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The Mongols in Russia

The war in Ukraine is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun ( Ecc. 1:9). This is because warfare in the region of Ukraine has been nearly constant for centuries.

Few people know, for example, that the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered the Kievan Rus (now Ukraine) in the 13th Century and seriously threatened Muscovy (Russia) to the point that Muscovy was a client state of the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde (sometimes called Tartars) was an off shoot of the Mongol armies that eventually established a huge empire ranging from China and Korea in the east, to the plains of Hungary in the West. The below map shows the Mongol Empire after it splintered into four individual Khanates.

http://By Los Angeles County Museum of Art – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1569183

Alexander Nevsky is a famous Russian\Ukrainian hero who fended off Swedish and Teutonic invaders but also paid tribute to the Golden Horde. That made Muscovy a client state of the Golden Horde for a long time.

This does not mean that the Russians and Ukrainians are one and the same people, but to show that for centuries these Slavic peoples had much in common and were no strangers to warring against foreign invaders and among themselves.

All that to say, knowing a little about Russian\Ukrainian history does help to put the current conflict into a bit of a historical perspective.

The Golden Horde background was the setting for our latest wargame. My friend (JZ) and I have an interest in the history of what we portray in a game; although the game is for fun and in no way glorifies the actual horrors of war. For us, painting and researching the model soldiers, building a terrain board, playing a game with easy to follow rules is a past-time that involves far more than an electronic wargame or PC simulation.

Mongol Heavy Cavalry by JZ

Our latest game involved my Muscovite\Kievan (Ukrainian-take your pick, medieval army versus an early Golden Horde army that consisted primarily of Mongol allies or subject peoples that included Koreans and Chinese. The game was remarkably colorful.

Chinese and Korean Cavalry by JZ

The armies of the time (post the original Mongol Invasion under Genghis) mostly consisted of cavalry of various types. For both sides, heavy cavalry were common, as well as horse archers, although the Mongols favored light horse archers more so than the Russians. Infantry were often present in the battles but took a secondary role. The Russians who were usually defending were more apt to field infantry drawn from their city militias.

Russian City Militia by JZ

As an added twist that says something about the politics of the time, you could find Russians on the Mongol side and Mongols on the Russian side, as each pursued their own interests at the expense of any kind of national unity, since little of that really existed. Loyalty had more to do with the local warlord than it did with princes, kings or khans. A rare leader could unify contingents in a loose alliance but once that battle was over it would be back to petty squabbling among themselves.

The game featured Russians are both sides (figs by JZ and BR)

Our game was a bit of a hodgepodge in that regard as Russian units were present on both sides; although my force was exclusively Russian.

The general idea of the game was the Russians were constructing a watch post on a small fort with a watch tower in order to protect the the village that was part of a larger Russian city, not too far distant from the village. The garrison of city militia has managed to construct some light fortifications but have yet to erect the watch tower, although their scouts have been active patrolling the fluid border.

A Mongol led army consisting mostly of allied or coerced troops have been spotted. Their intent is to knock down the outpost and pillage the near-by village for loot and slaves. The Russians send for reinforcements that consist of the mustered levy of cavalry led by the local Dvor (nobles). The pictures below will tell some of the story. The rules we use are Lion Rampant (Osprey Publications) by Dan Mersey.

Russian City Militia man the crude fort. The unit consists of equal proportions of crossbowmen and spearmen. As we will soon see, the militia held out quite long but did little damage to the enemy. A good wargamer always blames the dice!
Russian skirmisher scouts from the village.
A second unit of Russian City Militia emerged from the village to support the first unit within the fortification. They were not equipped with crossbowmen and so could only occupy ground but never really threaten the Chinese or Korean horse archers to their front.
This is another unit of Russian City Militia although they are on the other side! As noted earlier, units that do not have supporting missile units are at great disadvantage in eastern warfare. While very useful in holding ground or forts, when caught on open ground they are susceptible to being shot to pieces. This unit merged unscathed, traitors though they are!
The Mongols fielded a small unit of foot archer skirmishers no doubt upset that they are on foot. That’s what you get for losing your horse!
The elite of the Mongol allied army-a unit of Mongol heavy cavalry lancers.
The Mongol heavy cavalry would eventually over run the Russian fort after the Russian infantry fled having taken many casualties from the horse archer units tormenting them.
Russian reinforcements were late to the scene, but this heavy horse archer unit arrived first. Figs by BR.
Chinese Cavalry by JZ
Russian Dvor or Boyar (Nobles) make their appearance. Figs by BR
Russian lesser Boyars charge a unit of Korean skirmish cavalry but to little avail as they evade to get behind the traitorous Russian City Militia behind them in support. Figs by BR and JZ
Beautifully painted Korean Infantry. Figs by JZ
Chinese Heavy Cavalry by JZ
Russian lesser Boyars. Figs by BR.
Overview of the battle as all the units are now present on the field.

