Grilled Asparagus

I got used to cooking outside as much as possible living in Alabama for more than thirty years.  When it is blistering hot outside, you don’t want to heat up your kitchen.  My brother Jones usually roasts asparagus and other vegetables in the oven and they turn out well.  But that heats up your kitchen which we try to avoid.

I’ve had trouble getting grilled asparagus to turn out as well as I’ve hoped.  My two problems are: 1] The asparagus falling through the grill grates and turning into ash and 2] Too much flaring up from the marinade partly chars the asparagus.

This time I combined a technique from one grilling cookbook and a marinade from a second cookbook for an excellent result.

The technique takes a minimal amount of extra effort.  As normal, wash the asparagus stalks in water and break off any purple colored parts of the stems to avoid the highly fibrous parts of the plant.  Next, I took wooden toothpicks and pierced the stems of the trimmed asparagus as you can see below.  This makes it much easier to turn on the grill without losing stalks between the bars of the grill. The asparagus stalks are spaced apart on the toothpick to allow each stalk to grill evenly.

The marinade was:

1/4th  cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of drilled dill

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Whisk the marinade ingredients together.  Put the toothpicked asparagus into a flat Pyrex dish and pour the marinade over the stalks.  We put the marinade over the asparagus about an hour before grilling.

I grilled boneless pork cutlets while grilling the asparagus.  The pork cutlets went over direct heat (2 burners on a 3 burner grill) while the asparagus was on the grill over the unlit burner.  Keeping the asparagus off of direct heat allowed it to warm up and start cooking without burning. 

After the pork cutlets were done (I always use an instant read meat thermometer for thick cuts of meat), I put the asparagus over direct heat for about 2 minutes to complete the roasting process.

The asparagus was cooked, yet crisp and tasty.  The marinade was not fatty enough to cause the burner to flare up.

Smoked Whole Duck

I smoked my second whole duck this week. They are quite tasty, and we strongly prefer duck to chicken. We bought the duck frozen at Aldi and the price was about $3.50 a pound which is more than chicken but far less than beef.

Duck has a fattier outer layer just under the skin compared to land birds. That layer of fat improves the taste of smoked whole duck compared to chicken.

My smoking recipe for duck is simplicity itself. I spatchcocked the duck and removed the backbone. This is an important step. If you don’t spatchcock the duck you leave a big air pocket which will cause the duck to cook unevenly. I then flattened the duck out. I do not recommend smoking the giblets with the duck. I used hickory chips in my smoker and used a remote read meat thermometer to an internal temperature of 170 degrees.

The duck was evenly cooked, very juicy and tasty. I did not use a rub on the duck. If you decide to use a rub, you will need to either inject the spices just under the skin or peel the skin back and put the rub directly on the meat. However, removing the fatty skin layer will probably result in a drier smoked duck. But since hickory smoked duck is so yummy as is, I doubt I will experiment with using rubs on the duck.

We got three meals for two off of the duck meat. We will have additional meals off of the smoked duck skin and bones making a basic smoked duck soup.

The thinner part of the wing did dry out completely. We just threw it into the soup stock. If you like the thin, minimal meat, covered in skin part of the wing to eat, I suggest wrapping the last two joints of the wing in aluminum foil before smoking.

Overall, spatchcocked hickory smoked duck gave us four or five tasty meals with minimal preparation and effort.

Apologize for not having pictures, but I was very hungry when the duck came out of the smoker at supper time.

Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres Belgium

The Menin Gate is a memorial to British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres area whose graves are unknown.  The gate is on a main road in Ypres and was one starting point for soldiers heading towards the front.  The memorial was dedicated in July, 1927.  Approximately 300,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers died in the Ypres area with 90,000 with unknown graves. 

Menin Gate Prewar and During WW1

The memorial has a huge vaulted ceiling with 54,395 names of the missing without graves.  After the memorial was finished, they determined that there was not enough room to list all of the missing so they used a cut-off date of August 15, 1917.  The other 34,984 names of the missing are inscribed at Tyne Cot which I blogged earlier. 

Names of the Missing are Carved in the Stone

Unknown dead are still being discovered occasionally in the vicinity of Ypres, usually during construction projects.  If the body can be identified, the relevant name is removed from the Menin Gate or Tyne Cot.  All recovered bodies receive a proper burial. 

Every evening at 8:00pm, buglers from the Last Post Association close the road passing under the memorial and sound the “Last Post.”  This has occurred every night since 1927 except when occupied by the Germans in World War 2.  When Polish forces liberated Ypres on September 6, 1944, the ceremony was held even though heavy fighting was occurring in the vicinity. 


