(Friday Night History) The Moustache of Destiny

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They’re a variant of sideburns, and one of the quintessential forms of 19th century masculine facial hair grooming. Most famously worn by people like General Ambrose Burnside (from whom comes the term “sideburns”), they remain very visually distinctive. They used to be very common in some places, alongside facial hair in general– for example, in the 19th century US Navy, it was more uncommon to see naval officers without facial hair. After the Boshin War (1868-1869) and the birth of the modern Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, this sort of splendiferous facial hair also spread in popularity among officers, who had studied alongside Prussians, French, and Americans who sported similar grooming styles.

Muttonchops usually had limits.

Which brings me to this man.

Nagaoka Gaishi (1858-1933) isn’t exactly one of the best known Japanese military figures of the last 150 years.  Born in 1858 in Choshu domain, one of the victorious clans of the Boshin War, he was well positioned to take advantage of the prosperity and success enjoyed by former Choshu clansmen in the Imperial Army after the war. He saw service in the First Sino-Japanese War at the battlefront and as Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Russo-Japanese War. He was also commander of a couple of infantry divisions over the course of his career, most notably the 13th, based in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast.  After ending active service and transferring to reserve status, he also served a stint in the House of Representatives, and was ennobled as a count  (hakushaku). Nagaoka died in April 1933.

Okay, so what’s the deal with the Muttonchops of Destiny here?

Nagaoka might be termed the father of Japanese aviation, particularly military aviation. He was a senior Army officer when airplanes were brand new, and after seeing their application in war during the First World War, understood their importance to the future of military operations. He headed the Imperial Aviation Association, was active as judge in early Japanese aviation competitions, spent time in Europe taking notes on military aircraft and aviation from British and French pilots, oversaw the reception of foreign aviators like the American pilot Art Smith (pictured below), and even offered his own residence as a temporary office for the Tokyo-Osaka airmail service following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

As a proponent of a very new technology and a highly visible public figure involved in them, Nagaoka also sought to spread the word as broadly as possible. Part of this involved writing books and pamphlets meant to spread the word about aviation. Some of them can be found in digitized form in the National Diet Library’s collection. The 1918 Nihon Hikō Seisaku (Japanese Aviation Policy) https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/924020 and the 1923 Hikōki to Teitō Fukkō (Aircraft and the Imperial Capital’s Revitalization)  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/922671 were written as arguments for national- and capital-level policy and public planning as related to aviation, while the richly illustrated 1928 Hikōki no Hanashi (A Story About Aircraft) can be found here:  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1717318 was written for school-aged readers. But there was a much more practical way he could spread the word about aviation: he grew out his muttonchops, already long during later days of his Army career, in the shape of a propeller. According to a website run by his descendants, Nagaoka’s moustache was 70cm at its longest!

I mean really. I think this is a case of “message received,” don’t you:

Nagaoka and his muttonchops are commemorated in a bronze bust in Joetsu, Niigata, on the site of the old 13th Division commander’s residence.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?


On This Day…

On this day in 1868, the house of Nanbu won its final battle, the Battle of Noheji, in modern-day Noheji, Aomori.

Latest Friday Night History blogpost, on the Election of 1869, needs an edit– it’s been a long week for all of us, including me, and I made some errors that a watchful regular reader caught in the Twitter thread version. It’ll be up soon, though. Thank you for your support, friends.

Remember, if you’d like to support the Friday Night History threads and podcast, as well as the rest of my work, sign up today at http://patreon.com/riversidewings

(Friday Night History) The Shove Heard ‘Round the World, Part 3

This is Part 3 of “The Shove Heard Round the World,” the story of the US Navy’s slapdash gunboat diplomacy in 1846 Japan and its aftermath. To read Part 2, click here.

(Pictured: USS Vincennes and USS Columbus in Japan, July 1846. Print by John Eastley. PD)

Commodore James Biddle’s slapdash attempt at gunboat diplomacy in the summer of 1846 failed. It was hampered especially by the fact that neither the US personnel nor the Japanese officials had anything in common for communication beyond a mutually tenuous grasp of Dutch and classical Chinese. After a polite but awkward encounter that went nowhere substantive and included Biddle getting shoved, the little flotilla left Japan empty-handed and the ships went their separate ways. Now, their experience would inform later missions– Glynn’s in 1849, Perry’s in 1853-54– but that was not all. It prompted a wave of discussion on military reform and naval design that was well underway by the time Japan was “opened” in 1853. Long story short, to say simply that Perry “opened” Japan without rounding out our appreciation of how much innovation, adaptation of foreign technology, awareness of world trends, and action to be ready for them was already underway in Japan in response to foreign incursion by the time Perry showed up, is to do a disservice to the facts.

