In 1789 the French people began an open revolution against the totalitarian and frequently out of touch with reality monarchy of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As this bloody revolution swept across the whole of France, pitting Royalist against Red Revolutionary, the rest of Europe sat on a knife’s edge. The degeneration of the French Revolution into civil war being waged by those regions loyal to the monarchy and those loyal to the newly created French Republic, ensured eventual foreign intervention.

In 1792, in order to reinstate the monarchy and thus end the ‘Reign of Terror’, the Austrian Empire and Prussia went to war with Republican France. The early campaigns against these two European power houses went poorly for the French and they lost ground to both the foreign powers France now found herself fighting on two fronts, but also the Royalists within France herself. So much so that by the beginning of 1793 it appeared as if the Revolutinary cause were lost. The Revolutinaries seeming to be unable to stave off the almost certain defeat at the hands of their enemies.

In 1793 Republican France made a newer and more formidable foe when she sent to the Guillotine, known also as the ‘National Razor’, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. After this execution England declared war upon France and the British Royal Navy set sail to blockade French ports and to attain the mastery of the seas. So as to strangle France from any and all supplies derived from foreign sources. An action which inevitably led to war between Britain and America. The British also sent an expeditionary force to the besieged Royalist held city of Toulons, in hopes of aiding the Royalists in a campaign to outflank the Revolutionaries. An aim which, though admirable in it’s contemplation and attempted execution, was not achievable due to lack of coordination and planning on the part of both parties involved.

It was at Toulons that a young French Revolutionary artillery officer, later to become the most famous French military commander and political leader since Charlemagne, would begin his meteoric climb up the military ladder. He would lead France to victory after victory, only to be defeated after making poor decisions later in his career. This young Frenchman being of course one Napoleon Bonaparte of Corsican birth.

The fall of Toulons, which could have been prevented had the Royalists and British commanders been able to agree that the Revolutionaries were the enemy more than each other, was a major boost to Republican morale. Afterwards it seemed as though the Republicans had gained something which had been sorely lacking in the campaigns of 1792-1793, confidence in their ability to win. What followed were a series of campaigns which would win for Republican France dominance of almost the whole of the European continent.

From late 1793-1797 it seemed as if France could not lose, though there were several battles in which the field was left to the enemy. The Kingdom of Spain, which had been allied with the pro Royalist nations, made peace with France. Only to ally herself with France shortly after, much to the chagrin of the British who saw this as an agriegous betrayal. By sea France could scarcely hope to match the power of the fastly over extended British Royal Navy. Now responding to the changing politcal and military reality by extending the blockade of Europe.

The later part of the 1790s saw France gain in territory from the Italian peninsula to the North Sea, from Iberia to an expedition by a relatively new, but already well known and respected General Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt. This campaign would be his first taste of defeat in the field at the hands of the British. After first taking Egypt he instated himself in the role of a dictator in the mold of later Middle Eastern dictators such as Sddam Hussein. The British sent a combined Navy and Army force to counter this threat and in two key battles defeated soundly Napoleon’s dreams of Empire. The Battle of the Nile and the Battle of the Pyramids assured the French abandonment of the Egyptian Campaign. Napoleon himself fled Egypt to return to France ahead of the news of defeat, in order to spin the news to his purpose.

By 1800 France had defeated most of her enemies in Europe. However she still had enemies at the ready to strike. Two of whom would be key in her defeat. In the East lay the great feared bear, Russia, with thousands of men to be thrown into the field against any French army foolish enough to attempt invasion. Added to this was the predicament of supplying a large army in the field over such a vast distance and in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable. In the West lay Britain, her ‘Wooden Walls’ blockading France and denying much needed resources to her and her allies. With her many colonies to draw off of for manpower England too had a vast wealth o resources for both supplies and men. Without a decisive defeat of the Royal Nay, which was all but impossible with the French and Spanish Navies combined, there was little hope of France defeating England.

The Peace of Amiens brought an all too brief interlude of peace to a Europe that, in some areas, had been at war for eleven years. It was barely a full year before France was again at war with England.

It was not too long after the resumation of hostilities between France and England that Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s famous and revered generalisimo, declared himself ‘First Consul’ of France. Shortly there after crowning himself as ‘Emperor of the French’. Between 1801-1812 he consolidated French control of Europe. Installing relatives as heads of state whenever convenient. Most of whom could not properly rule the nations they were entrusted with.

