Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of December 1-7

 
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Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of December 1-7

Head of Roman Emperor Diocletian (reigned AD 284-305)
Located in Istanbul (Turkey) Archaeology Museum
Image courtesy of http://www.ancient.eu/image/2276/
(Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations/images are from Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

December 3, AD 311 – Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, age approximately 66

Born in December of 244 of parents of low social status, Diocles (his given name) joined the Roman army and quickly made a name for himself. He rose through the ranks and in 282 was named the commander of the Protectores domestici – an elite cavalry force attached to the Imperial household – by the Emperor Carus.

Diocles accompanied Carus on campaign against the Sassanid Persians, which concluded with a Roman victory. However, Carus died shortly after the campaign's conclusion, and his two sons Carinus and Numerian succeeded him. However, some Roman military commanders in Asia Minor proclaimed Diocles as emperor in November of 284.

Diocletian (his Latinized name he adopted after becoming emperor) then fought a civil war to win sole rulership of the Roman Empire. Over the next 20 years, he fought the Persians, Sarmatians, Marcomanni, and the Quadi, as well as a number of attempted usurpers.

Finally realizing that the empire was too large for one man to effectively govern, Diocletian created the Tetrarchy (Greek for "rule of four"). The empire was divided into four areas, and each one was ruled by one of the two co-emperors (augusti) or one of the assistant emperors (caesari). Diocletian separated and enlarged the empire's civil and military services and reorganized the empire's provincial divisions, establishing the largest and most bureaucratic government in the history of the empire. He established new administrative centers closer to the empire's frontiers than the traditional capital at Rome had been.

Diocletian styled himself an autocrat, elevating himself above the empire's masses with imposing forms of court ceremonies and architecture. Bureaucratic and military growth, constant campaigning, and construction projects increased the state's expenditures and necessitated a comprehensive tax reform. From at least 297 on, imperial taxation was standardized, made more equitable, and levied at generally higher rates.

One of the least successful actions of Diocletian's reign was the persecution of Christians. From 302-303, Christians were tortured, forced to turn over their property to the empire, and their churches were burned and torn down. By 303, Diocletian and his co-emperor Galerius decided the persecution was not working, so it was terminated.

In the year 305, Diocletian was coerced by Galerius to abdicate. He retired to Dalmatia, his homeland, spending the remaining days of his life working in his vegetable gardens. Despairing at the failure of his tetrarchic system and the ruthless ambitions of his various successors, Diocletian died in early December of 311 (possibly by suicide).

Russian icon of St. Barbara
Russian icon of St. Barbara

December 4, between AD 286-305? – Saint Barbara, age unknown

Some readers are probably wondering, "Why is this person being featured?" Pay attention, read carefully, and learn.

Saint Barbara is a popular saint among many Christians, but the historicity of her story has been questioned by the Catholic Church. Because of this, she was removed from the General Roman Calendar in the 1969 revision, though not from the Catholic Church's list of saints.

According to most of the "histories" of her life, Barbara may have lived in either Nicomedia (in present-day Turkey) or in Heliopolis in Phoenicia (modern-day Baalbek, Lebanon). Barbara, the daughter of a rich pagan named Dioscorus, was carefully guarded by her father who kept her locked up in a tower in order to preserve her from the outside world. Having secretly become a Christian, she rejected an offer of marriage that she received through him.

Before going on a journey, Dioscorus commanded that a private bath-house be erected for her use near her dwelling, and during his absence, Barbara had three windows put in it – as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, instead of the two originally intended. When her father returned, she acknowledged herself to be a Christian; upon which he drew his sword to kill her, but her prayers created an opening in the tower wall and she was miraculously transported to a mountain gorge, where two shepherds watched their flocks. Dioscorus, in pursuit of his daughter, was rebuffed by the first shepherd, but the second betrayed her, and was turned to stone and his flock changed to locusts.

Dragged before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, had her cruelly tortured. Despite this, Barbara held true to her faith. During the night, the dark prison was bathed in light and new miracles occurred. Every morning her wounds were healed. Torches that were to be used to burn her went out as soon as they came near her. Finally she was condemned to death by beheading. Her father himself carried out the death-sentence. However, on the way home as punishment for this act, he was struck by lightning and his body was consumed by flame.

Saint Barbara became the patron saint of artillerymen. She is also traditionally the patron of armourers, military engineers, gunsmiths, miners and anyone else who worked with cannon and explosives. She is invoked against thunder and lightning and all accidents arising from explosions of gunpowder. She is venerated by Catholics who face the danger of sudden and violent death at work. Her feast day is December 4.

President Jefferson Davis, CSA (served 1861-1865); Photograph by Mathew Brady; Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration And http://www.nps.gov/resources/person.htm?id=173
President Jefferson Davis, CSA (served 1861-1865)
Photograph by Mathew Brady
Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration
And http://www.nps.gov/resources/person.htm?id=173

December 6, 1889 – Jefferson Davis, former President of Confederacy, age 81

Davis was born in June, 1808 in Christian County, Kentucky. His familly eventually moved to Mississippi. Davis, the youngest of 10 children, received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1824. He graduated in 1828, 23rd in a class of 33. Upon graduation, 2nd Lieutenant Davis was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment in Michigan Territory. His commander was Zachary Taylor, a career military officer.