“Last Post” is the traditional bugle song at an encampment at the end of the day for British forces.  Often the flag is taken down the flagpole at that time.  “Last Post” is often played at military funerals.  The United States uses a different bugle song for the same purpose.  “Reveille” is played on the bugle at the beginning of the day.

The road under the Menin Gate has a lot of traffic and is one of the main streets into the center of the town.  The road is closed every evening for this ceremony.

Lynn and I along with other members of our tour attended The Last Post Ceremony.  It was very moving.  There was a pretty large crowd (approximately 300 or so).  Bugles played, individuals holding flags made presentations.  Last, a number of individuals placed wreaths to honor the dead.  Some retired military people were present in uniform.  It is a tradition that the Buglers of the Association should wear the uniform of the local volunteer Fire Brigade, of which they are all required to become members.

Wreaths to the Fallen, Note the Use of Poppy’s

The ceremony is not long.  I suggest arriving early (especially if you are short) in order to have a good view.  There are many places serving excellent Belgian Beer in the town square, so you can toast the memory of the fallen.  The ceremony was well worth attending.

The painting is Menin Gate at Midnight by Will Longstaff painted in the 1920s.  I think it is an excellent, meaningful piece.

The Somme: Bayernwald Trenches; Tyne Cot & Hill 60

Bayernwald was a German position for most of World War 1 commanding high ground overlooking Ypres.  “Bayernwald” is “Bavarian Wood” in German because the first infantry stationed here were from Bavaria. Andre Becquart a local schoolteacher excavated several bunkers and mine shafts and opened a museum.  After his death a historical organization purchased the property and restored the trench system.

Many historical discoveries come from determined amateurs working on their own. Bayernwald Trenches are one example and another later in our trip was an amateur who discovered and excavated an huge British tank.

Descriptions are Usually in Multiple Languages
Map of the Trench Line. The Town in the center is Ypres
Our Historian Chris Explaining the Area to the Group
Local Guide Discussing Deep Concrete Bunkers

Being Germans, their army efficiency constructed trenches and bunkers.  Branches were woven in latticework and shipped to the trenches.  Concrete blocks for bunkers were also mass produced and shipped to the front lines.  Many examples of prefabricated concrete works are found in German positions on the Western Front.

The Branches Holding the Trench Wall Were Manufactured and Shipped to the Frong
Premade Concrete Blocks Used to Construct the Bunker

These trenches lack the sandbags placed along the top of the trench which raised the protective height of trenches.  Compare the historical photo with what you see today. 

Germans Manning the Trench in 1916, Note the Sandbags

Trenches were built in zig-zag pattern for multiple reasons.  First, if the trench line is straight at the front, enemies reaching the trench line can shoot large numbers of soldiers at once.  Second, if an artillery round hits a straight line trench the concussive blast would travel far causing more casualties.  A zig-zag trench breaks up the concussive blast.  Many deaths from artillery are from the concussion, not shrapnel. Third, a zig-zag pattern allows enfilading fire (fire from multiple directions at the same point) at the front line.

The covered holes at the bottom of several trenches are the remains of mine shafts.  Both sides on the Western Front recruited miners into special units which dug mines (hopefully) under enemy lines, packed them with explosives, and set them off to start an offensive.  Mining started early in the war and kept growing in numbers and tonnage of explosives detonated.   Other mine shafts were sunk to detect enemy mining.  My guess is this is a counter mine or indicator mine.  You could place a bowl of water on the ground in a mine shaft and look for ripples caused by digging in the vicinity.

Exterior of Mine Entrance
Mine Entrance

As the war progressed, Germany built more and more concrete bunkers of multiple types.  Some were machine gun emplacements, usually with interlocking fire zones to other machine gun bunkers.  Other deeper bunkers housed infantry behind the front line.  As the war went on, Germany largely abandoned long trench lines and instead relied on concrete machine gun emplacements, concrete bunkers, and used shell holes for supporting infantry during defensive operations. 

Bunker Entrance

Ypres (a major logistics and troop hub for UK forces) is clearly visible with minimal magnification from the Bayernwald Trenches.  This position was used by German artillery spotters for most of the war.  There is a gradual slope all of the way down to Ypres. As a result, Commonwealth forces had to move men, supplies, and dig field works at night.

Gentle Slope Down to Ypres
Ypres with Minimal Magnification

Let’s step back for a moment and explain the “Commonwealth.” Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and other British possessions were not independent countries during World War 1. All had considerable local autonomy, but foreign policy including going to war was decided by the British Parliament. When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, Canada and the rest of the commonwealth nations also entered the war without a direct vote from their population.

