The St. Patrick’s Battalion

September 12

Today the Irish are as inseparable from the American identity as the stars on the red, white, and blue. But at one time the Irish were as discriminated against as any ethnic group. Immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic, fleeing the Emerald Isle’s deadly potato famine in the 1840s soon learned what N.I.N.A. stood for–No Irish Need Apply.

The wave of German and Irish-Catholic immigration in the mid 19th century was met with an equal wave of xenophobia called Nativism, an anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner movement sweeping through the mostly-Protestant states. This patriotic sentiment was compounded with a territorial war with our neighbor to the south, Mexico, in the 1840s.

John Riley, a native of Clifden, County Galway, was a young veteran of the British Army when he entered the U.S. through Canada. He joined the army in Michigan, and served in the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment. But the animosity he experience against his religion and his countrymen caused him to desert the army prior to the Mexican-American War.

All told around 1000 Irish deserted the army before and during the war. They were not the first soldiers to do so, but 200 of them did the unforgivable. They banded together and enlisted with their fellow Catholics in the Mexican Army.

The St. Patrick’s Battalion, or San Patricios, fought in all five major battles of the Mexican-American War. General Santa Anna once said, had he a hundred more troops like Riley’s men, he would have won the war.

At the Battle of Churubusco in 1847, the San Patricios met their end. Of approximately 200 men, 35 were killed and 85 were taken prisoner. Nearly 50 prisoners were sentenced to death by hanging. Riley escaped execution because he had deserted prior to the declaration of war. He was merely given 50 lashes on the back, branded with the letter “D” (for deserter), and forced to wear an iron yoke around his neck for the duration of the war.

The prisoners were hanged between September 10 and September 13, by order of General Winfield Scott, in full view of both armies at the battle of Chapultepec, and were forced to watch from the gallows as the U.S. flag replaced the Mexican flag above the town. The victims included one soldier who had had both legs amputated the day before.

The U.S. Army denied the existence of the St. Patrick’s Battalion until a Congressional investigation in 1915.

In Mexico, the Irish martyrs are remembered during two holidays: St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, and the Commemoracion de los San Patricios on September 12, the anniversary of most of the executions.

And on this one day, Riley’s hometown of Clifden, Ireland, flies the Mexican flag in honor of the men of St. Patrick’s Battalion.

Deserters or Unsung Heroes?

St. Patrick Battalion

Rogue’s March

No Irish Need Apply – Fact or Fiction?

Victory Day – Turkey – Zafer Bayrami

August 30


Today (August 30) Turkey celebrates Victory Day. The day honors those who have served in Turkey’s military and who fought heroically in the nation’s battles. Throughout the past two millennia, some of history’s greatest battles have been fought on what is now Turkish soil, but of all these, the Battle of Dumlipinar, fought in August 1922, was singled out to serve as the country’s Victory Day.

The Battle of Dumlipinar was the last major battle of the Greek campaign of the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923).

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself, along with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the losing end of an Armistice. The Treaty of Mudros didn’t reflect the reality of a war that in many ways was a stalemate. Western powers seized Ottoman towns and territory in the coming years…

“Greece, in a wild imperial venture supported by Britain, had invaded western Anatolia, hoping to make itself an Aegean ‘great power’ and to construct a ‘greater Greece’ out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But the invasion ended not simply in Greece’s defeat at the battle of Dumlupinar in 1922, but in a calamitous rout and slaughter which drove not only the Greek armies but much of the Greek civilian population of Anatolia into the sea.”

— Neal Ascherson, Black Sea

As part of the treaty following the Greco-Turkish War, Turks and Greeks engaged in a population exchange, whereby Greek Muslims moved to Turkey and Turkish Christians moved to Greece. (Population Exchange Commission, 1923)

During these same years, Turkish revolutionaries under Mustafa Kemal simultaneously defeated the French and the Armenians in separate campaigns, forcing the Allies to revisit earlier treaties. The Turks dissolved the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, and a new Turkish Republic was established, with Mustafa Kemal as its leader.

The Turkish Nation consists of the valiant descendants of a people that has lived independently and has considered independence the sole condition of existence. This nation has never lived without freedom, cannot and never will.

— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Children’s Day – Paraguay

August 16


Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other).

Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost half its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina. (Latin America’s Wars: the Age of the Caudillo (1791-1899) Robert Scheina)

Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Lopez used younger and younger recruits. The 6,000 strong force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2000 Paraguayans lay dead.

Paraguayans say the additional tragedy was that the war was already over at that point, but that the Brazilian government refused to stop until Lopez was captured.

