Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Last Invasion of Britain Was a Comic Opera Farce

The whole saga of The Last Invasion of Britain is told on the panoramic Fishguard Tapestry from beginning to end and is on display in its own museum in the Welsh village.  Captioned in Welsh and English it begins here with the spotting of the French fleet.

It began as a diversion to a diversion, an ill planned and worse executed scheme to draw British troops from Continental Europe where they were engaged in the struggle with revolutionary France known as the War of the First Coalition.  But for Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, the tawdry affair was the beginning of a collapse of a great dream of Irish Independence secured with the assistance of French Arms.
At the instigation of Tone, an Anglo-Irish idealist then serving as an officer in the French Army while trying to lead from exile the growing United Irishmen movement he had founded in his homeland, the French Directory authorized a complex and ambitious plan put forward by General Louis Lazare Hoche.  Tone had promised the French that 30, 000 United Irishmen would lead a mass popular uprising with the support of a fairly modest French invasion.  As a diversion to the main effort in Ireland, Hoche planned two more limited raids on the British home island.  The most significant would land in Wales and then march to Bristol to sack and burn the city.

Wolfe Tone was a Protestant Anglo-Irish Patriot and founder of the United Irishmen.  As a French officer during the post-revolutionary wars, he convinced the French Directory to lend troops to an invasion of Ireland meant to trigger a general uprising against the English. 
Tone issued bloodthirsty manifestos smuggled into Ireland calling for the uprising and urging no quarter to British troops.  The stage was set for the great adventure.
On December 15, 1796, 43 ships carrying about 14,450 men and an arsenal war material for distribution in Ireland sailed from Brest.  Tone accompanied Hoche under the nom du guerre Adjutant General Smith, a thin disguise meant to protect him should he be captured by the British. 
The planned three prong operation had already fallen apart.  The main force for the actual invasion of Ireland arrived off Bantry Bay on the west coast but was prevented by high winter seas from attempting a landing.  The naval and troop carrier commanders were, in Tone’s acid opinion, largely incompetent.  After a heavy gale nearly destroyed the fleet, it had to limp back to France.
La Légion des Francs, under General Quantain, was instructed to attack Newcastle upon Tyne and destroy local shipping. It had set out from Dunkirk in November of 1796 but turned back in Dutch waters after bad weather had swamped several of the invasion barges.  The troops, mostly impressed convicts and even British prisoners of war, mutinied back in port and refused to re-embark for a second attempt. 
Astoundingly, the third force, a flotilla of French warships, now with no main effort to support, left Brest flying Russian colors on February 16, 1797 headed for Britain.

Young French General Louis Lazare Hoche was Tone's friend and ally and devised the plan for the Irish invastion that included two diversionary raids on the British home island.   Nothing worked as planned.
The second diversionary force was La Légion Noire (The Black Legion), a fierce sounding name for a rag-tag brigade sized force of 1,400 men and 46 officers.  Like the ill-fated Légion des Francs, it was also made up mostly of half-trained conscripts described, charitably, as irregulars.  But at the was a core of the force were 600 Grenadiers of the line. The unit took its name from its uniforms, which were captured English redcoats that had been poorly died to a range of colors from muddy brown to a sooty black. Their trousers were a ludicrous and unmilitary  The poor condition of their outfits was an indication that the French command saw them as doomed pawns.  The unit was under the command of an Irish American, chef de brigade (colonel) William Tate who could not speak French and had to communicate with his men through translators.  Several of his subordinate officers were Irish, as well.
At least the warships under the command of Commodore Castagnier were first rate.  They included the frigates La Vengeance and La Resistance on her maiden voyage, the corvette La Constance, and Le Vautour a smaller lugger.  The plan was to provide cover for and land troops near Bristol, then to dash north to rendezvous with Hoche’s shattered fleet to provide them cover and protection on the limp home.  Of course, that meant that the small invasion force would be abandoned on the home island of the enemy.  What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, a lot.  The same high seas and winds that had scattered Hoche’s fleet prevented a landing as originally planned.  Castagnier was forced to turn around and try to land at secondary choice, Cardigan Bay on the west coast of Wales.  Making its way through the Bristol Channel, the flotilla was spotted from land and despite now flying English colors was identified as hostile.  Surprise was gone.