This– the Shogunate officials in Uraga in the aftermath of Biddle’s visit– is where our story begins today.

That the US warships had the technological edge, especially in firepower, was beyond doubt. As ocean-going vessels they were also bigger than anything in Japan at the time. And of course, the Japanese authorities knew this, and sought solutions about how to face the challenges of foreign incursions that were only increasing, including at Uraga, at the entrance of Tokyo Bay.

Enter the Office of the Uraga Magistrate (Uraga Bugyōsho 浦賀奉行所), an administrative entity of the Tokugawa government. That part of the shore around Uraga (part of modern Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture) was a direct holding of the shogun, and the Uraga Magistrate (Uraga Bugyō 浦賀奉行)– at times a title shared by two people, as it was after Biddle’s visit in 1846– was a position aimed at overseeing boat inspection as well as lifesaving operations at the mouth of Edo (Tokyo) Bay, established in 1720. However, as time wore on, its role increasingly and necessarily involved intercepting foreign vessels that came close to Edo Bay, and thus posed a potential national security threat to the Shogun and the seat of government. And it was vessels and personnel under the command of the Uraga Magistrate’s office that intercepted Biddle’s little flotilla. Biddle comments that the Japanese boats were able to surround his ships but posed no real threat– and the Japanese authorities were, of course, just as aware of this. The ships in service of the Uraga Magistrate were for the most part old and small in 1846. While things were successfully deescalated and Biddle did in fact leave, this, in turn, prompted Shogunate naval construction efforts that soon followed the Biddle mission.

Currier & Ives Lithograph of USS Vincennes. [Image in PD]

The tangible result of these efforts was the hybrid warship Sōshunmaru. Built on the model of a sloop– on the pattern of and on observations of the Vincennes– but modified to be a hybrid Japanese-Western warship, it was the first and foremost of Japan’s new wave of naval construction. While another school of thought emphasized coast artillery, and indeed many coast artillery batteries were built (such as Odaiba in Tokyo, which still bears the name “Odaiba” or “The Battery”) , that would only go so far. The Shogunate– during the reign of Tokugawa Ieyoshi (1793-1853, r. 1837-1853) and the Chief Councilorship of Abe Masahiro (1819-1857, in office 1843-1855)– understood that something had to be done, though the national seclusion policies were left unchanged. And so the construction of Sōshunmaru went ahead– keel laid 22 April 1849, launched 9 August 1849– under the supervision of the Uraga Magistrate. And it became one of several such hybrid sloops that were used either by the Uraga Magistrate Office or the feudal domains assigned to coast guard duty in the area (most notably the powerful Hikone domain and Aizu domain). They were in service when Commodore Perry arrived, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, the Dutch government had advised the Shogunate in advance that Perry was coming.

A far cry from the impression in some quarters that the Japanese government was entirely unprepared and entirely without military modernization projects underway on Perry’s arrival. Simultaneously, domains from as far afield as Saga, Satsuma, and Sendai all set about their own efforts at modernized shipbuilding in the interest of building their own naval capabilities to put in both their own service and to second to the shogunate as needed.

Thus, we can see that Japan was not simply a passive subject of Perry’s gunboat diplomacy, but rather had and exercised plenty of agency in facing it, despite its preparations still being inadequate. The onus is on us, the modern scholars and readers, to account for this rather than erase it.

But the story doesn’t end here.

Sōshunmaru was lost when the Uraga Magistrates’ headquarters burned in 1853. The magistrates (there were two at the time) petitioned the Shogun in August 1853 to allow for construction of new warships to replace it. And thus the Magistrate’s subordinates built Hōōmaru, keel laid 22 October 1853, launched 6 June 1854– the first entirely Western-style modern warship in Japanese service. A leader on this project was Nakajima Saburōsuke, a senior Shogunate official attached to the office of Uraga Magistrate.