The War of the Triple Alliance remains one of the darkest chapters in South American history.

Paraguay in green
Paraguay in green

Day of National Rebelliousness – Cuba

July 26

Today’s holiday—National Rebelliousness Day—is interwoven with yesterday’s holiday, Día de Santiago, or the Feast Day of St. James, though the inciting incidents took place in separate hemispheres nearly two millennia apart.

In the wee hours of July 26, 1953, as the town of Santiago de Cuba recovered from the previous day’s Santiago (St. James) festivities, Fidel and Raul Castro led about 120 rebels in an attack on the Cuban military’s second largest barracks.

The attack failed almost before it began. The Moncada Barracks soldiers sounded the alarm before Castro’s men could gain access to the compound, losing any hope of surprise. Castro’s rebels were heavily outnumbered (sources say between 4:1 and 10:1) but fought on.

Fidel Castro in Washington DC, 1959

The rebels suffered over 60 casualties, though Castro later stated that only a handful died in the battle, and that the others were executed by the Batista regime after the battle ended.

Castro was imprisoned with several of the other survivors, but a popular support movement successfully lobbied for their release. The attack on the Moncada Barracks marked the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and henceforth, Castro’s coalition against the Fulgencio Batista regime was known as the 26th of July Movement.

Flag of the July 26th movement

Today, Cubans celebrate El Día de la Rebeldía Nacional with three days of fiestas, music, dancing and parades.

Battle of the Boyne

July 12

…there is nothing now that we so earnestly desire as to establish our government on such a foundation as may make our subjects happy, and unite them to us by inclination as well as duty; which we think can be done by no means so effectually as by granting to them the free exercise of their religion…

Such were the words that got James II booted off the English throne.

On the Glorious Twelfth (not to be confused with August’s Glorious Twelfth) Northern Ireland recalls a battle of two Kings. The Battle of the Boyne marked the first major victory of William of Orange against mostly-Catholic forces supporting the deposed King James II. The “Twelfth” refers to the date in 1690 on which the battle took place: July 1st. “Uhh…” Yeah, we’ll get to that.

The war is called the “Jacobite War” after King James. (Okay, somebody has to talk to these people about naming things.)

King James’ Catholic leanings, his push for religious freedom, and his tendency to bypass Parliament when issuing such decrees, landed him on the top of Parliament’s naughty list. Finally King James did the unforgivable: he reproduced.

The birth of his son by his Catholic wife ensured what Parliament had been fearing most: the continuation of a Catholic line on the English throne. Parliament deposed the King in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, the stadtholder (head honcho) of the Dutch lowlands. (Orange refers to a principality, not a fruit or color.)

France was at odds with William and the Dutch at the time, so James hightailed it to Paris to garner troops from the French King. James then set his sites on Ireland, where he had support from both Catholics and Protestant loyalists.

King William III King_James_II
Kings William III and James II (separated at birth?)

The two armies collided at Boyne–William with 36,000 men and 24,000 under James. Surprisingly the death toll was only around 2,000, but it was a definitive Williamite victory, and the beginning of the end for James.

The following year King William sealed the deal at the Battle of Aughrim. Fought on the real July 12, Aughrim was one of the bloodiest battles ever waged on Irish soil–7000 men killed in a day. Thus, the Irish have a definite ax to grind regarding what England sometimes refers to as its “Bloodless Revolution.”

For many years the inhabitants of Belfast celebrated Aughrim as the primary motivation behind Glorious Twelfth. When the UK switched to the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory, many in Northern Ireland saw it as declaring allegiance to the Papacy, and continued celebrating on Julian calendar dates. The anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne–fought July 1 in the Julian Calendar–falls on July 12 in the Gregorian. The two battle commemorations were combined, and over the centuries the Boyne has become more celebrated of the two. Celebrating Boyne over Aughrim has helped to appease Irish Catholics, who didn’t appreciate the wholesale slaughter of their ancestors at Aughrim being celebrated as a holiday.

Tensions remain high between Irish Catholics and the mostly-Protestant population of Northern Ireland. The celebrations have often led to violence, destruction, and poor taste in hat wear.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

D-Day Anniversary

June 6


D-Day: Cargo Vehicles

“The eyes of the world are upon you.”

from General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s statement to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, June 1944

June 6 marks the anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy that precipitated the long and brutal campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi power.

