We can lose battles and it only makes us mad

The First Battle of Bull Run was fought 150 years ago today by the Union Army of Northern Virginia under Irvin McDowell and Confederate forces under Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (Army of the Potomac) and Joseph Johnston (Army of the Shenandoah).

The excellent Bull Runnings blog posted a letter written by Colonel John Ellis and published in the San Francisco Bulletin:

Col. John S. Ellis of the 1st Regiment of California State Militia, and Sheriff elect of San Francisco – who is now on a visit to the East – served as a volunteer (attached, for the [ponce?], to the 71st New York Regiment) during the battle of Bull Run…

I was all through the battle of Bull Run as a volunteer, attached to the 71st Regiment, armed with a rifle and sabre-bayonet. All my brothers were there also – five of us. We started at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning; marched none hours without resting three minutes at a time, and having in that period traversed about 15 miles, went right into action without breakfast; fought until 6 o’clock Sunday night; then retreated, marched all night and did not reach our camp till 9 o’clock Monday morning – all without anything for food except a hard, dry cracker, which I could not eat…

I then went back to the fight and rejoined Gus, who was doing fearful execution with his 12 pounder howitzers. The 71st drove back the enemy three times, and completely cut up the Alabama regiment; and Sherman’s battery on our right silenced one of the enemy’s batteries until they got out of ammunition. We did our share; we drove back the enemy whenever he showed his face, and for a long time thought we had gained the victory. But alas! how much were we mistaken! Other regiments were ordered to charge into the woods and were met by masked batteries which poured into their bosoms the most terrific fire…

Through the effects of this battle we have lost much of our prestige, but I think it is a lesson we my profit by. It has wonderfully raised the spirits of the Rebels, and men say they are preparing for an attack on Washington. If they should, and are repulsed, they would find it difficult to recover. We can lose battles and it only makes us mad – they cannot afford reverses.

The “Alabama regiment” mentioned in Colonel Ellis’ letter was the 4th Alabama Regiment led by Colonel Egbert Jones, part of the Third Brigade commanded by Barnard Bee in the Army of the Shenandoah:

After that struggle, if there was one man idolized by the 4th Alabama, it was Egbert Jones. Amid the shock and surge of the conflict, he sat with his leg carelessly thrown across the pommel of his saddle, and gave his orders with perfect composure. The 4th Alabama never forgot that immobile figure.

Jones was an Athens lawyer and State Representative who moved to Huntsville in 1853.  Jones was elected Captain of the Huntsville Guards company which was one of the ten companies that formed the 4th Alabama Regiment; Jones was elected Colonel of the 4th Alabama when it formed. 

Jones died as a result of his wounds received at Bull Run and is buried at Maple Hill Cemetary.

The shot heard round the world

April 19th is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolutionary War.

These days, Patriot’s Day is a Massachusetts State Holiday (celebrated on the third Monday in April) and festivities include reenactments, parades, and the Boston Marathon.  When I lived in Massachusetts, I worked a block away from Lexington’s Battle Green, and I’ve seen the reenactment of Paul Revere’s Ride and the Battle of Lexington.  Paul Revere rides (with Police escort) the dozen miles from Boston up Mass Ave and gives the alarm, arriving at Lexington about 5:30 AM.  As he rides through town, the British get off their buses and assemble.  A few reenactors yell at each other then the shooting starts.  The British get back on their buses and head to Concord, while the people of Lexington start serving pancakes.

In 1775, the Battle was much different.  The British planned to raid Concord (17 miles from Boston) and destroy rebel weapons (including artillery).  Even though the raid on Concord was secret, Patriots knew something was up by the increased activity.  About 800 British Light Infantry and Grenadiers marched from Boston at midnight, crossing the Charles River on naval barges, landing at Cambridge in waist-deep water.  Paul Revere started his “midnight ride” as the British assembled for the crossing.  The British  column was followed six hours later by a relief column of about 1,000 line infantry (good move by the British, even though they started later than planned).  Note that the numbers of soldiers on each side is very fuzzy…

As the British advanced through the towns and countryside, they saw that the region had already been alerted.  At Lexington Green, an advance party found a band of colonial militia – amid the confusion and noise a shot rang out and the British fired a volley into the militia.  The colonial civil unrest had become the Revolutionary War.

While Lexington likes to claim “the shot heard round the world”, none of the American militia are thought to have fired their weapons.  The Battle of Concord is where the Patriots fired on the British at the North Bridge.   The British left Concord after destroying three 24-pound cannon and numerous arms, but were harassed by colonial militia almost immediately.  Independent companies of town militia started firing on the British until the Redcoats broke and ran back to Lexington, under fire the entire way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (of Concord – his family home of many generations was beside the North Bridge) wrote “Concord Hymn” in 1836:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Spirit, that made those spirits dare,
To die, and leave their children free…

The British relief column had marched to Lexington and deployed on high ground.  The survivors of the rout from Concord were organized, fed, and rested, then the whole force marched back to Boston under withering fire from all sides.  However, they fought while retreating, for example killing eleven militia who tried to ambush the Redcoats at Russell’s Orchard.

