This weekend was the 810th anniversary of the Battle of Las Navas De Tolosa. On July 16th, 1212, the Reconquista defeated the Muslim invaders of Spain and marked a turning point in the liberation of the country. Spain had been occupied by Muslim slavers for five centuries, with a small resistance movement slowly taking back territory in the north bit by bit. After they had liberated half the country, the situation escalated. The Muslims amassed a huge army of volunteers, traitors, and slaves to reinvade northern Spain.
The Christians eventually grew weary and lost hope. They began to flee, and Alfonso took the initiative to lead a cavalry charge. With their flags bearing the cross and the Son, Alfonso and his men rallied their troops and broke through the Muslim lines. They slaughtered the slave warriors chained together and scattered the rest who could run. The tide was turned and the enemy was routed. This battle was one of the great triumphs of freedom over slavery and it is an inspiring tale to behold.
Terror spreads throughout the land
Fiends pillage and enslave the weak
A great heresy is their marching band
Where they go, havoc does wreak
Yet brave souls prosper to the north
Carrying the sword of the cross
Piece by piece, they move forth
Reclaiming the land which was lost
The slaver king cries out in vain
Against the return of the light
The Lord has come to free the land of Spain
To push out the heretical blight
Hope is kindled near every bend
Light spreads to the darkest corner
A scourge of five centuries comes to an end
The Lord has come to restore His order
The slaver king fumes with rage
Wailing from his throne of flesh and chains
Against the Lord, he sets his cage
With malice flowing through his veins
The heretics know their end draws near
The time fro them to drown in shame
The Lord's men come for that most dear
To reclaim the lost land of Spain
Men of God muster from across all the lands
To Crusade once more against the darkness
Pushing back the heretics and slaver bands
The Reconquista comes to redeem us
A force of warrior monks and knights
Volunteers with hearts strong and calm
To battle the slave hordes of Muslim fright
And restore the realm of Christendom
The army of God amassed as one
Met with a sea of demons of all types
Knights in armor shined in the sun
The agents of the adversary of force of all stripes
Traitors, slaves, and volunteers filled the heretic ranks
Dressed in rags and chains with flesh exposed
Some came willingly, others dragged without thanks
Others came in madness with their minds disposed
The light and dark clashed without end in sight
Outnumbered at large was the Army of God
Yet unyielding and undeterred as they kept up the fight
Determined to break the heretics' fascade
A momenet then came
When hope faultered briefly
The army of light flew in shame
As the dark horde stood steeply
But Alfonso stood tall
When he heard that cry of doom
He charged forth without fear nor stall
Into the thick of the blood plume
There was no victory in sight
With the darkness vast and shrill
Though God's men stood still to keep the fight
To embody His everlasting will
Armor clashed against flesh and chain
Freeman against the slave
Fighting for the fate of Spain
For a future bright or grave
And the light shines in the darkness
Ever bright and ever pure
The darkness shall not overcome His greatness
The future shall at last be secure
At long last the chains did break
And the heretics fell to the sword
Fallen ground was now God's to retake
Freedom was Spain's reward
The Reconquista prevailed
By God's mighty grace
The enemy was assailed
Now peace, Spain may embrace
Praise be to the Lord
He who is never to know loss
He who sends us men of war
Men who wield the sword of the cross
The Third Great Awakening was a global religious revival beginning in the United States. The movement lasted from 1855-1930. The focus of the revival was briefly altered by the American Civil War, but the movement was not halted. The Third Great Awakening can be recognized as a distinct social movement from the Second Great Awakening, occurring directly after and as a result of the Second Great Awakening. Whereas the Second Great Awakening was a religious revival across the United States, mainly on the country’s frontiers, the Third Great Awakening was a revival in the cities that spread out to the world and became a global phenomenon. Prominent figures of the Third Great Awakening include Dwight Moody and William J. Seymour, among several others.
Whereas the First and Second Great Awakening were largely born out of the frontiers of the United States – out in the wilderness or small towns – the Third Great Awakening brought religious revival straight to a major city for the first time at the onset. This makes sense, as that was where the need was concentrated during this time, and where a revival could make the biggest difference. The United States had expanded from coast to coast and was on the brink of civil war due to the dehumanization of black slaves. Poverty ran rampant in the major cities and many had turned away from their roots which had built the strong nation. The Third Great Awakening would also be instrumental in seeing the American people through the firestorm which was about to be unleashed.
The Nation Breaks
Stress was at an all-time high across the United States leading up to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Tensions led to physical fights in the halls of Congress. Propaganda efforts went into full swing to justify the enslavement of black Americans and counter the Abolitionist activists. Cooperation between the North and South deteriorated over the issue of slavery. After the North refused to capture and extradite black slaves who had escaped across the border from the South, the Southern States seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. For a brief time, it seemed as if there might be peace as the nation divorced into two separate countries. However, this did not last, and before long the two sides came to blows at the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Even though this was a tumultuous and divisive time, D.L. Moody saw the mobilization of troops through major cities as an opportunity to spread the word of God. He first preached to Union soldiers at Camp Douglas outside Chicago. His efforts would take him across the country to other cities, military bases, and battlefields. Moody preached to both Union and Confederate troops. He helped to bolster the spirits of the Union troops fighting to end slavery. Moody also served to guide Confederate troops toward reconciliation and to question the cause they were fighting for. Above all, he brought much-needed comfort to the young men and boys suffering on both sides of the battlefield.
