War movies are full of quotes like Apocalypse Now's, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." But this is a Hollywood invention. Real wars are chaotic, frenetic, and bewildering. In real life, getting shot at makes it difficult to rattle off a series of cool one-liners.
But not always! It turns out that real wars - and those who wage them - have actually produced many memorable short quotes. Some of these lines didn't just inspire the soldiers who heard them, but also inspired civilians for generations afterwards. Although, as is often the case with direct quotes from history, it's not always possible to know for certain who really said them. Either way, these savage quotes by real soldiers wouldn't be out of place in a screenplay.
'This Is A Good Day To Die. Follow Me!' - Lakota Chief Low Dog
Many have heard a version of this quote, maybe as the title of that one Manowar song, or from the mouth of a Klingon. But the person to whom this quote was originally attributed was the Lakota war chief, Low Dog.
Low Dog had been a Lakota war chief since he was 14 years old, and he joined Sitting Bull's war party in 1876, the year of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The quote comes from an 1881 newspaper article in which Low Dog described his role in the battle against the American 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. During the battle, Low Dog and his men had made camp and rested while a scout went to search for horses that had gone missing. The scout ran into an ambush of American soldiers and raced back to the camp. The Lakota barely had time to evacuate the women and children before the attack. In the face of the furious American assault, Low Dog told his men, "Today is a good day to die. Follow me!" Low Dog and his men would go on to deal the 7th Cavalry their biggest defeat and end the Great Sioux War.Stone-cold soldiering?
By the winter of 1944, the Allies had successfully stormed Normandy and pushed across France and into Belgium. In December, Hitler ordered a last-ditch, all-out takedown of Allied forces. The Americans called it the Battle of the Bulge, and it temporarily pushed the Allied lines hundreds of miles back to the village of Bastogne.
There, a small group of SS soldiers approached F Company of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, and asked for the Americans' surrender. The request was relayed to the commanding officer, General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was awoken, and immediately after hearing the request, he replied, "Us, surrender? Aw, nuts." McAuliffe and his staff were so shocked by the audacity of the request that they eventually decided to reply with just the one word: "Nuts."
The Americans sent the message back to German lines, and translators met to figure out how to convey McAuliffe's message in German. Eventually, they gave up and went with "Go to hell." It also earned General McAuliffe the nickname "Nuts."
- Age: Dec. at 77 (1898-1975)
- Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
'Came. Saw. Conquered.' - Julius Caesar
Or in Latin, "Veni, vidi, vici." Julius Caesar purportedly said this after his triumph at the Battle of Zela, both to announce the victory and to let his rivals know he was done respecting traditions of his time. (It's typically translated as 'I came, I saw, I conquered,' which is accurate since in Latin the personal pronouns are baked into the conjugation of the verbs. But striking the I's comes closer to capturing the terse musicality of Caesar's statement.)
In 47 BC, the Kingdom of Pontus and their ruler Mithridates the Great had been Rome's nemesis for decades. After Caesar defeated his Roman rival Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, Mithridates's son Pharnaces sensed a power vacuum and reconquered much of Pontus' former territory. Caesar and a force of about 10,000 legionaries, auxiliaries, and cavalry sailed off from Egypt and met the Pontic army of 20,000 at Zela, in modern-day Turkey.
The battle was a rout, and Pharnaces barely escaped. The entire Roman campaign lasted only five days. Caesar wrote his legendary quote on a placard displayed for the Roman senate, informing them of his triumph. But it wasn't just a quote. "Veni, vidi, vici" was both a brag and a provocation for Caesar's enemies. Roman generals announced their triumphs on placards, but they typically only listed their spoils, like the quantities of gold or prisoners taken from the enemy.
Caesar's short declarative had two purposes. One, it deliberately mocked Pompey's endless campaigns against Mithridates the Great, announcing that Caesar was capable of a quick and decisive victory. And two, by using the first person sentence structure, Caesar was elevating his own accomplishments as a commander above the victory itself. This was a break from centuries of Roman tradition, setting the stage for his march on Rome three years later.Stone-cold soldiering?
In the spring of 1864, the Confederate Second Corps under the command of General Jubal Early launched the Valley Campaign, an operation to raid the Shenandoah and threaten the Union capital of Washington, DC. After several months of Confederate victories, Ulysses Grant appointed young cavalry general Philip Sheridan to a command of 50,000 troops to put a stop to it. Early and Sheridan's forces traded blows throughout the summer and into the fall.
In mid-October, Sheridan left his troops to attend a planning meeting in Washington, and this gave Early an advantage. Near dawn on October 19, Early launched a surprise attack on Sheridan's forces at Cedar Creek, pushing them back over 3 miles. Sheridan and his officers returned to the area to discover long lines of retreating Union soldiers. Once he learned about Early's attack, Sheridan furiously galloped his horse to the front. As he approached, his retreating men were thrilled to see their commanding officer and cheered his return. But Sheridan wasn't interested in any adulation. In response, he shouted, "G*d damn you, don't cheer me! If you love your country, come up to the front... there's a lot of fight in you men yet!"
The general inspired his retreating soldiers, who returned to the fight and fiercely counter-attacked. The Union forces pushed the Confederates back and captured their artillery, and the Valley Campaign came to an end. Almost immediately, the moment became legendary and was nicknamed "Sheridan's Ride."
- Age: Dec. at 57 (1831-1888)
- Birthplace: Albany, New York