La Vegengeance and La Resistance land their Troops in Cardigan Bay in Wales, unable to land nearer their target of Bristol.  Troops under Irish-American Col. Robert Tate had already taken the crest of the shore cliffs.  What looks at first glance like and American flag on the hill and on the ships is a French ensign. 
At 2 in the morning of on February 22, 1797, the French landed 17 boatloads of troops, 47 barrels of gunpowder, 50 tons of cartridges and grenades, and 2,000 stands of arms. One boat was lost in the surf and sank, with the critical loss of artillery and ammunition.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Knox of the 400-man local Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry had already been alerted of the invasion force and was mobilizing his troops.  In addition, other units in the region were rushing to the invasion site including Lord Cawdor’s Castlemartin Troop of the Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry the along with the Pembroke Volunteers and the Cardiganshire Militia.  Lieutenant-Colonel Colby of the Pembrokeshire Militia assembled 250 men.  A Royal Navy pressgang, tough thugs usually employed in emptying sea side pubs of drunken sailors and swooping up un-alert farm lads from the fields, 150 strong also landed with several pieces of artillery.  All began converging on the threat.  Lord Cawdor assumed overall command.
At dawn after a three-mile forced march from the landing site, Tate’s men looked down from the surrounding hills at the small port of Fishguard.  They observed it bustling with activity, no doubt stirred by the fast flying word of the invasion.  A good many woman were assembled in the market dressed in a traditional local costume which included high black hats and scarlet shawls.  From the distance they apparently were mistaken for Redcoats in black shakos sending some of the ill trained irregulars into a near panic.
None-the-less the French began to push inland, capturing several farm houses.  Some of the irregulars broke loose and began pillaging the farmsteads and rural hamlets for loot, dashing the unrealistic hopes that the Celtic Welsh might see the invasion as liberators and rise up against English rule.
Tate was left with only a handful of his irregulars, mostly Irish exiles, and his regular Grenadiers.  He set up a headquarters and occupied strong defensive positions on the high rocky outcrops of Garnwnda and Carngelli. 
On February 23 the two hundred or so local militia at Fishguard under colonel Knox, re-enforced by an influx of angry civilian volunteers armed with scythes, pitch forks, pikes, and other odd implements, began a retreat from the port after realizing that they were facing a much larger force.  But they encountered Lord Cawdor’s hastily assembled force and turned around to join his march to meet the enemy.
As they advanced, Tate’s forces began to fall apart.  Conscripts discovered a warehouse of Portuguese wine and began drinking heavily.  Many, especially impressed English prisoners of war, simply deserted.  Most of the rest were soon drunk and or sick in farm houses scattered about.

Enshrined on the Fishgaurd Tapestry farm wife Jemima Nicholas single handedly captured a dozen drunk French conscripts in their shabby uniforms and became a legend along with her traditional Welsh dress and high black hat.
One local farm wife, Jemima Nicholas, armed only with a pitchfork rounded up 12 of the drunken conscripts and locked them in St. Mary’s Church in the town.
That evening Cawdor and 600 men advanced from Fishguard on the French strong points but turned back fearing ambush.  But Tate’s men saw the size of the well-armed forces against them, including artillery.  Knowing that the fleet had already abandoned them, his officers began to council surrender.
The morning of the 24 two French officers entered Cawdor’s camp under a white flag to attempt to negotiate an honorable surrender with safety guaranteed Irish officers.  Cawdor refused the terms and set a 10 am deadline for unconditional surrender or he would attack.  Part of that was bluff.  Cawdor still believed he was outnumbered and planned to await further reinforcements before an all-out assault. 

The Pembroke Yeomanry and and other British toops form on the sands to accept the formal French surrender on February 24.

The deadline passed, but Tate realized his position was hopeless and announced his unconditional surrender at 2 pm.  Tate and his men were taken prisoner, although rounding up all the deserters and stragglers took time.  Eventually Tate and most of the others were paroled and returned to France.  Some of the conscripts simply agreed to switch uniforms, some for the second time.
But the disaster was not over for the French.  On March 9 La Resistance, which had been crippled by the adverse weather in the Irish Sea and La Constance were captured after a short but bloody engagement with HMS St Fiorenzo and HMS Nymphe.  Both were re-fitted and commissioned in the Royal Navy.  Commodore Castagnier on board La Vengeance managed to escape to France.