The Light Spreads
D.L. Moody continued his work through the end of the American Civil War, returning to his school in Chicago after the cessation of the conflict. After his school was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, he took that as a sign to take his mission abroad. Moody traveled across the United Kingdom and Ireland for a brief time before coming back to the United States. During this time, he trained many missionaries who would go out and spread his message of unity among Christians and the bridging of denominational divides. When he returned to the U.S., he began traveling around the country preaching and training new missionaries until he died in 1899. This resulted in missionaries traveling to Europe and Asia, with revivals starting up in Britain and Korea as a result.
Around this time, another prominent figure would undertake a similar journey of training missionaries to travel the globe and spread the word of God. That person was William J. Seymour who began what is referred to as the Asuza Street Revival in 1906. Seymour was a black preacher who drew large crowds of poor, rich, black, white, and everyone in between. As with Moody, many of those who attended Seymour’s sermons became missionaries who would travel abroad. This spread the word of God to Africa and Asia, as well as other parts of the United States. The Manchurian Revival of 1908 may also be considered part of the Third Great Awakening and was affected by these missionaries.
W.J. Seymour was the son of freed black slaves born in the wake of emancipation. He was learning to be a pastor under Charles Parham at a church in Houston, Texas. Here, he was preaching while Neely Terry was visiting from Los Angeles. She was impressed with his speaking ability and his message, and so she invited him to come to L.A. and preach. Seymour accepted and was on his way to California. During this time, there was internal conflict when members of the Holiness Church Association of Southern California rejected his message. However, other members of the community helped Seymour continue to preach by providing him with a place to stay and a new location to meet.
Seymour drew large and diverse crowds, bringing people together in the bitterness of the post-Civil War era. This helped heal the divide in the nation, as many were unhappy about the peace which had been brokered. Also, many struggled to forgive one another after so much blood was shed. The American Civil War was the bloodiest and most socially-destructive conflict in the history of the United States. Family members had been made to hate one another. Neighbors fought and killed each other. Fathers were turned against sons and there were many times when the fragile peace seemed it would be lost and the people would take up arms against their fellow countrymen once more.
However, Seymour’s work served to teach people about the importance of forgiveness. No matter how hard it might have been, the American people would have to make peace with one another or become the architects of their own destruction. As the word of God spread throughout the American people, they stumbled their way into peace, even if they could not forget the horrors they had inflicted on one another. Over time, many also came to see the former black slaves as fellow Americans too, united as one under God. In the end, while resentments and divides would remain, enough was healed in time for the United States to stand as one unified country during the Great War that would become known as World War I and World War II.
The End and the Beginning
The Third Great Awakening overlapped with the Great War. Many consider WWI and WWII to be the same conflict with a 10-year armistice. This was the deadliest armed conflict in human history which culminated with the Axis Powers battling against the Allies for control of the globe. The world shifted and tore itself apart piece by piece. Friends became foes as there were many betrayals and the sides were not so clear. Marxism – the Gnostic ideology which inverted many teachings of the Bible – split into fascism and communism, with the Nazis and the Soviets becoming the most prominent faces of the two new ideologies. Communism stayed true to traditional Marxism, whereas fascism was “Marxism perfected” as Adolf Hitler would say. They were two sides of one coin who both perceived each other as heretics.
The Americans, British, and Nationalist Chinese found themselves in an unlikely alliance with the Soviet Union while the Germans, Japanese, and Italians forged equally perplexing bonds. At this time, most countries on Earth would eventually find themselves in one of the two camps. Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, the countries which were recipients of missionaries from the Third Great Awakening tended to find themselves on the side of the Allies. The unified Americans would produce much of the hardware supplied to the Allies throughout the conflict and would have troops fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Many South Africans, Koreans, and Nationalist Chinese also fought against the Axis Powers alongside the Americans and British. In the wake of the conflict, the Nationalist Chinese would sustain the Republic of China on Taiwan in the face of the red terror from Communist China. The South Koreans would also hold the line decades later against the consuming horde of Communist Chinese, North Koreans, and Soviet tanks.
A Light Shines Ever In the Dark
The Third Great Awakening was instrumental in both healing and unifying the American people after the bitter American Civil War, and in preparing them for the role they would play in the battles to come. The missionaries produced from the Third Great Awakening also provided connections across the globe which helped shape the alliance which strike down the Axis Powers and stand against the dark specter of Communism left in their place. This prevented the world from being completely consumed for a time and helped to pull the people of Earth out of the dark places made by the horrors of the Great War and Cold War.