Napoleon’s tactics ensured a constant stream of victories and additions to the ‘French Empire’. At Austerlitz he defeated an opposing force that should, given the size and ability of it’s troops, have won an easy victory. Instead, due partly to his tactics and partly to the inability of the Russian Tsar and the Austrian field commander to agree upon a strategy. Napoleon used his favored tactics of deception and speed, plus a healthy dose of artillery. The end result was the almost complete ruination of Austrian forces. The blow to Austrian morale and confidence in their own abilities ended in their eventual capitulation to France.

In the early 1800s there was a band of brigand cutthroats known as the Barbary Pirates, based out of Tripoli on the North African coast. Britain and all the other European powers paid them not to attack their shipping. However America would have none of it. An American expedition was launched to crush the pirates. It would later become lauded as a key piece of United States Marine Corps history. Four US Marines led a force comprised of mercenaries and adventurers, mostly North African, and defeated the pirates. Their skill and daring would be immortalized in the Marine Corps Hymn.

Napoleon was the first modern dictator to use mass extermination as a policy. This being due to the fact that in the new, freedom loving France, there was no such thing as a slave. However, someone apparently forgot to inform the French colony of Haiti. In order to rectify this Napoleon, known to his enemies as ‘the Corsican Tyrant’ and to the French as ‘l’empreur’, had a novel solution. The sensible thing would have been to declare all slaves endentured servants to be free, which would have been a sizeable number. Then to actually recruit them as soldiers to be used against France’s enemies. The result of having to draw off manpower and naval power to defend her West Indies holdings would have all but crippled the British European war effort, which was gravely over extended as it was. Instead, Napoleon chose option No. 2, genocide. The estimates are varying, but it is certain that more than 2,000 Haitian slaves were packed into old ships, and then secured in these floating prisons. The next step was to burn a substance that created a toxic smoke, that once inhaled meant almost assured Death for the poor soul. In essence the French, at the behest of Bonaparte, had turned these ships into floating ‘gas chambers’.

At the same time as these events were unfolding in France’s European possessions rebellions were rife throughout the land. Most noteable were those in Spain by partisan ‘Guerillas’, most of whom took up arms to restore their rightful king, others due to the ‘abolishment’ of the Catholic Church and faith by French Republicans. In response to these attacks the French would execute any and all whom dared to resist, aid those who resisted, or any other person that came to hand. It was much the same in other possessions, most of which hated the heavy handedness with which French authorities dealt with the conquered people. In Prussia there were partisans whom dared defy French authority and fought valiantly, as their Spanish brethren did, to resist and defeat the French occupation forces. Much with the same, brutal reprisals.

The British blockade had an unfortunate side effect for England. The blockading forces would stop any ship bound to Europe, and proceed to seize ship, cargo, and often times crew. Impressment of sailors, whether belonging to neutral nations or those at war currently with any of the belligerents, was common practice in the Royal Navy. It helping to refill ranks depleted by combat deaths, wounds, disease, and desertion. However it also angered many neutral nations, most especially the United States of America. However, there was almost a civil war in America before she declared war upon England. The states that comprise New England threatened to secede from the Union and form a seperate nation, thus giving them the ability to declare war independently upon Britain. This was narrowly avoided by the Federal Governement, which decided in the end to go beyond the diplomatic wrangling with the British over their policies. Angry diplomatic notes had been passing back and forth for some time before actual war broke out. America was outraged that a nation it had fought to be free of should forcibly take American citizens and force them into the service of that very same nation. However, diplomatic means were not enough to avoid the coming war. Partly over the impressment of American citizens, and partly the desire to seize Canada from Britain, America declared war.

Thankfully enough for the British, Napoleon Bonaparte had chosen to make a mistake that would be repeated 139 years later by another Continental tyrant. He chose to invade Russia. A ‘Grande Armie’ of 200,000 soldiers from France and all nations controlled by her was gathered for this attack upon the slumbering Russian Bear. A campaign that had no chance what so ever of success. The Russians adopting their favored tactics of withdraw and leave nothing to the enemy, this being one bear that likes fire, then in winter unleash the Bear. Thus the ‘Grande Armie’s’ supply lines were over extended. Meaning that the proper equipment for the winter was not available without having to come across barren Russian plains filled with partisans and Cossacks, and little else. Then the inevitable winter descended and the morale of the ‘Grande Armie’ plummeted as fast as the temperature did. The slow withdrawal was made through miles of hostile terrain, enemies at every turn glad to cut down stragglers, deserters, or those in ranks. It was a telling defeat for Napoleon, who fled ahead of his troops to be in Paris before they arrived to put a brighter face on things. The Russian Bear had been awoken, and now it was on the attack, an unstoppable force.