The front at the Somme was largely manned by British Commonwealth forces. As more Commonwealth forces were trained and reached the front, their army manned more and more of the Western Front in this area. However, the French were paranoid that the UK would retreat to the sea and leave France on their own (as they did at Dunkirk in World War 2). As a result, the French kept Belgian troops on the Western Front immediately adjacent to the English Channel during World War 1.

Adolph Hitler was stationed in this vicinity.  Note he has a “Kaiser Wilhelm” long mustache.  Some historians claim Hitler trimmed his moustache when poison gas became commonly used by both sides.  A long mustache could interrupt the seal of a soldier’s gas mask.  He kept the short mustache during his political career as a visual reminder of his World War 1 service.

Hitler with Kaiser Wilhelm Mustache

Tyne Cot Cemetery is the world’s largest cemetery for British Commonwealth forces for any war.  Tyne Cot is near Passendale, Belgium. 

Cemetary Layout
Tyne Cot Entry Arch

The cemetery was built on a battlefield and multiple late-war German concrete bunkers and machine gun emplacements are within the grounds.  The 3rd Australian Division and the New Zealand Division captured this position in October, 1917.  Like many battlefields in the Somme, the Germans recaptured the position in their Spring Offensive of 1918.  The Allies did not capture and hold this position until September, 1918 about two months before the Armistice. 

Concrete Bunker with War Damage
Huge Bunker
Bunker Amisdt the Graves

When on the defensive, Germany almost always put their positions on high ground overlooking the countryside.  On the Western Front in World War 1, the battle lines were largely static throughout the war with the Germans holding the high ground.  Almost every battlefield I visited where the Germans were on the defense, their positions were on the high ground with excellent fields of fire.

View From Bunker on High Ground

Tyne Cot is a “collection cemetery” where bodies originally buried in other locations were relocated.  The US, France and Germany have far fewer cemeteries than Commonwealth forces because they reburied their dead in mass numbers in collection cemeteries.  Like other WW1 Cemeteries in Belgium, the grounds were given by Belgium to the UK.

The large “crusader cross” was built on top of a concrete German bunker supposedly after King George V of England suggested it while visiting in 1922. 

Memorial Atop German Bunker
Crusader Cross

The stone wall is engraved with the names of many of those missing in action from Commonwealth forces.  New Zealand chose to have the names of all of their missing engraved here.  Despite the size of the wall, it was not large enough to list all UK missing.  The entry arch is part of this wall.

Names are on White Concrete & This is Not Enough Space for the Missing

Even with modern DNA analysis and other techniques, soldiers who die in battle today may not have recoverable bodies.  Close hits from artillery can vaporize humans.  Sometimes bodies are buried quickly after a battle and the location lost or forgotten.  Even in the current Russian-Ukraine conflict soldiers die and their bodies are not all found according to a February, 2023 article in the Wall St. Journal. 

Families of the fallen were able to have their own inscription.  Most are religious or directly honor the fallen.  But some families had some bitter statements engraved on the tombstone.  Below is one example.  Our historian Chris told us that the UK phased out individual statements in World War 2 only allowing families to select from a selection of “approved statements.”

“Sacrificed to the Fallacy that War can end War”

Commonwealth cemeteries incorporate a large variety of flowers.  Also note that aside from the crusader cross, there is nothing triumphant about British World War 1 cemeteries.

Masses of Graves
Nothing Triumphant

Hill 60 & The Caterpillar Mine Crater

Hill 60 is noteworthy for several reasons.  The “hill” was made when a railroad line was dug well before the start of the war.  The discarded dirt was piled up making a hill.  Hill 60 was captured by Germany in November, 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres. 

Hill 60 World War 1
Germans in 1916 at Hill 60 Bunker
Location in the Somme

The British recruited miners from Northumberland and Wales who built a deep tunnel under the position.  Two thousand pounds of explosives were detonated under the German lines on April, 1915.  The Brits captured the position with only 7 casualties.  This was the first successful use of mining to capture a position on the Western Front, but only a very small portion of the German line was taken.  Germans recaptured the position the following month after a gas attack and held it until 1917.

In 1917 the Brits exploded multiple, much larger mines and retook the shrunken (from the earth exploding) position.  They started the new mines in August, 1915.  The tunnel started 220 yards behind the British front lines, through no man’s land, and under the German positions on Hill 60.  These two mines had more than 20 tons of explosives each.  They were detonated in 1917 and the British retook a much smaller hill.

Australian Tunneling Company for the Larger Mines

Another noteworthy feature of Hill 60 is the untouched terrain.  Most WW1 battlefields were turned back into farmland, villages and even cathedrals were rebuilt from the rubble.  This area has changed only through the passage of more than 100 years.  In 1920, Hill 60 was bought by Lieutenant-Colonel Cawston who later sold half to a Scot whose son Capt. James Calder (Lovat Scouts) was awarded the Military Cross in action there. In 1930, Calder donated his share of Hill 60 to the Imperial War Graves Commission which maintained a battlefield park.