The Second Great Awakening was a major religious revival in the United States which took place between 1795-1835, spreading to Britain in the final phase. Prominent figures of the Second Great Awakening including individuals such as Barton Stone and Charles Finney, among others. The Second Great Awakening saw many uneducated believers take on leadership roles, advocating for the perspective that anyone of any background could choose to play a major role in spreading God’s word. Additionally, many black Americans became converted as a result of the Second Great Awakening. Over the ensuing decades, this would empower the Abolitionist movement and ultimately lead to the American Civil War.
Origins of the Revival
Following the American Revolution, many American Christians resorted back to their denominational divisions. They had achieved the ultimate goal of the First Great Awakening in the American Revolutionary War, separating from the British Empire and founding a new nation based explicitly on Biblical principles. With peace and independence achieved, the Colonies-turned-States once more became divided. The Articles of Confederation did not create a stable government as the Constitution later would. Also, after justifying armed rebellion against the British crown, armed rebellion was in turn justified against the new American government. Many free and enslaved black Americans had fought in the Revolution based on promises of freedom, liberty, and justice. These promises were unfulfilled due to the economic dependence on slavery in the Southern States.
Stone’s first camp meeting is said to have been attended by up to 25,000 participants. This would put the number in attendance far above the population of Cane Ridge at the time which was approximately 2,000. If such estimates are correct, people from all over must have traveled to attend the week-long meeting. In the second phase of the Second Great Awakening, Timothy Dwight saw a similar revival at Yale College led by the student body. Dwight was an evangelical and was president at the school. During his time there, he served as a contrast to much of the secular/rationalist thought which was predominant in academia, which was why he expressed surprise at the revival which occurred at the school.
The Second Great Awakening served to break down denominational barriers between the Methodists and Baptists. At the start, the Baptists were more decentralized with little structure to their congregations, and the Methodists were highly structured. By working together on this mission, their practices merged and adapted to suit the needs of the people. In the third and final phase of the Second Great Awakening, Charles Finney finally brought the revival all the way to New York and began preaching in the small towns throughout the coastal state. Near the end, Finney preached in major cities in Britain, although it does not appear there were significant effects on history outside the United States from the Second Great Awakening.
Effects of the Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening was critical in American history as a catalyst for the American Civil War. As many of the new converts were freed black slaves, the Second Great Awakening both brought many black Americans into public discourse and forged bonds between white and black Americans regarding a shared vision for the country. As such, ending slavery became on of the broader objectives of the Second Great Awakening. The Abolitionist movement would emerge as a result. In turn, Christians across the country demanded an end to the practice of slavery. This demand led to social unrest, political gridlock, and disillusionment between those who demanded the recognition of the human rights of enslaved peoples and those who denied the humanity of the humans they claimed as property.
The South would eventually secede from the Union and form the Confederacy after the North refused to capture and return escaped slaves who crossed the border into the North. After this peaceful divorce, the North and South were content to go their separate ways for a brief time. However, the issue of who controlled federal land eventually brought the North and South to blows at Fort Sumter when both sides claimed ownership of the military base. While motivations for the American Civil War were greatly varied on both sides, and the Confederacy was originally winning the war with numerous victories, the mandate to free the slaves fostered by the Second Great Awakening kept the Union going long enough for Europe to cut off trade to the South and turn the tide of the war. In the end, the mission of the Second Great Awakening was accomplished.
The First Great Awakening was a spiritual revival which began as early as the 1720s in England and the Colonies, continuing on to as late as the 1760s. The movement is primarily recognized as having taken place in the 1730s and 1740s. Prominent figures in the First Great Awakening included George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards, among others. The First Great Awakening was critical to inoculating English communities from the devastating ideas of the proto-communist French Revolution which led to the Reign of Terror and ultimately, communism itself in the centuries to come. The First Great Awakening was also instrumental in preparing the Colonies to unite against the British crown under the word of God and birth the new nation of the United States.
Fall From Grace
The Enlightenment brought the world out of medieval times and into the Renaissance Era. Scientific discoveries and advancements in technology led to dramatic improvements in quality of life. Material conditions had never been better. This was the end Middle Ages and the beginning of the Age of Reason. It was a tremendous triumph for Humanity, but as with many things, it was taken too far. Excesses and complacency led humans astray once more, and people began to turn away from God as they put their faith in science as the be-all-end-all. This set the stage for the wars to come, but not all would be cast into the fire. There were a few brave souls who went against the excesses of the fleshy world and turned back to the Bible just before judgement swept across the globe, saving many others in their efforts.
Awakening in England
In England, John Wesley was born in 1703 to a large Christian family. His house was burned down by an anti-Christian mob when he was young, but he was saved from the fire and went on to continue studying scripture. He attended Oxford university and started the “Holy Club” with his brother. Wesley became a preacher and sailed to Georgia on a mission to convert the Native Americans to the word of God. Meeting little success at the time, he returned to England and attended a Moravian meeting in which a Lutheran commentary was being read. Wesley experienced a change in himself upon contemplating the words on how faith and complete trust in Christ is a force for personal renewal. After this, John Wesley traveled around the British Isles preaching the message he had received of salvation through Christ’s word alone. While he was shunned by many churches for preaching a personal relationship with God instead of an indirect relationship through the church leader, Wesley nevertheless drew large crowds speaking outside churches and in open fields.