Nakajima Saburōsuke (1821-1869) [Image in PD]

Nakajima and his subordinates not only completed Hōōmaru in record time, but also sailed it up the coast to Shinagawa– now Shinagawa City of Tokyo Metropolis– and showed it off to the Shogun’s senior officials, including the senior council led by Abe. This demonstrated that building western-style vessels was indeed within Japanese means, and useful for the national defense, and that it would be valuable to hire foreign specialists and buy foreign military equipment to further bolster those capabilities. It thus became one of the early vessels of the modern Shogunate Navy. To learn more about the Shogunate Navy and other American influence on its development, take a listen to my episode of the Preble Hall podcast here.

Hōōmaru underway. [Image in PD]

In turn, Nakajima and several other Uraga Magistrate Office officials were sent to Nagasaki upon the establishment of the Shogunate Naval Academy there in 1855. This academy, moved to Tsukiji in Edo, in 1859 (now roughly the site of Tsukiji Fish Market), became the forerunner of the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy, which was moved to Etajima in Hiroshima, many years later, and became in turn the forerunner of the modern Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Academy which is still at Etajima.

This, friends, is how the Japanese response to James Biddle’s slapdash diplomacy, was one current that set in motion Japanese military modernization, and all that before Perry even showed up. In short, by 1853, the Shogunate was underprepared, but not unprepared.
Again, I think it behooves us to factor that in to our appreciation of the Perry mission.

I’m Nyri and this has been Friday Night History.

Now– questions?

Sources (All Parts)

*Adachi Hiroyuki 安達裕之, “Kindai Zosen no Akebono: Shinpeimaru, Asahimaru, Hoomaru” 近代造船の曙 : 昇平丸・旭日丸・鳳凰丸. Bulletin of the Society of Naval Architects of Japan 864(0), 35-42, 2001 (accessed October 29, 2020). https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110003869029
*Biddle, James, and George Bancroft. “Commodore Biddle’s Official Account of His Visit to Japan.” National Intelligencer, March 15, 1847. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers (accessed October 11, 2020). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/GT3017707156/NCNP?u=carnegielib&sid=NCNP&xid=584cb895.
*”Biddoru Raikō to Hōōmaru Kenzō (200nen 03gatsu)” 「ビッドル来航と鳳凰丸建造」(2000年03月) Yokosuka City Homepage (accessed October 11, 2020) https://www.city.yokosuka.kanagawa.jp/2120/g_info/l100004036.html
*Henson, Curtis. Commissioners and Commodores: The East India Squadron and American Diplomacy in China. (University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1982).
*Hirao Nobuko. Kurofune Zenya no Deai: Hōgei Senchō Kūpā no Raikō. (Tokyo: NHK Books, 1994), pp. 160-161, 203.
*Long, David F. Sailor-Diplomat: A Biography of Commodore James Biddle, 1783-1848. (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1983)
*”Nihon wo Kaikoku e to Michibiita Tatsuyakusha! ‘Uraga Bugyosho'” 日本を開国へと導いた立役者!「浦賀奉行所」 Yokosuka City Homepage (accessed October 11, 2020) https://www.city.yokosuka.kanagawa.jp/2110/bugyousyo/top.html
*Nordhoff, Charles. Man-of-war life; a boy’s experience in the United States navy, during a voyage around the world, in a ship of the line (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keyes, & Co., 1856), pp. 192-210. Archived at Archive.org (accessed October 11, 2020) https://archive.org/details/manofwarlifeboys00nordrich
*”Uraga Bugyō” 浦賀奉行 Kotobank.jp (accessed October 11, 2020). https://kotobank.jp/word/%E6%B5%A6%E8%B3%80%E5%A5%89%E8%A1%8C-35280
*Wainwright, Nicholas B. Commodore James Biddle and his sketch book. (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1966), pp. 39-43. Archived at https://archive.org/details/commodorejamesbi00wain Accessed October 11, 2020.

(Friday Night History) The Shove Heard ‘Round the World, Part 2

This is “The Shove Heard ‘Round the World,” Part 2 of an extarordinary story (here’s part 1) of an American naval officer who thought he could “wing it” in international diplomacy with isolationist Japan. Last week, in the summer of 1846, having scored an unequal treaty with China, and hearing of the outbreak of war with Mexico, Commodore James Biddle thought he could go to Japan (and go straight to Edo to avoid attracting the ire from the Dutch), snag a different treaty with Japan, and then smoothly pivot and head across the Pacific to join the war. Easy, right?