4,000 Patriots drove the British back to Boston, and the alarm raised about 20,000 Patriots who started the siege of Boston leading to the Battle of Bunker Hill. But that’s a story for another day…

Lanchester’s Laws

Here’s a little military and statistics history…

Frederick Lanchester (1868 – 1946) was an amazing guy with many pioneering accomplishments in the fields of automotive engineering, aerodynamics, and operations research.  Lanchester invented the accelerator pedal (and much more).  Lanchester formulated the circulation theory of flight, which is the basis for aerodynamics.  Lanchester invented the field of operations research (mathematical modeling of complex decisions).

In 1916, Lanchester wrote Aircraft in Warfare: the Dawn of the Fourth Arm, which not only described air combat strategies, but also postulated Lanchester’s Equations (or Lanchester’s Laws) which modeled attrition during combat.  More accurately, Lanchester’s Laws are a set of differential equations that describe the time dependence of  attacker and defender strengths as a function of time.

Lanchester’s Linear Law is based on ancient battles where men could only kill the man in front of  them.  Lanchester’s Square Law (or Lanchester’s Power Law) applies to more modern conflicts where the correlation of two forces is proportional to the square of the “power” (defined either as quantity or quantity adjusted by an effectiveness rating).  What this means is that a relatively small advantage in forces can result in a large disparity by the end of the battle.

Quality Control guru W. Edwards Deming (also a brilliant statistician), the developer of Statistical Process Control, introduced Lanchester’s Laws and operations research to the Japanese after World War 2 – they applied the ’New Lanchester Strategy’ to business (market share) – like consumer electronics and auto manufacturing.  It works…

Researchers have tried to apply Lanchester’s Law to non-human combat, like fire ants in Florida or interspecific dominance among birds in Australia.   That’s not working out so well…

If you play video games (from first person shooters to real time strategy to strategic simulations), more than likely the game engine features some version of Lanchester’s Law.

Unconditional Surrender









This picture is of a 32 pounder gun in the lower battery at Fort Donelson National Battlefield near Dover Tennessee.  BTW the ’32 pounder’ refers to the weight of the shot, not the cannon (the gun barrel weighs about 4700 pounds).  The capture of Forts Henry (on the Tennessee River) and Donelson (on the Cumberland River) by the Union early during the Civil War forced the Confederates to abandon Kentucky and much of Tennessee.  The Battle of Fort Donelson also launched the careers of U.S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest.  General Grant gained the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” for taking Fort Donelson.

Modern Republicans should learn from our GOP ancestors. 

I’d rather vote for a candidate who vows “to break” our political opponents than one whose first thought is “crossing the aisle” to compromise.  That is why I plan to vote for Bradley Byrne for Governor in the Republican Primary Runoff on July 13. 

I like Dr. Bentley, he’s always been very kind to me, and if he wins I will do everything I can to get him elected.  However, during his campaign speeches Bentley touts crossing the aisle like it’s a good thing – and maybe it is – but right now I want someone who will force the lying, cheating, and stealing Democrats to surrender their corrupt rule in Montgomery…


What do a mover from Florida, a butcher in Tennessee, and me have in common?  We’re all sick and tired of Obama and his socialist regime.  I’ve got to admit that I’m pleasantly surprised when random people start talking about Obama.


I really like John McMillan for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries in the GOP Primary Runoff.  McMillan’s new TV ad describes the Ag Commissioner’s job pretty well in a few seconds.  I like that McMillan considers water quality to be an important issue and that when he was a State Representative he worked on water issues.


Pioneer seed corn is very popular in Western Kentucky – an area which used to be known for tobacco but not so much anymore.  Just to note that politics and history are an inescapable part of life - the Hi-Bred Corn Company (Pioneer) was founded in part by Henry Wallace, the 1948 Progressive Party candidate for President (part of his campaign platform was universal government health insurance – socialized medicine).  Wallace later wrote Where I Was Wrong, explaining how he had been a ‘Useful Idiot’ of the Soviets.

¡Viva Puebla!

¡Viva el Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862. About 4,500 Mexican soldiers, artillery, and cavalry commanded by Ignacio Zaragoza defended a pair of hilltop forts North of Puebla. The overconfident French, commanded by Charles de Lorencez, attacked the forts with about 6,000 soldiers and artillery. The French assaults were repulsed, and Zaragoza counterattacked, flanking the French and forcing their retreat. Zaragoza’s one-line message to Juarez read, ”The national arms have been covered with glory”.

This is an excerpt from a post a couple of years ago.  The original post explains why Americans SHOULD celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Black Swan Hollandia

Taleb’s ‘black swan theory’ refers to “high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events beyond the realm of normal expectations”.  The term ‘black swan’ comes from the early European belief that ‘all swans are white’ which became a symbol for the impossible – that is, until the discovery of black swans in Australia. 