In America the invasion of Canada fared little better, the Americans underestimating their foes. The British, even though engaged in Europe against almost the whole Continent, had plenty of troops to send to fight the Americans. The American Army being undermanned, undertrained, undersupplied, and all around out classed by soldiers who had stood toe to toe with the likes of Bonaparte’s armies. This gave the British a confidence that soon blossomed into arrogance. Something they would pay dearly for in blood as arrogance is the first step to defeat as Napoleon had proven. America lost more battles than she won, but held firm against the British forces where it counted. After the fall and burning of Washington England was destined for defeat. It wasn’t an overwhelming defeat, nor one that should have any true effect on British power in Europe. In fact the greatest defeat suffered at the hands of the Americans came technically after the war was over in 1814 at New Orleans. The peace treaty having already been signed by representatives of both governments.

By 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire was in tatters. A coalition of nations, having smelled blood, was fast closing in. After the peace was made Bonaparte was exiled to Elba. A Bourbon king once again sat on the throne of France, but it was not to last long.

In 1815 Bonaparte broke free of his island prison and landed in France. Raising an army from those loyal to him he marched on Paris, Louis XVIII fled upon word reaching him. For a glorious ‘One Hundred Days’ l’Empreur was back. It too was not to last.

In July of 1815 a combined British, Prussian force engaged Napoleon’s army at a small Belgian town that many had never heard of before. Through a combination of tactics, selection of position, and raw courage they defeated the ‘Corsican Tyrant’. One day of battle cost 50,00 lives all told, and would cost Bonaparte his freedom, and eventually his life.

Thus ended what I prefer to call the ‘Second World War’. A war which lasted for almost 23 continuous years, 26 if you count the period from 1789-1792. It devistated Europe and many overseas possessions thereof. It encompassed not only the battlefields of such places as Toulons, Egypt, Austerlitz, Smolensk, Borodino, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy. But also the American colonies, the United States, Canada, and Haiti. As well as the largest and most strategically vital battlefields for England, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In all, and this is an estimate based off of figures that mainstream historians can agree upon, 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 people died in this time period. It is more likely that even more died than official records account for, especially in the Russian Campaign. Perhaps a figure of 8,000,000 to 9,000,000 would be closer to the truth. Either way these numbers are staggering when one considers that in, for sake of argument, 26 years using technology that had existed for one hundred years all the involved powers including America managed to kill almost as many people as were killed from 1914-1918. With flintlock muskets, smoothbore muzzle loaded artillery, bayonets, sabers, lances, an early form of poison gas, the world managed to kill almost as many as it took four years to with far more advanced technology, but relatively unchanged tactics.

In 1821 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, the ‘Corsican Tyrant’, died a broken man of disease on his new island prison of St. Helena. A man who’d conquered almost all of Europe, won countless battles, led thousands to their deaths, and been responsible for millions of deaths himself, as well as forever changing Europe, and the world. Even today we feel the aftermath of this period in history. It effects our world in ways almost too numerous to list. It saw the birth of the peasant revolution, the rise of nationalism, the formation of alliances, and the idea that one man can lay Europe at his feet and rule an empire worthy of a Caesar.

 


Mostly when people hear the phrase the “First World War”, they think of the conflict of 1914-1918 between the Allies (France, Russia, England, Serbia, Romania, Portugal, the United States of America, Italy, Japan) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire). However, it all depends on which period in history you’re speaking of. Would not the Trojan War have seemed to be a “World War” to the Greeks and Trojans? The Persian Wars to the Greeks and Persians? or the Crusades to Muslim and Western Crusader Knight? It’s reasonable to say that we have experienced more than just two “World Wars” in our history as a planet.

 The Seven Years War certainly could have been considered the first truly modern “World War”. That would make the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) to include the War of 1812, the second such “World War”. Again, it’s all a matter of perspective with regards to your world view and the image of the world to those who lived thru such conflicts. By original definition a “World War” is a conflict involving all the major powers at the time and that portion of the globe they control and are aware of. If you look at things thru, say, the eyes of those people who were around during the afore mentioned Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars, then it would sem like two global conflicts had occured within twenty nine years of each other. Remember, there was a gap of almost exactly twenty years between the final peace treaty at Versailles in 1919 and the beginning of the “Second World War” in September of 1939.