Meanwhile, George Whitefield was also coming up as a prominent figure of the First Great Awakening in England. Whitefield was born in 1714 and lived a non-believer’s life during his youth. Whitefield noted that when he was young, he was a vile and foul individual who reveled in worldly pleasures. However, Whitefield attended Oxford and became a member of Wesley’s Holy Club. With this, his own personal awakening began and he wrote that one night in 1735 he awoke and cried out for salvation from the burdens of sin he felt weighing so heavily upon him. From that moment forward, he was a changed man, becoming an Anglican priest the following year. He then traveled to Georgia and founded an orphanage before returning to England to preach there again. However, Whitefield also found many of the old guard of the church shunning him and closing their doors to him, forbidding him from preaching to their congregations. Nevertheless, Whitefield drew even larger crowds for his sermons outdoors and in massive fields.
Unification of the Colonies
The British Colonies were deeply divided among their different denominations. They squabbled over doctrinal differences in how they interpreted the Bible, and this prevented them from uniting as one Christian nation. However, Jonathan Edwards was born in 1704 and would become a uniting force for the budding American Colonies. Edwards attended Yale and became an assistant minister in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts under his grandfather. When his grandfather died, Edwards had to step up and take over as the only minister of the then second-largest church in the Colonies. He handled this position so well he was called upon to deliver a lecture at a commencement ceremony at Harvard in 1731. He preached his famous sermon, “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption” to a crowd far older and more experienced than he.
Edwards continued to preach in Northampton, and there was a change which occurred in the surrounding towns. Edwards chronicled this mass of conversions in his book, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton and in the Neighboring Towns. Around this time, Wesley and Whitefield were doing their corresponding work in the mother country. They continued for some time, and Edwards gave one of his most famous sermons in 1741 after another preacher fell ill and he was called upon to fill the spot. That sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in which the crowd notably became hysterical and cried out at numerous times throughout Edwards’ sermon. When the crowd became too loud, he patiently waited for them to calm back down before continuing.
Even Benjamin Franklin, who was a notorious skeptic of the Christianity, was moved by one of Whitefield’s sermons in Philadelphia. Ben Franklin noted that following the preaching of the New Lights, it was as if life had returned to the towns which had fallen silent. People could be seen once again filled with joy and a renewed sense of purpose in places where it seemed hope was fading. The Colonies, which previously viewed themselves as distinct entities with little in common, began to unite under one banner, as one people. After that, they began to demand the freedom and liberty from the British crown which they felt was promised to them by God. One motto of the American Revolution rebuking King George III which swept across the new nation exclaimed, “No King but King Jesus.”
A Storm Sweeps the Earth
Many today may assume what is now known as “World War I” was the first world war ever seen on Earth. I would argue this is not so accurate. World War I – referred to as the “Great War” at the time – is referred to as such due to World War II being seen as a continuation of the Great War with a 10-year armistice. However, there have been several world wars beyond those of the 20th century. One such world war was the series of conflicts known as the Napoleonic Wars. This world war was incredibly complex, but was at least in part precipitated by Britain’s tensions with France, as well as the infamous French Revolution giving rise to a brutal, expansionist French state.
Even though the British lost control of the American Colonies, they arose triumphant in the Napoleonic Wars and regained significant influence over the globe once more. This stopped the French proto-communists from taking over the globe, even though their ideas would spread and later give rise to the Soviet Union. The British population was also spared from the kind of ruthless self-depopulation which characterized the proto-communist French Revolution. Of course, the Napoleonic Wars are a story of their own worth telling, though that is a tale for another time. For the time being, the world was spared complete oblivion due in no small part to the First Great Awakening.
Given that he joined the Army while underage, Johnny Clem’s military service would certainly be considered part of his “early life.” Before that, however, he supported his family by selling produce from his parent’s farm on a cart he used to bring food into town. Johnny Clem was born and raised in Newark, Ohio. His mother died when he was 9, and Johnny reportedly did not get along with his new stepmother after his father remarried. This may have contributed to his desire to leave home and join the Union Army. However, Johnny was more inspired to join up by Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and seeing many of his other relatives enlisting in the fight.
Johnny started off his attempts to join the Union Army by skipping school to attend drills as a drummer boy with the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He would make several attempts to join companies which moved through Newark without success. He was turned away by numerous commanders for his small size and age. Johnny then made attempts to ride a train further away from Newark and join a company where he was not so easily recognized, yet he was continually spotted by friends or family and sent back home. At one point he was rebuked by the commander of the 3rd Ohio Regiment who exclaimed the Army was not “enlisting infants.” Undeterred and determined to fight for the Union, Johnny continued his attempts to travel further away from home and find a unit which would enlist him.