The invasion, also known as Operation Overlord, involved the landing of approximately 160,000 Allied troops, including U.S., U.K, Free French, Canadian, and Australian forces, in a single day along the heavily fortified Normandy coast. The day was scheduled to be June 5, but unfavorable weather conditions forced the landing back a day.

Contrary to popular belief, D-Day doesn’t stand for Debarkation Day.

“In fact, it does not stand for anything. The ‘D’ is derived from the word ‘Day.’ ‘D-Day’ means the day on which a military operation begins.”

Operation Overlord referred to the entire operation from the initial assault on June 6 to the crossing of the River Seine on August 19. Operation Neptune referred the beginning of the invasion, covering the assault on the beaches, and ended on June 30.

Then there was the lesser known “Operation Fortitude”. Operation Fortitude entailed a massive invasion through the narrowest point in the English Channel by the “First US Army Group” led by General George S. Patton.

D-Day: Invasion

Operation Fortitude was, needless to say, entirely made-up. A fictitious assault created to mislead the Germans into thinking the invasion would occur at another location. Secrecy was essential as the Germans had 55 divisions at their command in France, and the Allies could only land a maximum of 8 at any one time. Keeping the world’s largest invasion a secret was a feat almost as remarkable as the invasion itself. It required the Allies win complete dominance over UK airspace—Allied air forces suffered tremendous losses in the two months before the invasion in order to make this so. It required the UK to ferret out all German spies within their ranks and region and to force known spies to send misinformation back home.

The deception went so far as to set up a fake base for the “First U.S. Army Group” in England opposite the suspected landing site, complete giant rubber tanks, cardboard weapons, a paper mache oil pump, and scripted radio chatter.

D-Day: Wounded by the Chalk Cliffs

General Patton was an obvious choice for the fictitious assault. The Germans assumed Patton—one of the U.S. most capable generals—could lead such an operation. However, Patton had been disciplined for a “slapping” incident, something the Germans found difficult to believe was true. (It was.)

“Fortitude succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Long after June 6th, Hitler remained convinced that the Normandy Landings were a diversionary tactic to induce him to move his troops away from the Pas-de-Calais…He therefore kept his best units in readiness there, until the end of July…”

Normandie Memoire, Operation Fortitude

Within five days, over 325,000 troops had landed in Normandy.

The exact number of casualties and soldiers killed on D-Day itself are difficult to ascertain due to the large scale and complexity of the operation, and the conditions under which it was fought. Traditional estimates put the number of Allied casualties at 10,000 with the number of deaths accounting for a quarter of that.  More recent estimates have put the number of dead alone at over 4400, a little over half of that figure Americans.

D-Day: German Troops Surrender

“These men came here — British and our allies, and Americans — to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom… Many thousands of men have died for such ideals as these… but these young boys… were cut off in their prime… I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, and pray, that humanity will have learned… we must find some way… to gain an eternal peace for this world.”

— Former President Eisenhower at the 20th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. (The D-Day Companion: Leading Historians Explore History’s Greatest Amphibious Assault)


D-Day: Monument

65th Anniversary of D-Day on the Normandy Beaches

Fall of Constantinople

May 29

Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night…
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

[published May 29, 2008]

555 years ago today a young soldier by name of Hasan from the small town of Ulubat in what is now Bursa province, Turkey, changed the history of the world.

Hasan was a member of the Sultan Mehmed II’s elite cavalry force during the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 AD.

Preparations for the siege had begun in late 1451 when the Sultan built a fortress on the European side of the Bosporus, north of the city. There Sultan Mehmed commissioned a Hungarian named Urban to design and forge the latest craze in weapons of mass destruction.

The ‘Great Turkish Bombard’ was the world’s first supergun, an enlargement of a Chinese weapon that used gunpowder. At 17 feet and weighing over 20 tons, Urban’s Bombard could shoot a 680 kg granite projectile over a mile. It took 60 oxen and 400 men to move each one.

(Bombard at the Siege, and today)

Urban originally offered his services to the Byzantines, who were unable to afford him. He took his business elsewhere, to the Sultan, who gave him unlimited funding to create a device that could bring down the “walls of Babylon”.

Each Bombard took three hours to reload. But shot by shot, over a matter of months they broke through the walls of the city that was once declared the new Rome. Walls that were originally built by Constantine, fortified by Theodosius, and which for 1000 years withstood attacks from the Avars, the Persians, the Arabs, the Rus’, and the Bulgars.

On the 28th, as the Ottoman army rested for the final attack the last Byzantine Emperor held a religious ceremony in the Hagia Sophia Church.

At midnight the Sultan ordered the attack.