As a statistics person, this kind of stuff fascinates me (‘what ifs’) – and as a history enthusiast, the following story (from U.S. Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Approach to the Phillipines)  is interesting to me:

On April 22, 1944 in Hollandia New Guinea (now Jayapura Indonesia), assault units of a force of 50,000 US troops made surprise landings at Humboldt Bay and Tanahmerah Bay with the objective of capturing Japanese airfields.  Taking Hollandia is the first step in the march back to the Phillipines.   The Japanese are unprepared for the invasion and their light resistance is quickly overcome.  The Americans even find tons of Japanese supplies on the Humboldt Bay beaches, much of it still on fire as a result of the naval bombardment. 

Prior to the invasion, Japanese airfields in the region were attacked by Army and Navy air forces – destroying hundreds of Japanese aircraft – achieving air dominance.

However, US commanders don’t have good intelligence on the ground conditions around the invasion beaches and the road (not much more than a jungle track) leading inland.  Engineers find that trying to construct a road off the beach is tougher than anticipated due to rugged terrain and swamps.

Supplies pile up on the beaches – there is no road to transport supplies inland to advancing forces.  Vehicles have no place to go.  Some artillery units are tasked with hand-carrying supplies to support the advance.

Shortly after dark on the second day, one Japanese aircraft, guided by the smoldering supplies on the Humboldt Bay beaches, drops one stick of bombs on the beachhead.  One of the bombs hits a Japanese ammunition dump, which starts a conflagration that spreads to an American fuel dump and then spreads over most of the supplies sitting on the beaches.

Dozens of American troops are killed, hundreds are injured (about 10% of the casualties suffered during the operation).  More than 60% of the American supplies are destroyed, about 11 LST loads.  The fires rage for days. 

As a result of the supply shortage, combat troops must limit their operations to patrol and defense and subsist on half rations for about two weeks.

Adding insult to injury, the Tanahmerah Bay beachhead terrain is even more rugged and swampy than Humboldt Bay, so all reinforcement and resupply efforts are run through Humboldt Bay.

Fortunately for the US, the Japanese had recently changed their command structure and were reorganizing their forces.  Somehow, Hollandia was left relatively unguarded (about 11,000 mostly support troops instead of the 18,000 mostly combat troops expected).  The Japanese had recognized their mistake and several combat regiments were en route to the area at the time of the invasion.  Also, the Japanese had been having the same logistical problems as the US encountered (evidenced by the Japanese supplies sitting on the beaches) and engineer units were en route to improve the Hollandia base.

The operation was a major success for the US, despite the hardships encountered.  The US forces suffered 1 casualty for 4 Japanese.   The invasion cut off Japanese forces in eastern New Guinea.   The US improved the Hollandia base (air, naval, supply) and used it as a major staging area for the invasion of the Phillipines. 

History is rife with these types of unusual events (not so unusual then, are they?).  Just thought I’d share this story…

Todd Strange Elected Montgomery Mayor

Montgomery County Commissioner Todd Strange (R – District 1) was elected Mayor of the City of Montgomery yesterday.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports Strange wins with 53 percent of the vote:

Winning 53 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election, Todd Strange became Montgomery’s new mayor without a runoff…

“I’m excited. I’m humbled. I’m grateful to each and every one of you,” he said to the group, which included other elected officials, community leaders, campaign volunteers, friends and family.

Strange continued to say that he would soon be ready to “rule this city with a benevolent policy, one that will be inclusive and one that will unify all of the city.”

Interesting fact – Montgomery County was named for Major Lemuel Purnell Montgomery, who was killed in 1814 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, while the City of Montgomery was named for General Richard Montgomery, who was killed in 1775 at the Battle of Quebec City while leading the US Invasion of Canada.

Sublime Christian Heroism

Today we honor President Abraham Lincoln, Republican of Illinois.

Here are excerpts from Lincoln’s Letter

To the Workingmen of Manchester, England

January 19, 1863.

When I came, on the fourth day of March, 1861, through a free and constitutional election, to preside in the government of the United States, the country was found at the verge of civil war. Whatever might have been the cause, or whosoever the fault, one duty paramount to all others was before me, namely, to maintain and preserve at once the Constitution and the integrity of the federal republic.

I have understood well that the duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people. But I have at the same time been aware that favor or disfavor of foreign nations might have a material influence in enlarging and prolonging the struggle with disloyal men in which the country is engaged. A fair examination of history has seemed to authorize a belief that the past action and influences of the United States were generally regarded as having been beneficient towards mankind.

I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the actions of our disloyal citizens the workingmen of Europe have been subjected to a severe trial, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under these circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterance upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is, indeed, an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom.

Lincoln’s Letter was in reply to a Letter from the Workingmen of Manchester, who had relied on the cotton trade for their livelihoods and had been suffering because of the War:

“…the vast progress you have made in the short space of twenty months fills us with hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and that the erasure of that foul blot upon civilization and Christianity – chattel slavery – during your Presidency will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be honored and revered by posterity.”

Order of the Day

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order of the Day, June 6, 1944