Looking Towards A Mine Crater
German Concrete Bunker

The grass regrew, trees sprouted and grew to maturity, but the earth itself shows the scars of the massive mine explosions, heavy shelling, and trenches from 1914 through 1917. 

Ground Scarred by Combat
Another Mine Crater
One of Hundreds of Shell Holes
Huge Mine Crater Perspective
Unrestored Trench

Hill 60 was one of the most depressing battlefields I’ve ever visited.  The lines only shifted a couple of hundred yards over a three year time period.  Twice the UK forces expended massive amounts of effort to blow holes in the German lines.  The second mining operation lasting two full years.  By the end of it, the front line had barely changed at a cost of massive casualties on both sides.  Last, the plaque to the Australian mining unit has bullet holes from World War 2.  Few World War 1 battlefields became battlefields again in World War 2.  On May 27-28, 1940 elements of the British 5th Infantry Division delayed the advance of three German divisions.  This delaying action allowed many British units to escape to Dunkirk and eventual evacuation.

World War 2 Battle Damage
Battle Damage Close Up

There were sheep in the vicinity. Dash (Lynn’s Shetland Sheepdog) really wished was there to annoy them.

Dash Has Contempt for Sheep. They are REALLY STUPID
Dash in the Snow Thinking of Sheep

The Somme: Essex Farm Cemetery; St. Julian Canadian Memorial; Langemark German Cemetery; Crest Farm & Ypres

After visiting the Waterloo Battlefield we arrived at our hotel in Ypres.  During World War 1 Ypres was a central organizational hub for British and Commonwealth forces in the Somme.  Almost all UK forces in France were in Ypres at some point.  The UK forces (nicknamed “Tommies”) pronounced it “wipers”, but actual pronunciation is like “cheap” with a y sound instead of a ch sound (“yeep”).

It was a very foggy morning at the Essex Farm Cemetery.  The Brits buried their dead close to where they fell and tiny cemeteries are found all over the Belgian and French countryside.  Here are 1,204 dead with about ten percent unidentified.  This cemetery was established near a dressing station during the second battle of Ypres.  If you see tombstones clustered together it means that the fallen died at the same place in battle.  The sword on the monument reportedly has a fragment of a crusader’s sword incorporated into the metal.

Common UK Tombstone from World War 1
Died Together
Fog & Flowers
Graves & Flowers in the Fog
Crusader Cross at Essex Farm Cemetary
Part of Historical Background from the Cemetary Information Plaque
Like an English Garden

A monument here commemorates the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lt. Colonel John McCrae MD. 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

War remembrance for the UK and the Commonwealth often uses a poppy flower.  My father purchased an artificial poppy from the US VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) on Veterans Day.   Generations of British children memorized this poem. 

British WW1 cemeteries usually have many flowering plants similar to what you would find in an English flower garden.  This gives them a very different look and emotional feeling than German, French, Canadian or US WW1 cemeteries.

Canal Behind the Cemetery
Canal in the Fog
Unknown Soldier – There Are Many in the Cemeteries of All WW2 Combatants

Next, was the St. Julian Canadian Memorial.  This monument is visible for miles across the flat Belgian countryside.  This monument commemorates where Canadian troops suffered the first gas warfare attacks during WW1.  Many WW1 memorials were put up in the 1920s and 1930s with this one unveiled on July 8, 1923.  Unlike some war memorials, St. Julian is sad with no attempt to glorify the battle.

St. Julian in the Fog
Close Up

The bus then took us to a gloomy, Langemark German WW1 Cemetery.   The Belgians did not allow the Germans to glorify their dead and also sharply limited religious symbols.  It is hard to have your country overrun, and your population ruled by foreign occupiers, but limiting religious symbols for fallen war dead is more than I can personally stomach.  All men are sinners, and the dead are dead. The cemetery was dedicated in 1932 and has approximately 25,000 buried in a mass grave. Unlike the Allied cemeteries, almost none of the fallen here were buried individually with a marker.

Foggy and Lacking Flowers
Mass Grave
One of Many Mass Grave Markers
Buried Nearby
One of the Divisions

During the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, German Infantry charged lightly dug in British and French infantry en masse. It was a massacre. Unlike the French, the Germans quickly learned that mass charges against riflemen were disastrous. Many dead German soldiers were university and high school students who enlisted and were sent into battle with minimal training.

Cemetary Road Marker
Among the Few Flowers
One of the Few Religious Symbols
Battles Fought by the Units

The gloomy German WW1 cemetery without flowering plants, shaded by huge oaks starkly contrasts with the garden-like UK Essex Farm Cemetary.

The cemetery incorporates some false concrete machine gun bunkers which struck me as rather odd.  Germany used concrete machine gun emplacements on a massive scale as WW1 progressed, but I was not expecting to see replicas in a cemetery. 

Simulated Concrete Machine Gun Bunker
Simulated Machine Gun Port

There was a “modern art” emplacement marring the entrance to the cemetery.  Modern “art” often becomes enlargements of everyday objects or representations of nature in metal. But it did house many spiders who had spun beautiful webs dripping with the dew.  Unfortunately, only one of my spider web pictures came out. But Lynn got a great picture.

Spider Web with Dew
Bad Art & Beautiful Nature

Our last stop was Crest Farm, site of an important victory by the Canadian Corps at the Second Battle of Passchendaele (3rd Ypres).    Belgium is very flat.  Crest Farm is at the peak of gently rising terrain.  The Canadian 4th Infantry Division captured this site on October 30, 1917.   Shelling blocked the drainage ditches, and the battlefield was a quagmire.  Over the last 100 years the small villages were rebuilt and most of the battlefield returned to farm and pastureland.  There are indicators at Crest Farm identifying the location of other Belgian towns and villages fought over for four years in the Somme.

Crest Farm on a Beautiful Fall Afternoon


British Cemetery in the Distance
Pointing Out Other Towns
Close Up View into the Distance
Middle Distance, Same Direction
Long Distance to the Next Village

The most unusual feature of Crest Farm is the Canada Gate.  There is a similar gate at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia where most Canadian soldiers embarked on troop ships for Europe during WW1 (and probably WW2 as well).  Canada erected a second gate at Crest Farm. 

During our first night in Ypres Lynn and I visited St. Martin’s Church, a former Catholic cathedral.  It is among the tallest buildings in Belgium.  Belgium is so low that the water table must be quite high making the construction of tall buildings challenging. 

St. Martins from the Web
Beautiful Fall Color in Ypres
Cathedral Tower
St. Martins Interior Viewing Main Altar
Main Aisle Looking Towards Entrance
Rose Window

Ypres was a logistic, hospital, and command center during World War 1.  Ypres was heavily shelled during World War 1 and St. Martin’s was largely destroyed.  The ruins were cleared and the church was rebuilt following the original design.  But the spire was rebuilt higher than the original. 

Ruins of Ypres Cathedral from World War 1

Today St. Martin’s is beautiful.  But it has a pile of ruined masonry and statuary from the destruction of the original.  I’ve never seen this done in a historic church, and many of the ones we have visited in Europe burned down, were bombed during World War 2, or collapsed from poor engineering at one time or another. I’ve never seen a “rubble pile of remembrance” in any other destroyed and rebuilt medieval church.

Wreckage from the Original St. Martins
Ypres Plaza
Ypres Building in Town Center

Waterloo, Belgium – October 2022

The Battle of Waterloo was on June 18, 1815 near Waterloo, Belgium.  Napoleon returned from exile, gathered an army made up of experienced regulars, and attempted to beat the coalition army of Germans (multiple German States since Germany was not a united country at that time), England and the Netherlands.  Napoleon defeated the German forces at Ligny under Blucher, but the Germans retreated in good order.  Napoleon then moved towards Brussels where he was defeated by the allied army lead by Wellington at Waterloo.

Map of Ligny, Waterloo and Brussels

Napoleon was originally an artillery officer, and the French Artillery was the strongest part of his force.  But like the day we visited, the ground was very wet which slowed the movements of troops and made the French artillery far less effective.  French cannons were massed in a grand battery.  The artillery was smooth bores firing various shells.  At long range, artillery wanted to fire “glancing shots” that would carom off the ground and slam into enemy troops.  The very wet ground during the battle made this tactic far less effective.

Battle Background
Napoleon’s Position Looking Towards Wellington’s Center
Napoleon’s Position Looking Towards Wellington’s Left – Note the Ridge Line

Why did a World War 1 tour stop at Waterloo?  First, the group was comprised of folks interested in military history.  Second, it was on the way from Brussels to Ypres in the Somme.  Third, Wellington’s victory at Waterloo was the last huge battle between multiple European countries prior to World War 1.  Western Europe (largely) had peace for the nearly 100 years between 1815 to August, 1914.  Fourth, Waterloo continued the process of Prussia dominating and eventually uniting the German States into a single powerful country in Central Europe.  Last, Prussia and England signed a treaty guaranteeing the independence of the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland) after Waterloo.   The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 caused the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany and the Central Powers which was the biggest strategic reason the Central Powers lost World War 1.

