Today in History, April 13, 1360:
“Black Monday”. During the Hundred Years War, English King Edward III had invaded France, bent on taking the French crown. The French locked themselves up within fortresses and castles while Edward and his armies sacked and pillaged the countryside. The English burned the Paris suburbs and then set their sights on Chartres. But on this date a sudden storm rose up….over 1,000 English troops, including two of their top commanders, were killed by….hail. The English saw this as a sign from God, and Edward soon agreed to a peace that included ending his desire for the French Monarchy. Within 9 years the French would declare that Edward had not lived up to the treaty they had signed, and the war would continue until 1453.
Today in History, March 7: 1936:
“If you French had intervened in the Rhineland in 1936 we should have been sunk and Hitler would have fallen” – German General Heinz Guderian, interviewed after WWII.
On this date, Germany “remilitarized” the Rhineland with a token force. It had been de-militarized after WWI to protect Germany’s neighbors.
In some skullduggery, Hitler claimed the people of the Rhineland were German peoples, and wanted the military presence. Now it was just a matter of seeing if anyone would call his hand.
In his memoirs, Hitler agreed with Guderian, saying that he had been very nervous in the 48 hours after the move.
Except for a few unheeded voices (Churchill), the governments of Europe refused to act, mostly for financial reasons. Bet they wished they could have had a “do over” on that decision.
Today in History, December 12: 1917 –
Rail disaster in the Alps. Between 1,000 and 1,200 French soldiers had Christmas leave from the Italian front, and boarded an overloaded train bound for France over the Alps.
The train’s engineer refused to begin the trip…the passenger cars did not have enough brakes to make the trip safely. He changed his mind when when a well-meaning French officer pointed a pistol to his head…intent on his troops seeing their families for Christmas.
As the train reached the bottom of a long grade near Modane, France, the engineer’s fears were realized…the brakes would not slow the train and when the train reached a wooden bridge it derailed, most of the passenger cars bursting into flames. At least half of the soldiers were killed in the horrific crash…over 500. Listen to the professionals.
Today in History, August 26: 1346 – The Battle of Crecy. During the 100 Years War, the English and French meet in battle at Crecy.
The English were badly outnumbered, by perhaps 10,000 soldiers…the numbers are sketchy. The English Knights, normally on horseback, dismounted to protect their archers…equipped with longbows…6 foot bows capable of firing 300 yards.
The French elite positioned themselves on horseback BEHIND their archers…equipped with crossbows…powerful, but with a much shorter range. The result was that the English decimated the French ranks at long range, and won the battle.
The battle marked English advancement as a world power.
Today in History, March 21: 1788 – Have you ever visited the French Quarter in New Orleans? Did you know that the vast majority of those buildings in the “French” Quarter are actually…Spanish? On this date in 1788 the Army Treasurer in New Orleans, Don Vincente Jose Nunez, and his family were celebrating Good Friday in their home less than a block from the Plaza de Armas (later Jackson Square). They apparently lit a few too many candles while immersed in prayer and caught their home on fire. Before the day was over, 856 of the 1,100 buildings in the city were destroyed, most of the city. Spain had control of Louisiana at that time, and during a subsequent fire in 1794 that took 212 buildings. So the structures that replaced those of wood that were lost were made of stucco or brick, and of Spanish architecture.
Louisiana Governor Miro’s report: If the imagination could describe what our senses enable us to feel from sight and touch, reason itself would recoil in horror, and it is no easy matter to say whether the sight of an entire city in flames was more horrible to behold than the suffering and pitiable condition in which everyone was involved. Mothers, in search of a sanctuary or refuge for their little ones, and abandoning – their earthly goods to the greed of the relentless enemy, would retire to out-of-the-way places rather than be witnesses of their utter ruin. Fathers and husbands were busy in saving whatever objects the rapidly spreading flames would permit them to bear off, while the general bewilderment was such as to prevent them from finding even for these a place of security. The obscurity of the night coming on threw its mantle for a while over the saddening spectacle; but more horrible still was the sight, when day began to dawn, of entire families pouring forth into the public highways, yielding to their lamentations and despair, who, but a few hours before, had been basking in the enjoyment of more than the ordinary comforts of life. The tears, the heartbreaking sobs and the pallid faces of the wretched people mirrored the dire fatality that had overcome a city, now in ruins, transformed within the space of five hours into an arid and fearful, desert. Such was the sad ending of a work of death, the result of seventy years of industry.
For some chronological relation, further east on our continent the nascent 13 nascent states spent the years of 1788 approving the US Constitution; two weeks after the disastrous fire, pioneering Americans established Marietta (later Ohio) as the first American settlement beyond the borders of “America.”