Category Archives: War

1871: Parisian not keen on the taste of elephant

An English replica of a menu that appeared during the 1870-71 siege of Paris

In September 1870, the Prussian army, led by future German emperor Wilhelm I, laid siege to Paris. The French capital was well defended so the Prussians decided to force a surrender by blockading and starving it. The Parisians remained resolute but by early November, the meat larders of Paris were almost empty. With no beef, pork or mutton available, Parisians began to consume what they quaintly referred to as “variety meats”.

First to appear in butcher shops and on menus was horse meat, as the city’s pet horses, working horses and racehorses were butchered and sold off. Dogs, cats and rats were also gathered for human consumption. The flesh from an “ordinary dog” sold for four or five francs a pound but a “trained dog” could fetch almost twice that amount. A dressed or smoked rat sold for two or three francs while a whole cat could fetch as much as 12 francs.

Vizetelly spoke favourably of cat meat, which:

“…when broiled and seasoned with pistachio nuts, olives, gherkins and pimentos… proved a very dainty dish.”

The supply of cats, dogs and rats also dwindled, prompting culinary attention to turn to the local zoo. During November and December, the menagerie in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes fielded hefty offers from wealthy locals, eventually selling off more than half its animals. The deers and ungulates were the first to go, followed by the zoo’s camels, kangaroos, wolves and zebra. All were slaughtered, butchered and sold for high prices as ‘exotic meats’.

A few animals survived, including the zoo’s big cats, the hippopotamus and the primates, as recorded by Labouchere:

“All the animals in the Zoological Gardens have been killed except the monkeys. These are kept alive from a vague Darwinian notion that they are our relatives, or at least the relatives of some of the members of the government.”

Two less fortunate animals were the zoo’s male elephants, Castor and Pollux. Both animals were purchased for 27,000 francs by a Parisian grocer and dispatched with 33-millimetre bullets, before being carved up and sold at exorbitant prices. Only wealthier Parisians could afford a slice of pachyderm but according to Labouchere, elephant meat was nothing to write home about:

“Yesterday I had a slice of Pollux for dinner. Pollux and his brother Castor are two elephants that have been killed. It was tough, coarse, and oily. I do not recommend that English families eat elephant, as long as they can get beef or mutton.”

In early January 1871, the Prussians started bombarding Paris with heavy artillery. After sustaining three weeks of artillery fire, the French surrendered on January 28th. The victorious Prussians then lifted their siege and sent truckloads of food into the starving city.

Source: Henry Vizetelly, Paris in Peril, 1882; Henri Labouchere, Diary of a Besieged Resident in Paris, 1871. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1871: Union general’s war service causes severe rectum issues

Major-General George Stoneman… ouch.

George Stoneman was a Union general during the United States Civil War and, later, a governor of California. Stoneman was born in the far western corner of New York state, the eldest of ten children. As a teenager, he was shipped off to study at West Point, where he shared a room with the better known Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Stoneman graduated in 1846 and spent the next 15 years as a cavalry officer in California and the Midwest.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Stoneman was quickly promoted to flag rank and given commands of both cavalry and infantry divisions. He was captured by Confederates in 1864 and for a few months was their highest ranking prisoner-of-war. Stoneman was released in mid-1864 as part of a prisoner exchange, returning to active service and commanding a division that swept through the South in the final months of the war.

Stoneman spent most of the Civil War in the saddle, participating in some long and arduous campaigns. The effect this had on his backside was later revealed in a post-war legal tussle. Retired and pensioned at the rank of colonel, rather than his brevet rank of major-general, Stoneman petitioned the Army for a better pension, citing agonising medical problems he had incurred in the service of the Union:

“The disability he now labours under was occasioned by a continuous series of contused wounds from jolting in the saddle during his raids in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia… At the commencement of his campaigns he was suffering severely from piles, and under this hard service occurred an extreme falling of the rectum, amounting to an extreme protrusion of the bowel, which yet with great difficulty [was] returned and kept in place… Death itself is preferable to the injuries he sustained.”

Stoneman continued this fight until the early 1880s but, alas, it was unsuccessful. In 1881 the US Attorney General ruled that Stoneman’s injuries were “not wounds received in battle” but were the result of “the disease from which he was suffering”. Much aggrieved, Stoneman went into politics, serving one term as the governor of California. He later returned to his native New York, where he died shortly after his 72nd birthday.

