Military-Related Deaths for the Week of September 24-30

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Military-Related Deaths for the Week of September 24-30

Marble bust of Pompey the Great, sculptor unknown
Located at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark
Image courtesy of
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

Sept. 28, 48 BC – Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), Roman military and political leader, assassinated one day shy of 58th birthday

Pompey the Great lived during the final, waning years of the Roman Republic. He was born in 106 BC, a member of the equestrian class, and his father was an influential politician and military commander. Pompey began his military career around the age of twenty, participating in the Social War (91-88 BC), Sulla's second civil war (83-82 BC), and the Third Mithridatic War (72-63 BC). He also fought elements opposed to the aristocracy of Rome in Sicily, Africa, and Spain, served as governor of Spain, and was recalled to Italy in 71 to mop-up the remains of the Third Servile War (73-71 BC), the slave revolt led by Spartacus.

In 70 Pompey was elected to the office of consul, the highest elected office in the Roman Republic, along with Marcus Licinius Crassus. Each year, two consuls were elected serving one year. The two men did not get along well.

Pompey received unprecedented power in 67 BC, with wide-ranging authority to clear the entire Mediterranean Sea of pirates which was choking Roman commerce. Pompey received 270 ships (another chroniclers says 500), 120,000 troops, 5000 cavalry, and 24 (25?) lieutenants. He was assigned 3 years to accomplish the task; Pompey accomplished his mission in 3 months.

After subduing the pirate menace, Pompey campaigned in Armenia, Syria, and Judea until 63. In about 60, Pompey formed the First Triumvirate between himself, Crassus, and a newcomer to Roman politics, Gaius Julius Caesar. He also cemented this alliance by marrying Caesar's daughter Julia in 59. The alliance lasted only until about 54, when Crassus went east to attack the Parthian Empire, losing his army and his life at the battle of Carrhae in 53.

By 49 Pompey was reeling under the increasing popularity of Caesar's conquests in Gaul. When Caesar began his march on the Eternal City, Pompey fled the city and led the opposition to Caesar for the next year. The two antagonists fought a number of battles in Asia Minor, Caesar winning at the battle of Pharsalus.

On the last leg of his journey, he sailed to Egypt, landing at Alexandria seeking the support of the co-rulers of that kingdom, Ptolemy XIII and his sister Cleopatra VII. Pompey was stabbed to death by a former Roman officer in Egyptian service. Pompey was then beheaded, and his body thrown into the harbor.

Conjectural portrait of Tostig Godwinson; Image by Loren Fetterman; Image courtesy of
Conjectural portrait of Tostig Godwinson
Image by Loren Fetterman
Image courtesy of

Sept. 25, 1066 – Tostig Godwinson, former Earl of Northumbria, died in battle, age app. 40

Tostig was the third son of the Anglo-Saxon nobleman Godwin, Earl of Wessex in about 1026. His family was banished from England in 1051 by King Edward the Confessor. A year later, the Godwin family returned. In 1055, Tostig was appointed Earl of Northumbria.

Apparently, young Tostig had great difficulty in ruling this northeastern Anglo-Saxon area. He was never popular with the Northumbrian ruling class, a mix of Danish invaders and Anglo-Saxon survivors of the last Norse invasion. Tostig was said to have been heavy-handed with those who resisted his rule, including the murder of several members of leading Northumbrian families. In late 1063 or early 1064, Tostig had Gamal, son of Orm and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated when they visited him under safe conduct. Also, the Vita Edwardi, a chronicle otherwise sympathetic to Tostig, states that he had "repressed [the Northumbrians] with the heavy yoke of his rule."

On October 3, 1065, the local lords of York and the rest of Yorkshire descended on York and occupied the city. They declared Tostig outlawed for his unlawful actions and sent for Morcar, younger brother of Edwin, Earl of Mercia. The northern rebels marched south to press their case with King Edward. They were joined at Northampton by Earl Edwin and his forces. There, they were met by Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex, Tostig's older brother, who had been sent by King Edward to negotiate with them. After Harold, by then the king's right-hand man, had spoken with the rebels, he likely realized that Tostig would not be able to retain Northumbria. When he returned to Oxford, where the royal council was to meet on 28 October, Harold had probably already made up his mind.