This tinted British print compared the damage to the French fleets to the destruction of the Spanish Armada more than 200 years before.  Perfect war time propaganda.
As for Wolfe Tone, well he pressed for another invasion.  His ardent supporter Hoche died of tuberculosis and he found ascending French authorities, including Napoléon Bonaparte less enamored of his Irish schemes.  But when open rebellion broke out in Ireland and with Napoléon off on his Egyptian adventure, he persuaded the government to back a second expedition.
This time a force under General Humbert succeeded in landing near Killala, County Mayo and marching through the countryside gathering United Irishmen with “their pikes upon their shoulders” before it was smashed.  A second force broke up again in the raging seas, and the third, accompanied by Tone himself was intercepted by the Royal Navy.  Tone was taken prisoner.  He died of wounds of a botched suicide attempt after several days, but in time to cheat the hangman.
The pitiful and fruitless so-called Battle of Fishguard is now remembered as the last invasion of Great Britain. 
The Guidon of the Pembroke Yeomanry commemorates their famous victory.
In 1853 the Pembroke Yeomanry was awarded the battle honorFishguard” to be attached as a ribbon to their colors. It is the only regiment in the British Army, regular or territorial, that bears a battle honor for an engagement on the British mainland and the first battle honor awarded to a volunteer unit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Never Underestimate the Power of a Pamphlet—Communist Manifesto

Marxists love this kind heroic imaginary.  You can pretty much define the sect by who gets added to these founders in a Mt. Rushmore-like row.

The pamphlet as a literary form and polemical tool owes its existence to the invention of moveable type, resultant relative mass literacy, and the need to cheaply reach and sway wide audiences.  They first came to the forefront during the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther, who had much sharper elbows than his plump monk’s body might suggest, was the first master of the form.  The slow-moving behemoth of the Catholic Church at first floundered trying to respond with turgid Latin tomes.  But it got better, or at least some of its wittier apologists did for the next two hundred years ago a pamphlet war stoked bloody atrocities on all sides across Europe.
The Enlightenment and the dawn of modernity gave rise to the secular political and social pamphlets.  In England Jonathan Swift and others raised the form to dazzling rhetorical heights.  But in the New World Thomas Paine’s Common Sense helped bring one Empire to its knees and give birth to another.  Not long after a series of pamphlets collectively known as the Federalist Papers penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay rallied support for what became the most enduring Constitution in the world.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine was a pamphlet that changed the world.

In the 19th Century writers and philosophers of all stripes turned their attention the industrial revolution, the social injustice and inequality it fostered, and the growing rage of the displaced and oppressed.  Many notable figures—nationalists, democrats, socialist, anarchists, and utopians—entered the fray.  But one pamphlet overshadows all the rest in the sweep and enduring nature of its influence.

Meet the single most important pamphlet of all time.  Love it or loath it, it cannot be denied.
It couldn’t have been more timely.  The uprisings that would sweep from France across the German states and into much of the rest of Europe were gathering steam on February 21, 1848 when a tiny faction of radical socialists from across the continent met in London and published Manifest der kommunistischen Partei, literally the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
Now known more simply as the Communist Manifesto the 18,000 word paper bound pamphlet was authored by German Jewish journalist and intellectual Karl Marx and his close collaborator Friedrich Engels, a pioneering German-born sociologist who had made his mark with the publication three years earlier of The Condition of the Working Class in England, one of the first systematic studies of working class life.
The publication was almost instantly notorious.  Editions appeared in French and English by 1850 and were followed by translations in most European languages.  By 1857 an American edition was published by the utopian and individualist anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews.
The original German edition of the pamphlet that shook the world.
Exactly how much each of the two credited authors contributed to the final product is hotly debated with those who want to raise Marx to the level of an infallible prophet and messianic figure pumping their hero up while reducing Engels to almost a mere clerk.  What is indisputable is that in the final draft it is Marx’s vigorous and muscular rhetoric that characterized the document beginning with its famous preamble:

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.

II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.
But we know that it was Engels who was commissioned by the Communist League, the first international party to adopt that name, in July of 1847 to draw up a catechism for the new movement.  His first effort became the Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith containing almost two dozen questions that helped express his own ideas and those of his comrade Marx at the time.  That was followed in October with a second draft renamed the less religious Principles of Communism.  Still, it was in the question and answer format of a catechism.  Engels was dissatisfied with that and suggested a new approach. 
He brought Marx into the project as the primary writer of the final draft, traveling to Brussels, Belgium where the exiled writer was publishing a radical newspaper.   Marx incorporated much of Engels’s work but heavily rephrased it and added his own insights. 
The controversy over who contributed what swirled over the life times of both men.  After Marx’s death Engels wrote of what had become known as Marxism:
I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, but the greater part of its leading basic principles belongs to Marx....Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name.
Whoever was the primary author, the effects of the pamphlet were not long in being felt.  It began to “hit the streets” in Germany by spring.  It surely did not cause the wave of 1848 uprisings, those had been festering and boiling under the surface since the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the spread of the Industrial Revolution into previously agrarian and stable urban centers organized along traditional craft production.  The leaders of the rebellions, as far as they could be identified, came from various ideological shades, including different varieties of socialists, along with democratic rebels casting themselves in the anti-royalist traditions of the French Revolution.  Many were young idealists, including students and sympathetic intellectuals.  Others emerged from the ranks of the evolving working class itself.  Communists represented only a tiny sliver of active leadership—their organization was too new, too week to do much more than be swept up in an irresistible tide of history.  

