17 November: A War with No Casualties Begins

On 17 November 1810, the Anglo-Swedish War began between Great Britain and Sweden, one of the more remarkable conflicts in the chaotic world that Napoleon made.  What makes it remarkable is simply that the conflict had no casualties between belligerents. no campaigns were planned, and that neither “side” wanted any, either.  It ended with a treaty when a third party got invaded by yet someone else.

It will be easier for the reader to understand that Napoleon Bonaparte may have been a brilliant general very early in his career, but never was he much of a diplomat.  After he spread the French revolution across Europe he invented something called the Continental System to punish Great Britain for not being as accessible to his armies as he wanted them to be, and for smashing his fleet at Trafalgar.  Since the British were so vile as to impose a blockade on Europe, he would impose a blockade on them.  But the Continental System wasn’t a blockade as we might understand it, where cargo ships are stopped and seized on their way to English ports since France lacked the shops to do that.  No, this was a blockade imposed on Europe, to cut off British goods from Europe and vice versa.  As blockades go, it was pretty lame, but it did work, somewhat.  The Americans happily violated it wherever possible and so did everyone else, since even the French couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, and there were more than a hundred seaports in continental Europe.  Where there’s money to be made, folks will find a way to make it.

So back to Sweden.  After the Russians were defeated at Friedland on 14 June 1807, the Treaty of Tilsit was imposed on Russia, and Sweden, being a part of the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon. was compelled by Tilsit to become a part of the Continental System.  Sweden was slow to comply, so by 1810 Napoleon was issuing ultimatums.  Eventually this led to Sweden declaring war on Great Britain on 17 November 1810.

More than once source maintains that there were no casualties in this war, at least none in engagements between Swede and Englishman.  There were a handful of Swedish peasants killed in a conscription riot, it would seem, but Britain still maintained its naval base on the Swedish island of Hano.  When Napoleon occupied Swedish Pomerania and the island of Rugen in 1812 while invading Russia, Sweden made peace with Britain with the Treaty of Orebro.

The Anglo-Swedish War is an example of what a mess Europe was in at the time, and was proof positive that Napoleon may have been a good general once, but he had a tendency to overstep the capabilities of his diplomats and his forces.  Irritating Sweden while not bothering Britain at all was not a way to win his vision…which as time goes on is less and less clear to scholars.

16 November: Failed Offensives

Two different conflicts, two failed offensives in 1863 and 1944, both involving American forces trying to stay ahead of the winter weather.

In east Tennessee in 1863, James Longstreet with about 15,000 men detached from Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee was trying to make the best of his orders to attack the Federal stronghold at Knoxville, encountered a Federal column near the old haunt of Andrew Jackson at Campbell’s Station on 16 November.  Ambrose Burnside’s 16,000+ men from his Department of the Ohio arrived at the junction of the Concord and Kingston roads southwest of Knoxville.  Burnside’s men were on their way to reinforce the tiny garrison at Knoxville, and fought of an attempted double-envelopment with relative ease, especially since they had been forced-marching for three days were just coming out of march order.  Scholars disagree with the meaning of Campbell’s Station, with some holding that Longstreet could have taken Knoxville with a single rush had Burnside not made an appearance in time.  Others maintain that with Burnside so close behind it seems unlikely that Longstreet would have been able to simply walk unimpeded the next thirty miles (essentially three days march).  Total casualties for both sides was about a thousand men.

On 16 November 1944, Operation Queen, aimed at capturing the Rur (or Roer) River dams in Germany and penetrating the Siegfried line, began.  Despite heavy bombing the offensive was slowed by heavy German resistance, especially in the Hurtgen Forest.  For more than a month the American 12th Army Group under Omar Bradley slogged forward in miserable weather, fighting for every hamlet and patch of trees that reminded some veterans of the Great War.  While the Americans were making steady progress, it was slow.  Still, nothing that the Allies did against the West Wall was easy, and yet Walther Model’s Army Group B was not about to commit their best troops, then being husbanded for the Ardennes Offensive being planned for mid-December.  The result was the steady deterioration of the German’s position and the equally steady decline of American energy and patience.  When the offensive was called off on 15 December when the German counterattack began in the Ardennes, they had not quite reached the dams.   Casualties were about 38,000 for the Americans and probably equal for the Germans.  The most important takeaway for Operation Queen was that the Americans were still making complex plans against sagging but still stolid German defenses.  Further, Allied failure to detect the withdrawal of some of the German’s best mobile formations somehow failed to reach the right ears at the right time.

Today, like Campbell’s Station, the Rur campaign leaves scholars discussing possibilities against realities.  East Tennessee was a thorn in the Confederacy’s side, and after the loss of Chattanooga it became a logistical base for the Union invasion of the Confederate heartland   The Rur dams were important not because they crossed the Rur but because they kept the upper Rhine valley from flooding, potentially blocking and Allied moves into the Ruhr.  Both were defended by pickup units.  Neither fight achieved what was intended.