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Grand Vizier Assassinated, Serbia and Bulgaria Prepare for War

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 73rd installment in the series.

June 11-13, 1913: Grand Vizier Assassinated, Serbia and Bulgaria Prepare for War

On Wednesday, June 11, 1913, Mahmud Shevket Pasha, who was serving as both Grand Vizier (akin to prime minister) and Minister of War for the Ottoman Empire, was on his way to the War Ministry in Constantinople when his car broke down on the busy Divan Yolu avenue running through the old city center. After the driver pulled over to make repairs, another open-topped car—one of just 100 in use in the city at that time—pulled up alongside Shevket Pasha’s car and two men, each holding revolvers in both hands, stood up and unleashed a fusillade which hit both the Grand Vizier and his aide, Ibrahim Bey. The audacious assassins then jumped out of their car, approached the Grand Vizier’s car, and fired ten more shots before driving off. Shevket Pasha’s supposed last words were suitably dramatic: “My country; alas, my country!”

Judging by newspaper coverage, the brazen murder of the Ottoman Empire’s elder statesman (Shevket Pasha had played a key role in establishing constitutional government) elicited expressions of sympathy in Europe – but not much surprise. Political murders were all too common in the years leading up to the First World War, as demonstrated by the assassination of Greece’s King George by an anarchist just a few months before, and there was a long tradition of Ottoman Grand Viziers coming to bad ends. It was widely believed that Shevket Pasha’s assassination was revenge for the murder of the previous War Minister, Nazim Pasha, in the coup in January 1913, with one newspaper noting: “It has been generally believed that ever since Nazim Pasha’s murder Shefket Pasha has been virtually under sentence of death.”

The circumstances of the crime were obviously suspicious, beginning with the alleged breakdown and the fact that Shevket Pasha’s driver apparently escaped unharmed. Equally suspicious was the fact that the third passenger, Echref Bey, “escaped as if by a miracle” and then had not one but two pistols misfire when he tried to shoot back at the assassins. In their haste to escape the attackers left one assassin behind, a “lame innkeeper” who conveniently implicated a group of known gangsters and bookies. On June 24, 1913, the innkeeper and eleven other “real or alleged plotters” were found guilty and promptly hanged.

Whoever killed Shevket Pasha, his demise was viewed as a blow against the Committee of Union and Progress, or Young Turks, who supposedly relied on his reputation and prestige to govern; it was also seen as a major setback for the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to reform its military following its humiliating defeat in the First Balkan War.

In fact, both of these contemporary analyses turned out to be wrong. After Shevket Pasha’s death the Young Turk triumvirate – Enver Pasha, Taalat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha – simply appointed a weak-willed Egyptian member of the CUP, Said Halim Pasha, as a figurehead Grand Vizier, and consolidated power in their own hands. Shortly afterwards, in January 1914, the energetic, charismatic Enver Pasha took the reins as Minister of War and pushed military reforms at an even faster pace, including a purge of old officers who were no longer fit to command, a new structure for Turkish divisions based on the cutting-edge Germany model, and new, more efficient plans for conscription and mobilization. As a result of all these reforms the Ottoman Empire, viewed by Europeans as a negligible quantity after the First Balkan War, presented a much greater threat than any of its opponents realized in the coming conflict.

Serbia and Bulgaria Agree to Arbitration, But Prepare for War

In spring 1913, tensions between Serbia and Bulgaria reached a boiling point, as the former allies turned on each other over the spoils of the First Balkan War. By June 1913, the situation was so alarming that the indecisive Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, felt compelled to use Russia’s traditional role as patron of the Slavic states to force a peaceful resolution on its feuding client kingdoms. On June 12, 1913, Russia demanded that Serbia and Bulgaria agree to submit to arbitration by Russia over the division of conquered Turkish territory in Macedonia. Both sides naturally agreed – one didn’t just say “no” to Russia – but as usual Sazonov’s efforts were too little, too late.