 Of course no reliable records exist of the loss of life during the Seven Years War, we can only assume it was somewhere on the order of a few million, basing this off of the known populace of Europe, those colonies belonging to the involved European powers, and the Native Americans used by both sides in the American colonies. Now the accepted number for the Napoleonic Wars, all told in twenty three years of almost continous warfare is between 8,000,000 and 10,000,000. This at a time when the best way to kill a man was either to shoot him with a musket that, if it fired properly, was accurate to fifty yards, unless you used the bayonet which would be a surer method. That number of 8 or 10 million is also including those slaves in Haiti that were mass murdered using an early, primitive form of gas chamber by the French under the direct order of Napoleon Bonaparte. The reasoning being that in his “New France” there was no such thing as slavery, and thus no slaves, the best method to get rid of slaves to his mind? Kill them like you would cattle. Of course that isn’t anything new to history, nor would it have been to those living during Napoleon’s conquest of Continental Europe, genocide has been a constant part of these “world wars” throughout history. Usually do to the villification of the enemy and their populace by each side, and the ideas of racial and religious purity that existed.

 But I’m digressing from my point. Both the Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars were true “world wars” as people of today would think of them due to a few factors that not too many outside of historical circles and those as myself with too much time on their hands and nonexistent social lives, would take into consideration.

First, the involvement of all the major powers at the time. On the one side you had England, Prussia, those German states which owed allegiance to those nations, and the English colonies and Native Americans who swore loyalty to King George. On the other you had the Kingdom of France, Russia, Austria, including those nations which owed allegiance to Austria at the time, Spain, for a limited time in the war, and those Native American allies and colonies thereof.

Secondly, the conflict zone spanned from the battlefields of Continental Europe to the guerilla fighting in the forests of the Americas, all the way to the Pacific Ocean and the European colonies there. Now that is truly a global conflict. It led, in no small amount of true and  proper end result to the American Revolution, then on to the Napoleonic Wars. It was due to the loss of the province of Quebec, and the territories that Prussia took from both Austria and France, as well as those taken from Spain, by now only being propped up by France and Austria.

Thirdly, and the saddest truth of all, the Seven Years War created many of the lasting national and racial hatreds that we still live with today. If there had been no Seven Years War, and thus no Napoleonic Wars, there would have been no break up of the Holy Roman Empire. The effects of which led to an easier task of unifying all the German states by the Prussians.  Those territorial losses, including the loss in human life, treasure, and insults to national pride and honor led to not only the revolt of American colonials, regarding taxes which they saw as unfair, even though they were justified if one looks closely, and the French Revolution of a starving people in a nation which had lost pride in their country and government. The war proved that the system of politcal alliances amongst the major powers could have dire consequences for the rest of the world as well.

Followup posts will follow as soon as I have time to put them together.


They’d been pulled back ten miles from the town they’d taken from the Germans. Mainly due to the fact that they were overextended from the French and British Expeditionary Force supply and support. They were now sitting in another small village, the people having fled the day before they marched in. The First Platoon was spread out in the buildings facing towards the expected direction of German attack, East. The rest of the company was spread out in all the other buildings, for some it was the first time they’d had a roof over their heads since before the German breakthrough in the Ardennes.

 The corporal was walking across the street to Gouche’s position near one of the machine guns they’d set up. Little happy clouds of smoke wafting up and over his head. He was about ten feet from Gouche when they heard the sharp crack of thunder in the distance. The corporal threw himself down on the ancient cobblestones which had been there since the time of Louis XIV. “Eighty eight!” He shouted, the scream of the shell, like that of a small car being launched through the air, overpowering any speech. They all cringed in dread, waiting for the inevitable crash of the explosion as the shell hit. It overshot the village, landing in the open field beyond. The corporal rose to his feet and quickly made his way to and through the door to the house Gouche was in. “Good thing they don’t have the range.” He said simply, like talking about the weather. He extinguished his cigarette and checked his rifle. “Why is it good?” Asked Bernet, a young private that many thought was too young to be in the Army, and that they all swore had yet to shave. “Because if they did, they’d level the town. Ever see what they can do to a tank?” The corporal asked. Bernet gulped. “Blows the turret right off.” The corporal said. He looked out the window Bernet was posted at. “Well, at least you’re in a bakery, means you get first run on any food you find.” The corporal said, smiling thinly. Gouche laughed, flinching nervously at the crack of another German eighty eight firing.