Well, no.

(Pictured: USS Vincennes and USS Columbus in Japan, July 1846. Print by John Eastley. PD)

Here’s the thing: Japan was no stranger to the increasing presence of international ships in its waters, especially whalers. With the development and expansion of steam vessels, this only increased: Dutch, French, British, Russian, and American vessels all wound up in Japanese waters with increasing frequency. The isolation policy hadn’t fundamentally changed since the 17th century, although there had been some relaxing of restrictions pertaining to the import of European books. Even if they came from the countries whose entry into Japan was barred, the knowledge within was still of use. This became the backbone of what was called rangaku, Dutch studies– although despite the name, “Dutch Studies” could refer to the study of any European language, technology, medicine, or discipline.

All the same, by the early to mid 19th century, the ships weren’t going away, and there were a range of opinions as to how to deal with them. Some, like the powerful Mito domain of eastern Japan, advocated for the armed repulsion of any foreign vessel on sight. Others, like the Ōtsuki family– powerful scholars and doctors serving the house of Date in northern Japan– argued for a limited opening of Japan to foreign trade, particularly in the north, with an eye toward better understanding Russia. Indeed, eventually, Sendai under the house of Date became the first clan in Japan to include a Russian studies curriculum in its domain school, the school where its samurai were trained.

Commodore James Biddle. Image in PD.

So with all of this understood, what it boils down to is that foreign vessels, foreign ideas, foreign weapons of the 1840s were not strange otherworldy magical things to Japan. And this informed how the Shogunate responded, shortly after Biddle’s little flotilla– the warships Columbus and Vincennes– arrived at Uraga, at the entrance of what’s now Tokyo Bay, on 20 July 1846.
And by “shortly,” I mean they saw these ships coming, and there was an officer who came aboard before the American warships even reached their anchorage.

As Biddle reported to SECNAV Bancroft:

“Before reaching the anchorage an officer, with a Dutch interpreter, came on board. He inquired what was my object in coming to Japan. I answered that I came as a friend, to ascertain whether Japan had, like China, opened her ports to foreign trade and, if she had, to fix by treaty the conditions on which American vessels should trade with Japan. He requested me to commit this answer to writing, and I gave him a written paper, a copy of which is herewith transmitted. He informed me that any supplies I might require would be furnished by the Government. To my inquiry whether I would be allowed to go on shore, he replied in the negative. He objected to our boats passing between this ship and the Vincennes; but, as I insisted upon it, he yielded.”

Quite the entrance.

The week that followed saw the American sailors receiving Japanese visitors aboard both vessels. Both crews took soundings of the waters around their anchorage, and passed unrestricted from one ship to the other, but were shadowed by Shogunate patrol craft that kept a tight cordon, as well as troops of Oshi and Kawagoe domains, which kept watch from the adjoining shoreline.

Both Biddle’s official report and Charles Nordhoff’s later memoir note that quite a few Japanese regularly visited the two American warships, and that the interactions were on the whole, amicable. Shogunate officials also regularly visited, continuing discussions with Biddle while the latter’s letter traveled up Shogunate channels; despite their firm refusal to let the Americans actually land, they were amenable to supplying the ships with fresh water and other needed provisions.

On the 27th, an answer finally arrived from what Biddle calls “the Emperor,” but was in fact the Shogun. The emissary came with an entourage of eight people including an interpreter. Initially, he wanted them to come aboard, but eventually agreed to come aboard the Shogunate vessel that had drawn up alongside Columbus. But on trying to board, one of the guards on the Japanese vessel misinterpreted Biddle’s intentions, and shoved him back into the Columbus’ launch , drawing his own sword.

A short, sharp crisis ensued. Biddle returned to Columbus, calling for the man to be punished. Japanese officials followed, working out the nature of the misunderstanding and how to punish the man who’d drawn his sword. Ultimately, the problem at its root was exacerbated by neither side having a language in common other than a mutually tenuous grasp of Dutch. With this in mind, Ranald MacDonald’s work in English language instruction had an outsized influence in smoothing future US-Japanese diplomatic interactions.