The rival claims of Serbia and Bulgaria were simply irreconcilable: their attachment to Macedonian territory was emotional, dating back to the medieval period, and neither Serbia’s King Peter nor Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand could afford to be seen as weak by their own subjects.  Thus even as they agreed to submit to Russian arbitration, Serbian and Bulgarian armies continued to concentrate near their shared border; meanwhile Serbian diplomats cemented a military alliance with Greece directed against Bulgaria, and Serbian officers organized paramilitary units in Bulgarian-controlled territory to sow chaos once fighting began. The Second Balkan War was less than three weeks away.

U.S. Senate Committee Recommends Women’s Suffrage

The years before the First World War were a time of political and social upheaval in the New and Old Worlds alike. In the U.S., the main causes of turmoil were the shifting balance of power between rural and urban areas, industrial labor unrest, and a huge influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. But the U.S., like Britain, was also divided by the issue of women’s suffrage.

Women on both sides of the Atlantic had been demanding more legal rights, including the right to vote, since the mid-19th century, if not before (Abigail Adams was advocating women’s rights as early as 1776 in private letters to her husband). In Britain, the women’s suffrage movement developed as part of the broader push to eliminate property requirements and extend the franchise to the working class; in the U.S., it was closely connected with the abolitionist movement, with female Quakers and evangelical Christians (many from New England) playing a key role in advancing both causes. Notable events in the U.S. included the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, while in Britain the London Society for Women’s Suffrage was formed in 1867.

After the Civil War, the American suffrage movement received new impetus from the Progressive Movement as well as from trailblazing Western states and territories. Those granting women the right to vote in local and state elections included Wyoming in 1869, Utah in 1870 (later repealed), Colorado in 1893, and Idaho in 1896; they would later be joined by Kansas (1910); California (1911), Oregon and Arizona (1912), and Alaska (1913). But most states still denied women the right to vote, and women’s suffrage advocates turned to Congress in hopes of a federal amendment.

On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, suffragists paraded in Washington, D.C., where they were harassed by angry mobs. They convened on the capitol again on April 7 to present petitions demanding a women’s suffrage amendment: the “Anthony Amendment,” after Susan B. Anthony. This goal seemed even more plausible after the 17th Amendment, providing for direct election of the U.S. Senate, was formally adopted May 31, 1913. Democracy was in the air; maybe it would now include women as well.

The prize seemed within reach on June 13, 1913, when the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Women’s Suffrage published a report that recommended giving women the right to vote. The report noted that women already owned property and paid taxes, highlighting the embarrassing fact of taxation without representation. The Senate also recommended creating a parallel committee on women’s suffrage in the House of Representatives, which would remove the issue from the purview of the House Judiciary Committee which had “tabled” (ignored) several earlier suffrage laws.  

It wasn’t going to be that easy, however. In addition to their traditional prejudices, Congressmen were simply leery of granting such a huge expansion of the franchise, which would force them to take into account the needs and desires of a vast new constituency. Thus the Anthony Amendment ran into the political sands in 1913 and 1914, when America’s attention turned to cataclysmic events unfolding overseas. Women’s suffrage would also be delayed on the other side of the Atlantic, as the British House of Commons voted down a law which would have given women the right to vote on May 7, 1913. 

But the struggle was far from over, and suffrage advocates were increasingly militant. On June 4, 1913, the radical suffragist Emily Wilding Davison was trampled after trying to block a horse owned by King George V at the Epsom Derby; her death on June 8 made her a martyr for women’s rights, and her funeral procession on June 14 attracted tens of thousands of mourners. In the end it would take the destructive upheaval of the Great War, which laid bare the bankruptcy of all the old political arrangements, to break men’s resistance to women’s suffrage in the U.S., Britain, and Europe.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Facts About the Battle of Bunker Hill
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The battles of Lexington and Concord—which kicked off the clash between Great Britain and the colonies—were historically and politically important, but relatively small in scale. The battle of Bunker Hill, however, was another story: Fought on June 17, 1775, it had a sky-high body count. Though the colonies were defeated, American forces performed so impressively and inflicted so many casualties on their powerful opponent that most rebels took it as a moral victory. Here’s your guide to the Bay State’s most storied battle.