Joining the 22nd Michigan Regiment
Johnny was eventually able to travel far away enough from home that he found a unit which did not know him and could not send him back. That unit was the 22nd Michigan Regiment which took on Johnny Clem as an unofficial mascot and drummer boy. A group of officers pooled their money together to cover his $13 monthly salary under the table. He was provided with the smallest uniform available and a modified musket with a sawed-off barrel to match his small stature. In May of 1863, Johnny was officially enlisted with Company C of the 22nd and began receiving his own salary from the Union Army.
Jonny Clem’s involvement in the war was embellished somewhat as he became a popular subject for war photographers. Reports were made claiming he took part in battles which he could not have been involved in, such as the Battle of Shiloh. This earned him the new nickname of “Johnny Shiloh.” He also changed his middle name to Lincoln after his hero, President Lincoln. Johnny also earned the nickname the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga” and the “Rock of Chickamauga” for his confirmed role in the Battle of Chickamauga.
The 22nd Michigan Regiment was stationed at Horseshoe Ridge in Chickamauga when the Confederate Army came on September 20, 1863. The Confederates gained significant ground and began capturing members of the 22nd. When Johnny was first confronted and ordered to surrender, he was riding aboard an artillery piece with his shortened musket in hand. A Confederate colonel reportedly exclaimed that Johnny should put down his weapon and ordered him to “surrender, you damned little Yankee!” With no intent on being captured, Johnny shot the colonel and managed to escape. He was still captured later, but managed to escape again. After his valiant efforts in the Battle of Chickamauga, dispatching a Confederate officer and escaping imprisonment, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. This made Johnny Clem the youngest noncommissioned officer ever to serve in the U.S. Army.
Life and Legacy
Johnny Clem would continue with his military career throughout the war, fighting in several other battles. He was wounded in the Battle of Atlanta twice, but managed to continue on and survive. He was discharged from the Army in 1864 at the age of 13 years old. Johnny would attempt to join the West Point military academy, but struggled to pass the entrance exams due to his lack of formal education. He was later recommissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army in 1871, serving the United States for the next 45 years before retiring in 1951 after rising to the rank of major general. Johnny Clem passed away on May 13, 1937.
Johnny was far from an exception to the norm as an underaged soldier in the American Civil War. The conflict brought people from every walk of life into the fray as the country was torn apart from within. However, as one of the most prominent young boys who fought in the war, Johnny Clem shows us that we are never too small to make a big difference in the world. The drummer boy’s bravery and commitment to his country was legendary, far surpassing that of most boys his age throughout history. Some may call his service foolish, though to do so would be to engage in chronological snobbery and irreverence toward the conditions of life in that time. The American Civil War brought strife straight to the front door of many American households, and everyone was needed to do their part. To that end, Johnny Clem played his part admirably, going steadfast into the unknown without allowing fear of giants overcome him. For that, he deserves to be remembered.
After learning about the Battle of Guningtou, I felt inspired by the story of the “Bear of Kinmen” and the harrowing tale of this triumph over great evil in such a dark hour. Given I was very busy this weekend, I felt it would be a good chance to write a poem in honor of the Bear of Kinmen and all the other KMT forces who gave their lives fighting against communism back in 1949. Without their sacrifice, the world would no doubt have become a even darker place than it is today. Yet, due in no small part to the bravery and victory of the Nationalist Chinese forces on that fateful day, a faint light still shines on Taiwan today, defiant against the specter of communism.
A nation turned against the Lord
Embracing of the greatest foe
Old evils raise a new Red horde
Wherever it goes, the Red horde does follow
Desperate souls driven from their homes
Out to the ends of the Earth
A world on fire changes all they know
And tests each man to see his worth
Now gone away to lands offshore
To find some semblance of respite
Darting in flight from Red fiends galore
An island still clinging to the Light
The enemy lurks ever near
Lashing out from darkened lands
Meager souls train, unbeaten by fear
Preparing themselves for the final hand
Yet retreat offers no way in relief
The Adversary relentless in his pursuit
Solace stolen in the night by a thief
Any respite had till then, now moot
But fortune favored the brave that night
Even had they seen the truth not then
As tanks broke down in the place just right
And a warship mulled about to no right end
Then the heroes tripped upon their own mines
Lighting up the night with what seems dismay
Yet revealing the enemy landing with the tide
A blessing disguised in mysterious ways
Once more, battle raged and unfurled
As if men know not what else to do
Here, at the end of the old world
And the beginning of something new
The Red horde would not win this day
Their arms soaked wet by the sea
By the sword of cleansing, all captured or slain
Overrun by men who feared no such Adversary
Darkness rises with the Red dawn
And the Light must be ready for a meet
A constant struggle of right against wrong
The Red specter's return as assured as its defeat
The Bears of Kinmen did stand fast
And spared the new world of total disdain
The darkness then faltered at long last
Giving hope we may be redeemed once again
The Battle of Guningtou on October 25, 1949 was a pivotal moment in history which restored the crippled morale of the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) forces of the Republic of China (ROC) in their fight against the dark tide of communism during the Chinese Civil War. The ROC, commonly referred to today as Taiwan, managed to repel an amphibious landing by Chinese Communist forces of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the island of Kinmen. After the Communists swept across mainland China and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing, they were on the verge of total victory over the ROC. This crucial win was the first after a series of devastating losses, boosting morale for the KMT and stopping the spread of communism from being absolute. The “Great Victory at Guningtou” spared the last remnants of the Republic of China from the cultural destruction which would befall the mainland under communism and gave resistance to the red tyranny a chance to survive into the 21st Century.