The shove aside, the Shogunate’s message (as quoted by Biddle) was this:

“According to the Japanese laws, the Japanese may not trade, except with the Dutch and Chinese. It will not be allowed that America make a treaty with Japan or trade with her, as the same is not allowed with any other nation. Concerning strange lands, all things are fixed at Nagasaki, but not here in the bay; therefore you must depart as quick as possible and not come any more in Japan.”

Chastened, Biddle told the Shogunate officials that having ascertained that Japan was not interested in trade, he would withdraw as soon as he could make sail. So, having taken on fresh provisions, and with a tow from Japanese rowboats, the flotilla sailed from Edo Bay on the 29th. Charles Nordhoff recollects that

“Accordingly the anchor was weighed, the sails set, and two long hawsers passed over the bows to the waiting boatmen, who, fastening to these, and to each others’ craft when the hawsers would no longer reach them, soon towed us to the entrance of the bay, when, taking the breeze, the boats cast off, and, amid waving of fans and hats, we bade good-by to Japan.”

Vincennes remained on station in East Asia with Columbus, with Biddle aboard, headed east to join the war. There was no treaty, but there were plenty of reports, first of which was Biddle’s official account sent to Secretary of the Navy Bancroft is dated 31 July. Accounts of this abortive, slapdash attempt at gunboat diplomacy that ended with a shove would influence later US attempts: I talked recently about James Glynn’s 1849 mission to Japan, and the 1853 mission of Matthew C. Perry is renowned worldwide, for better and worse. Both men benefited from the unlikely influenece of Ranald MacDonald, and both were aware of the events of the Biddle mission, seeking to scrupulously avoid the same mistakes (neither commander let himself be in a position where he could get shoved), and especially by use of increasing amounts of naval firepower to compel compliance.

USS Vincennes and an American officer as depicted by a Japanese artist. Image in PD.

But Biddle’s visit had an impact in Japan, too, in ways he likely didn’t anticipate. And for that, you’ll have to wait until next week’s episode.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory. Now– questions?

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!


John Regester’s Last Ride

Heading south from Breezewood, Pennsylvania. Photo by me.

Recently we visited Kernstown, an unincorporated community in Winchester, Virginia, where on July 24th, 1864, the Union and Confederate armies clashed in the Second Battle of Kernstown. My partner’s ancestor, John Regester, fought and died there as part of the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry. Ever since we got back yesterday, I’ve been wanting to put together a basic reconstruction of John Regester’s last battle. This is an initial attempt to do so.

The 22nd was a new guise for an ultimately old unit called the Ringgold Cavalry, which was a Western Pennsylvania cavalry battalion that was one of the first units to serve in the war, in the Western Virginia Campaign of 1861. The Ringgolds were combined with a newly raised battalion of western Pennsylvania cavalry to form the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, in February 1864. John Regester belonged to the new battalion, as a trooper of Company D.

On the morning of 23 July 1864, the Army of West Virginia, to which the 22nd belonged, was encamped around the Winchester/Kernstown area, with the Rebels close by to the south. General Alfred Napoléon Alexander Duffié, an officer of what seems like rightfully poor reputation, commanded the army’s 1st Cavalry Division.

General Alfred Napoléon Alexander Duffié (image is in PD)

Colonel A.J. Greenfield, commanding the 22nd, ordered Major George Work and Captain James P. Hart to reconnoiter the area in front of the army to evaluate the enemy troop strength. They soon returned with word that there was a strong force of enemy infantry, cavalry, and artillery waiting south of Kernstown.

Somehow, Duffié didn’t hear that– for reasons that are utterly beyond me, and were beyond his contemporaries, he insisted that there was “only a corporal’s guard” (i.e., a tiny force) of enemies, and ordered Hart to take 45 troopers to take the enemy’s artillery that sat in view, and bring them back to Union lines.

Captain James P. Hart of the 22nd Pennsylvania. (Image is PD)

Hart knew it was a fool’s errand, but orders were orders, and so he rounded up 45 volunteers, including Corporal Regester of D Company. They rode off to the edge of Union lines to await the signal to move out. They wouldn’t know the exact numbers, but Ellwood’s Stories of the Ringgold Cavalry reports that the Rebels waiting for them, under General Ramseur’s command, were 5000 infantry, 600 cavalry, and two batteries of artillery with six guns each.