1. ITS NAME IS A MISNOMER.

Massachusetts's Charlestown Peninsula, located just north of Boston, was a strip of land with great strategic value. In June 1775—less than two months after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord—word was circulating that the British aimed to seize the peninsula, a move that would strengthen their naval presence in the area. To prevent this, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety (a patriot-run shadow government organization) ordered Colonel William Prescott to build a fort on Bunker Hill, near the peninsula’s northern shore.

On the night of June 16, Prescott marched 1000 men south of Charlestown Peninsula. Whether because he was intentionally disobeying orders or simply couldn’t find the right hill in the dark, he had his men fortify Breed's Hill rather than Bunker Hill. Toiling through the night, the militia men dug a wide trench surrounded by 6-foot dirt walls. In retaliation, the Brits attacked the next day. Following a barrage of cannonballs launched by His Majesty’s ships, hundreds of Redcoats landed on the peninsula and repeatedly charged the makeshift fortress.

The vast majority of this action took place on or around Breed’s Hill, but the name “Battle of Bunker Hill” remains in use. In the 1800s, Richard Frothingham theorized that the 110-foot Bunker Hill was a “well-known public place,” while the smaller Breed’s Hill was a less recognizable landmark, which might be the reason for the confrontation’s misleading moniker.

2. ONE PARTICIPANT WAS THE FATHER OF A FUTURE U.S. PRESIDENT.

America’s fourteenth Commander-in-Chief, Franklin Pierce, is primarily remembered for signing the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act during his one-term White House stint. Pierce’s father, Benjamin, fought on the rebellion’s side at Bunker Hill and later became Governor of New Hampshire. Another noteworthy veteran of that battle was Daniel Shays, after whom Shays’ Rebellion is named.

3. THAT FAMOUS ORDER “DON’T FIRE UNTIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES!” MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN SAID.

According to legend, this iconic order was either given by Prescott or Major General Israel Putnam when the British regulars first charged Breed’s Hill in the early afternoon. Because the rebels had a gunpowder shortage, their commanders instructed them to conserve their ammunition until the enemy troops were close enough to be easy targets.

But as author Nathaniel Philbrick pointed out in this interview, there’s no proof that anybody actually hollered “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” which has been quoted in countless history textbooks and was even riffed in one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. “We know that someone said ‘Hold your fire until you see the whites of their half-gaiters,' which [were] the splash guards on the regulars’ feet,” Philbrick said. “That doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

4. OVER 100 BLACK SOLDIERS TOOK PART.

An estimated 150 African-Americans, including both slaves and freemen, fought the British at Bunker Hill. Among them was Salem Poor, an ex-slave who bought his freedom in 1769 at the price of 27 pounds. During the battle, he fought so valiantly that many of his white peers later petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to reward Poor for his heroism [PDF]. Another black combatant, Peter Salem, is sometimes credited with shooting Major John Pitcairn, a British marine whose commanding role at Lexington had earned him notoriety in the colonies—though other sources cite Poor as the infamous redcoat’s killer. Salem himself had fought at Concord and would later see action in Saratoga and Stony Point.

5. WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN OUT OF AMMUNITION, MANY RESORTED TO CHUCKING ROCKS.

The British's first march on Breed’s Hill quickly devolved into a bloody mess. Rather than spreading themselves out, the advancing infantry arrived in a tightly-packed cluster, making it easy for rebel gunmen to mow them down. The redcoats were also hindered by the rough terrain, which was riddled with rocks, holes, and fences. These factors forced the British into an inglorious retreat. After regrouping, the infantrymen marched on the hill once again—and, just as before, they were driven back.

The first two assaults had thoroughly depleted the colonists’ supply of ammunition, leaving them vulnerable. When the redcoats made their third ascent that day, the rebels had nearly run out of bullets. Struggling to arm themselves, some colonists improvised by loading their muskets with nails, scrap metal, and broken glass. As a last-ditch effort, several dropped their firearms and hurled rocks at the invaders. Such weapons proved insufficient and the Americans were finally made to abandon the hill.

