The Way of the Warrior: A Monument to Incompetence

Fort Charlotte

I just got back from a short cruise to Nassau, where I spent my time on land exploring the fort built by the British to protect the island. It’s an interesting set of buildings and walls, dating back to the late 1700s, but it wasn’t very effective in defending the island: apparently every time anyone invaded, they managed to take over the island without a battle.

The Americans invaded. The Spanish invaded. Anybody who invaded got the island, though nobody seemed to care enough to keep it for very long.

If you google Fort Charlotte, you’ll find that most tourist guides say simply that the cannons were never fired, but, according to the displays at the fort, the reason they weren’t fired was because the fort was built in the wrong place and likely commanded by officers without a good sense of how to do their job. Apparently the fort was built too far from the settlement at Nassau to actually defend the city, and also too far from the coast to prevent invaders from landing.

The soldiers pressed into service — many of them free blacks, though all the officers were white — died in shocking numbers, but of disease, not from warfare. Yellow fever was rampant, and sanitation in the fort itself was dreadful. Plus the soldiers wore wool uniforms! In late October, the temperature there was in the upper 80s, with humidity to match and the sun pouring down. I was sweating in a cotton t-shirt; I’m sure a wool uniform would have given me heatstroke!

Cannon

The history displays also noted that a lot of the ammunition stored in the fort — especially the magazines of powder for the cannons — was ruined by the dampness in the underground area where it was kept.

After wandering through the fort and reading some of this history of incompetence, I turned to Diane Silver, my traveling companion, and asked, “How on earth did the British Empire last as long as it did?”

“Their navy,” she said. “They controlled the seas.”

I guess that must be it. Or perhaps they did a better job of defense in some of their other colonies — though studying the many British mistakes in the American Revolution makes me think the bad decisions at Fort Charlotte weren’t isolated examples.

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Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “New Year.”  Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.

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The Way of the Warrior: A Monument to Incompetence — 4 Comments

  1. What worries me today is how much the British Empire’s ignorance and arrogance is being repeated by the United States. Witness the recent revelation that the CIA has had the drug-lord brother of Afghan President Karzai on the U.S. payroll — an act of ignorance that sets up one aspect of U.S. policy to battle another aspect of U.S. policy. And then, of course, there is the issue of whether or not invading Afghanistan and Iraq did anything except bog us down in never-ending quagmires and help terrorists find recruits.

  2. I went to St. Croix several years ago (one of the US Virgin Islands) and before we got it, it was ‘owned’ by Denmark. Heaven knows why! But the Danes built a nice fortress. The unlucky Danish boys who manned it had to wear wool uniforms and fur busbys. They died like flies.

    Brenda

  3. I think the lesson here is that powerful nations, or nations that think they’re powerful, tend to be arrogant and assume they can do anything they want, regardless of local custom or climate, not to mention morals or ethics.

    But such arrogance tends to end badly, sooner or later. The sun does set on the British Empire these days, and outside of Greenland (I think Denmark still owns Greenland), the Danes don’t have much clout. The Soviet Union only lasted about 70 years, and the only reason Rome held power as long as it did was because things went slower in those days.

    I hope someone in authority in the US is looking at history.