 The corporal tapped Bernet’s bayonet scabbard with his right hand. “That works better at the end of the rifle.” He said, as if discussing a recipe. Bernet nervously fumbled his bayonet from his belt and attached it to the end of his rifle, the sound of it locking in place oddly reassuring and evil at the same time. “Do you think it’ll come to that?” Bernet asked, the nervousness of a scared youth in his voice. Gouche looked away out his window. “If they come at us fast and hard, with more men than we have, yes.” The corporal said. Bernet gulped, he’d practiced as all of them had in training with the wicked bayonet. That most personal of impersonal weapons. The very idea of cold steel penetrating soft flesh made Bernet’s stomach do a flip.

 There was a steady torrent of German shells passing over, through and in front of the village now. He tried to force his mind to focus on something else. But the image of the corporal and his bloody bayonet stayed before his mind’s eye, refusing to leave. The corporal lit another cigarette and glanced back through the door at the men across the street.

He grinned as he noticed a noise Bernet hadn’t been paying attention to. “That would be the boches tanks moving up.” He said simply. The metal beasts scared Bernet more than any other weapon, except maybe Stukas. No weapon he had, other than his grenades, could hurt them. He’d seen how they could break a man, those that had been at the Ardennes wouldn’t say much. But when they did, all they’d say is, “tanks” and a shudder would pass through the veterans. Each man remembering his own fear, his comrades lost that day. “If they come into the village, we may stand a fighting chance against those tanks.” Gouche said. The corporal smiled, a death’s head grin. “If we can get on top of them and open the hatches, maybe, or even blow a track off, make them into one big damn road block.” He said, he didn’t mention the problems with that plan, he didn’t have too. Bernet shivered. Then the squealing grew louder as three monsters came over the rise beyond the village. There were grey little forms running behind them, infantry. “Don’t waste ammunition on the tanks, aim for the infantry.” The corporal shouted. One of the tanks stopped, it’s squat little turret rotated to their left. Bernet saw the barrel of the main gun, a long barrel 37mm cannon. It looked huge to him. It belched flame and smoke, the tank rocking back and forth.

The front right corner of the building across the street exploded in a shower of stone and dust. Bernet flinched, then tried to aim at one of the Germans. He lined up his sights on one and squeezed the trigger, nothing happened. “Your damn safety is on!” Shouted the corporal as the tank’s coaxial machine gun peppered the bakery. Bernet slid to the side, away from the open window, then slid back into place as the machine gun stopped. He aimed at a German, the man running with a submachine gun held at his waist. He pulled the trigger and the rifle flashed, recoiled, and announced to the world it was there in an instant. He furiously worked the bolt, seeing the German double up and land on his knees, face down on the ground in an odd praying sort of position. He aimed again, fired, another German went down, this one flailed a bit, his right leg not moving.

The corporal steadily banged away beside him, more and more Germans went down. They reloaded, kept firing, killing and wounding at least twelve Germans between them. Then the turret rotated toward them. Bernet tried to shout a warning, but his mouth was too dry. Anyway the corporal said enough for all three of them. “Oh shit.”

They all ran through the door into the kitchen. Then the room they’d just left erupted as the tank shell hit. The corporal glanced around the kitchen doorway. “Baker’s not going to like this. Let’s move.” He said, rushing back out into what had been a room with three windows, now it was a room with two windows and the biggest mouse hole Bernet had ever seen. The corporal rushed over and began firing again. Bernet and Gouche followed suit. They fired and reloaded, cursing like madmen as they killed and wounded the Germans. The tank simply sat there, firing at random targets. Then it rotated it’s turret to face behind it and rolled back whence it had come.

Bernet heard cheers from the other Frenchman in the village, as well as calls for medics. The corporal reloaded, sat down with his rifle against the wall at an angle, and lit up another cigarette. “Bet we can’t do that twice.” He said, laughing. Gouche bounced a small stone off his helmet. The corporal rolled his eyes and made an obscene gesture that would have sent Bernet’s mother to hospital had she seen it, and would have even made a whore blush. Bernet laughed. These men he fought with, his comrades, his brothers, were out of their damn minds.


