germany. The House of Hanover, who were in control of the British crown, helped to influence many Germans to choose the path of Britain rather than fighting for their new French leaders. The KGL consisted of 8 battalions of line infantry, 5 regiments of cavalry, and 6 batteries of artillery. There were about 14,000 troops in the KGL- the most of any emigre unit by far. They served throughout many campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars, notably in the Peninsula and in the Hundred Days. They fought at Bussaco, Salamanca, Vittoria, and Waterloo. They were most notably involved in the fighting at La Haye Sainte, described in The Longest Afternoon.

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Stamp featuring a member of the KGL

The Royal Corsican Rangers, a unit of riflemen formed on the island of Corsica, began in 1794 with the aid of Corsican revolutionary Pasquale Paoli. By 1798, British General Ralph Abercromby made them an independent unit as they began to fight in Italy against Napoleon’s forces. Most notably, the Corsicans clashed with French troops at Maida in Sicily. The unit was stationed in Corfu later on until they were disbanded in 1817. Another of the Emigres was the Royal Sicilian Regiment founded in 1806 with 1,300 troops. Maj.-Gen. John Stuart created the unit who served on Malta and on their home island of Sicily.

One of the more famous and peculiar units was the Chasseurs Britanniques, made up of deserters from France. Many of them were people who were targeted in the revolution or people who were not allowed back in France. Over 1,700 troops fought in the Chasseurs Britanniques and they served widely around the world. They fought in the Egypt Campaign, in the Peninsula, and in the War of 1812 in the United States. The unit was disbanded in 1814 after Napoleon’s first exile.

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Regiment de Meuron

The King’s Dutch Legion (KDL) was formed in 1799 after King William V left Holland after the French invaded and created the puppet state of the Batavian Republic. William V’s legion consisted of 5000 infantrymen and artillery and the unit served in the 1798 Irish Rebellion before they were disbanded in 1802. Another Dutch-inspired unit was the Regiment de Meuron because they were in Dutch East India Company (VOC) service. The Swiss mercenaries numbered about 900 and were transferred to the British after the formation of the Batavian Republic. They fought both in the Peninsula and in the United States.

 

Book Review: Fontenoy 1745

Osprey Publishing’s recent release, Fontenoy 1745, retells the story of the War of Austrian Succession’s most famous battle. An Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian force commanded by the Duke of Cumberland came face to face with Marechal de Saxe’s French forces in the small Belgian town of Fontenoy, just outside Tournai. Written by Michael McNally and illustrated by Sean O’Brogain, this book opens up a near-forgotten war in Europe’s history.

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Osprey Publishing’s new book: Fontenoy 1745

Praise: Cumberland’s tactical errors are pointed out bluntly, and rightfully so. The book makes its statements of how the Anglo-Dutch forces were uninformed and very strong-willed to their plans. Saxe’s flexibility and use of multiple columns is depicted in a few maps and really shows what a complex network the French general made. There are also reconstructed uniforms in the book of many units of interest such as the Mousquetaires du Roi of the French army. On-site photographs are always great, but McNally manages to capture the correct weather too. His misty pictures clearly show how hard it was for the early-morning attacks troops made. Osprey Publishing always do a good introduction to a topic, and the War of Austrian Succession is covered briefly and provides a solution to any confusion one may have about what the British or the French fighting in Belgium has to do with the Austrian throne.

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British and French Guards clash at Fontenoy

Criticism: The two battle maps in the book felt boxy too me. While 18th century warfare was very rigid in its structure, the maps feel odd and seem to exaggerate the number of troops on the field with huge blocks of infantry. The illustrations could also have been placed better in the book, as you find a picture of the French Irish Brigade about 10 pages after you hear about their attack.

The War of Austrian Succession is mostly overlooked, but it still remains a very important war. Maria Theresa kept her claims to the throne, and it eventually led to the Seven Years’ War. Saxe’s strategies influenced Napoleon Bonaparte later in the early 19th century. Seeing the British defeat as an opportunity, the Jacobite Rebellion sprang up in Scotland. While the Battle of Fontenoy was 3 years before the end of the war, it remains a turning point, and a remarkable French victory over the British, Hanoverians, and Dutch.

