The Last Words of Military and Revolutionary Leaders
Accused of espionage and subversion, Policarpa ‘La Pola’ Salavarrieta turned to face the Spanish firing squad. There was to be no fatal shot in the back, as was customary for traitors of the crown. Instead, La Pola, with her dying words, inspired her fellow Colombians to break free from Spanish oppression and rise up in revolution. She shouted:
“Although I am a woman and young, I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more!”
The dying are rarely as brave as La Pola of Colombia. It’s not often they get an opportunity to speak their final words. Here are five of my favorite quotes attributed to the fatally wounded or the soon-to-be-executed.
Sanada Yukimura aka Sanada Nobushige
A Japanese samurai warrior of the Sengoku period and one of Japan’s most famous warriors. He had a great many nicknames which included the ‘Crimson Demon of War’ and ‘The Last Sengoku Hero’. His final battle was at the siege of Osaka. Mortally wounded, he stumbled onto the field removing his helmet. As he finally collapsed onto the ground he is reported to have said:
“I am Sanada Nobushige, no doubt an adversary quite worthy of you, but I am exhausted and can fight no longer. Go on, take my head as your trophy.”
A more dramatic retelling had Sanada shout “Who dares to take my head?”.
Union General John Sedgwick
One of my favorite last lines that invoke all the stupidity of war and the black humor of a classic tragicomedy. The General was inspecting artillery entrenchments when his skirmish line came under haphazard fire from Confederate sharpshooters approximately 1000 yards away. Not one to cower too easily when under fire, the General uttered these famous last lines:
“What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?”
And when the firing continued, he proudly boasted:
“Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
No sooner had he finished speaking when a single bullet from a sharpshooter struck him under his left eye killing him instantly. At the rank of Major General, Sedgwick would eventually become the highest-ranking Union General killed in combat during the Civil War.
Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales
Poor Henry wasn’t actually killed in battle but his last words are to die for. During the build-up to his sister, Elizabeth’s wedding, Henry was stricken with typhoid fever. When he was asked if he was in pain, his last reply was:
“I would say ‘somewhat,’ but I cannot utter it.”
His funeral was attended by over 1,000 people and his death was widely regarded as a tragedy for the nation.
Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
You know your time has come when a great big bloody cannonball smashes you to the ground. Henri, insides pulverized, shocked, and barely able to breathe, uttered this immortal line:
“I did not mean to be killed today.”
Oh Henri, no one means to be killed! It was one of the first shots fired in his final battle at Salzbach 1675.
A Czech national hero, Žižka is held to be one of the most renowned military leaders by many historians. Unfortunately, his death didn’t occur in battle but of the plague in 1492 on the Moravian frontier. His dying wish was:
“Make my skin into drumheads for the Bohemian cause.”
No one can confirm if his troops did indeed use his skin as a death note marching into their battles.