Compared to battlefields in the US covering the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, War Between the States, the Mexican-American War, and various US-Indian battles, the Waterloo Battlefield site is nothing to brag about.  I’ve been to almost every major battlefield within the borders of the United States, and Waterloo compares poorly in terms of documentation, signage, and explanation for the visitor.

The Wretched Lion Mound

The Waterloo Battlefield itself is horribly marred by William of Orange’s construction of the Lion Mound – a huge hill with a statue on top that was not there during the battle.  No preserved US Battlefield is similarly defaced.  Second, the battlefield is very poorly marked.  There are a mere handful of signs.  The museum is acceptable with a miniature of the conflict and a collection of uniforms and weapons and there is an interesting Panorama – a circular depiction of part of the battle.  Panorama’s and dioramas were popular in the 1800s and there is a cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia.

Much of Our Group at the Battlefield Diorama in the Museum
Diorama 1
Diorama 2
Diorama Closeup 1
Diorama Closeup 2
Panorama of French Calvary Charge
Panorama 2

Panorama 3
Panorama 4
Museum Weapon Display

If you don’t come to the Waterloo Battlefield with your own knowledge, maps, or a good private guide, you probably will not follow the battle very well.  Every US Battlefield I’ve visited is very well marked, has excellent signage, and has a battlefield map giving an overview of why the battle occurred along with a description of the battle itself.  Given the importance of Waterloo to European History, I was disappointed by the museum and how the battle was marked.

Fortunately, Chris Anderson our tour guide was very well prepared.  We started at Napoleon’s position where he observed the battle and close to where the French Grand Battery (massed artillery) was located.  Napoleon was not subtle at Waterloo.  He had a huge artillery barrage what was not terribly effective in the wet conditions. 

Our bus then took us uphill to Wellington’s lines.  Wellington placed his troops skillfully using the terrain to his advantage.  Both flanks were anchored by French Farms and his lines followed the crest of a ridge.  During this time period French Farm houses were surrounded by high stone walls.  Wellington placed troops in these Farms and they acted as mini-fortresses during the battle.  Napoleon tried and failed to take these farms.

Hougamont FarmWall Remains
Muddy Slope French Troops Struggled Up
Wellington’s Left Looking Towards French Lines
Wet Sloping Ground French Had To Attack Up Towards Wellingtons Lines
Muddy Day of Our Visit – Similar to Conditions During the Battle

Napoleon launched a series of large scale infantry attacks which had to go downslope then uphill towards Wellington’s positions.  These advances were slow due to the muddy conditions and terrain.  They got shot to pieces before they could effectively close.  Eventually there was a failed mass French Calvary attack and Napoleon eventually committed his last reserve, “the Old Guard.”  When that attack failed French morale broke and Wellington’s forces won the day.

Infantry tactics evolved during the Napoleonic wars to lesson the effect of massed artillery.  Commanders had troops under fire to sit or lie down which decreased the target.  Wellington also kept his best troops (British Regulars) mostly in reserve on the reverse slope out of preparatory artillery bombardment by the French.  He placed his weaker troops (Belgian and Holland) in front both to retard them from breaking (they would have to run past regular troops) and to absorb early losses while maintaining his best troops.

I claim no great knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars generally or Waterloo specifically.  My reading and study has primarily been conflicts involving the United States.  Lynn and I enjoyed our trip to Waterloo.  Standing where Napoleon was during the battle was fun.  Walking Wellington’s lines on the ridge was interesting.  But without Chris explaining what happened I would have gotten far less from this visit.

Memorial to the 27th Foot

Picton Sign
Royal Horse Artillery marker
Demonstration of Firing a French Artillery Piece

Horseshoe Bend Battlefield – January 2023

Lynn and I went to the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield on January 16th on a sunny warmish day. Horseshoe Bend is a short 45 minute drive from our home in Auburn, Alabama. At Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814 Andrew Jackson commanding a force of Tennessee Militia, a regiment of the 39th US Infantry and allied Cherokee and Creek Indians destroyed the military power of the “Red Stick” faction of the Creek nation. This was part of the War of 1812 and brought Andrew Jackson considerable fame including being commander of US forces at the Battle of New Orleans.

Aerial View of the Battlefield on the Tallapoosa River


During the settlement of North America, no government could control the westward expansion of white settlers.  The Indian nations were militarily powerful but divided and lacking modern weaponry.  Under British Colonial rule prior to the Revolutionary War, the British signed many treaties with native tribes and nations promising to prohibit settlement of their lands in return for not attacking existing settlements.  After the colonies gained their independence in the Revolutionary War, US Presidents and Congress made treaty after treaty making the same promises.  The first treaties by the United States were signed by George Washington, including the Treaty of New York with the Creeks.