While they waited, Colonel Allen of the First New York Veteran Cavalry, commanding the outer edge of the Union picket line, met with Hart and discussed his orders. According to Ellwood, Allen said

“I am not in the habit of advising men to disobey orders, but I would not obey your orders.”

Hart replied:

“I have the first one yet to disobey; I won’t begin here.”

Allen complained to Duffié, to no avail.

And so the 45-soldier detachment charged Ramseur’s command; and was immediately fired upon by artillery and infantry– but miraculously, a dip in the  terrain around Opequon Creek protected them– and the rebels at the top of the ridge fired too high (in the case of the artillery) or fired low and missed (in the case of the infantry).

Hart ordered a retreat: his detachment had two miles to ride, some of them had their horses shot out from under them, and they were soon chased by 600 troopers of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry. Of the 45 troopers of the 22nd, only John Shallenburger of D Company, and Levi Patterson of the old Ringgolds, were captured. John Regester was mortally wounded and his horse immediately killed by an artillery shell that passed through the treeline during the retreat. The Rebels found him on the battlefield, and in a strange irony, he was treated by a Rebel doctor from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

The “corporal’s guard” that Duffié insisted that Hart and his 45 troopers could take, marched up the road the next day and drove the Army of West Virginia back over the Potomac soon afterward, continuing north to burn Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in the final Confederate stab north in the Civil War.

Despite the attention of the Rebel surgeon, Corporal John Regester died just shy of 21 years old. His body was eventually recovered by his comrades. His brother Isaac, a 2nd Lieutenant in the same company, was severely wounded several days earlier, but lived.

We visited them yesterday, 17 October 2020, in their hometown of Beallsville, Pennsylvania. Having been to the part of Virginia where both brothers fought and one died, we thought to bring them home along the old National Road.

“Rest thee– there is no prouder grave.” (source)


This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

General Silikyan’s Call to Arms, 1918

Movses Silikyan (1862-1937) was an Armenian general of Udi origin who led the victorious defensive action at Sartarabad, on May 21-29, 1918. He wrote a rousing message to rally people to action. After years of slaughter by the Ottoman Empire’s hand, there was a final push against survivors in the eastern reaches of the old Armenian heartland. Silikyan aimed to defend that remnant against what was believed, by many, to be the decisive battle: had the Ottoman Forces won, it was quite likely that they’d have steamrolled over the rest of the new Republic of Armenia and destroyed everything and everyone in their way.

Below is Silikyan’s message, translated by me several years ago. The patriarchal tone of this document is obvious and problematic, but the ultimate message, to “rise onward to work, to sacred battle,” should be relatable to any Armenian of any gender today.

In the homeland’s hour of need and battle for survival, it seems timely to share this.

We have fought. We still fight.


The moment has come when every Armenian man, forgetting themselves, in the name of the great cause, must put to work his last measure of energy to strike at the enemy: in the name of saving the homeland and protecting his wife and daughters’ honor.

We did not want to fight, in the name of peace and reconciliation we were ready to come forward and offer all manner of sacrifices, but our inhuman enemy is moving ahead with his planned path. That, by all appearances, is to enslave us, but in reality it’s to exterminate our tortured people. So because we are to be exterminated, is it not good to die with weapon in hand, defending ourselves? Perhaps by fighting, we might be able to secure the right to go on living.

That we are able to defend was demonstrated by the last few battles on our front, where numerically superior enemy forces were put to flight before our army’s heroic attack.

One final effort is necessary, and the enemy will be evicted from our land’s borders, where our fathers and forefathers have worked with blood and sweat for long years, only to secure a simple means to their daily sustenance.

Armenian men! It is no time to dally. All, even to those over fifty, must go under arms. I demand that all of you appear with your weapons and ammunition for the defense of the homeland.

Armenian women! Remember the delicate noblewomen of the fifth century,  who encouraged their husbands to the great work during the days of the immortal Vartan’s wars. Follow their example if you do not wish your honor to be trampled underfoot. Encourage your husbands and denounce those cowards, who for various excuses aim to avoid going to the front. Gather military equipment, bread, clothing and other materiel for them.

I am deeply convinced that my call must not go unheeded: that in two or three days there must be formed such a powerful army, that it will succeed in evicting the enemy from our homeland’s borders and secure the continued existence of the Armenian people.