Tostig took ship with his family and some loyal thegns and took refuge with his brother-in-law, Baldwin V, the Count of Flanders. He even attempted to form an alliance with William the Conqueror. Baldwin provided him with a fleet and he landed in the Isle of Wight in May 1066, where he collected money and provisions. He raided the English coast as far as Sandwich but was forced to retreat when King Harold called out land and naval forces. [Tostig's brother was now the King of England since the death of Edward in early January, 1066.] He moved north and after an unsuccessful attempt to get his brother Gyrth to join him, he raided Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The Earls Edwin and Morcar defeated him decisively. Deserted by his men, he fled to his sworn brother, King Malcolm III of Scotland. Tostig spent the summer of 1066 in Scotland.

He made contact with King Harald II Hardrada of Norway and persuaded him to invade England. One of the sagas claims that he sailed for Norway, and greatly impressed the Norwegian king and his court, managing to sway a decidedly unenthusiastic Harald, who had just concluded a long and inconclusive war with Denmark, into raising a levy to take the throne of England. With Hardrada's aid, Tostig sailed up the Humber River and defeated earls Morcar and Edwin at the battle of Gate Fulford.

Harald and Tostig entered the city of York on September 24. After taking some hostages, the invaders arranged for the Northumbrians to bring supplies to the nearby Stamford Bridge on the River Derwent, 7 miles east of York. While waiting for the delegation of locals the next day, Hardrada, Tostig, and their men were surprised by an Anglo-Saxon army from southern England led by King Harold. It was a bloody battle as Hardrada, Tostig and most of their soldiers were nearly wiped out.

Gen. Braxton Bragg, CSA, photographer unknown; Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
Gen. Braxton Bragg, CSA, photographer unknown
Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Sept. 27, 1876 – Braxton Bragg, Confederate general, died of "paralysis of the brain," age 59

Braxton Bragg was born in Warrenton, North Carolina. His family was working class, but he managed to receive an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated in 1837, fifth in a class of 50, and received a second lieutenant's commission in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. Bragg served in the Second Seminole Indian War in Florida.

Bragg had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and one who adhered to regulations literally. In U.S. Grant's memoirs, he tells the possibly apocryphal story about Bragg as a company commander at a frontier post where he also served as quartermaster. He submitted a requisition for supplies for his company, then as quartermaster declined to fill it. As company commander, he resubmitted the requisition, giving additional reasons for his requirements, but as the quartermaster he denied the request again. Realizing that he was at a personal impasse, he referred the matter to the post commandant, who exclaimed in exasperation, "My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!"

Bragg served in the Mexican-American War, earning promotions and praise for his actions at the battle of Buena Vista. It is alleged that some of his troops attempted to frag him on two occasions in August and September, 1847, but he was not injured either time. In the more serious of the two incidents, one of his soldiers exploded a 12-pound artillery shell underneath his cot. Although the cot was destroyed, somehow Bragg himself emerged without a scratch. Bragg had suspicions about the identity of the perpetrator, but had insufficient evidence to bring charges.

He resigned from the army in 1856. He and his wife purchased a sugar plantation in Thibodaux, Louisiana, which he ran with military precision. When the War Between the States erupted, Bragg quickly offered his services to the Confederacy. He participated in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga, with his only clear-cut victory at Chickamauga. Following the battles at Chattanooga (Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge), Bragg offered his resignation, and it was immediately accepted.

Bragg spent a year as an advisor to President Jefferson Davis then was sent to command Rebel forces in North and South Carolina. He was eventually replaced, and that was essentially the end of his military career.

After the war Bragg worked as the superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks, a supervisor of harbor improvements at Mobile, Alabama, and as a railroad engineer and inspector in Texas. On September 27, 1876, at the age of 59, Bragg was walking down a street with a friend in Galveston, TX, when he suddenly fell over unconscious. Dragged into a drugstore, he was dead within 10 to 15 minutes. A physician familiar with his history believe that he "died by the brain" (or of "paralysis of the brain"), suffering from the degeneration of cerebral blood vessels. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama.

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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.