Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Afghanistan becomes the Graveyard of Empires, California in the Mexican-American War, Doctor’s Plot, Spanish slavery, NatGeo, Independent Labour Party, Hawaii and the Bayonet Constitution
Holidays and Observances on January 13
Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers is a memorial on the General Roman Calendar this day. Hilary (310 A.D. – 367 A.D.) was a highly educated man, pagan by birth, who converted to Christianity after studying the Holy Scripture. Within the Christian community of Gaul, his reputation spread and he was elected by the people of Poitiers to govern their body of the faithful. Much of his life was taken up in the dispute between Nicene Christianity and Arianism.
While Hilary fell fully on the side of the former, his study of Arianism led him to conclude that the differences dividing the two were often more semantic than substantive. Some of St. Hilary’s extensive writings have passed down to the modern era, making him the first of the early bishops about whom we have first hand information.
Major Events on January 13
1842 – Afghanistan begins to earn its reputation as the Graveyard of Empires.
Britain believed itself in competition with Russia for influence in and control over India during the mid-19th century, calling the competition “the Great Game.” It turns out to have been far more imaginary than real – Russia never really played – though the consequences flowing from Britain’s belief were very real and very deadly. In 1838, Britain began the First Anglo-Afghan War because it wanted to preempt a Russian invasion of India coming through Afghanistan.
The “Army of Indus,” some 21,000 soldiers, that began the march into Afghanistan was a caricature of the British military:
It included an immense train of 38,000 camp followers and 30,000 camels, plus a large herd of cattle. The British intended to be comfortable – one regiment took its pack of foxhounds, another took two camels to carry its cigarettes, junior officers were accompanied by up to 40 servants, and one senior officer required 60 camels to carry his personal effects
The army invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet regime in Kabul. Then, most of the army returned to India, leaving an occupation force of 8,000 soldiers and their 16,000 or so camp followers. It was a culture shock for the puritanical Muslims of Afghanistan. Over succeeding months, disparate Afghan tribes banded together under the command of Dost Mohammad to challenge the British occupation.
By the end of 1841, the British Army’s position was untenable. On January 1, 1842, the British Commander, Lord Elphinstone, began a retreat from Kabul, having negotiated an agreement with Akbar Khan, one of Dost Mohammad’s relatives, to peacefully leave if the Afghans would not attack them en route.
On January 10, the army of soldiers, and camp followers made it into the narrow, snow-covered mountain passes of the Hindu Kush. That is when the Muslims began attacking in waves. Almost all of the British Army’s 4,000 soldiers and their 12,000 wives, children, and servants were massacred in an orgy of slaughter.
On this date, Dr. William Brydon arrived at the gates of the British garrison at Jalalabad. The British press depicted him as the sole survivor of the ambush. That event was later memorialized in the famous painting shown at the top of this post, Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Thompson.
It turned out that the doctor was not the only survivor. There were a handful of others. In 1843 British army chaplain, G.R. Gleig, “wrote a memoir of the disastrous (First) Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. He wrote that it was:
a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated”
The book “Flashman,” first in a series of black comedy novels by George MacDonald Fraser, is set in the First Anglo War. As the marketing squib for the book reads:
Can a man be all bad? When Harry Flashman’s adventures as the reluctant secret agent in Afghanistan lead him to join the exclusive company of Lord Cardigan’s Hussars and play a part in the disastrous Retreat from Kabul, it culminates in the rascal’s finest – and most dishonest – turn.
1847 – The Mexican–American War concludes in California.
In 1836, Mexico’s military rulers fought and lost a war with the people of Texas, who then proclaimed themselves an independent Republic. Nine years later, the people of Texas voted to join the U.S. and petitioned for statehood.
After Texas became a state, Mexico renewed hostilities, still claiming disputed lands north of the Rio Grande, including the area between California and Texas. In 1846, Mexico attacked a U.S. Army force in the disputed lands, starting the Mexican-American War (1846-48). While Mexico had enjoyed a measure of military success against the Texas militia forces, Mexico was unable to mount any long defense against the U.S. Army. The war would end in 1848 with the U.S. Army occupying the capital of Mexico, Mexico City..
During the war, a U.S. force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Fremont was conducting operations in California against Mexican forces under the command of Andres Pico. As the U.S. forces arrived at Santa Cruz island, during a march aimed at Los Angeles, Fremont was
approached by Bernarda Ruiz de Rodriguez, a wealthy educated woman of influence and Santa Barbara town matriarch, who had four sons on the Mexican side. She asked for and was granted ten minutes of Frémont’s time, which stretched to two hours; she advised him that a generous peace would be to his political advantage—one that included Pico’s pardon, release of prisoners, equal rights for all Californians and respect of property rights.
Fremont agreed. Ms. Rodriguez accompanied Fremont when his forces resumed their march. Withing days, Fremont’s forces came abreast of Pico’s forces and the two commanders met with Ms. Rodriguez present. On this date they signed an agreement based largely on the proposal Ms. Rodrigues outlined, an agreement they called the Treaty of Cahuenga.
This treaty, which the Mexican military commander of the area and a U.S. army colonel signed, was made without the formal backing of either the American government in Washington or the Mexican government in Mexico City. Even the ranking U.S. officers in the area (General Kearny and Commodore Stockton) were unaware of it. Still, not only was it eventually honored by both national governments, it was immediately and permanently observed by the local American and Californio populations. Fighting ceased, thus ending the war in California.