The Russian City Militia in the fort managed to hold out against the horse archers that nearly surrounded them. They finally broke having taken 2\3 casualties. The Russian right two units of Dvor and one of lesser Boyar) drove back the Russians on the Mongol left and nearly managed a breakthrough only to lose their leader causing an army morale check. Four of six units lost morale had to fall back and although rallied the pause was fatal. By then the fort at fallen and the center of the Russian line breached. The remaining Russian City Militia would be helpless from the horse archers. The Russian commander (me) who took over after the real leader was killed. I ordered the Dvor and remaining cavalry to abandon the infantry and village and retire to the walls of the city. It was a harsh decision but it was better than Dvor being captured and tortured by the Mongols and their allies!

The figures used in the game were 1\72 plastic. The manufacturer’s were Strelets, a Ukrainian company, Zvezda, a Russian company, Red Box (Ukrainian) and a few Italeri (Italy based but absorbing smaller companies of various origins).

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Greene Reports on the Battle of Eutaw Springs

I have a particular interest in the War of Independence and the Southern Campaign. This report from Gen. Greene has been reproduced in it’s entirety by Almost Chosen People. Excellent.

Almost Chosen People

The last major engagement of the Southern Campaign, the battle of Eutaw Springs was fought on September 8, 1781.  The sides were numerically evenly matched with each side having about 2000 men involved.  Although tactically a draw or a slight British victory, strategically the battle was an American victory with the British left in control of only Charleston and its environs.  Along with Savannah and Wilmington, the British attempt to conquer the South was clearly failing, a result only underlined by the surrender of Cornwallis in the following month.  Here is the text of General Greene’s report on the battle to Washington.

Head Quarters, Martins Tavern, near Fergusons swamp So. Carolina
September 11th 1781


In my dispatch of the 25th of August I informed your Excellency that we were on our march for Frydays ferry to form a junction with the State Troops, and a Body of…

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Private Albert David Smith-World War One

I recently added three postcards to my small military history collection of post cards. I especially like to find the ones that have a name and address and a message. It gives me the opportunity to do some INET research and see what I can find out about the person. There is also the chance that some relative of the person on the postcard might stumble upon my entry and want the postcard for their family history. In such a case, I would be happy to send it to them. Below are pictures of the postcard.

For a Good Cause

The postcard is a good example of early colorization. It probably was a bit more expensive than the black and white postcards that are far more common. The time period suggests the World War One period-a fact verified by the post mark on the flip side. The theme and title, For a Good Cause, speak of the leaving of the soldiers and saying good-bye to their sweethearts.

Prominent with the soldiers is the distinctive campaign hat of American World War One soldiers. The hats would not be worn in the trenches of France since they provided no protection to the head. American soldiers on the front lines in France would wear a steel helmet that was very similar to the British helmets of the period.

The picture also shows the soldiers with their rifles symbolizing the fact they were off to war. The most common rifle issued to American soldiers in World War One was the 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle. The rifle would see service well into World War Two until replaced by the M1 Garand.

The dress of soldier’s sweethearts is a snap shot of the styles of the 1918 period. The characters have been super-imposed on a park like background.

To Private Albert Smith

The card was sent to Private Albert Smith who appears to be in basic training at Camp Jack Johnson in Florida. He is in a receiving company numbered twelve, meaning he is just starting his training. I am uncertain as to what the “Rd Reg” means but I am assuming it is the training regiment that Co No 12 belongs to. I am certain that Camp Jack Johnson is actually Camp Joe Johnson, named for the Confederate General during the American Civil War. The camp was in service from November, 1917 to May, 1919. According to the notes I found the camp specialized in training quartermasters-key players in logistics and supply.

The card is postmarked August 19, 1918 stamped in New Burgh, New York. The post mark helped me track down Private Albert Smith who I believe is Albert David Smith of Orange County, New York.

Before I move on to Private Smith and what I discovered I want to write a few words about our army in World War One.

The United States was unprepared for a major war when Congress declared war on Imperial Germany in April, 1917. Our standing army was tiny and the National Guard (and US Marines would make up a large portion of our early contributions to the war in France. However, by the end of the war in November, 1918 the United States had 2,000,000 men in France, most of whom were drafted!