6. THE REDCOATS SET FIRE TO NEARBY CHARLESTOWN.

Charlestown, now one of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, was originally a separate village seated at the base of Breed’s Hill. Once a thriving community with 2000 to 3000 residents, the locals—afraid for their safety—started abandoning the area after that infamous “shot heard round the world” rang out at Lexington. By June 17, Charlestown had become a virtual ghost town. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, American snipers took to stationing themselves inside the empty village. So, to protect his own men, British General William Howe ordered that Charlestown be burned. The troops used superheated cannonballs and baskets filled with gunpowder to lay the town low.

The inferno didn’t spread to Breed’s Hill, but its effects were most definitely felt there. “A dense column of smoke rose to great height,” wrote an eyewitness, “and there being a gentle breeze from the south-west, it hung like a thunder cloud over the contending armies.”

Some 380 buildings went up in flame. Such destruction was without precedent: Although the British had torched some isolated homes at Lexington, this was the first occasion in which an entire village or town was deliberately set ablaze during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the colonies hadn’t seen the last of these large-scale burnings.

7. BRITAIN SUFFERED A DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES.

Though the redcoats prevailed, their victory was a Pyrrhic one. Nearly half of the estimated 2400 British troops who fought at Bunker Hill were killed or wounded. How many men did the Americans lose? Four hundred and fifty—out of an overall force of 1200. The rebels may have been bested, but they’d also put on an impressive showing against some of the most feared and well-trained troops on Earth. Bunker Hill thus became a morale boost for the patriots—and a cause for concern back in England.

One day after the showdown, a British officer lamented “We have indeed learned one melancholy truth, which is that the Americans, if they were equally well commanded, are full as good soldiers as ours, and as it is are very little inferior to us, even in discipline and steadiness of countenance.”

8. PAUL REVERE LATER CONDUCTED SOME FORENSIC DENTISTRY AT THE BATTLEGROUND.

Fun fact: On top of being a silversmith and perhaps the most famous messenger in American history, Paul Revere was a part-time dentist. He learned the trade under an Englishman named John Baker in the 1760s. Revere’s mentor taught him the art of forging replacement teeth out of ivory and other materials, and the future rebel eventually established himself as an in-demand Boston dentist. One of his clients was Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who would dispatch Revere—and fellow rider William Dawes—to warn some Massachusetts statesmen that British troops were headed towards Lexington and Concord on a fateful, much-mythologized night in April 1775.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren, a Major General, decided to fight right on the front line with patriot volunteers despite his rank and was killed. When the battle was over, Warren's body was dumped into a shallow grave with another slain American..

When the British pulled out of the area in 1776, Warren’s kin finally had the chance to give him a dignified burial. But there was a big problem: Several months had elapsed and the corpses were now rotted to the point of being indistinguishable from each other.

Enter Revere. The silversmith joined a party of Warren’s family and friends in searching for the General’s remains. They knew they'd found the right body when Revere identified a dental prosthetic that he had made for Warren years earlier.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE LAID DOWN THE CORNERSTONE OF THE BUNKER HILL MONUMENT.

The Bunker Hill Monument Association wanted to create a grand memorial honoring those who’d given their lives in the Revolution’s first major battle—and on June 17, 1825, 50 years after Putnam and Warren’s men squared off against the British, the monument’s cornerstone was laid at Breed’s Hill. Putting the rock into place was the visiting Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolution who was, as the musical Hamilton put it, “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman.” (For the record, though, he personally didn’t fight at the battle site he was commemorating that day.) Due to funding issues, this granite structure—a 221-foot obelisk—wasn’t finished until 1842. As for Lafayette, he was later buried in Paris beneath soil that had been taken from that most historic of battle sites, Bunker Hill.

10. “BUNKER HILL DAY” IS NOW A MAJOR HOLIDAY IN BOSTON.

In 1786, Bean Town began the tradition of throwing an annual parade in honor of the patriots who saw action on the Charlestown Peninsula. It takes place the Sunday on or before June 17—which itself is celebrated throughout Boston and its home county as “Bunker Hill Day.”

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