1953 – Stalin prepares for a new purge ostensibly justified by the (Jewish) Doctor’s Plot
After 1922, when he became Secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, Stalin regularly used campaigns of terror and mass murder to maintain his hold on power. The first of note was Stalin’s campaign against the Kulaks, resulting in the deaths of millions from outright murder to starvation. Following that was the “Great Terror,” a large scale purge and murder of Stalin’s perceived enemies.
Russian doctors who had been treating a high level Soviet official were negligent in their care and the patient died. To cover their malpractice, they chose history’s most well known scapegoats, the Jews, and spread the rumor of a plot to kill the Soviet leadership, including Stalin himself – the “Doctor’s Plot.” The rumor reached Stalin in 1952.
Stalin, hardly one to ignore such threats, ordered the arrest and interrogation of 37 doctors, allegedly telling his Minister of State Security, “If you do not obtain confessions from the doctors we will shorten you by a head.” This numbers under arrest quickly grew into the hundreds as the doctors, under torture, provided numerous other names of supposed conspirators.
On this date in 1953, an article appeared in Pravda, “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians.” The article, meant to set the stage for a large scale purge and show trials, accused some of the most prestigious and prominent doctors, mostly Jews, in the Soviet Union of taking part in a vast plot to poison members of the top Soviet political and military leadership.
But the coup was short circuited by Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953. A subsequent investigation of Doctor’s Plot discovered the origins. The doctors still in detention were released. Those who perpetrated the cover-up met a swift end.
Notable Events on January 13
1435 – Spanish mistreatment and enslavement of natives in Spanish possessions outside the mainland was often challenged by the Catholic clergy. Famously, on this date, Pope Eugene IV issued the papal bull Sicut Dudum, forbidding the enslavement of the Guanche natives in Canary Islands by the Spanish.
1888 – The National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, D.C. For years, the society published exceptional erudite articles. The accompanying educational photography made it beloved by juvenile boys for decades. Unfortunately, a century on, it was overtaken by progressives and became a left wing political propaganda outlet by about 2004, once again proving John O’Sullivan’s First Law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”
1893 – The Independent Labour Party of the United Kingdom holds its first meeting. The ILP kept itself to the left of the Labor Party (didn’t think that possible), winning few electoral seats before finally joining the Labor Party in 1975.
1893 – U.S. Marines land in Honolulu, Hawaii, from the USS Boston to prevent the queen from abrogating the 1887 Bayonet Constitution, allegedly agreed to by the Hawaiian monarchy at the point of a bayonet..
1935 – After WW I, France occupied the territory of Saarland, an area almost completely German. A number of communists and other opponents of the rise of the Nazi party escaped to Saarland and agitated for it to remain under French control. France held a plebiscite in the territory, the results of which, on this date, showed that 90.3% of those voting wished to rejoin Germany.
1968 – Johnny Cash’s addiction to drugs nearly eclipsed his career as a country music singer. He eventually got his addiction under control and, partly as a publicity stunt, decided to hold a concert for the inmates at Folsom State Prison. On this date, he performed two shows at the prison and cut an album of his live performance that turned out to be a commercial success.
1990 – Virginia has always been on the cutting edge of racial healing in the South. On this date in 1990, Douglas Wilder became the first black elected governor as he took office as Governor of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia. A little over two decades on, Ralph Northam, became the first white in black face elected governor in Virginia.
Born on January 13
1683 – Christoph Graupner, German harpsichord player and a popular composer during his lifetime, he was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. After his death, his works fell into obscurity.
1808 – Salmon P. Chase, an able financier who served well as the Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War. Near the end of the war, Lincoln nominated Chase to become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
1832 – Horatio Alger, Jr., a novelist who wrote nearly a hundred novels, almost all with the same rags to riches plot line of a young boy of humble origin who, through hard work, courage, and honesty, becomes successful.
Died on January 13
86 BC – Gaius Marius, a successful Roman general who reformed Rome’s military system, ending the militia levy system and creating professional armies. It improved the military, but, with professional armies whose loyalty lay to their generals, it set the stage for the Roman Civil War and the end of the Roman Republic.
858 – Æthelwulf, king of Wessex and one of the most successful of the Anglo-Saxon kings. He “consolidated and extended the power of his dynasty, commanded respect on the continent, and dealt more effectively than most of his contemporaries with Viking attacks.” He laid the foundations for the success of his son, Alfred the Great.
888 – Charles the Fat, a weak Frankish King most famous for bribing the Vikings under Rollo to lift the siege of Paris and leave France.
He also had an interesting way of collecting bills. The Queen told her treasurer, William Cecil, to pay Spenser one hundred pounds for his poetry. The treasurer, however, objected that the sum was too much. She said, “Then give him what is reason.” Without receiving his payment in due time, Spenser gave the Queen a message:
I was promis’d on a time,
To have a reason for my rhyme:
From that time unto this season,
I receiv’d nor rhyme nor reason.
She immediately ordered the treasurer pay Spenser the original £100, and the phrase “neither rhyme nor reason” passed into the English lexicon.
1929 – Wyatt Earp is a legend of the Wild West. He was, at various times, professional gambler, teamster, a buffalo hunter, a saloon and brothel owner/manager, a miner for silver and gold, and a boxing referee, In his spare time, he became the most lawman in the West. He became sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, where he and his family engaged in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco.