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We all think we know the meaning of the idiom, “to turn a fort,” but do we? A military phrase taken from the French (as was most 19th century military terms) the French equivalent appears to be “tournailler une fortification” (literally “to spin the position like a toy top,” but militarily “to isolate the position; render it ineffectual.”) In the same way “piquet” became picket, the unpronounceable “tournailler” became turn; but the intended meaning remained unchanged. Why is this important? The Confederate position at Fort Columbus, with its 140 guns manned by 13000 soldiers, sited on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River (where a stout barrier chain stretched across from Kentucky to Missouri, and that chain defended by torpedoes of proven ability) ...this position created and operated by Major General Polk was deemed “impregnable” in January 1862 by none other than Henry Halleck (who also labelled Fort Columbus as a “Gibraltar.”) It was acknowledged that any attempt to assault Fort Columbus directly would require tens of thousands of Federal troops. The position might be taken, but the resulting bloodbath would be deemed unacceptable by the people of the North. To slant the odds more in favor of the North, and to “soften” the position prior to launching an infantry assault, it was deemed a requirement for the U.S. Navy to bombard Fort Columbus with 13-inch mortars. Besides wreaking havoc, the shrapnel created by each bursting 200-pound shell would tend to drive Rebel defenders to cover. Over time (perhaps three days or a week) it was anticipated enough men would be killed, and survivors become so demoralized, that Federal infantry could take the position “easily” (with casualties, but not on a massive scale.) Problem was, the mortars did not arrive. So, another “method of attack” had to be substituted to “turn the fort” at Columbus. That other method was the assault on Fort Henry (and Fort Donelson) combined with destruction of the railroad bridge just south of Fort Henry. References: https://archive.org/details/frenchenglishmil00williala/page/326 French- English Military Terms. The Life of Andrew Hull Foote by J.M. Hoppin (1874) https://archive.org/details/lifeofandrewhull00hopprich/page/n8 SDG topic "Foote and Grant want to Seize Fort Henry" (all posts). SDG "Urgent offer to Bragg" post of 17 May 2018. SDG "Rebel Intelligence" post of 2 August 2016. SDG "Hey! Look over there..." post of 13 JAN 2016. SDG "FEB 14 1862: Fort Donelson attacked by Union Ironclads" posts of 12 JAN & 21 JAN 2016. SDG "Civil War Cannon live fire Video" post of 26 December 2015.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, Napoleon was seen as "the greatest military leader of recent times," and French was naturally the language to be learned in order to facilitate the study of Napoleon and his strategy and tactics. In the process, French terms for military ranks, units, movements, weaponry, etc were reaffirmed as "the correct terms" for universal understanding (and new French terms were incorporated into American military terminology.) The following link: a publication provided to American soldiers deployed to Europe in 1917 (with attention being directed to French Military Terms on pages 7 - 16.) https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.$b260555;view=1up;seq=5 French for the Army and Navy (1917). [And for a brief discussion of how French military tactics influenced the course of instruction at West Point: https://www.historynet.com/french-lessons-west-point.htm French Lessons at West Point, initially taught by Francis De Masson from 1803 - 1812 and making certain that military terms such as bastion, glacis and abatis were incorporated, and followed later by empennage, fuselage, nacelle, and aileron (when the airplane entered service.]