The US did not win the war alone. The British (and Commonwealth countries) as well as France had been fighting for three long years prior to our entry. Every major power was exhausted by the carnage. It can be said that the US entry into the war sealed the fate of Imperial Germany since 2,000,000 more allied soldiers were more than enough to break the stalemate. Private Albert Smith would be one of the hundreds of thousands who were drafted.

My wife and I worked to transcribe the message and this is what we came up with.

FR-Albert Rec (received) card with many thanks glad to hear from you, everything is about the same in New-B- (New Burgh), you are having the time of your life traveling, tell WM Hagen (William Hagen?) I was asking for him From your Fr-F Spn.

The first mystery to unravel is who is Fr. Initially, my wife and I thought Fr stood for father. We thought that would be inconsistent with the front of the card that shows soldiers kissing their sweethearts. I thought maybe the Fr stood for Fran or Franny, a common name for women at the time. The bottom line is we just don’t know for certain.

The second mystery was to see if I could find Albert Smith’s draft card. I had done similar research in my family history and found that the draft card could give you some details. I got lucky on Family Search and found three Albert Smiths from Orange County who registered for the draft in 1918.

One Albert Smith was born in 1876 and that would have made him 42 in 1918, too old to be called to the colors. Another Albert Smith was born in 1893 and that would make him 25 in 1918. It was possible he was who I was looking for. I had researched my own family history though and found that one of my grandfather’s older brothers had also registered with the draft in 1918 and he was born in 1893. He was never called up. Maybe it was because he was married.

The second Albert Smith was from Goshen, New York which is in Orange County, but it’s not New Burgh so I ruled number two out as improable.

Albert David Smith was born in 1899 making him 19 in 1918, the most common age for a draftee of the period. On Albert David Smith’s draft card it was recorded that his closest relative was Bertha Smith of Slade Hill, Orange, New York. I believe Bertha to be Albert’s mother. I am fairly certain that Albert David Smith is indeed the serviceman on the postcard. It does not seem that Fr on the card is Bertha but who knows.

I did run searches on find a grave but the only close match did not have the right birth month in 1899. That doesn’t mean it could not be Albert David Smith since mistakes are often made. However, the grave stone and entry had no new information except for the fact that the Albert David Smith died in 1982 and was buried in Florida. The age of death for a World War One veteran would be about right and it’s interesting to speculate that Albert retired to Florida after being trained there in the far away days of 1918.

For a God Cause

Another reason the post card resonated with me is because of the two model vignettes above. They are part of my collection of model soldiers in 54mm-60mm scale, These particular models are from Briton’s a well known manufacturer in the UK. The two models were part of a series of three. I have the German soldier saying goodbye to his sweetheart and I have a Scottish soldier saying goodbye to his. The one missing is a French soldier saying goodbye to his. I kick myself for not getting the French one when I had the chance years ago. The series was of a limited production so getting the French one now would be quite expensive.

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1812- War was the Only Choice

The War of 1812 comes across these days as basically a footnote in US History. At the time, Britain was engaged in a life or death struggle with Napoleon and so acted like the high-handed Empire they were. The impressment issue was huge. On the other hand, many in Congress had designs on Canada which was a bad plan. Napoleon’s first exile was in April, 1814 that that released a significant portion of the British army for service elsewhere. That in turn led to the Battle of New Orleans, of Andrew Jackson fame. The battle actually took place after a peace treaty had been sign between Britain and the US. Napoleon’s second exile took place after the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815, thus finally ending the Napoleonic Wars. All, that to say, the period and relations with Britain were complex and some historians say the War of !812 was the war that should never have been. Such is history. Great blog.

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Billy Mitchell was Right (and still is).

I grew up in West Allis Wisconsin-a suburb of Milwaukee.

There was parkway and a well-to-do neighborhood (well-to-do in those days) near my school. Sometimes, rather than go right home after school, my friends and I would walk over to the parkway and imagine “playing army” or otherwise adventure around-all the things young boys would do in the early to mid 1960’s.

To get to the parkway we would travel through the well-to-do neighborhood and it was there that I first learned of General Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell was born in France, the son of John Mitchell, a US Senator from Wisconsin. John Mitchell was a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. He served alongside another resident of Wisconsin-Arthur MacArthur, the father of General Douglas MacArthur of World War Two and Korea fame.

John Mitchell owned an estate in Wisconsin, in the neighborhood we kids traveled through to get to the parkway. By the 1960’s it was not an estate and I think the only thing that was left was the mansion in the middle of the well-to-do neighborhood.

If memory serves me, there is plaque to Mitchell (at least there was) at the intersection of two roads in what was probably the midst of John Mitchell’s estate. Wisconsin clearly wanted to recognize Mitchell for his accomplishments. If you are familiar with Milwaukee you will recognize that the airport is named after Mitchell as well as least one park.

There is an excellent article about Mitchell on Wikipedia. The article will detail Mitchell’s remarkable record and the huge controversy that got Mitchell court-martialed.

Mitchell was an outspoken critic of the “Battleship clique” in the US Navy. During World War One, the battleship was still queen of the seas, whereas air power was in its infancy. As early as 1924 Mitchell began to argue that Japan could attack Hawaii with land based bomber aircraft. That was thought to be ridiculous given the distance, but also because air craft carriers were just being experimented with in 1924. Although some, like Mitchell, recognized the potential, few among the generals and admirals did.

Eventually, Mitchell went beyond being merely out spoken and became increasingly insubordinate-similar to an Old Testament prophet no one listens to. Mitchell was courtmartialed which at the time did not necessarily mean discharged. Mitchell did resign however and dedicated the rest of his life advocating for air power.

A scene taken from Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell’s court-martial, 1925. (U.S. Air Force photo) This scene was recreated for the 1955 movie The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell. Mitchell is wearing the “turned-down” collar uniform, for which the Air Service had campaigned for several years. (Public Domain)

It’s interesting to note that later military tribunals said Mitchell’s views were vindicated but it did not matter since he violated the military code. This reminds me a little of Marine Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller who resigned after publicly criticizing Biden’s unconscionable, bumbling withdrawal from Afghanistan which cost the lives of thirteen American service men and women. You have to wonder how many high ranking officers in the US Military agreed with Scheller but kept their mouths shut?

Mitchell died in 1936 and almost immediately his posthumous rehab began. Two battles in the early stages of WW2 vindicated Mitchell beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The first occurred in 1940 in the Mediterraen when British bi-plane torpedoe bombers flew from the HMS Illustrious (aircraft carrier) and torpedoed the Italian Fleet in Taranto Harbor. The British planes (obsolete Fairey Fulmars) did considerable damage to two Italian Battleships thus taking them out of the war for a considerable amount of time. If you see some similarities to Pearl Harbor you would be spot on.

HMS Ark Royal (British aircraft carrier, 1938-1941) photographed circa 1939, with a Fairey Swordfish aircraft taking off as another approaches from astern. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. (Public Domain

At that point many realized that the days of the battleship were numbered because the Battle of Taranto did not involve any ship-to-ship action as all the damage was done by obsolete torpedo bombers.

The second “proof” occurred in early 1942 during the Fall of Singapore, which at the time was a British Colony and major base in the Pacific.

Following Pearl Harbor in late 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines as well as British possessions in the Pacific. The Battle for Singapore proved to be a disaster for the British as they were ill prepared like we were at Pearl Harbor.

HMS PRINCE OF WALES arrives at Singapore, 4 December 1941. HMS PRINCE OF WALES coming in to moor at Singapore. The ship was sunk by Japanese torpedoes six days later on 10 December 1941 with great loss of life .(Wikipedia)

The battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse (and four destroyers) were on station near Singapore. All were sunk by Japanese land based bombers, the British having little air power in Singapore to counter the bombers. What did they have were second rate fighters easily out classed by the Japanese Zero.

The sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse was the final nail in the coffin of the battleship. Aircraft Carriers would become queen of the seas and land based bombers with long ranges would eventually devastate Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Billy Mitchell would be promoted posthumously to Brigadier General for being right. Today, outside of Billy Mitchell Airport there is a B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

The B-25 Mitchell Bomber saw extensive action in WW2 in virtually every Allied Air Force including the Russians.

So, Billy Mitchell was right but he continues to be right.

I was never a particular fan of Donald Trump but I did recognize the soundness of some of his policies. Compare Trump to the current occupant of the White House and Trump looks like a genius.

Trump sought to establish Space Force probably a take off on President’s Reagan “Star Wars” initiative in the 1980’s that was so widely mocked. Space Force was established in 2019 and became the eighth uniformed service of the United States. I think Billy Mitchell would be at the forefront recognizing the potential.

(Footnote: The biggest threat to our national security is not Putin’s Russia although he is ambitious. The biggest threat to the United States is the CCP-Communist China. The CCP will eclipse the US economy and their technology is not far behind, if at all. Their plans are world domination. Any honest analyst gets that. Someone once said that generals and admirals tend to fight the last war during the current war. What that usually means is the military is slow to plan for the next war. Billy Mitchell was a prophet as he planned for the next war. I hope we learned something, but at present, I doubt it.)

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What’s in a Name?

…and yet we judge historical figures like Jefferson on the basis of what we think is our own moral superiority, not realizing our own massive flaws, nor understanding history in its historical context.

