3The Battle of Karansebes (1788)
Hey, what if a bunch of soldiers got really drunk, right in the middle of the war? And started shooting at each other, just for fun?
Let's just say things get out of hand really fast.
How Did It Start?
So, in 1788, Austria was at war with Turkey. The Austrian army was marching down to clash with an advancing Turkish army in what is now Romania. Shenanigans ensued.
What happened was the Austrians set up camp for the night, and some scouts on horseback went out to check the immediate countryside for any armed Turks. They came across a band of gypsies with a shitload of schnapps for sale, which they eagerly bought and began drinking with a gusto rarely seen outside of a frat party.
Now imagine they're shitfaced.
A load of Austrian infantry were also out and about, and came across the group of scouts. They wanted to join the drinking. The boozy scouts refused and set up makeshift fortification in what probably seemed a really funny idea at the time. Things got heated, an argument broke out and someone got too excited and fired a shot.
What Happened Next?
All Hell broke loose, infantry and scouts firing wildly at each other. The infantry, in a state of confusion, began shouting that the Turks were attacking them. The scouts, even though it was they who were attacking their infantry, suddenly believed that there actually was a huge, swarthy, mustachioed Turkish army just behind them.
Filling their snazzy cavalry pants with rapidly escaping dinners, the scouts broke ranks and piled through the ranks of infantry. The infantry took this as a sign that the Turks were definitely there. They began a panicky withdrawal, all animosity forgotten in the face of the imaginary Turkish army.
Just when the whole affair couldn't get any stupider, it did. The Austrian army was made up of soldiers from several countries and they spoke different languages. So when the German-speaking officers started shouting "Halt! Halt!" in their own language, the non-German-speakers mistook it for cries of, "Allah! Allah!"
The whole frantic group of soldiers finally arrived back at the main camp. An officer there, in a moment of slapstick brilliance, reasoned that the charging, shouting men must be a Turkish attack, and ordered an artillery strike.
The entire camp then awoke to the sound of an enormous battle and they all did what every disciplined soldier would do at a time like this: ran away in different directions, firing wildly. The situation escalated until the army was called into a general retreat from the imaginary enemy. Finally, not wanting to miss out on the fun, the leader of the whole operation, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, got knocked off his horse and landed in a stream.
The only real winner here was magnificent stupidity. For a more tangible result, we'll say that the points went to the Turks, who arrived at the scene two days later to find almost 10,000 dead and wounded Austrians and, after they had all had a good laugh, promptly captured the town and surrounding countryside.
2The Pig War (1859)
The Americans and British had a long, awkward relationship in the century after the American Revolution. In 1859, it almost came to all-out war... over a pig. Not a golden pig, either, a regular one.
How Did It Start?
Back then, there was a boundary between the American land in present-day Washington state and the British territory to the north. The problem was nobody knew where the boundary was. The San Juan islands sat there and both sides claimed to own them. This went on for years with no problems, until the damned pig came along.
At some point, the British-owned Hudson Bay company (formerly a huge trading company throughout North America) set up operations on the islands and turned it into a sheep ranch, for who knows what nefarious purpose.
Then, in 1859, around 25 American settlers arrived on what they assumed to be their land, no doubt surprised at there being a fairly large amount of sheep already there, each probably with tiny Union Jacks taped to them.
What Happened Next?
On June 15, 1859, one of the Americans, Lyman Cutlar, noticed a pig rooting through his garden and shot it. It turned out the pig was owned by Irishman Charles Griffin, a Hudson Bay employee who owned several pigs and was raising them free range-style, by letting them run around other people's yards.
Cutlar offered Griffin $10 to replace his hog. Griffin demanded $100. Cutlar defended himself by claiming that the pig shouldn't have been on his land eating his potatoes. Griffin supposedly replied with "it's up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig."
British authorities tried to arrest Cutlar, who called on American military aid. 66 American soldiers were dispatched but the British, fearing they would lose control of the islands, sent along a couple of warships to counter the Americans. By the 10th of August, 461 Americans and 14 cannons were being faced down by five British warships carrying 2,140 men. No one suggested simply letting the British shoot one of the American pigs to even things up.
The British were ordered to storm the islands and remove the occupying American forces, which could have triggered an all-out war.
But both the British and American commanding officers gave up the orders and gave their respective soldiers strict orders to only fire if fired upon. Sanity had sort of prevailed.
No one really, though the pig totally lost. By September, everyone seemed to get bored of the whole and agreed on a joint military occupation of the island. For the next 12 years, token military forces of about 100 men lived in harmony, regularly visiting each other and having some terrific bacon sandwiches.