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Sic transit gloria mundi

In 1946 Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery toured the United States.  Everywhere he went he received a friendly reception, while hobnobbing with local prominenti and touring the more notable sights. 

During his visit, he passed a few days in Los Angeles, where he met various movie stars and attended several receptions.

One of these was a formal dinner in his honor thrown by Samuel Goldwyn and his wife.

At one point in the repast, Goldwyn rose, glass in hand, and announced, "It gives me great pleasure to welcome to Hollywood a very distinguished soldier.  Ladies and gentlemen, I propose a toast to Marshall Field Montgomery."

An awkward silence followed, until Jack Warner, of Warner Brothers, corrected his friendly business rival, by saying "You mean, Montgomery Ward?"

The field marshal’s reaction seems to have gone unrecorded.

Note: This apparently was the second major let-down for the notoriously vain Montgomery during his American trip.  While passing through New York, the city failed to give him a ticker-tape parade, a reception accorded to Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, and even Charles de Gaulle, among others, since the end of the war.

 

Zachary Taylor Deploys Some Battlefield Psychology

At the Battle of Buena Vista, on February 23, 1847, a small American army of about 4,750 troops, mostly volunteers, under  Zachary Taylor, was opposed by a 16,000 man strong Mexican Army under President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  It was a desperate fight, and early in the action, it looked like the Mexicans were about to turn Taylor’s left and possibly get into his rear, and thus be in a position to roll up his entire army.

Confronted with superior numbers, a brigade of Indiana and Illinois volunteers began to give way, retiring according to some accounts in "hot haste".  Believing the army on the verge of collapse, a certain senior officer rode up to Taylor, informed him of the enemy’s movement, and expressed his fears for the safety of the army.

Old Rough and Ready's reply was typical of the man, "Sir, so long as we have thirty muskets, we can never be conquered!  If those troops who have abandoned their position can be rallied and brought into action again, I will take three thousand of the enemy prisoners.  Had I the disposition of the enemy s forces, I would myself place them just where they are."

Thus reassured, the officer returned to his post.

Now Taylor probably really didn’t think things were going as well as his words suggested.  But he did realize that panic could easily destroy his army, and so put on an air of intrepidity and omniscience that reassured the nervous officer, and inspired the troops.

And sure enough, the volunteers rallied and formed a firing line, while Taylor hit the attacking Mexicans in the flank with a charge by the Mississippi Mounted Rifles led by Jefferson Davis.  This threw the attackers back with heavy losses, stabilizing the situation.

Santa Anna essayed another major attack, which was beaten off by Taylor’s artillery, an action in which Capt. Braxton Bragg played a major role.  Then a rain storm broke over the field, bringing the battle to an end.

That night Santa Anna retired.  The Mexicans had suffered nearly 4,000 casualties, including nearly 600 dead, while American losses had been about 750, among them nearly 300 dead.  Although at 16 percent, Taylor’s overall losses were proportionately less than those Santa Anna had incurred, about 25 percent, the number of Americans killed in the action amounted to nearly 7 percent of the force, while the number of Mexicans was about half that, testifying to the ferocity of the fighting.

BookNote: Although perhaps a mite effusive, David Lavender’s Name Your Link (2003) has a very good account of the campaign and battle of Buena Vista.

 

"Tell Your Father"

During one of his campaigns, the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 30 BC-AD 14), grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, found that one of his junior officers, a young man of highly aristocratic origins, was quite insubordinate and inept.   So he decided to dismiss the fellow.

The young tribune asked for a pardon, promising to do better, and ended his plea by saying, "How am I to go home?  What shall I tell my father!"

"Tell your father," the emperor replied, "that you didn't find me to your liking."

 


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