The Wilderness Virginia, 1864

The woods were dotted here and there in the clear places with blue. Some clearings were filled with blue troops who had bunched up after finding no way through the thicket of trees and brush that lay before them. The noise of their movement echoed eerily amongst the trees and brush that lay all around them, swallowing up their whole regiment.

Occasionally there was the quick pop of a single musket, the smoke lost also amongst the trees, then the sharp crack and dull thump of the ball hitting flesh, a man would fall, and the men would keep going. The dead or wounded man would simply be moved off the path, bandaged if he may survive, and given a few words of encouragement. The officers didn’t need to give any particular orders, all of them knew what would be said if they did; “keep moving, press on.”

First Lieutenant Michael Rudd tripped over yet another root, catching himself with his left hand and the butt of the Spencer carbine he carried. He swore softly to himself as he fealt the jarring pain in his wrist. The shock of breaking the butt of his Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver on a Confederate’s skull had also done damage to his wrist which, at least so said the doctors, “should heal with time”.  He pushed himself back to his feet and looked back over his shoulder, behind him he saw the thin line of Union soldiers making the slow and treacherous journey through this landscape.

He’d heard Sullivan, an Irishman who’d served in Mexico and was now a sergeant, say that God must have been preoccupied when he set to making this land. Rudd didn’t particularly believe one way or the other about God or any of that, but he had to agree, He did seem to have other things on his mind at that exact moment when He’d been creating this part of Virginia.  He caught himself grinning, his hometown on the Middle Peninsula wasn’t much to look at, but he’d never thought he’d wish for those woods to cross through. Especially since his was the lead platoon in the company advance. He heard the pop of another musket from up ahead, the man five in front of him went down, the back of his head blown away. The man behind him moved him unceremoniously to the side and took out his handkerchief to wipe the blood from his face. Nothing was said, what good would it do the poor soul now?

Rudd gently nudged the man in front of him, a new man from New York who’d never seen combat before. He didn’t envy the poor boy of this being his first taste. He wondered what he must be thinking at the moment. Probably so full of fear that if he saw his own shadow he’d shoot at it. Rudd looked up and couldn’t see the sun at all, no, no shadows to shoot at, lad, just keep moving, he thought. There was a dull boom from what sounded a great distance, no way to tell how near or how far. He wondered if it was a Rebel gun firing for the sake of firing, or perhaps they’d seen the movement of the tree tops.

He decided to make a note of that as the trees twelve yards to his right exploded in a shower of earth and bits of woods, a solid shot now tearing up through the air again and then bouncing once more toward the rear. The man in front of him flinched violently, then stood still, a look of shame upon his young, yet to shave features. “Sir, I…” He began, but he didn’t need to say it, nor could he in his shame. His trousers were darker through the groin area, a little trickle down his leg also. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, lad, same thing happened to me first time a ball came that close.” Rudd said, not much encouragement, but what did the boy expect? If he’d wanted reassurance he should have gone to Church instead of the enlistment office. The boy turned back around and kept walking, slowly, ever so slowly. A creeping, stumbling kind of march that in and of itself was far worse than actual battle.

The uncertainty of whether it was just a shadow or a man aiming right at you, waiting for the perfect moment to fire and kill you. There was another pop, another man fell, this one screaming like all the damned souls in Satan’s collection in Hell. As the wounded man was moved he saw that there was little if anything that could be done. His stomach had a large hole in it now, bleeding profusely. Another man, thinking he was doing a kindness started to give the man his canteen. “Stop! Don’t give him that, it’ll only make it worse for him.” Rudd heard himself say. He’d learned that the hard way too, just like everything else these poor fellows had to learn through going on four years of war.

He’d learned in the Crimea the agony it could cause a man with a stomach wound just to have one sip of water. That seemed long ago now, even further back than his days at West Point, just before the war. He wondered if anything would ever be the same after all he had experienced.

He knew she was back home now, back with her family in that small town on the Peninsula. She’d left just before the war, their home in New York empty after she’d packed her things to leave. He tried to force it away but couldn’t fight the images and sounds of their last argument. She declaring it was either the United States Army or her, demanding that if he were to say in the Army and fight against his own that she wanted, no, demanded a divorce. He’d not raised his voice, not struck her, though she had pushed him that far. He’d simply said; “I am a soldier in the United States Army, my duty is to my country, not my place of birth”. She’d wailed like a lost soul in torment and collapsed. Her tears and crying hurting far more than any words she ever could have said. He’d told her he would give her the divorce if that was what she truly wanted of him, that though he loved her he would not shackle her to someone she was now loath to even look at. She’d cursed him in a way that not only would no lady employ, but which was also surprising for her and her seeming inability to hate that much.