During the period of Westward Expansion, both the British and the United States were unwilling to field the troops necessary to enforce the various treaties or to take military action against settlers.  Thus you have a long period of broken treaties and continued settlement of North America interspersed with battles and massacres.

There were two reasons for continued westward expansion.  First, you had population pressure.  As population increased, poor families would move further away from civilized lands claiming their own farms.  Second, this was before modern agriculture.  The farmland was not enriched with modern fertilizer.  Initial crops were often good, but the soil nutrients were consumed by successive years of farming and yields diminished to the point where many farms were abandoned, and settlers moved further West.  My ancestors came to North Carolina in the 1600s and fought the natives to gain control of the land. 

Battle of Horseshoe Bend

The Red Stick faction of the Creeks with British Encouragement started systematic attacks on settlers in what is now Mississippi and Alabama as part of the War of 1812.   Other factions of the Creeks sided with the United States.  Thus, you had a civil war among the Creeks in addition to a war against the United States and settlers.  The Red Sticks were provoked by the United States building a Federal Road through their lands to New Orleans. After the massacre at Fort Mims (40 miles north of Mobile) where 250 settlers were killed, Andrew Jackson organized a force of Tennessee Militia and marched South into what is now Alabama.

Bloody Contest

Jackson’s forces were marching into the wilderness without an adequate supply train.  As happened so often, the initial advance failed mostly due to a lack of supplies, disease, and desertion by militia troops.  Jackson reformed his forces with the addition of US Regular troops.  Most of Jackson’s force was Tennessee Militia followed by US Regulars and Indian Allies (Cherokees and Creeks).  Jackson had two artillery pieces, a six pound and a three pound cannon.

Long View of Battlefield from Overlook

About 1,000 Red Stick Creek warriors led by Chief Menawa gathered at Horseshoe Bend.  A long, wooden breastwork 5 to 8 feet high was constructed across the peninsula.  The log breastworks were constructed in a zig-zag pattern to allow cross-fire on potential attackers.   

White Poles Indicate Where the Red Stick Log Brestwork Was Located
Gun Hill Overlooking Red Stick Breastworks

Menawa’s concentration of his troops at Horseshoe Bend was a strategic error.  His forces were in one place and Jackson was able to bring the Red Sticks into a battle where they could not retreat if defeated.  Jackson’s forces were about 3,300 to 1,000 Red Stick Creeks.

General Jackson had a good battle plan.  He sent many of his Indian Troops and 700 mounted infantry under John Coffee into a position across the Tallapoosa river to prevent the Red Sticks from retreating.  On the morning of March 27, 1814 Jackson placed his two artillery pieces on a nearby hill (Gun Hill) overlooking the Creeks wooden breastwork.  The artillery bombarded the Breastwork for several hours with minimal effect.

Unplanned by General Jackson, some of Coffee’s Cherokees swam the Tallapoosa and began returning with the canoes the Red Sticks had on the opposite bank.  More of the Cherokees crossed and began burning the Creek village behind Menawa’s line of battle on the wooden breastwork.  The Red Sticks realized the village holding their women and children was under attack and being burned and some of them left the breastwork to meet this threat.

Bend in Tallapoosa behind Red Stick Village. This is where the Cherokees Crossed
Creek Town Burned

General Jackson saw the smoke and realized that the Red Stick village was under attack.  He wisely seized his opportunity and ordered a charge on the Red Stick breastwork.  The charge was led by the US Regulars of the 39th Infantry – the most reliable troops under Jackson’s command. 

Charge Led by US Regulars
Major Montgomery Memorial

Although Jackson’s forces took some casualties storming the breastwork, the Red Sticks were confused and fighting on two fronts.  Jackson’s forces broke the Red Sticks who lost 800 fighters in the battle or who were shot attempting to swim the Tallapoosa guarded by Coffee’s riflemen.  Jackson’s losses were only 49 killed and 154 wounded.  Most of the wounded later died due to poor medical care in the wilderness.

No Escape

General Andrew Jackson won great praise for his success at Horseshoe Bend and his subsequent victory at the Battle of New Orleans.  Red Stick power was broken and a treaty was signed in August where the Creeks ceded 23 million acres (West Georgia through Central Alabama) to the United States.

Chief Menawa of the Red Stick Creeks made multiple strategic and tactical mistakes that caused his destruction.  First, he concentrated his inferior forces where he had better supplies than Jackson.  Second, he did not set sentries to guard his rear.  In contrast, Jackson took full advantage of Menawa’s mistakes.  Jackson blocked the potential retreat of the Red Sticks.  Jackson also realized his opportunity when he saw the smoke of the burning village and immediately attacked.  Last, Jackson used his reliable, disciplined troops to lead the attack knowing they were more willing to take casualties to win the battle.