The Specter Spreads
In the wake of World War II, Communist forces under the command of Mao Zedong swept across China, ushering in a new era of darkness which would continue into the modern era. By October 1, 1949, the Nationalist KMT forces under Chiang Kai-shek were in full retreat from the mainland. All of China’s major cities had fallen, with small pockets of resistance far off to the north and south soon to meet the same fate. The Nationalists fell back to Taiwan and maintained garrisons on several smaller islands near Taiwan, including Kinmen and Matsu. The Nationalists still had naval superiority at the time, and the Communists believed they needed to seize Kinmen and Matsu before invading the much larger island of Taiwan. Intent of wiping out the last vestiges of the Republic once and for all, the Chinese Communists launched an amphibious invasion of Kinmen that October.
On October 17, the Communists captured the smaller island of Xiamen. Lacking a navy at the time, they commandeered local fishing boats to use as amphibious landing craft under the cover of night. After the fall of Xiamen, the Nationalists began fortifying their coastal defenses on Kinmen. Landmines and obstacles were set up along the beaches and troops began routine exercises to simulate repelling an amphibious invasion. The Nationalist forces on Kinmen consisted of roughly 40,000 men from the 12th, 18th, and 22nd KMT Army. They were supported by the LST 210, the Chung Lung of the ROC Navy as well as American-made B-26 and B-25 bombers of the ROC Air Force for close air support. The 1st Tank Battalion of the ROC also had American M5A1 “Stuart” tanks from their time serving with the Americans in India as the First Provisional Tank Group.
The Communists Strike
On the night of October 24, 1949, the Communists made their move. Their plan was to use the roughly 200 commandeered fishing boats to quietly ferry 19,000 troops onto the beaches of Kinmen over several trips before moving further inland to take positions at Guningtou, Lungkou, Huwei and dig in to repel a counterattack. If lucky, they would have amassed a large enough invasion force before being discovered and having to fight their way off the beach. However, only about 8,000 Communist troops managed to land on the first and second day before the PLA’s plan went amiss. In the early morning of October 25, fortune favored the Nationalists defenders when they set off one of their own landmines and put the whole island on alert. Flares were fired into the air, illuminating the Communists who had landed on the beach. With the invaders now revealed, the fighting began.
The Nationalist forces opened fire on the Communists who had already come ashore near Lungkou with machine guns, mortars, and artillery. The PLA tried to support their landing forces with artillery fire from the mainland, but had limited intelligence on the island of Kinmen and had to cease fire support in order for the Communist troops to attempt to move further inland without risking friendly fire. Also, a Stuart tank under the command of Lieutenant Yang Chan had broken down during exercises on the beach with a clear line of sight on the invaders. The Communists suffered heavy casualties landing at Lungkou and became pinned down on the beach from the many bunkers and three tanks wearing into them, resulting in their fishing boats being destroyed. Many of the Communist troops were unable to fight back at all due to their guns being waterlogged from the amphibious landing. When the Stuart tanks ran out of ammunition, they moved forward and used their hulking carriages to run over and crush the invaders stuck on the beach with nowhere to run.
The Communists coming in near Guningtou and Huwei managed to land safely, but their fishing boats became stuck on the obstacles along the beach due to the high tide and were eventually destroyed by shore bombardment from the Chung Lung. PLA reinforcements were cut off, and the Communists who made it onto the island were on their own for now, but those landing near Guningtou and Huwei had some initial success. They were able to push inland and hold defensive positions at Shuangru Hill, Guanyin Hill, and the Huwei Highlands for some time before the KMT forces could bring more tanks into the battle the next day and push them back. However, PLA forces were skilled at avoiding ROC tanks by this time, having fought against them extensively on the mainland. The Communists were able to avoid direct confrontation with the tanks in many instances, flanking infantry attempting to use the tanks as cover and avoiding encirclement before moving into the village of Guningtou for a final stand.
