Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Battle of Poltava, 27 June 1709

 Karl and Mazepa at Poltava by Gustav Olaf Cederström  Mazepa changed sides,
supporting Karl upon learning that Peter intended to hand over the Ukraine to Alexander Menshikov.
       Sadly, the Battle of Poltava, in what is today the Ukraine, was a decisive victory for Tsar Peter the Great over the Swedish forces of Karl Gustav (Karl XII).  It was a watershed moment, not only in the Great Northern War, but in Swedish and Russian history, which began the decline of Swedish hegemony and the rise of Imperial Russia.  In the previous decade, Karl had defeated and absorbed Denmark and Norway into his sphere of influence, when the two countries allied with Russia to invade the Swedish protectorates of Holstein-Gottorp, Livonia, and Ingria.  By 1702, Russia alone remained in the field, battle-worn, but not defeated.  Karl then invaded neutral Poland on his march east towards Moscow.   Despite a looming resurgence of the Tsarist armies, Karl scored a string of incredible victories (Klizsnow, Narva, Holowczyn) consistently against forces three times the strength of his own armies[1].

Karl's Swedes assault the first and second lines of Peter's defenses.  (Author)
      Karl opened the dance at Poltava with a general assault by his infantry against the Russian fortifications in the first line.  Supported only by four field guns to Peter's ~39 cannon, this was madness (...or hubris?).  As the Swedish infantry surged through the Russian earthworths, Karl's cavalry passed through the lines and initiated a cavalry engagement behind the second line.

Karl's infantry reform to the north of Peter's third line, as the cavalry
are scattered to the wooded marshes to the northeast and west. (Author)
          As Karl reforms his line for a final assault on Peter's third line, his cavalry is cut off, the victims of their own success.  To the south west they are cut to pieces in the marshes.

Peter's counterattack, supported by artillery and flanking cavalry proves successful.  (Author)
        Ultimately numbers (and a double envelopment) carry the day.  Karl's advancing infantry are repulsed by Peter's 39 artillery pieces.  The assault quickly devolves into a route as Peter's reformed cavalry fall upon Karl's flanks.  Poltava showcases Peter's military reforms, turning the peasant army into a profession combined arms army, capable of coordinating and executing complex maneuver.

         After the defeat at Poltava, Karl fled with his royal retinue to the Ottoman Empire, while Prussia, Norway, and Russia carved up the Swedish Empire.  In 1714 he escaped house arrest, beginning the formation of a new army in Swedish Pomerania, whereupon he returned to Sweden and invaded Norway again in 1716.  He was killed at the battle of Frederickshald in a second subsequent invasion in 1718.[2] Ultimately, his defeat and death contributed to the enslavement of Ukraine by the Tsars, and a shift in power with the rise of Imperial Russia and eventually in central Europe, the Prussian state.

Funeral Transport of Karl XII by Gustav Olaf Cederström  Karl was killed by artillery fire
at Frederikshald during his 1718 invasion of Norway after returning from exile in the Ottoman Empire.
        Said Voltaire of Karl XII,  "He was perhaps the only one of all mankind, and hitherto the only one among kings, who has lived without a single frailty...His courage, degenerating into rashness, was the excuse of his death...His great qualities, any one of which would have been sufficient to have immortalized another prince, proved the misfortune of his country...Before battle, he was full of confidence, very modest after victory, and undaunted in defeat...His life ought to be a lesson to kings, how much a pacific and happy government is preferable to so much glory."[3]
        The links below are clips below are from a Russian-made film, The Sovereign Servant (2007) which questionably portrays Karl as a dandy in a resplendant uniform.  Karl, a soldier's soldier, most likely wore a plain campaign uniform as above.  The Swedes were also significantly outnumbered by the Russians (3-1).  I also question the accuracy of Swedish Infantry attacking into the teeth of artillery field fortifrications unsupported, but the editing and costuming remains impressive.  Karl was by all accounts a tactical genius, could this have been the rashness of which Voltaire spoke, that became his undoing?  Every General who fights with 4:1 odds (20:1 artillery) would be accused of rashness...or genius if he manages victory.

The Battle of Poltava II

The Battle of Poltava III


  "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife."