Rating: 4/5

The Coronation of Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte, arguably history’s most famed general, is the topic of controversy; movies; and art. The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques Louis David is possibly the most recognizable of paintings about Napoleon. The painting was commissioned in 1804 after Napoleon was crowned as Emperor of France, and was completed two years later. The painting is massive- 20 ft. by 32 ft. It is currently housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Bonaparte holding his wife’s crown

Why was Napoleon even having a coronation? Well, Napoleon wanted to cement his claim to the French Empire. By crowning himself, he felt that he was completely safe from any other dangers from France. The coronation was very peculiar and contradictory. Though Napoleon claimed to be Emperor, he also was acting as a defender of the French Republic. Perhaps the most important event during the coronation came when Pope Pius VII was about to place the crown on Bonaparte’s head. Napoleon took the crown from the Pope’s hands and crowned himself, taking control of the entire situation.

 

Josephine Bonaparte

Jacques Louis David’s painting captures the scene just after, where Napoleon crowns his wife. Bonaparte stands in the centre, holding a crown in his hands. His wife, Josephine kneels before him and looks down toward his feet. Josephine Bonaparte was older than Napoleon and had two children from her late husband. The marriage caused much controversy among Napoleon’s family and the French population. Eventually she was divorced in 1810.

 

 

Napoleon’s brothers

Napoleon’s brothers, Joseph and Jerome, stand at the far left of the painting. Joseph Bonaparte was crowned King of Spain by his brother and was famous for his battles against the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular Wars. Jerome was crowned King of Westphalia. The two brothers were not exiled like Napoleon, and they lived in relative peace until their deaths.

The painting still remains one of the most revered painted by a Frenchman. Though it doesn’t depict a famous battle or engagement, the painting immortalizes one of history’s greatest tacticians and generals.

Uniforms of the Ages: Hungarians in Austrian Service

The heavily multicultural Austrian Empire divided its army into two main nationalities: Germans and Hungarians. While the majority of these units were not actually of those nations, the Hungarian troops were some of the more elaborately dressed.

Throughout Austria’s history, the Hungarians have retained the same core elements of their uniform, changing only when the uniform style did. The first appearance of specific “Hungarian” troops was around the reign of Maria Theresa and the War of Austrian Succession. There were Hungarian troops prior to this war, but the special uniforms were not adopted until then. Hungary had only been part of the Habsburg Empire since 1541. A large partition had separated it from Bohemia and placed it under the influence of Austria.

Gyulay Regiment  in the 7 Years War

The most notable part of the Hungarian uniform was the gold braiding on the front of the pants in a knotted style. This “Hungarian knot” was a braided lace design that was notably used by Confederate officers in the US Civil War. For the Hungarians, this pattern was on both pant legs in a golden lace. Unlike “German” troops, the pants of these soldiers were a light blue while Germans wore white or gray.

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Confederate General Braxton Bragg with a Hungarian knot

The uniforms changed over time with style of warfare. Tricorne hats and long coats were soon replaced by helmets and higher pants during the Napoleonic Wars. The helmets were extremely cumbersome, and provided little protection to a soldier when he wore them. In 1809, Austrian troops swapped their helmets for the shako, which was used by almost all of the major world powers at that time. The Hungarian pattern, however, remained on the uniform. By the Napoleonic Wars, the trousers of Hungarian troops had been added to as well; a black and gold stripe ran down the side of the pants. 

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Hungarian Grenadiers

Post-Napoleon, Hungarian troops played an even larger role in the Austrian Army. The ratio of German units to Hungarian units was almost even as the population increased. By the next reforms, Hungarian troops wore the new shorter shako and their coats were given gold lace around the facings. These uniforms would carry them through the Italian Wars of Independence and the Austro-Prussian War.

The Hungarians achieved a dual monarchy in 1867, establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Uniforms remained the same until 1908 when a new, modern uniform was introduced. The hechtgrau (pike-gray) uniform was more subtle than the white and light blue the Hungarians previously wore, but their knotted pattern still stayed on their pants. By 1918, the Empire fell after their defeat in the First World War, and the Hungarian uniform disappeared with it.

Hungary used a drab coloured uniform after the fall of the Dual Monarchy, and discontinued any of the previous gold lace on their pants or coats. By the Second World War, the old uniform style was completely gone, and just as the Austrian Empire changed with age, the Royal Hungarian Army changed too.