Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 1916

The first month of the third calendar year of the war finds both sides bitterly resigned to a world war of unprecedented destruction with no end in sight.  The British complete their withdrawal from Gallipoli and find themselves under siege in Mesopotamia with the likelihood of relief diminishing.  Churchill takes command of an infantry battalion on the Western Front as the British Government yields to the necessity of compulsory military  service.  Colonel House spends the month in London, Paris and Berlin, but accomplishes little.  Lusitania negotiations between Germany and the United States reach an impasse.  President Wilson embarks on a preparedness tour of the Midwest.  Former President Roosevelt denounces the administration's foreign policy and calls for a "larger Americanism" that welcomes loyal immigrants.  Pancho Villa's bandits attack a train and kill Americans in Mexico.  Other newsworthy deaths include a former Mexican revolutionary and a Civil War general instrumental in building the transcontinental railroad.  Louis Brandeis is appointed to the Supreme Court.


 W Beach at Cape Helles During the Evacuation

At the end of the year the British War Cabinet decided to complete the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula by withdrawing from Cape Helles.  Unlike the earlier evacuations of Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove, which were carried out stealthily and without alerting the Turks, this time the Turks knew a withdrawal was imminent and attacked the Allied forces.  A vigorous battle ensued,in which the Turks were driven back and held at bay long enough for the Allied forces to carry out a successful evacuation, which was completed on January 8.  As in the earlier withdrawals, the operation was completed with minimal losses.

Also on January 8, the Austro-Hungarian Army, having completed its conquest of Serbia, turned its attention to Montenegro with a 500-gun artillery barrage combined with air and sea attacks.  Cetinje, the capital, fell on January 11, and on January 17 Montenegro surrendered.

Field Marshal von der Goltz

General Townshend's Anglo-Indian forces in Mesopotamia are surrounded at Kut Al Amara, besieged by Turkish troops under the command of German Field Marshal Baron von der Goltz, reinforced by troops recently freed up by the Allied evacuation of Gallipoli.  A British relief column was intercepted by the Turks  at Wadi on January 13 and Hanna on January 21.  At Wadi, the British achieved their objective, but only at the cost of irreplaceable losses.  At Hanna their losses were even greater.  As of the end of January, the relief column has been stopped short of its objective and the siege of Kut Al Amara continues.

 Churchill with General Fayolle (to his left) and a German Prisoner (behind the General)

Winston Churchill is in France, where he has been given a commission as a lieutenant colonel and command of an infantry battalion, the Sixth Royal Scots Fusiliers.  His battalion is part of the Ninth (Scottish) Division commanded by Major General William Furse, which suffered grievous losses at the Battle of Loos in September.  At Churchill's request, Sir Archibald Sinclair has been named his second in command.  After spending most of the month in reserve billets near the town of Meteren, the battalion was assigned to the Ploegsteert sector, where it took its place in the line on January 27.  Prior to his assignment to the Royal Scots Fusiliers, while training with the Grenadier Guards, Churchill was considered for command of a brigade and a promotion to brigadier general, but that plan did not survive the replacement of General French by General Haig and Prime Minister Asquith's concern about negative reaction in the officer corps.  After arriving in France he posed for a photograph with General Emile Fayolle, some other French officers, and a German prisoner.  General Fayolle gave him a French helmet, which he wore for the photograph and decided to keep, considering it superior to the British design.

Back in Westminster, also on January 27, the Military Service Act received Royal Assent and became law.  The Act, introduced by Prime Minister Asquith in the House of Commons on January 5, is Great Britain's first conscription bill.

On the last day of 1915, new honors were conferred by King George V.  Sir John French was elevated to the peerage as Viscount French of Ypres, and in recognition of his support for British charities the wealthy American expatriate William Waldorf Astor became Baron Astor.  Lord Astor's daughter-in-law Nancy Langhorne Astor, also an American, is active in war work among the wounded.

Colonel House

President Wilson's friend and advisor Colonel House spent most of the month in England.  He arrived in Falmouth on January 5 with his wife and secretary and took the overnight train to London, where he met with Foreign Minister Grey the next afternoon.  In the following days he had additional meetings with Grey and other ministers and officials of the British government including First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour, Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Reading.  Lloyd George, in a meeting with Colonel House and Lord Reading on January 14, argued that little in the way of peace initiatives could be done before September, after which the anticipated summer battles will have been fought and the warring nations will have a better idea of where they stand.  He insisted, however, that any peace settlement should include the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the restoration of the Polish nation.  House, consistent with his discussions with Wilson prior to his departure, avoided "local" questions such as territorial settlements and indemnities, instead emphasizing general principles upon which a peace might be based: military and naval disarmament, freedom of the seas, and the establishment of a league of nations to enforce international law and protect nations against aggression.  House left London on January 20, and after a few days hiatus in Paris proceeded by way of Geneva to Berlin, where he arrived on January 26.

House arrived in Berlin at a critical moment in the negotiations between the United States and Germany over the sinking of the Lusitania.  Greeting him on his arrival was a long telegram from Secretary of State Lansing  warning that the German government's refusal to admit liability and offer reparation for the loss of American lives (as opposed to a "friendly indemnity" with no mention of liability) made agreement impossible and threatened a break in diplomatic relations.  At a lunch meeting on January 29, Deputy Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann told House and U.S. Ambassador James Gerard that Germany would go no further, and handed them a letter to that effect for transmission to Washington.

