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Military Military Humor

Gruntworks Media’s 10 Dumbest Fucking Things the U.S. Military Ever Did – 5) The Battle of Bladensburg, 1814

Despite outnumbering the British by over 2,000 men the incompetent militia force broke and fucking ran like cheap pantyhose in the opening artillery exchange

Charles Waterhouse’s painting of the Marines manning the guns at Bladensburg

Why the ‘Nasty Girls’ Aren’t our Primary Defense Strategy Anymore

Iron Mike – Gruntworks Resident Malcontent

In 1814 something really important happened in Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte had been captured and exiled to the Isle of Elba off the coast of Italy. This meant that the War of 1812 with the United States – previously a periphery concern of Great Britain – could now assume the full brunt of the British war machine. Like in the 1770’s the British Army and British Navy was still the most powerful in the world, especially since Britain had just dispatched its primary rival: France. After establishing immediate dominance off the U.S. coast, the British then sent some of their most experienced veterans of the Napoleonic Wars to seize the U.S. Capital.  Now… Here’s the stupid part. The U.S. National Defense strategy that had stood from the time of Washington? It was to have almost zero (relatively speaking) professional standing military; and instead rely on the ‘militias’ to rise up and defeat any invading threat. Just like in 1776! It would appear that the military strategists and political thinkers of the time had forgotten one very important detail: the militias had gotten the living shit kicked out of them on the field for the majority of the Revolutionary War. The militias had been very good at distracting British forces and delaying British advances during the war, especially in the Carolina wilderness, but it could not prevent the British from taking key cities or holding the field. It had been the Continental Regulars who had won all of the important American victories. It was the Regulars who beat the British at Saratoga and secured a treaty with France. The Regulars who had endured Valley Forge and came out ready to win. The Regulars who had won at Monmouth, Cowpens, and Trenton. It was the Regulars who stormed the British

Product Block - Stronger than hate
We don’t really hate the Nasty Girls, we wear this shirt instead.

earthworks at Yorktown and forced the surrender of the British which eventually led to the end of the war. The militias had been part of many actions and Patriot victories, but their limited capabilities and guerilla tactics had NEVER withstood the might of a British field army in a toe-to-toe fight. Yet somehow… the brilliant minds of the likes Jefferson and Adams had come to the conclusion that if the United States was invaded by a foreign power, these small groups of under-armed, barely-trained, weekend-warriors would all come crawling out of the woodwork to wage a glorious rebellion against the well-equipped, experienced, armies of the (European) invaders – just like they HADN’T during the Revolution. Remember, The Battle of Bunker Hill – the most significant Militia action of the war – was a British victory despite what you may have been told. Our entire National Defense strategy at this point was basically: “We’ll wait until they land, take over, and then guerilla war them to the peace table if we haven’t lost too badly by that point…”

10 Dumb Things - 5 - British Burn DC
The British Burn Washington, D.C. from the 1816 book, The History of England, from the Earliest Periods, Volume 1 by Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras

You know how the Active Duty Component of every branch makes fun of their respective National Guard and Reserve Component peers for being fat, lazy, undisciplined, untrained, and incompetent? Well, except the Coast Guard… I don’t even know if they have a Reserve Component and I don’t care enough to look it up. If you fall under the Department of Homeland Security – you’re not a real military branch anyway; but I digress. Imagine how bad the ‘Nasty Girls’ and ‘Steel Reserve-ists’ would be if they had never even gone to basic? If all their training was done at the company level by inexperienced commanders and no uniform training standards? If they brought their own guns from home and had no standardized ammunition, uniforms, training manuals, or ability to supply themselves? Well… That’s what the State Militias looked like in the beginning of the 19th Century – and that’s what our national defense policy was based on. The Founding Fathers were about to realize just how bad of a strategy that idea really was.

In Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24th, 1814; 4,500 British Army Regulars were marching on Washington, D.C. In their way were theoretically up to 15,000 militia men in the vicinity – but, just like a drill weekend – a lot of them could not be found or went to the wrong location. Go figure, right? So, opposing the British were around 140 Regular Army Dragoons, 300 Navy personnel, 103 Marines (mostly Artillerymen), and some 5 heavy artillery pieces (12-pound and above); along with the main force of ~6,200 Militia from the Capital and the State of Maryland. What happens next is considered one of the worst military defeats in U.S. history…

Despite outnumbering the British by over 2,000 men the incompetent militia force broke and fucking ran like cheap pantyhose in the opening artillery exchange. The American artillery (again, the Marines) had provided effective fires against the British, and caused significant casualties (almost all of the 64 British dead came from Marine artillery), but the British responded with their newest weapon: the Congreve Rocket. The Congreve was basically a 6 to 9-pound firework that had a mild shrapnel effect and a kill radius smaller than a modern hand grenade; it’s primary use at this time (they were later improved to be more lethal) was to scare horses and break up cavalry charges – but since the British had limited traditional cannon artillery with them on their march, this is what they shot at the Americans. It worked. Within an hour the entire battle was over. The militiamen fled back the way they came mere minutes into the battle and soon the streets of D.C. were filled with pudgy malingerers in hunting attire carrying pee-paw’s old family musket going the wrong direction; causing a panic among civilians in the process. Even President James Madison was forced to flee. Despite suffering only around 25 KIA and 30-or-so wounded, the complete failure of the militias to delay the British advance for even a few hours led to the British burning our nation’s capital later that same night. Following the end of the War of 1812 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the U.S. national defense policy drastically changed. With the Battle of Bladensburg still fresh in their minds (and the burn-marks on the Capitol building still being painted over) the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy were dramatically increased in size after the war; and never again would the ‘militias’ (AKA the National Guard) be the forefront of our national defense.

You can watch the History Channel dramatization (in which they are very generous to the American view) of the battle here.

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