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The Funeral of Theodore Roosevelt

Great reporting on Teddy Roosevelt’s funeral and what affected his health. TR is one of my favorite Presidents.

Presidential History Blog

When Theodore Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, the world was stunned.

TR Dies

Not only was the world stunned at the death of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was only sixty, but perhaps TR himself would have also been surprised, had he not succumbed to a heart attack, or perhaps an embolus – in his sleep. No pain. He had plans for his future, which included (maybe) becoming the Republican candidate for President (again) in 1920.

Actually, TR had been in declining health for some time, but mostly precipitated by his Amazon adventures in 1913-14, and the tropical disease/infection that nearly cost his life. He recovered, but never completely. Tropical diseases have a nasty way of recurring periodically. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is older-tr.jpg
Older TR

The Great War in 1918 had been one of the roughest years for the old “Colonel.” President Woodrow Wilson had adamantly refused to allow his predecessor to raise…

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Recruiting the Regiment: The First Missouri Confederate Infantry Regiment

John S. Bowen, the First Missouri’s first commander and later, major general. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society. For Missouri Volunteer …

Recruiting the Regiment: The First Missouri Confederate Infantry Regiment
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Battle of Allegheny Mountain, December, 1861

I recently did a solo ACW game. You can find the details at the link below. The scenario is earlier in the war and the battle occurred in what is now West Virginia.

A Union army led by Brigadier Robert Milroy attempted to drive a Confederate Army led by Colonel Edward Johnson (later nicknamed Allegheny Johnson) out of the area. The attack was badly botched and the Rebs held on to that portion of Virginia for the time being.

Milroy would eventually be re-assigned to the Shenandoah Valley where he fell victim to General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson during Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign in 1862.

Johnson would go on to greater things (sort of). Johnson was highly thought of by Robert E. Lee and was made a divisional commander. He was assigned to Ewell’s Corps for the invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg was the culmination of the invasion.

On the first day of the battle Johnson had the opportunity to take Culp’s Hill-a vital position, that could have had a major impact on the course of the battle. Johnson had discretionary orders from Corps Commander Dick Ewell and so he opted not to attack what was a weak Union position on that first day.

Johnson did attempt to take the position on the second and third day but by then the Union army had entrenched both efforts failed. After the war both Johnson and Ewell came under fire in the south and were blamed for the Confederate failure at Gettysburg.

For the Battle of Allegheny Mountain though Johnson would be a bit of a hero.

At the blog link you can again view the images, see the Order of the Battle and read the action reports if you so desire. I found it is impossible to cut and paste from one blog to another.



Great White Fleet, post card find

The Great White Fleet was the nickname given to 16 American Battleships that sailed around the world from 1907 to 1909. President Teddy Rooselvelt order the cruise to demonstrate that America was a world player in Naval power he reviewed the fleet as it passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. For more go to Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Wisconsin

I was fortunate to get the postcard of the USS Wisconsin named for my home state. The Wisconsin was a predecessor of the more famous USS Wisconsin of World War 2 fame.

USS Rhode Island

I was also fortunate to obtain a card of the USS Rhode Island.

The cards for the Wisconsin and Rhode Island were part of a series published by Britton and Rey. The next two cards also feature Great White Fleet Battleships but from different publishers and so do not have the facts about the ship on the back of the cards.

USS Missouri

The Missouri was also a predecessor or the more famous USS Missouri of World War 2 fame. The new Missouri was the ship the Japanese signed their surrender on (Sept. 1945) thus ending WW2.

USS Ohio

The back of this card reads: Welcome to the Lone Star Post Card Club. It’s signed Zetta Ulfirst(sp?) #207, 1916 Chester Drive, Bakersfield Calif. It’s addressed to Mrs. F.O. Holt, 3304 Mt. Vernon Ave., Fort Worth, Texas 76203

I looked up the Bakersfield addressed the Fort Worth address. The Bakersfield address is now a hair stylist shop. The Fort Worth address still appears to be residential.

German Fleet

This unusual card was the odd man out so-to-speak. The ships are clearly German. The flag on the ship in the foreground apears to be of World War One vintage. The card itself is dated February 21, 1938. The post mark is mostly obliterated and stamp removed. It was sent to Frau ? Poppetz(?). There is a lot of writing on the card but it’s in German cursive. My German is poor and cursive makes it worse. I think I’ll have a friend translate if they can.

The German High Seas Fleet was scuttled at the end of the WW1. I can’t tell is the post card is a commemorative of sorts or if it’s meant to signify the resurgent Kriegsmarine of 1938. When Hitler took power he immediately began to rearm.