On the third day of the invasion, about 1,000 additional PLA troops managed to land and reinforce Guningtou. Yet, this would not be enough. The Communists had found great success on the mainland due to spies and traitors among the ROC feeding them intelligence, and that advantage did not extend to Kinmen. Also, despite the reinforcements arriving, the Communists were still outnumbered and outgunned on Kinmen. Near the end of the last day, the Nationalist forces moved into Guningtou with tanks and limited air support. The fighting was bitter and bloody in the village, with significant close quarters and house-to-house combat. Eventually, the Nationalists wore down the Communists, pushing them out of Guningtou. Out of food, ammunition, and other supplies, the remaining Communists surrendered on the beaches of Guningtou with nowhere left to run.
Aftermath and Legacy
Following their defeat at the Battle of Guningtou, the Communists abandoned their ambitions of conquering Taiwan for the time being. The Nationalists were also dangerously low on morale at the time of the battle, having been driven from their homeland and losing control of the entire Chinese mainland. The major victory at the Battle of Guningtou was also considered to be one last desperate attempt to survive by the beaten and battered ROC. At the time, it was likely the first good news they had heard in a long time after a series of tragedies and defeats. By holding the line on Kinmen Island, the Nationalists also gave a future to the people of Taiwan and a home for traditional Chinese history and culture to survive unmolested by communism.
It is also clear that someone was looking out for the Nationalist forces that fateful day. First, with the tripping of one of their own landmines revealing the enemy; to the waterlogged guns preventing the Communist soldiers from firing back; to the tank which just so happened to break down at just the right spot to repel the invasion force. While everything had gone wrong throughout the Chinese Civil War to lead the Nationalists to this point, everything seemed to go right at just the last moment before they were wiped out forever. As a result, they were spared complete annihilation at the hands of the Communists, and the people of Taiwan today have thus been spared from the horrors which ensued on the mainland under communist rule.
While information on the specific individuals involved in the battle is hard to find in English, the heroes involved in the defense of Kinmen Island in 1949 deserve to be recognized as a whole. Their efforts were instrumental in stopping the spread of communism in the 20th Century. For their sacrifice, all those alive today still have a chance to stand up against communism once and for all.
I was busier than usual this weekend, and found myself pondering the value of rest in the moments I enjoyed it. This poem was born out of those ponderings. Next month, I will start to experiment with some different forms of poetry to see if I can find some new forms I enjoy.
Calmness speaks to us
Quiet peace, almost frozen
Abound with stillness
A lesson if we listen
In peace, we find strength
Resolve to fight our battles
Might needed at length
To leave God's foes in shambles
Take rest while it lasts
For peace is always fleeting
Ever out of grasp
Precious moments left reeling
We must be ready
Ready to answer the call
With our steady hand
To ensure God's foes will fall
So now, take your rest
While you may still find solace
Rest makes us our best
Ready to face the lawless
The Barbary States of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli waged campaigns of piracy and slave raiding against merchant vessels and coastal villages in the Mediterranean Sea. The Muslim pirates depopulated entire regions taking hundreds of thousands of Christians as slaves, which the Ottoman Empire condoned as part of their war against all they declared infidels. Previously, the Knights of Malta had kept the Barbary pirates and slavers at bay. However, Napoleon Bonaparte attacked and plundered the Knights of Malta in 1798, stripping the world of the defense they had previously provided. Now, the scourge of the Barbary was set loose upon the seas in earnest.
The United States had disbanded its navy following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Congress did not wish to pay the costs for maintaining a navy, despite warnings that doing so would invite future attacks against the country. This quickly came to pass for the young nation, as the Barbary were extorting American merchant vessels for safe passage through the Mediterranean, demanding the U.S. pay “tribute” or face attacks. Even when this tribute was paid, American vessels were still at risk of being raiding by the pirates and slavers. The attacks increased in severity when Tripoli declared war on the United States after Thomas Jefferson was elected president and refused to continue paying tribute to the Barbary.
American Forces Deploy
In 1801, Jefferson sent a naval squadron to the Mediterranean with the mission to patrol the sea lanes, protect American merchant vessels, and interdict enemy ships. They attempted a blockade of the Barbary in 1803 and launched sorties on the enemy ports to try and destroy ships at anchor when they were most vulnerable. This proved to be unsuccessful, however, as the Barbary ports were heavily defended by a combination fixed artillery on land in forts and mobile units both on land and in the harbor. The American forces made numerous attempts to destroy the enemy fleet at anchor. They tried frontal naval assaults; deploying in small boats to scale city walls and burn ships with torches; and even attempted sending a fire ship loaded with explosives to suicide bomb the fleet. However, all these efforts were repulsed by the well equipped and highly coordinated Tripolitan forces, and the USS Philadelphia was captured and converted into a stationary weapons platform. In 1804, the Americans scored some victories after allying with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies which had just declared war on Tripoli, but they never managed to ameliorate the threat completely.
A Plan and a Journey
Dismayed with the inability of the naval task force to quell the enemy conventionally, William Eaton came up with plan to ameliorate the treat posed by the Barbary. Yusuf Pasha Karamanl was in charge of Tripoli at the time after deposing his brother, Hamlet. Eaton and Hamlet agreed that if the U.S. helped Hamlet take back power, he would end hostilities between Tripoli and the United States. Eaton was able to persuade Congress, the Secretary of State, and the President to fund the regime change plan as a quicker and more effective alternative to the as of yet unsuccessful efforts at a purely naval campaign. Eaton received $40,000 worth of weapons and supplies for the mission.
