SHAKO: Waterloo Bicentennial; U.S. Army Turns 240; 99th Flag Day; 150th Juneteenth
A Month to Remember.
The month of June is when summer really gets going (in the northern hemisphere). Traditionally, it’s a time of graduations and weddings and outdoor recreation before the heat gets oppressive and the bugs become maddening. This year, it also marks the anniversaries of several significant historical events.
Napoleon Meets His Waterloo.
It’s been 200 years since combined British, Dutch, and Prussian forces under England’s Duke of Wellington defeated France’s Armee du Nord (Army of the North) near the village of Waterloo. The climactic 9-hour battle on June 18, 1815 led to defeat and final exile for French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte — ending France’s domination of Europe and changing European diplomacy and politics for decades.
The basic story:
Napoleon, defeated in 1814 and sent into exile on the island of Elba, escapes and returns to France, raises an army, scares the reigning French king and his government out of Paris and marches to Belgium to confront the latest international alliance (Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Prussia and several smaller German states) formed to defeat him.
Napoleon defeats — but doesn’t destroy — a Prussian army under Marshal Blucher on June 16 at Ligny in Belgium. The emperor’s strategy is to defeat each army separately before they can mass and overwhelm the French. The Russian and Austrian armies are still far off. So on June 18, Napoleon turned on the Anglo-Dutch-German forces under Wellington near Waterloo. Because of heavy rains the night before, the battlefield is sodden and Napoleon decides to delay his attack until the fields dry out enough so his troops and cannon won’t have to slog miles through the mire. Many historians count this as a mistake — if not a blunder — for the delay allows the Prussians to reorganize and come to Wellington’s aid and overwhelm the now-outnumbered French.
Because of the enormity of events that day (Wellington’s forces numbered 68,000. Napoleon had 82,000 at his command and the Prussians brought another 30,000 to their second-go-round with the French.) we leave it to others to describe the ebb and flow of battle.
Here is a sampling of detailed online accounts of the battle:
Under the pressure of attacks by the Prussians and Wellington, the French army falls apart. Napoleon is forced to abdicate again, and is sent into exile again, but much farther away to the island of St. Helena’s in the South Atlantic, where he dies in 1821. Britain, arguably, becomes the most powerful nation in Europe, if not the world. And except for failed revolts and revolutions — mostly in 1848 — there is no big military conflict in Europe until 1854 when Britain, France and Turkey wage war against Russia in the Crimea (which gave us the Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale and the original Thin Red Line.)
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Closer to home, there are a couple of other significant events that happened in June.
Regular visitors may remember in April we posted that Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865 did not end the Civil War. There were still two armies, one in North Carolina commanded by Joseph Johnston and another in the West commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith. Johnston surrendered on April 26 and Kirby Smith surrendered on May 26.
Last month we also posted that the last battle of the Civil War was fought at Palmito Ranch on the Rio Grande in Texas on May 12-13. By the way, the Confederates won that battle.
But that still didn’t end slavery in Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when U.S. Major General Gordon sailed into Galveston Bay with 1,800 Union troops and announced his General Order No. 3.
It informed the people of Texas, that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States (President Lincoln), all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
Until then, the estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas did not know that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed them — and all the other slaves in states in open rebellion against Washington, as of January 1863. It’s important to note that the Emancipation Proclamation couldn’t be enforced until Union troops gained control of each state that had left the Union. The last major Union thrust west of the Mississippi River from Louisiana had ended in failure in May 1864.
The date, June 19th — or Juneteenth — has become a significant holiday for African-Americans to celebrate freedom from enslavement.
Happy Birthday, U.S. Army.
On June 14, 1775 — at the urging of John Adams (the future 2nd U.S. president) — the Continental Congress, in effect, created the U.S. Army by voting $2 million in funding for the colonial militias around Boston and New York City. Congress also ordered the raising of ten companies of expert riflemen from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Together with the ragtag militias in New England and New York they would form the first Continental Army. George Washington of Virginia, one of the few colonials with military command experience (from the French and Indian War) would take command in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3, 1775.
For more birthday photos around the Army, click here.
Two years later, on June 14, 1777, Congress adopted the 13-star, 13-red-and-white-striped flag as the national flag. Flag day was celebrated on various days in various ways around the United States until the 20th century.
As war wracked Europe and the Middle East in 1916, and it looked more and more like the United States would be drawn into the horrific conflict known as the Great War, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. In August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress — but it’s not an official federal holiday. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of June 14 as oficially-designated flag day.
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Entry filed under: Army, National Security and Defense, News Developments, SHAKO, Traditions. Tags: Army, Battle of Waterloo, Duke of Wellington, Flag Day, June historic events, Juneteenth, military history, Napoleon, Special Operations, U.S. Army birthday, U.S. Civil War, War of 1812 Bicentennial.