In the name of the much-tortured Armenian people’s continued physical existence,
In the name of the truth that has been trampled underfoot,

Arise! Onward to work, to sacred battle! All men who bear arms are required to report to General Bezhanbeg in Yerevan, and all military materiel are to be handed over to the local National Councils.

General Movses Silikyan

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

(Friday Night History) The Shove Heard ‘Round the World, Part 1

(Pictured: USS Vincennes and USS Columbus in Japan, July 1846. Print by John Eastley. PD)

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the mission of Captain James Glynn and the USS Preble, as it factored into the Japanese sojourn of Ranald MacDonald. Glynn’s mission was ostensibly to rescue castaways in Japanese custody but also to press the issue of initiating US-Japan trade and diplomatic relations. This was in 1849, and was the imediate antecedent to the Perry mission of 1853-1854. Glynn, however, was not the first US naval officer to attempt to singlehandedly open US-Japanese relations before Commodore Perry. Enter the mission of the lesser known Commodore James Biddle (1783-1848). He’s certainly not as well known as Perry or Glynn, but his visit to Japan has an important place in history all the same, particularly with regard to the growth of Japanese naval technology.

Commodore James Biddle. Image in PD.

Now, speaking as a Philadelphian, I sighed knowingly when I first encountered his name. Biddle, like Logan, Callowhill, Bond, Norris, and Sellers, is a very old Philadelphia family. That a Biddle was a commodore in the antebellum Navy does not come as a surprise to me at all. He was the nephew of Captain Nicholas Biddle, one of the first five captains in the US Navy, and the younger Biddle had a very eventful career, both as a naval officer as well as a diplomat. During the War against the Barbary Pirates (1801-1805) he was assigned to USS Philadelphia under the command of Captain William Bainbridge when the crew was captured following the ship’s running aground off Tripoli Harbor. He spent the war in captivity in Tripoli. Later, he took part in the War of 1812.

Later still, served on various American fleets throughout the world, in both a military and a diplomatic capacity. Biddle was in the Mediterranean in 1830 when he and consul David Offly negotiated and concluded a treaty with the Sublime Porte (the government of the Ottoman sultan) which established trade relations with the Ottoman Empire and guaranteed American extraterritoriality in the Empire. Long story short, by the time he was commander of the East India Squadron (the US Navy’s main formation operating in East Asian waters) he was an accomplished commander and diplomat.

Shortly after his arrival in China, Biddle added another success to that lengthy career when he exchanged ratifications of the Treaty of Wangxia in December of 1845, the first treaty signed between the US and the Qing Dynasty. China under the Qing had recently been defeated by the United Kingdom, and the other Euro-American powers were quickly lining up to make their own unequal treaties with the vanquished empire. But Biddle and the American diplomats in China were also aware that Japan was nearby and might, at this juncture, also be militarily unable to resist overtures by a western power. Indeed, Biddle carried a letter from then-Secretary of State John C. Calhoun which authorized Caleb Cushing, US agent in China, to open diplomatic negotiations with Japan. At the time, Biddle’s flagship was the 90-gun ship of the line USS Columbus, Captain Thomas Wyman commanding, which was accompanied by the Boston-class sloop of war USS Vincennes, under the command of Captain Hiram Paulding.

Word reached the squadron on 5 July 1846 of war with Mexico. Charles Nordhoff, who was a sailor aboard USS Columbus, writes that

“On the fifth of July, our consort vessel returned from Shanghai, with the commodore, who brought with him an official report of the declaration of war between the United States and Mexico, news which we had been for some time expecting. We immediately proceeded to sea, bound for Japan, our commodore having been intrusted by government with the delivery of a letter from the President of the United States to the Emperor of Japan, expressing a desire to open negotiations for a treaty of trade.” 

(Charles Nordhoff, later in life. Image in PD.)

In his later report to Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, Biddle reported:

The Japanese, as you know, have always been more rigid in the exclusion of foreigners than even the Chinese. The only Europeans admitted to trade are the Dutch from Batavia; and their trade is confined to a single port, and limited to one annual ship. By the laws of Japan foreign ships are not permitted to anchor in any port of the empire, except that of Nagasaki. Any attempt to penetrate Japan made at that port would be sure to encounter the hostility of the Dutch, whose exertions have hitherto been successful against every attempt to disturb their monopoly. The Japanese officers at Nagasaki are without authority to treat foreign officers; they could not accede to any propositions; they could only transmit them to the seat of Government at Yeddo. The distance between Yeddo and Nagasaki is three hundred and forty-five leagues, and the journey between them is “usually performed in seven weeks,” according to a work on Japan published at New York in 1841. I concluded, therefore, to proceed direct to the bay of Yeddo, where I anchored on the 20th instant, the Vincennes in company.