Overall, Horseshoe Bend Battlefield is in a lovely location.  The visitor’s center is very nice and there is a very well done 20-minute video which provides an excellent review of the circumstances surrounding the battle and the battle itself.  There is a nice nature trail and a very well-designed road with well-marked pull-offs where you can walk to see the important places on the battlefield. 

Like most US Battlefields, the US Park Service has an informative brochure and the battlefield itself is well marked. There is a knowledgeable Park Service ranger on duty. If you were unfamiliar with US Military History, you could easily learn what happened here in 1814. This was a very nice day trip. Our earlier attempt to visit was blocked by the incredibly stupid decision to close outdoor parks during the early part of the Covid plague.

Big Freeze of December 2022

The Continental USA had an unusual cold snap Christmas week of December 2022. In Franklin, North Carolina our lows hit negative 1 degree (Fahrenheit) two nights in a row with highs around 15 degrees. It was so cold that the top of the Cullasaja River froze over. The pictures are from a few days later when the highs reached the 40s – so the river was thawing.

Back in the 1990s we went to Asheville over Christmas to visit my wife’s family. During that trip the low hit -13 degrees. That was the coldest the North Carolina mountains have gotten in my lifetime. Still, the December 2022 freeze gripped the entire nation and was a notable cold snap.

More Thoughts on Scotch

Lynn decided to learn cocktail making during the plague years. As a result, she has made a lot of trips to liquor stores over the last several years. She often picks up another brand of Scotch for me to try. Occasionally she picks up something wonderful. Mostly she is picking up brands that I do not prefer.

Several brands she found for me were so excellent that I keep a bottle on hand.

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year

Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old Scotch is the best Scotch I have ever tasted. It is smooth and has the peat level that is perfect for my taste. The only disadvantage is the price.

Talisker 10 Year Single Malt

Talisker 10 year Scotch is quite peaty but very smooth. This is the peatiest tasting scotch that I regularly drink.

Monkey Shoulder (aka 3 Monkeys)

Monkey Shoulder is a blended Scotch whiskey that is very smooth and has a nice peaty taste. I call it “3 Monkeys” because it has 3 metal monkeys on the bottle. Like most blends, it is more reasonably priced than single malts.

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 year

Ardbeg is the only 5 year old single malt that I find drinkable. It also has a fairly strong peaty taste. It is surprisingly smooth for a 5 year old single malt, but it is not as smooth as Glenlivet, Balvenie, or Talisker. Although not in my top 5, I usually have a bottle at home.

Lynn’s last set of scotches for me to try were mostly misses with one massive hit.

Compass Box Glascow Blend

This is a blended scotch with a nice peaty taste that goes down smoothly. I like it quite a bit, but it is uncertain if I can find it where I live. It was part of a tasting box of Compass Scotch.

Some misses.

The Other two Compass Brands that I tried were clear misses: Orchard House and Hedonism. Orchard House had an interesting flavor but finished very harsh. Hedonism had an unpleasant taste to my palate along with a harsh finish. I appreciate Compass issuing their sample box. I found something I’m quite fond of and two brands I want to avoid at a low price.

Oban Little Bay is a single malt Scotch that has next to no peaty taste. This is the only Scotch that Lynn will drink on purpose and we have a bottle for her. But she mostly drinks cocktails with the occasional bourbon so a fifth of Oban will last year several years. For me, Oban had so little peaty taste you might as well drink a good Irish Whiskey like Jamison. Oban is very smooth, but I want a peaty taste in my Scotch.

Jura Ten Year Single Malt. Jura is not bad. It is fairly smooth and has an acceptable peaty taste. But for my palate there are more than a half dozen brands that I like better.

Cutty Sark – The Oddball that I keep on the Shelf

Cutty Sark is an extremely smooth, blended Scotch with no discernable peaty taste. It is also very inexpensive. I keep a bottle around for situations where I find a Scotch that is either too peaty or too harsh. I then mix the overly peaty or overly harsh Scotch with 50% Cutty Sark which makes it drinkable. Cutty Sark has become my “blend Scotch” that is never consumed by itself.

What Do I have in my Scotch Cabinet?

I always keep Dewars. This blend is reasonably priced and has a nice peaty taste. I also always have quite a bit of Glenlivet which is superior to Dewars in everything but price. I also have Balvenie for very bad days (or very good days just depending). I also try to keep Monkey Shoulder and Talisker on hand. Plus, Cutty Sark to make something that is undrinkable, drinkable.

I also have my brother Jones who will take any Scotch that is free. If Cutty Sark can’t make it drinkable, dear brother Jones is my last resort.