Eaton then made his way to the city of Alexandria in Egypt where he met up with Hamlet Karamanl and a group of 8 U.S. Marines under the command of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon. They hired a mercenary band of between 300-500 Greeks, Arabs, and Berbers to bolster their numbers. This was a great risk, as their loyalty was to their pocketbooks rather than the mission at hand. However, it was a risk which would eventually pay off. With his small army in tow, Eaton began his march across the deserts of North Africa. This would prove to be a challenge all by itself, and tested the limits of Eaton’s hired men.
William Eaton and his forces marched 500 miles, or about 800 kilometers through the desert from Alexandria, Egypt to reach their target of Derna where they were to assault the city by land while the naval squadron attacked by sea. Food rationing began from the start and all the men had to make due on half day’s rations for the journey. They reportedly only marched 5 miles a day toward the target city, as they spent much of their time arguing and searching for water. Religious differences between the diverse group of warriors also became a problem. Threats of mutiny and demands for more pay became common, even from Hamlet himself. Yet somehow, Eaton managed to lead the men out of the desert and all the way to the city of Derna after 52 days of marching.
Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
After arriving at Derna and surveying the defenses, Eaton was dismayed. The city was heavily defended by forts with up to 8 heavy artillery guns and barricades with murder holes along the city walls. Eaton wrote a letter to the governor of the city, Moustapha, asking for safe passage. After such an arduous journey through the desert and seeing the city up close, Eaton was not inclined to fight. However, Governor Moustapha denied his request, writing back, “My head or yours.” As such, Eaton readied his men to attack the city.
On April 27th, 1805, the USS Nautilus opened fire on the shoreline of Derna with its artillery. The USS Hornet and the USS Argus arrived the next day and joined in the shelling. The day after that, Eaton and O’Bannon moved in on the city from the east and south. The marines and mercenaries approached under heavy fire from muskets, but the heavy guns had their attention drawn to the attacking ships. William Eaton was shot in the left wrist during the battle, but he kept on despite the injury, overcoming his then limited ability to aim his weapon. In the first 45 minutes of the battle, the enemy artillery was eliminated, and the city’s defender’s were left to fight with muskets and blades. With the attention of the city’s defenders split, the Americans surrounded and closed in on the city, wiping out the Barbary warriors and raising the American Flag on foreign soil for the first time in under 3 hours.
During the battle, the U.S. Marine, John Wilton was killed in action. Two other Marines, David Thomas and Bernard O’Brian, were both injured. Nevertheless, the managed to capture the city of Derna and completed the first phase of their plan. Now, they had to hold the city against enemy counterattack, and eventually march across the desert once more to attack Tripoli itself. Eaton and his men dug in for the inevitable enemy response, fortifying the town as best they could.
The counterattack from Tripoli eventually came, and being heavily outnumbered, Eaton and his men were unable to hold the city walls. Their defensive lines were broken and pushed back to the governor’s palace. However, Eaton turned the tide before the city fell back into enemy hands by turning the artillery guns inward on the city and targeting the Tripolitan forces. Eaton and the U.S. Marines held the city for six weeks before Tripoli finally surrendered. Without needing to remove Yusuf Pasha Karamanl from power, he agreed to a ceasefire and the release of captured Americans he had in his possession. The First Barbary War was over, but hostilities between the U.S. and the Barbary would not be resolved so soon.
William Eaton’s Legacy
As a reward for his valiant and courageous service to the United States, William Eaton was awarded by the Virginia Legislature with a ceremonial Mameluke-style sword which serves as the pattern for officer swords in the U.S. Marine Corps to this day. It is said that Prince Harmet Karamanli was so impressed with Eaton as well that after he was reinstated, he awarded Eaton with a similar sword. The Marines’ Hymn also recounts this epic tale with the first line of the song: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea.”
William Eaton’s story is a massive inspiration to me. It is incredible how he was able to march such a large and diverse group of warriors hundreds of miles across the desert without losing any of them to death or mutiny. His leadership and communication skills must have been legendary. Then to still be able to lead them in battle and take the city of Derna, and then going even further and holding the city against a numerically superior force when the counterattack came. Such a feat was incredible on its own and speaks to the daring and skilled nature of Willaim Eaton.
He also showed the value of ingenuity by achieving such a tremendous success with relatively little advantage after so many attempts to quell the enemy by sea had failed. Eaton knew the Barbary was strongest out on the water and in their harbors. Thus, an assault by land from behind their artillery guns was needed to overtake them. The journey he undertook to achieve this is a legend in and of itself, which is why William Eaton certainly deserves to be remembered as one of the great and accomplished heroes of history. If we all could emulate a small fraction of his perseverance, bravery, and cleverness, we too can achieve great things in our lives.