The President in Waukegan

President Wilson cut short his honeymoon trip and returned to Washington on January 3 to deal with the potential crisis in relations with Germany caused by the December 30 sinking of the passenger steamer S.S. Persia causing the death of two Americans including the American consul in Aden.  Not long after his return, the Persia incident was sidelined by a lack of conclusive evidence of German culpability and a shift of focus to the renewed Lusitania negotiations.  As those negotiations appeared to reach an impasse, the Democratic leaders of Congress let it be known that they were reluctant to support the administration's insistence on an apology, and renewed their insistence that a stronger stand should be taken against the British blockade policy.  At the end of the month President Wilson, a recent convert to "preparedness," began a "swing around the circle" speaking tour through the middle west, the area most resistant to the preparedness message.  Before embarking on his tour, he spoke on January 27 at a dinner of the Railway Business Association in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Hotel in New York.  He admitted that he had changed his mind on the preparedness issue since his message to Congress in November 1914, saying "I would be ashamed of myself if I had not learned something in [those] fourteen months."  He left Washington the next day, and spoke on January 29 in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, where he argued that it has become "absolutely necessary that this country should prepare herself, not for war, not for anything that smacks in the least of aggression, but for adequate national defense."  He made major speeches to the same effect in Chicago and Milwaukee on January 31, and in addition is delivering brief remarks from the rear platform of his train during stops along the way such as Waukegan, Illinois.  Still ahead as the month draws to a close are stops in Des Moines, Topeka, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Metropolitan, January 1916

The January 1916 issue of Metropolitan Magazine carries an article by former President Roosevelt entitled "The Sins of the Wilson Administration."  Asking the question "America First -- A Phrase or a Fact?", Roosevelt charges that the Administration has "plumed itself on the sentence, 'America First,'" while "in practice it has acted on the theory of  'America Last,' both at home and abroad, both in Mexico and on the high seas."  He blames "this course of national infamy," which he traces back to the Taft administration, on "professional pacifists," who, "through President Wilson, have forced this country into a path of shame and dishonor during the past eighteen months."  He says that while the president has "finally adopted my principle about preparedness, ... he has sought to apply it in a half-hearted and inefficient manner," and that "it is the last note of unpatriotic folly for the pacifists of this country to chatter about peace, when they neither venture to stand up for righteousness nor to fight for real preparedness, so as to enable the United States to insure justice for itself and to demand justice for others."  In a speech at the Philadelphia Opera House on January 20, Roosevelt called for a "larger Americanism," which would welcome every immigrant who comes to America with the desire to be "an American and nothing else," but if any immigrant showed himself to be "at heart more loyal to another land, let him be promptly returned to that land."

The Progressive Party, which Roosevelt led out of the Republican Party in 1912, announced on January 11 that it would hold its 1916 convention in Chicago on June 7, the same city and date announced last month for the Republican convention.   The hope is that they will choose the same nominees.

Pancho Villa

Notwithstanding Roosevelt's criticism, relations with Mexico seem to have become more stable since the United States and the ABC  powers of South America recognized the government of Venustiano Carranza last October.  An incident this month illustrates that sources of tension persist.  On January 10 a band of brigands under the command of Pancho Villa, a rival of Carranza's who controls large parts of  northern Mexico, stopped a train in Chihuahua and shot and killed all but one of the American mining executives on board after robbing them, stripping them of their clothes, and forcing them to stand in a line beside the train.  The lone survivor, Thomas Holmes, escaped by fleeing into the desert.  Secretary of State Lansing has sent a note to the Carranza government demanding the immediate pursuit, capture and punishment of those responsible.  There have been calls in Congress, so far resisted by the president, to send American Army troops into Mexico.

A name from Mexico's turbulent recent past has left the scene. Victoriano Huerta, the Mexican general whose overthrow (and probable murder) of President Francisco Madero in 1913 was an early event in the civil war that continues to the present day, died in El Paso on January 13, shortly after his release from a federal prison.  Huerta seized the presidency shortly after Madero's ouster, but was forced to resign and leave the country in July 1914.  Subsequent scheming with German agents in the United States led to his arrest and detention by American authorities.

 Grenville Dodge (right) at the driving of the Golden Spike

General Grenville Dodge died in Council Bluffs, Iowa on January 3.  In the Civil War General Dodge served in a number of important positions, including as the Union Army's Chief of Intelligence in the West and as commander of a corps in General Sherman's campaign for Atlanta.  After the war he was elected to Congress, where he served one term, and  was named chief engineer of the Union Pacific, a position in which he was instrumental in the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

 Louis Brandeis

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Rucker Lamar, appointed by President Taft to fill the vacancy created by the 1910 promotion of Justice Edward White to Chief Justice, died on January 2.  On January 28, President Wilson made a surprising choice when he sent Louis Brandeis's nomination to the Senate.  Brandeis is best known as a radical trust-busting attorney, and is considered by many to be a socialist.  If confirmed, he will be the first Jew to sit on the Supreme Court.  His nomination is expected to face strong opposition in the Senate.

January 1916 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, February and March 1916
Metropolitan Magazine, January 1916 
New York Times, January 1916

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Third Year of the Great War: 1916
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
Peter Hart, Gallipoli
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
John Keegan, The First World War
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram   
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History