A Berlin street battle in the Revolution of 1848.  Guess how many insurrectionists read the Manifesto.
Did the appearance of the Manifesto inspire the rebels?  To some extent.  But most were too engaged in making a revolution to spend much time reading about one.
But Marx’s somewhat bombastic claims in the introduction to the pamphlet led authorities to believe that there was indeed a “Spectre of Communism haunting Europe.”  The rebellions peaked and then faltered for lack of clear programs and ability to build sustained organizations while the forces of reaction rallied and counter attacked with overwhelming military power.  By mid-1849 most of the uprisings were crushed and a continent-wide repression was under way.  The Manifesto was generally suppressed, although surreptitious copies continued to be circulated, often at great risk.  Identifiable Communists were arrested and sometimes executed—but so were leaders and activists of all ideological stripes.  Thousands were forced into exile.
Marx and his wife were among them.  They had to flee Brussels to join Engels in London, where he resumed work as a journalist, dedicated himself to study of the revolutionary movements and why they failed, and to assuming more formal leadership in the Communist movement.  

Karl and Anna Marx had to flee exile in Brussels for exile in London with comrade Engles.  Note Anna is wearing a cross.  Curious.
In 1850 the Prussian master spy Wilhelm Stieber broke into Marx’s London home and made off with the Communist League’s membership records setting off a wave of arrests across Germany and France.  After the Cologne Communist Trial of 1852 the League was forced to dissolve.  There after Communism existed as a current in socialism and Marx worked to get national socialist and labor parties, as well as trade unions, to adopt his analysis. 
The Manifesto was now a document for an organization that had evaporated.  The very stuff of ephemera, at best of interest to historians, antiquarians, and haunters of dusty archives.  But instead, it not only remained in print, it spread and continued to be issued in new languages.  It was passed hand-to-hand, often clandestinely, among the scattered survivors of the ’48 upheaval. 
Marx and Engels issued editions with new introductions every few years in which they both explained themselves and sometimes modified views expressed in the original text.  Some local Communist grouping were established, but a generation of radicals influenced by it became militants in the trade union movement, emerging Social Democratic Parties, and labor parties.  They were among the Communards who rose up in Paris after the Franco-Prussian War and were eventually crushed by the French National Guard.
The document shaped the thinking of many socialist and some anarchists who were not explicitly Communist.
Members of all these organizations—except for avowed anarchists and anarcho-syndicalist unions—met in Paris in 1889 to form the Socialist International, better known as the Second International at which Marx and Marxism were dominant.  Of course, by this time Marx had moderated some of the insurrectionist views of the Manifesto and advocated parliamentary and electoral activity through the Social Democratic parties modeled on that of Germany.  Still, despite the modified doctrine, the Manifesto remained a revered document.
In the 20th Century Lenin would resurrect the Manifesto as a primary document to differentiate his Bolsheviks from reformist Russian Social Democrats and as a rallying point for his insurrectionist 1917 October Revolution.
Today Lenin’s once monolithic international Communist movement has shattered into scores if not hundreds of often warring sects, all claiming to be the legitimate heirs to Marx and Engel’s vision.  Where Communists are entrenched in state power, in practice a kind of tightly state controlled capitalism as in China and Vietnam belie the original egalitarian and mass democratic vision.
Pamphlets on lit tables.  Still trying to be the next Marx....
Ideologues of all stripes still issue manifestos and publish pamphlets hoping to catch lighting in a bottle and spark the next world-shaking movement.  But for the most part the pamphlets lay unread on literature table and are rejected by those on the street to whom they are eagerly offered.
Today the new generation of prophets and propagandists peddle their wares on the Internet increasingly in social media.  Which makes their work even more ephemeral than Marx’s flimsy paper pamphlet.