“The first assault was performed by infantry and it was followed by Anatolian soldiers. When 300 Anatolian soldiers were killed, the Janissaries started their attack.”  —

One of the first of those to make it through the impenetrable walls was the aforementioned Hasan of Ulubat. He carried a sword, but would be remembered throughout history for what held in his other hand.


In the midst of battle, Hasan became the first Muslim ever to hoist a crescent banner atop the 1000 year-old Christian city’s walls. The sight of the flag spurred on the invaders and hastened the collapse of the city’s defenses. During this last act, Hasan was struck dead by 27 arrows, but not before his fellow soldiers broke through and held the flag.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, is believed to have been killed in the attack.

Sultan Mehmed II assumed the Byzantine title of Caesar, and the Ottoman became the undisputed ruler of what was now undoubtedly an empire.

He was 21.

Sultan Mehmed II enters Constantinople

Istanbul, as it’s known today, is the city that spans two continents.

And no, it wasn’t Mehmed who changed Constantinople to Istanbul. The Ottomans continued to call the city “Konstantiniyye” (City of Constantine) for hundreds of years. But the mesh of multi-cultural locals called it by another name. Istanbul is a morph of the Greek “is tin Poli”.

Just like New Yorkers and San Franciscans call their hometown, Istanbul means simply “the City”, or “to the City”.

The name wasn’t officially adopted by the Turkish Postal System until 1926.

So if you’ve got a girl in Constantinople…
…she’ll be waiting in Istanbul.

[And no, They Might Be Giants didn’t write the song. Istanbul Not Constantinople was recorded by the Four Lads in 1953, exactly 500 years after the conquest of Constantinople.]

Sultan Mehmed II approaches Constantinople with his army (Note the Great Turkish Bombard)

Stonewall Jackson Day

May 10

“Had Jackson lived to command the right or left wing at Gettysburg, the Confederacy might be approaching its 150th year of independence today.”

– General Wesley Clark, “Stonewall Jackson“, by D. Davis

Two years ago, I was informed by a reader and friend that it is the duty of Every Day’s a Holiday to warn unsuspecting visitors to South Carolina not to bother going to the DMV on May 10. Any such excursions will certainly result in failure. For today state offices, banks, and businesses shut down to honor the memory of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a man better known by his nickname: “Stonewall”.

Jackson has one-and-a-half holidays devoted to him. South Carolina commemorates the anniversary of his death on May 10, while Virginia combines the birthdays of Jackson (January 21, 1824) and Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807) to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day.

Jackson lost his father and mother at an early age, and was raised by relatives. The orphan attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and despite starting with an educational handicap, he graduated 17th out of a class of 59. He then served in the Mexican-American War, and taught at the Virginia Military Institute.

Three months after the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Jackson was promoted to Brigider-General.

Stonewall Jackson as a young man, Virginia Military Institute

At the First Battle of Bull Run, when Union forces broke through Confederate lines, Jackson’s troops stood their ground defending the hill, causing Confederate General Barnard Bee to exclaim to his men, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” The name stuck. “Stonewall” Jackson and his “Stonewall Brigade” became symbols of Southern bravery.

Of course there may be another reason Jackson stood like a stone wall. As a student at West Point, one of Jackson’s many eccentricities was a belief that, if he bent over, it could damage his internal organs.

Jackson’s odd behaviors and personality traits caused some modern scholars to suggest…

“Stonewall Jackson meets the criteria for Asperger Syndrome, with clear evidence of a qualitative impairment in social interaction and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Although individuals with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate major problems in social relationships, many are capable of great creativity because of their ability to focus on a single topic — in this case, on the field of battle and in military affairs.”

Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World, by Michael Fitzgerald and Brendan O’Brien

Jackson was one of the greatest military strategists in U.S. history. By October he was promoted to Major General. He led his troops to striking victories in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The Stonewall Brigade distinguished itself at Antietam and numerous other battles. It’s been said that had Jackson lived long enough to assist Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, the South might have won the war’s bloodiest stalemate, and maybe even the war.

But it wasn’t to be. Jackson met his end at the Battle of Chancelorsville in May 1863. Jackson showed little concern regarding bullets whizzing about him, and on May 2, he was wounded by Confederate troops who mistook his convoy for Yanks. His arm was amputated, and he died of misdiagnosed pneumonia eight days later.

“Sadly, in April of 1865, only 210 men from the original Stonewall Brigade were left at Appomattox.  Because of the reputation of the brigade on both sides of the war, the Stonewall Brigade was the first to march through the Federal lines at the surrender.”


Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson