Michael vs Zulu Warriors

Yesterday I wrote about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and I mentioned Michael Caine and the film based upon the battle. In said film, there are two great scenes. First, is the scene prior to the actual battle. The Undi Corps of Zulus approaches the grizzled British embattlements and begins a war chant. The British respond by singing “The Men of Harlech,” an old Welsh march. The battle then commences. When the battle is over and the Zulu return, they once again form to begin a war chant, this time saluting the noble, dogged enemy that had repelled their attacks.

The final scene made a very big impression upon when I first watched it as a young Rat sitting in World History at the Mother I. My professor, had regaled us the day before with a spirited and nuanced retelling of the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. To then watch it on the silver screen only fueled the already grandiose notions of venturing out on great campaigns that were already swirling in my head.

But when the Zulus saluted the British I was awed. There, on the screen, was a dramatic representation of honor and respect, even amongst your enemies, that was being drilled into our heads back in the Barracks. It still stands as one of my most favorite scenes from the cinema.

I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure, dear reader. The big battle doesn’t begin until about the middle of the video, but it follows directly into the final scene.

Battle of Rorke’s Drift

One of my favorite actors is Sir Michael Caine, Englishman and all-around cool guy. In his first major film role, he plays Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead in the movie Zulu (MGM, 1964). Zulu tells the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu Wars in South Africa. Rorke’s Drift stands out as one of the most prominent battles of the South African campaign for the British Army; the victory restoring the prestige of the British forces in Africa after their surprise defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana.

Rorke’s Drift also stands out as the one battle with the most Victoria Crosses awarded for a single engagement. It’s also a prime example of what a well-trained, well-drilled, and disciplined unit can do against a much larger force.

Though the British were armed with modern Martini Henry repeating rifles they were still heavily outnumbered with only 150 some odd British versus the over 3000 Zulu tribesmen lusting for battle. Also, the Zulus were armed with more than just spears and shields. Shaka Zulu understood the need for firearms and had been stockpiling muskets and antiquated rifles in case of hostilities with the British. There were so many rifles that most of the British casualties had been shot vice stabbed.

The fortifications of Rorke's Drift, 22 JAN 1879

But with the setting established, let us delve into the battle. In the morning of 22 January 1879, the British 24th Regiment of Foot clashed with warriors of the Zulu nation at Isandlwana. The Zulus routed the Brits in a bloody fight, their rear guard chasing down survivors as they ran to the British outpost at Rorke’s Drift in Natal. At 1530 hours, survivors of the earlier battle arrived and informed the commanding officers Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead that the Zulu Undi Corps was approaching. Understanding that there was no hope for reinforcements before the Zulu vanguard arrived, Chard ordered the creation of a wall built from leftover ration crates. He then fortified the outpost with his own meager force of engineers, Bromhead’s B Company, 24th Foot, and the few survivors from Isandlwana.

At 1630 hours, the Undi Corps arrived and began attacking the southern portion of the wall that Chard’s men had built from supply crates and ration boxes. They would spend the five-and-a-half hours trying to hold the cattle corral, hospital, and store that made up the former trading post. As night fell, the Zulus became more determined. Their continued assault against the hospital on the western end of the post caused the heaviest casualties. At 1800 hours, Chard made the decision to withdraw his men from the hospital.

At 2200 hours, Chard brought his men defending the cattle corral back into the fortified yard. With ammunition reserves running low, Chard and Bromhead dug with the men they had left. They continued is pitched battle for the next four hours, the Zulu offensive finally slacking-off around 0200 hours. The British suffered a steady stream of harassing fire for the rest of the night.

As dawn broke on 23 January 1879, the weary soldiers were greeted with a sea of bodies, the Zulu forces having retreated in the night. At 0700 hours, a new corps of Zulu warriors was spotted approaching and the British took up arms once again. The fatigued Zulus could see the approaching British reinforcements, and soon departed. At 0800 hours, reinforcements arrived, relieving Chard and Bromhead and their men.

In the aftermath of the attack, it was discovered that the British had only lost seventeen men while killing 350 Zulus. Both Bromhead and Chard were awarded the Victoria Cross along with nine other British troopers, their heroism having won the day.

For a full account of the battle (with pictures), follow the link here: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

The Twin Towers

The Vietnam War Memorial frames the Washington Monument

America has always been different from other nations in the fact that we are not united via a similar racial identity but rather through a universal acknowledgement of certain irreversible truths and inalienable rights. We are a nation of a multitude of races, but one single idea. It is what makes us truly exceptional. Because of this, our citizens have historically been averse to warfare and have long cried for a policy of isolationism. It is truly a strange irony that a people that is united by such strong beliefs would long so much to be left alone by the troubles of the world.

It is for this very reason that we drape ourselves and our national conflicts in the trappings of liberating oppressed peoples, yearning to be free, from the clutches of tyranny. It is a psychological and societal need that we do so, lest we face the monstrosities of warfare itself. It is this need that we must use to summon the strength needed to venture into the maelstrom that is international warfare. We create symbols: heroes and villains, angels and demons. Traditionally, this has been easy. The Spanish-American War had the cruel, imperialist Spanish. World War I had the power-hungry Germans. World War II had the Nazis and the Japanese. Our enemies were  clear-cut; the world was black and white. Lines were drawn in the sand and we knew exactly where we stood.

But things changed drastically during Vietnam. The lines between non-combatants and soldiers became blurred, the reasons for fighting were never quite clear beyond some lip service paid to fighting Communism, and the American people were confronted with the true horrors of combat in near real time and soon grew a distaste for war. This left the men and women fighting deep in the jungles of Vietnam with little to call theirs beyond the physical and emotional scars inherit to men who have tasted battle. They came home — their spirits and bodies broken — to a public who not only did not understand them and their sacrifices but hated them for answering the call to duty. This left many of the returning veterans in a strange purgatory; searching for a symbol to rally around, to help ease the pain of their sacrifices, and to help bring closure. This symbol finally came with the placing of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall.

Finally there was a means with which to put the cost of the war into real, concrete form; a large gash on the nation’s face. The names carved into its obsidian face placing the conflict in human terms. The polished stone acting almost as a mirror, allowing the viewer to peer deep into the abyss and come to terms with whatever demons that his memory may be harboring. It is a striking thing.

Living near Washington, DC, as I do, I’m fortunate to be able to travel to the National Mall when the mood suits me. The Vietnam War Memorial is hard to miss and it is very near the other attractions. It was over this past weekend that I decided to venture into our Nation’s capital for to take in the various Smithsonian museums that line the grassy fields of the Mall. As I walked through an exhibit at the American History Museum chronicling the story of the American Fighting Man, I was brought nearly to tears by the pieces from the Vietnam War and the Memorial. I was so disturbed that I quickly moved on; and rounded the corner to be instantly confronted by the grotesque hulk of a twisted girder from the World Trade Center.

My friend (a fellow VMI Alumnus) and I quickly fell into a reverent silence; our minds transporting us instantly to that day in September. The memories of awakening to the news that a plane had collided the World Trade Center that morning, and then turning on the television just in time to watch the second plane impact the other tower in an explosion of fire, flame, and glass. I remembered being entranced by the news reports the rest of the morning as I sat in a classroom in sunny, Southern California while my countrymen rose to the occasion on the East Coast. I remembered the emotions, the anger, the rage that boiled within me that day and still does. I remember hearing, for the first time, the clarion bugle of Duty singing my name. And I was not alone. My friend felt the same thing, as did the other Americans in the gallery who had been old enough to understand the events of that day.

And that was historical. It was a turning point in our history. We soon became embroiled in two wars that seem to lose their meaning as the day drag on, fighting for peoples who do not want our help, and shedding American blood while civilians back home protest the supposed evils of the American soldier. But, as I talk to my Brother Rats, fellow VMI Alumni, soldier, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen, and other fellow proud Americans, the more and more clearly that those two towers will be my generation’s rallying flag. They are our symbol.

The aftermath of the collision with the WTC

Mulholland Drive

Growing up in Los Angeles was an exceptional experience. I didn’t realize it at the time, in fact, I ran from it as fast as I could. Looking back on it now, I realize that most of that running was due to my teenage yearning for freedom from my parents’ control and need to explore. Now that I have been transplanted three-thousand miles away, in a town lacking the same energy and vibrance as the City of Angels. Now I yearn to return to my city.

Anyway, the City of Los Angeles encompasses multiple different districts from the hustle and bustle of downtown, to the glamor of Brentwood and Beverly Hills, to the bluffs of Malibu, and the San Fernando Valley. Separating the glitz of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Los Angeles that all non-Angelinos dream about from The Valley are the Santa Monica Mountains. The mountains themselves are rather pedestrian, covered in shrubs and wild grass and houses. But the real beauty is a stretch of tarmac running along the ridge line called Mulholland Drive. This is what it looks like in the daytime:

Mulholland to Downtown

It doesn’t look like much, but stretching from the Hollywood Freeway to Sepulveda Boulevard, it offers the car enthusiast one of the best driving experiences in the world. As it winds its way through the hills, bordered by precipitous drops down the hillside, it provides breathtaking vistas for anyone truly interested in gazing upon the fair city below.

As with most things in life, Mulholland Drive isn’t perfect. You see, those nasty rumors about the gridlock of Los Angeles traffic just so happen to be true and seeing as this masterfully sculpted lane is situated between major thoroughfares between both sides of the city, it is nearly always blocked with a multitude of cars during the daytime. Which left my teenage self and my compadres with a dilemma. We fancied ourselves automotive aficionados; living for the thrill of a quarter mile, the ecstasy of a proper canyon run, and that most allusive of highs: speed. Velocity. Quickness. Rapidity. It didn’t matter what you called it, we chased it, like an addict chases after his next fix. We were young and very foolish, and nearly paid the price for it quite a few times. And one of our favorite places to bathe ourselves in the siren song of screeching tires was Mulholland Drive. But what ever were we to do in order to combat the evil that was rush hour traffic?

Being the inventive young lads that we were, we surmised that we would simply drive Mulholland when the traffic was not there: nighttime. We congratulated ourselves on our brilliance and set out the next available evening. We were young and invincible, and showed utter contempt for the darkness that had encircled our road of choice. But that evening, and all evenings after that, our chutzpah was rewarded by our city, with views like these:

The Valley At Night

Our city was beautiful from above. It amazed us, and provided the perfect backdrop as we carved out corners in the Hollywood Hills. And to this day, the nighttime view from Mulholland Drive is one of the things I long to see again most. It is how I remember the City of Angels, the city of my childhood.

Los Angeles will forever hold captive a special place in my heart. It’s diverse culture and life will always beckon me. It is such a wonderful city. It is my city.

Valley at Dusk

Captain Ozniah R. Brumley

As many Americans of Scots-Irish or German heritage, I have ancestors who fought in the War of Northern Aggression American Civil War. And like many of my fellow Southerners, I take great interest in my great grandfathers and great uncles who fought for the Confederate States of America. But unlike most of my fellow Southerners, I have ancestors who fought for the Union, and interestingly enough, fought against my Souther ancestors. My father’s side of the family hail from Pennsylvania and Indiana. Those from Pennsylvania served as officers in the Pennsylvania cavalry at Gettysburg; but I’ll reserve the tales of my Yankee ancestry for another day.

Instead, during the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, I would rather tell the tale of my ancestors who wore the Confederate Gray. Though I was born in Chicago and grew up in Los Angeles, I have been traveling back to the ancestral homeland of my mother’s family in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, since I was but a small babe. As such, I have always felt a deep connection to my Southern heritage and the Southern cause. Those feelings were only intensified by my attending that most quintessential of Southern schools. Because of this, I’ve cultivated a keen interest in the exploits of my family throughout American history, specifically those who went to war to defend the homeland they loved and performed their duty, as they understood it. This interest has turned up some very interesting stories throughout the years as I research my lineage.

None of these stories are quite as interesting or tragic as that of my Great-Great-Great-Uncle Ozniah R. Brumley, Captain, B Company, 20th North Carolina Infantry, CSA. Captain Brumley enlisted on 21 April 1961 along with his two brothers at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. He was made a sergeant in B Company of the 20th North Carolina Infantry, the Cabarrus Guards. Unfortunately, tragedy would follow the Brumleys throughout their campaigning under the command of Robert Edward Lee as only the man who later became my great-great-great-grandfather would live to return to his native soil. One of his brothers would die in a hospital in Richmond of causes unknown and his other brother, Ozniah, would meet death as a prisoner of war.

Ozniah served honorably in the campaigns of the  Army of Northern Virginia. He must have been at least a decent soldier as he received a battlefield commission on 26 April 1862, barely a year after his enlistment. He was even promoted to 1st Lieutenant and later Captain. Sadly, fate would strike a cruel blow on 1 July 1863 as that was the day that Ozniah was captured at Gettysburg. As a prisoner, he would spend the rest of the war being starved and tortured by Yankees bent on vengeance for purported war crimes committed against Union prisoners at Confederate prisons at Andersonville and Salisbury.

Though his existence was hellish, it was in captivity that Captain Brumley would leave his mark upon American history. It was in captivity that he would serve as a member of the Immortal 600.

On 20 August 1864, Ozniah was moved to Morris Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Here, he and 599 other Confederate soldiers would be used as human shields by the Union in an attempt to silence the Confederate batteries at Fort Sumter. Here, he would endure forty-five days of Confederate shelling and starvation rations. After suffering in Charleston, the Immortal 600 were shipped to Fort Pulaski in Georgia to spend the Winter of 1864-1865 in the cold, cramped casements of the fort. They were also starved, subsisting on a ration of cornmeal and pickles. It was here at Fort Pulaski that my Great-Great-Great-Uncle took his final post, finally succumbing to disease and starvation on 4 March 1865, only a month before the end of the war. He is buried somewhere on the grounds of Fort Pulaski, alongside his other countrymen who did their duty, as they understood it, to last.

An Ode To Boots

My nicely polished boots

I sit in my room and sweep it with my eyes. The selector in iTunes suddenly comes to “Fanfare For The Common Man”, a stirring composition of horns and drums that moves me. My eyes fall upon my boots sitting on the floor. A pair of black, size 11 Jump Boots. The laces only laced up halfway, the zippers unzipped, and in the toe caps I can see my face. I have walked many miles in these boots. I have broken them in. They have given me blisters and rubbed my feet raw. I have marched and worked in them from before the sun rises to after the sun sets. I worn them and they have never failed me. And even after all this time, they still retain that brand new leather smell.

 

And then the thought hit me. Many men before me have worn boots like mine. Some have worn boots like these to their final resting place. Others have donned these boots and become heroes. Many have lost their lives in similar boots. I reflected on that for a moment. And for those that did make that ultimate sacrifice in order to protect our freedom, that was sometimes all they had left to send home to their loved ones, their boots.

 

Many who were scarred in battle can never wear boots again. They can never walk again because they have given their legs or feet or entire bod half to the fight. Some have stepped on land mines and are now confined to a wheelchair. Once, they were great warriors, men who laughed at death, because they had to, because that was the only thing that kept them sane. And a great many others have worn these boots and returned without a scratch and a few stories to tell. Boots are an integral part of warfare. A soldier has nothing if he can’t use his feet. In battles long past one of a soldier’s most prized posessions were his boots.

 

But to what end do these soldiers risk their lives and sometimes sacrifice them? In a country where it seems that many do not appreciate what they do and do not care. Where it seems that many care only enough to criticize and spew vile, hateful things from their mouths. A country where valiant warriors return home from a the hell that is war, only to be spat upon by some ignoramus. But could it be true, that a country’s citizens could be so callous towards those who act selflessly in order to protect what they believe in? They could persecute men and women who are not even U.S. citizens who fight for them because they love America and all it stands for? No, not all. Most appreciate what these brave few who do so much so that the many can prosper. It is only a handful of rotten apples who wish to tarnish the names of our servicemen and women. But most of America feels indebted to those who serve and hope and pray that they make it home safe.

 

And while thinking about that, I came to the realization that in the near future I would be donning those boots. That I would join the ranks of the service. That I would put on a uniform that represented more than two hundred years of tradition. To pledge my faithfulness to my country, like so many before me. And, if asked, be ready to lay down my life to ensure that my children and my children’s children and every generation after that enjoyed the same rights and freedoms that I do. And in the not-so-distant future I will be proud to wear those boots.

 

But for now, I only wear a pair of black, size 11, jump boots that I bought at a surplus store. And in closing I would like to share an old Army tradition. When a soldier is killed in combat, his unit holds a memorial service for him. Instead of his body they have his helmet resting upon his rifle that is posted in the ground. And at the base of his rifle are his boots. It comes full circle.

I Support Our Troops!