In other words: having scored an unequal treaty with China, and hearing of the outbreak of war with Mexico, Biddle thought he could go to Japan (and go straight to Edo to avoid attracting the ire from the Dutch), snag a *different* treaty with Japan, and then smoothly pivot and head across the Pacific to join the war.

Easy, right?

We’ll see.

Sources (All Parts)

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Source Spotlight: “Man-of-War Life,” by Charles Nordhoff

As I write the draft for this week’s Friday Night History, I feel like from now on I ought to introduce some of the sources that factor into each week’s finished product. The one that particularly has my attention this week is Charles Nordhoff’s Man-of-War Life. A German-born American writer, Nordhoff (1830-1901) served in the US Navy from 1845-1848, all aboard the 90-gun ship of the line USS Columbus. While his reputation is as a writer and journalist, he spent 9 years at sea, in the Navy, the merchant service, and on whaling and fishing ships.

What’s particularly surprising to me about Man-of-War Life is that Nordhoff was aboard Columbus when, serving as Commodore Biddle’s flagship, it visited Japan in 1846. Nordhoff wouldn’t have known, but this brought him in close proximity with a number of Japanese leaders who would go on to become influential voices in the late-Edo period conversation on opening up to foreign relations and military modernization– one of them being Nakajima Saburōsuke, a political and military leader who went on to involvement in building Japan’s first modern warships.

The section in his book that covers Japan is ultimately short (all of 18 pages) but this, too, is a primary source on late Edo history that I’m excited to put to work in Friday Night History.

You can read Man-of-War Life online in its entirety! Check it out here.

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

(Historical Cooking) General Casey’s Stew

Major General Silas Casey (1807-1882) [public domain]

It’s been a little while since I last got the chance, but something I’m very fond of is replicating historical recipes. Ages ago, I played with recipes from the Roman Apicius cookbook, then tried my hand at late Sengoku and early Edo period Japanese sweets, and I’ve been wanting to try something new for awhile. So I’m really excited to note that today, my partner and I are making General Casey’s Stew.

General Silas Casey was a career US Army soldier who commanded a division of IV Corps Army of the Potomac, under Erasmus D. Keyes. He was also an educator of new soldiers, and published the training manual Infantry Tactics in 1862, which you can read online here. Understanding that most of his soldiers likely came to the Army with little understanding of how to cook, but were issued cooking equipment and rations as if they knew how to cook, and seeing that they needed some understanding in order to get the nutrition they needed, he created this recipe for stew.

  • One pound of stew beef, cut up.
  • Quarter pound of pork
  • One onion, sliced up
  • Two potatoes, cut up
  • One pound of dehydrated vegetables, soaked
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough water to cover

Casey says to cook it for 3 hours, and while 3 hours in a crockpot on HIGH setting isn’t the same as a campfire, it’ll do. We used frozen vegetables (peppers, onions, cauliflower, broccoli), sliced ham, and steak bits for ours. Also an adaptation, yes, but remember, even in the Civil War, one had to adapt and use what was at hand!

Our attempt at General Casey’s Stew

How is it? Pretty good! I had mine with some hardtack we made awhile ago. Plus, this much stew will make for good leftovers for a few days!

What’s your preferred historic recipe- or, is there a historic recipe you’d like to see me try? Let me know in the comments!

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

(Friday Night History/WIP): A Forgotten Stand-Off at Uraga

There are people– even those who are (or were) otherwise well known in their day– who get overshadowed in history. The last few weeks on #FridayNightHistory we’ve talked about US Navy Commodore James Glynn, as he pertains to the story of Ranald MacDonald’s Japan sojourn. Glynn has some measure of lingering renown through MacDonald but also as the immediate predecessor to the Perry mission of 1853. Glynn’s predecessor in the US Navy’s failed attempts to force the opening of Japan, Commodore James Biddle, does not have the same lingering renown.

Biddle and his mission, and the Japanese leaders who faced him, are our subject this week!

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