Davis fell in love with Taylor's daughter Sarah, was refused permission to marry her, and resigned his commission. The lovers eloped and married in June of 1835. Unfortunately, both of them came down with either malaria or yellow fever while visiting Louisiana. Sarah died in September.

Beginning in 1840, Davis became involved in politics. In 1844 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He resigned from the House when the Mexican-American War began, and raised a regiment of Mississippians, becoming the unit's commander. Davis established his military reputation at the battle of Buena Vista (February 22, 1847), where he was wounded. Afterward, he turned down an offer of a commission to brigadier general of militia.

Davis returned to Washington, DC in December, 1847 to serve the remaining term of a deceased senator. He was elected to a full term on his own in January of 1848. Davis resigned from the Senate in 1851 to run for governor of Mississippi; he lost by 999 votes. He supported the eventual victor in the Presidential Election of 1852, Franklin Pierce.

Davis was appointed Secretary of War under Pierce, serving in the Cabinet from 1853-1857. He was instrumental in expanding and properly equipping the U.S. Army, as well as being the force behind the Gadsden Purchase. He left the cabinet when he was elected for a second time to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1857 to 1861. However, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860 – after the election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican president – Davis waited for word of similar action from Mississippi before he resigned from the Senate in January, 1861.

In February of 1861, Davis was selected to serve as the provisional president of the Confederate States of America (CSA). He had wanted to be commander-in-chief of the Rebel armies, but indicated he would serve in any capacity.

During the four years of the War Between the States, Davis pursued a flawed military strategy, selecting friends for military commands, and neglecting homefront crises. Until late in the war, he resisted efforts to appoint a general-in-chief, essentially handling those duties himself. One historian, comparing how Davis and Lincoln conducted the war for their respective nations, said:
"Lincoln was flexible; Davis was rigid. Lincoln wanted to win; Davis wanted to be right. Lincoln had a broad strategic vision of Union goals; Davis could never enlarge his narrow view. Lincoln searched for the right general, then let him fight the war; Davis continuously played favorites and interfered unduly with his generals, even with Robert E. Lee. Lincoln led his nation; Davis failed to rally the South."

When the war ended in April of 1865, Davis fled Richmond, VA hoping to continue the fight against the North. He was eventually captured by Union cavalry near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10. Davis was imprisoned in Fortress Monroe on the Virginia coast. His treatment was poor, but he survived and was eventually released on bail after two years. Davis had been threatened with trial for treason, but nothing ever came of the charges.

During the remaining years of his life, Davis ran an insurance company, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1875 (but was refused the seat under the 14th Amendment), and wrote two books about the "War of Northern Aggression." In November of 1889, while taking a riverboat from his home to New Orleans, he caught a cold which turned into acute bronchitis. He lingered until December 6, 1889 dying in the presence of several friends and his wife. He was buried in Richmond, VA. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation restoring Davis's American citizenship.

Michel Ney, Marshal of the [French] Empire; By Francois Gérard
Michel Ney, Marshal of the [French] Empire
By Francois Gérard

December 7, 1815 – Michel Ney, Marshal of France, executed; age 46

Michel Ney was born in 1769, in the Saarland, a predominantly German area in eastern France. He was a commoner by birth, and worked at several menial jobs until he enlisted in the French army in 1787. He worked his way up the non-commissioned ranks, distinguishing himself in a number of campaigns in the 1790s.

By the early nineteenth century, Ney was awarded the title "Marshal of the Empire." He fought in a number of Napoleonic campaigns, most notably in Spain against Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and in Russia during the invasion of 1812. Legend has it that Ney commanded the last French troops to leave Russia during the Grand Army's retreat from Moscow. Napoleon gave Ney the nickname, "Bravest of the Brave."

He was one of the best commanders that Bonaparte possessed. However, as the wars began to grind down the French armies, and British, Prussian, Russian, Austrian, and other forces invaded France, many French commanders – including Ney – began to see how Napoleon was now not so beneficial to the health of the French nation. As the enemy forces converged on Paris, Ney led a committee of French commanders who urged Bonaparte to abdicate the throne and surrender. After the emperor's abdication and exile in 1814, Ney declared his loyalty to the restored House of Bourbon. However, he was not well-trusted by the regime, mainly for his common roots.

When Bonaparte escaped from the island of Elba in March of 1815, Ney organized troops to arrest his former emperor, saying he would bring Napoleon back to Paris in an iron cage. He was likely trying to prove his loyalty to the Bourbons. Unfortunately, he failed the test. When Ney and his forces confronted Napoleon, they went over to the returning emperor.

Ney commanded the French left wing at Quatre Bras on June 16, and at Waterloo two days later. Though he fought bravely, his battlefield decisions did not lead to a French victory. During the battle he had five horses killed under him; and at the end of the day, Ney led one of the last infantry charges, shouting to his men, "Come see how a marshal of France dies!" It was as though Ney was seeking death, but death did not want him, as many observers reported.

After Bonaparte was dethroned and exiled for the final time, Ney was arrested in August of 1815. He was tried for treason, and sentenced to death by firing squad. On December 7, he refused a blindfold and was given the right to give the firing squad the order to fire. Ney said to his executioners, "Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her ... Soldiers, fire!"

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.