Even now his ears rung with the sound of her curses, then the hollow voice, his own, “I am a soldier in the United States Army, my duty is to my country, not my place of birth”. He faintly heard a sound from in front of him, then a great shout which drove into his mind with the force of a thousand cannon. “They’re right in front of us!” It was Sullivan and the others in front of him who knew it first. The Confederates had placed themselves behind a low rise of earth, fallen trees and roots. Then he saw the flash of a sword, the gleam of bayonets as they rose to the shoulders of at least a battalion of men, then he waited, holding his breath without realizing it. Then he heard the drawl of the shouted order, simple, horrible, and final all in one word of condemnation for any who stood before it’s effect.

“Fire!” The line of bayonets disappeared as the flame and smoke of the volley erupted from the muzzles of hundreds of rifle muskets. Then came the sickening, terrible sound of the balls passing by, some finding flesh and bone, others tress, some just continuing on on their deadly way. He flung himself to the ground, pulling the lad in front of him down by his pack. “Spread out! Take cover and return fire!” He shouted, raising his Spencer up to do precisely that. He sighted in on a small patch of gray just visible through the smoke. He breathed in, let some of it out, holding the rest in, steadying his nerves and his whole body though they cried out for reason, for him to turn and run from this assured Death that lay before him.

 But he would not heed them, a hundred reasons flashed through his brain, his duty as a soldier, his own self respect, and finally, the one that meant the most, he couldn’t leave his men. He squeezed back on the trigger, felt the hard recoil of it, automatically working the lever and pulling back on the hammer again. The gray spot disappeared from his sight, dead, wounded, he didn’t know, or perhaps just swallowed up by the smoke of the fight. It was then he knew this march hadn’t been one of advance, not even close, it had been their own walk with Death.


Heindlen Colony, 2246

The long column of Colonial Confederation soldiers was marching down an unpaved road. The officers called it a “strategic withdraw”, the average Confed soldiers knew it was a retreat. The Terran Federation Marines had pushed them out of a small town named Leipzberg, which before the war had probably been a nice place.

Corporal Thomas Weiler, who had been born on Earth, was one of the Confed Army troops retreating from the Fed onslaught. He watched as civilians hurried dazedly along, what possessions they could carry from their lives in a place they now left behind. Thomas sighed as he put one weary foot in front of the other. His sky blue uniform was splattered with mud and dust from the road. His rifle and pack were barely noticeable now after marching over twenty miles, where he nor any of the other enlisted men knew where they were headed.

 Lieutenant David Rollins, who was maybe twenty four, and so eight years older than Thomas, was in charge of the Second Company. He was in charge because he was the senior surviving officer. The Second Company had been ordered to hold Leipzberg in order to allow time for the civilians to evacuate. They had begun the fight with a strength of one hundred and fifty, they were down to eighty five now. The Feds had hit them with air, ground, artillery, and armor.

 He was remembering back two years to the beginning of the war, his first taste of combat had been a shock. His unit had been slaughtered while holding a piece of high ground near the town of Johnstown on Anglica. His mind meandered thru the intervening years, he’d seen enough people die in combat to populate a small Terran city. He hadn’t heard the incoming Fed attack transport, not until tracer rounds tore thru the column, including the civilians. Laser guided missiles impacted and flung two civilian vehicles into the air burning as they fell.


France, 1916

They’d been pulled out of the line and given leave in a small French town which, by some odd miracle, had escaped damage from the war even though it was only fifteen miles from the front. Many of the lads were in bars or dipping their whicks in brothels. Many of the men were replacements, so many of the old faces were gone now.

 The regiment had been hit hard at the Sommes, so many men had died, and for what? Better not to think on that now, too much pain, too many friends long gone. Captain Thomas Ferguson was walking down the street and watching the men and women who were intermixed as a great writhing mass of humanity. Women of ill repute promised Heaven to any who’d lay down the money. Merchants sold anything and everything, clocks, they had them, souvenirs, they had them, the Kaiser’s undershirt, had that too. He realized as he walked that he was not enjoying himself, not in the least.