Source: Medical panel letter to the Secretary of War, November 2nd 1871. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1899: Navy officer slammed for kissing 163 women

Richmond Hobson, ‘hero of the Merrimac‘ and sex symbol of the 1890s

Richmond P. Hobson (1870-1937) was an American naval officer. Born and raised in rural Alabama, Hobson enrolled at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis at age 14. In 1889 he graduated top of his class, though Hobson’s rigid discipline and dislike of both alcohol or tobacco made him unpopular with classmates.

When war broke out between the US and Spain, Hobson was sent to Cuba. In May 1898, he was ordered to seize control of a coal ship, the Merrimac, and scuttle it in the harbour mouth at Santiago – an attempt to trap Spanish ships inside the harbour. Hobson did manage to sink the Merrimac but not accurately enough to block the harbour mouth; he and his men were captured and detained by the Spanish.

Though Hobson’s mission had failed, the jingoistic American press presented it much differently. Hobson was hailed as the “hero of the Merrimac“; his courage and daring had thwarted the Spanish. Newspapers carried stories of his bravery and portraits of the dashing young officer, who became a celebrity and a sex symbol, even as he remained a prisoner-of-war.

Hobson was released later in 1898 and repatriated to the United States. He made a series of public appearances, most of which were flooded with eager young ladies. But these public audiences produced “shocking spectacles” that led to Hobson’s fall from grace with the press:

“The scene in the Chicago Auditorium, when Lieutenant Hobson was kissed by 163 morbid women, was loathsome. It is deplorable. It is sad that a man of his excellent courage and fine intelligence should so far forget the dignity of the American navy as to lend himself to a public exhibition of female hysteria… We shall never tire of boasting of his nerve and his unflinching devotion to duty; but no one is likely ever to hear us boasting about his modesty or his good taste.”

Reports were also scathing about the young women who rushed to kiss the “hero of the Merrimac“:

“We have no doubt they are heartily ashamed of themselves. They ought to be, at any rate.”

Hobson remained in the Navy, reaching the rank of captain, before resigning in 1903. The following year he was elected to the House of Representatives, serving there until 1916. In 1933 he received the Medal of Honour and a special pension for his exploits aboard the Merrimac.

Source: Pullman Herald, January 21st 1899. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1920: German spanks American wife for war defeat

In October 1920, a German-born New York man, Paul Schoenhoff, appeared before a magistrate charged with “disorderly conduct”. The charge stemmed from Schoenhoff’s regular habit of giving an “old fashioned spanking” to his wife, Matilda. This practice could not have been easy, claimed one press report, as Matilda Schoenhoff weighed 200 pounds while the defendant was considerably smaller.

Schoenhoff also forced his wife to live in the basement and made her pay rent of six dollars a month. Asked under oath why her husband spanked her, Matilda Schoenhoff said it was an act of retribution for Germany’s defeat in World War I:

“When asked his reason for spanking her, she said he would reply that he was a German and she an American and he would get revenge by beating her.”

Schoenhoff was found guilty, placed on probation and warned not to mistreat his wife in the future.

Source: The New York Tribune, October 24th 1920. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1915: Electric underwear for trench warfare

In late 1915, newspapers in Europe and the United States reported that German and Austrian soldiers enduring bitter winters on the Western Front might benefit from the invention of electric underwear.

Developed by Max Beck at the University of Innsbruck and Professor Herman von Schroter of Vienna, the innovative briefs were made of non-conductive fabric interwoven with thin wires, in a similar fashion to modern electric blankets. Each pair contained a safety fuse to prevent overloading and electrocution. They cost approximately £8 (the equivalent of $US20) to manufacture.

According to American reports:

“For each series of trenches, it is necessary to install an electric plant, from which conducting wires are carried. When a soldier feels cold, all he has to do is connect up his underwear with the current wires… As now perfected it will be possible for soldiers to warm themselves with this electrical clothing [up to] 1,500 feet away.”

Source: The Sunday Times (London), November 21st 1915; Keowee Courier, December 29th 1915. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.