                                                                              -Proverbs 30:33

[1], accessed 10May12.
[2], accessed 10 May 12. 
[3] Volatair, History of Charles, King of Sweden, Winifred Todhunter, trans. Dutton, New York, 1908, 1912 ed., (333-4).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Battle of Nu'uanu, 1795

Kamehameha I routes Oahu's forces at Nu'uanu Pali (Cliff),  Battle of Nu'uanu by Herb Kawanui Kane [1]
In 1897, excavators constructing the Pali road found 800 skulls at the base of the cliff, most likely belonging
to the defeated Oahuans and marking the last major battle in Kamehameha's conquest
and unification of the Hawaiian Islands. [2]
       The Battle of Nu'uanu was the culmination of over ten years of clan conflict among the ruling families of the islands.  Really a series of battles, maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, it is named for the Valley in which the decisive actions were fought.   In 1782, the Hawaiian paramount chief, Kalani'opu'u passed away, and in his place, Kamehameha rose to prominence on the largest of the islands.  His major adversary was Kalanikupele, the latest in the line of the Maui dynasty, holding most of the archipelago in fealty.  Kalanikupele ruled from his throne on Oahu, which had been conquered by the Maui's in 1783.  The warrior culture that seeks to increase mana (life force gained through honor and skill at arms) and Kamehameha's  appointment as a keeper of the god "Island Swallower" guaranteed future conflict.  In the spring of 1795, Kamehameha's preparations were complete.  10,000 men and his fleet of war canoes set sail from Hawaii to challenge the Maui dynasty for control of the islands.  By the time his ships landed on Oahu in the summer of 1795 he had conquered Maui at the battle of Lahaina and the island of Molokai at Kaunakakai and had increased his ranks to 14,000 warriors.. 
Karakakooa, O-Why-hee [3]  An etching depicting Cook's expedition.  Kamehameha's
fleet of war canoes, supported by a European brig crewed by Hawaiians likely made sail
from this harbor on its way to conquer Maui, Molokai, and eventually Oahu.

Kamehameha's initial landings at Waikiki and Maunalua Bay.  His beaches were bisected
by Le'ahi (Diamondhead).  He would place himself with the smaller force at Waikiki. (Author)

      After the subjugation of the island of Maui, two of Kamehameha's top lieutenants, Ka'iana and Nahi'ole'a defected to Kalanikupule, which suggests that, despite history, Kamehameha's victory was not the suspected outcome.  The Hawaiian force was split in two with 10,000 men at Maunalua Bay and 2,400 (under Kamehameha) at Waikiki.  With cannon emplaced atop Le'ahi (Diamondhead Crater), the beachead was secured and commanded the terrain northwest to Pu'owaina (The Punchbowl) where the Oahuan army was deploying.
Maunalua Bay
      From the beachhead, Kamehameha's forces advanced in a pincer defeating the first line of Oahuan defenses in detail at Mauna, Kanela'au, and Papakolea.  It was at Papakolea, north of the Punchbowl that the Oahuan army was effectively flanked, causing its withdrawal up the Nu'uanu Valley to the second line of fortifications, or strongholds at Elekoki, Ahi'pu'u, La'imi, and Pu'iwa.
Forest trail east of Nuuanu Pali Drive.  This is what Kamehameha's army fought through
in 1795 as they rolled over the Oahuan strongholds from Elekoki and La'aimi to Ahipu'a and Pu'iwa.

Final push of the Hawaiian Army up the Nu'uanu Valley.  Kamehameha sent the right
wing of his army under Ke'eaumoku in a flanking movement around Pu'owaina (The Punchbowl) to Papkolea
and eventually the Kona Huanui.  This served to cut off any Oahuan reteat to the south. (Author)

      The strongholds, however, only allowed the Oahuans a moment to consolidate and delay before falling back under constant pressure from Kamehameha's Hawaiians.  Pu'iwa was perhaps the bloodiest of these delaying actions and would be the decisive battle.  Although Kalanikupule would rally is army in the coming days at Kahuailanawai and make a final stand at the Pali, the tide turned for good at the Strongholds.

Upper Luakaha Stream, North of Jackass Ginger Pool.  The Oahuans and their allies
likely passed through here during their retreat from Pu'iwa and Kahualanawai.

Nu'uawanu Pass.  Kalanikapule had already lost the war at Pu'iwa, perhaps even before that.
There was only one way for this to end.  The Pali and one of the most unsung "Last Stands"
in history was only a few more miles away. 

The Notches, far Northwestern end of Konahuanui, opposite the Pali.  Did Oahu have cannon posted
here?  While the Oahu forces very likely did have some sort of naval artillery from European traders,
scholars feel it is doubtful, as oral traditions would have mentioned a less precipitous retreat from
 the strongholds to the Pali.  It seems rather than the few cannon that were present with Kamehameha
did not prove to be decisive, as they were brought into action late in previous engagements.

The Notches from one hundred yards below.  Historians disagree whether this was a
pre-contact fortification, an artillery emplacement, or merely a natural formation.  Due to
60 mph winds, I felt discression was the better part of valor with a 1000 foot drop on the
other side.  I'll take the scholars' word for it...

The Pali.  You cannot see this and not be effected by what happened here.  While Kalanikapule
and the Oahuans had lost the war days before, this last gasp is a tale worth telling.  Hundreds of
Oahuan soldiers and women resisting a final push with pike and musket.  Oahuans hurling themselves
to the valley floor below, rather than submit to defeat.  Hand to hand combat with leiomano, newa, and rocks.