 Veronica had visited once before when they’d gotten leave, after Gallipoli, they’d dined and celebrated being alive, then made love for the first time. The faces of men he’d known passed before his eyes, their names, faces, and deaths were forever burned into his memory. Gallipoli had been the regiment’s first taste of action, for far too many it had been their last. He relived that dreadful experience as he walked, flashes of horror, humanity, and indeed comedy flashing before him like a motion picture, but with sound and smells added.

 He realized he’d stopped walking and shook himself free of the past. It was then he wondered what Doc was up too. The platoon medic for his old platoon was a mystery. He was an American who’d been in England when war was declared and joined to be a medic. He’d been in France for the Christmas Truce, being one of those that had been chosen to be transferred from the Western Front. He’d been assigned to them before Gallipoli and had become known as a heavy drinker and the man who didn’t get close to many. Frank Rudd was a good man, he’d just been thru to much.

Ferguson looked up and saw two khaki legs hanging over the edge of a building. Somehow he knew it was Rudd. He made his way around the back of the building and found a ladder there. He hesitated for a moment, not sure if he should climb up and interupt the medic’s reverie or not. Finally he decided to go up, better to spend time with someone who knew how it was, plus he always had liquor upon him. He climbed the ladder and as he cleared the white stone that made up the outer walls he saw Rudd sitting, bottle of wine in one hand, a lit cigarette in the other.

He stepped on to the roof, purposely making a noise to ensure Rudd knew he was there. Rudd didn’t turn, just drank from the bottle of wine and took a drag from the cigarette. Ferguson walked up to him and sat down beside him, legs dangling over the edge too. Rudd didn’t say a word, just handed him the bottle. He drank deeply and looked out over the rooftops towards the horizon. He gasped as he noticed flashes on the horizon. When there was an occasional dull boom he thought it was thunder at first. “That’s the front.” Rudd said, as if reading his mind. “Dear God.” Ferguson said, taking the bottle and drinking again. Rudd laughed, he wasn’t very religious himself. “We’ll be going back up there in a couple of days.” He said, no emotion behind the words. He’d seen too much to have the prospect of going back effect him. He was so detached that many thought he was a heartless bastard. Ferguson understood it was his way of staying sane. “We will be up there soon enough, God help us.” Ferguson said. Rudd finally looked at him, the look in his eyes saying so much at once. Yet empty, distant. “Your insurance up to date?” He asked, his tone flat, still no emotion. Ferguson laughed despite himself. “God, you know how to cheer a man up don’t you?” He said, laughing still. Rudd smiled, the black humor he employed being special. Once, when a camera crew was at the front, he’d set up a table and had some of the men playing cards, with their gas masks on. “I try, sir, I try.” Rudd replied. They both looked out to the man made thunderstorm. Both with his own thoughts, his own dreads and dreams. The wine bottle passed between them and they said very little.


Take a moment and give thanks and remembrance to those young men who, 97 years ago, found the decency to defy orders and lay down their arms for just one day. It started in many sectors when German soldiers placed Christmas trees upon the parapet of their trench, or began singing Christmas Carols. At first the Belgian, French, and English soldiers thought it to be a trick, yet some walked out into the open in No Man’s Land. They’d exchange cigarettes and chocolates, and even play soccer in some areas. But it was amazing, the men who’d been killing each other just a few hours ago were now close friends, bonded together by their experiences.  One day to live in peace and come face to face with the man across the wire. One day to celebrate life and birth in it’s many forms. They defied orders to celebrate this holiday in the midst of the greatest horror ever seen up to that time. Yet they set aside the hate and killing and saw each other as men instead of the dreaded Hun, or the Frog Frenchmen, or the Tommy. They were a special group that did something we can’t even imagine today. Unfortunately their example was not followed in the subsequent years and it is unlikely we shall ever see the likes of such an event again. Maybe we’ve lost a piece of our humanity in the intervening years, or maybe it was just a fluke, a one time thing in the modern era. Imagine yourself in their situation, it’s winter, you’re in the bottom of a trench, and you’ve been taught to hate and kill the man across the wire from you. Then Christmas comes around, the enemy begins to sing Christmas Carols, what would you do? Would you shoot them? Or would you lay down your weapons for one day and celebrate this holiday with them? Think long and hard about it, you may find something out about yourself you didn’t know.

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