Windward shore of Oahu, Southwest of Kaneohe. 
This is what Kamehameha saw as he looked over the Pali.
      A stunning amphibious campaign and landing, rapid movement to contact, envelopment, and pursuit.  Kamehameha's conquest of the Hawaiian Islands and the Battle of Nu'uanu was the last action in a long struggle that had finally come to the end game.  The immensity of what Kamehameha accomplished is too little known outside of Hawaii.  This should be looked upon a not only a great piece of Hawaiian history, but once of the greatest campaigns in American history.  For further reading, consult The Battle of Nu'uanu: 1785 by Neil Bernard Dukas. This is a small pocket guide and is a good companion if you choose to follow Kamehameha's advance as I did.

[1] Halawa Luluku Interpretive Development Project,, accessed 25 May 12.
[2] Jerry Walker, Teacher of Lua (Hawaiian Military Arts), as quoted in The Battle of Nu'uanu,, accessed 23 May 12.
[3] A view of Karakakooa, in Owyhee. J. Webber del, W. Byrne sculp. Plate 68 from Cook, James, 1728-1779. A voyage to the Pacific Ocean : undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere ... : performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty's ships the Resolution and Discovery : in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780. Vol. I and II written by James Cook ; vol. III by James King. Volume IV. Atlas., National Library of Australia,, accessed 30 May 12.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

O-Why-Hee, in the Sandwich Islands

Map of the Hawaiian Islands, depicting Cook's explorations, by Rigobert Bond [1]

         Being sent by my government on an expedition to Woa-Hoo, in the Sandwich Islands, also called O-Why-Hee, I decided to look into the 18th century history of the place. There is an unbeliveable amount of history during this period and I spent my off-hours going to the historical places (while I was limited to Oahu during this trip) associated with the conquest of the Island by King Kamehameha I.

Rickman, John., Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage [2]

        I was not the first European to do so.  Although I ended up making it off alive, unlike Cook, despite the sixty mile per hour winds during my hike up to Nu-uanu Pali.

        The Bishop Museum has a collection on Hawaiian weaponry and folkways that gives you an opportunity to see what Cook and his crew saw in the 1770's.

Note the shark-toothed knife and the sword of koa wood.  Both would have been in use
during contact with Cook, as well as during Kamehameha's conquest of the islands
almost fifteen years later [3]

I actually got some time in the back country and it is amazing, ranging from this...

Koko Head

and this...

Diamondhead Crater

to this...
Bamboo forest in Nu'uanu Valley, near Jackass Spring, sight of a
delaying action of the armies of Oahu againt Kamehameha's Hawaiians.

[1] Bonne, Rigobert, 1727–1794. “Carte des Isles Sandwich.” Copperplate map, with added color, 23 × 34 cm. Probably from R. Bonne and N. Desmarest’s Atlas encyclopédique . . . (Paris, 1787–1788). [Historic Maps Collection], accessed 11 Jun 12,

[2] Rickman, John. Illustration from Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage to the Pacific Ocean on Discovery.
London, 1781 (item no. 22), University of Princeton, accessed 30 May 12,

[3] Rickman, John. (Plate 67), National Library of Australia, accessed 30 May 12.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Completed Coat: Keep your shillings in your pockets, not on them...

The Completed Coat and Weskit
     So I've been working on a new civilian coat in the last few weeks since I traded by last one to a Cherokee for some bone-handled silverware and dressed seriously I did that a year ago.   In any event, the coat, weskit and breeches are done.  Weskit and breeches are from a heavy weight linen I salvaged from some old British Army mattress ticks.

     The coat is linen, with a linen lining, since its hotter than Hades for most of the year in Virginia.  I will say that using the form that my dear wife bought me for my last birthday made making a garment like this a lot easier (pinning, tailoring, piecing, etc).  Didn't have to rip out any seams this time.

       The exterior linen I dyed from natural to a Sage-Green color, in an attempt to match the striped lining.  It came out pretty close.  So, I was planning on using some brass domed buttons...until I realized that I would have spent closed to $70 on them.  Not the thing I want to do while we're watching pennies and in the middle of buying a new house (that needs paint, carpets, wood flooring, etc).  So what could be more economical and home-spun than cloth covered buttons, right?

I measured the radius
and marked around the wooden disk to double the diameter.

Cut out my cloth circles from the scraps of the coat.

Blanket stitched around the circumference to prevent fraying.

Running stitch around the circumference.

Pull the thread tight to gather the edges
tightly to the center of the button.

Passed the needle through the gathered cloth a few times to lock it closed.

I leave the thread on the button, to sew to the body of the coat. they say in France.  I think Governor Henry would be pleased, seeing as he opposes the importation of cloth and manufactured goods (i.e. buttons).  In any event the coat is complete and ready for my militia impression at Claude Moore Farm's Market Faire in July.  See you there.


       "...And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And who soever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that woulf borrow of thee turn not thou away..."

                                                                                -Jesus  (Matthew 5:40-42)