Examples of altruism in military history?

Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
By that I mean examples of generals or soldiers going out of their way to help or protect those that they didn't necessarily need to. I'd prefer examples set before the 20th century, because it seems that there are already quite a lot of those kind of stories from then on.

A couple of examples that I can think of are thanks to the Extra Credits History channel on YouTube. One of them is during Belisarius' reconquest of Italy, when a Roman garrison was holding out against a siege from an Ostrogothic army and the Ostrogoth commander offered the Roman garrison commander terms of surrender: he'd let the Roman commander and all of his soldiers leave unharmed if only they'd open the city gates. The garrison commander asked if the citizens of the city would also be allowed to leave unharmed, and the Ostrogoth commander said no, so for weeks the Romans refused to surrender, to hopefully buy enough time for a Roman relief army to arrive and rescue the citizens, but after weeks with no reinforcements, the soldiers were starving to death and the Roman commander realised that there was nothing else he could do to save the citizens, so hoping to save at least some of his men from starvation, he surrendered. The citizens were massacred by the Ostrogoths. It's a truly sad story because one of the few truly altruistic acts from the Roman times ends horribly.

Another example is from the First Crusade. I don't know the details, but basically a town or city in modern-day Turkey was attacked by the Muslims, and some of the townspeople fled out into the country to escape them, and they were found by a small force of Christian soldiers who - with absolutely no advantage to themselves - formed a huge shieldwall around the townspeople and for seven hours - in the scorching heat of the afternoon - held out against the endless onslaught of the Muslim force until the bulk of the Christian army arrived to rescue them. This story has a much more positive ending than the other one, and I really like it. It shows that the ideas that people have of ancient and medieval history of being filled with soldiers that did nothing but kill and rape and destroy aren't entirely true, because even thousands of years ago there were soldiers that cared about the average man and woman and would die to defend them with no gain for themselves.
 
Apr 2016
1,646
United Kingdom
Fraser family annals say that after the Battle of Inverlochy (in 1431) Domnall Ballach, the victorious general, was so angry by an old woman's claims she'd been shod by his own side that he had the offending troops brought before him and beheaded. The sort of conduct liable to get him killed, as his was a very tenuous (possibly fraudulent) command in a culture of martial free spirit, but consistent with character as his raids were very low-casualty. No direct documentary proof that it's anything more than a story, however.
 
Oct 2016
1,174
Merryland
as I recall;
during the Roman civil war; Julius Caesar's army was maneuvering against a Senate army and had successfully cut it off from the river, the only local supply of water. as the senate army formed up for a desperate charge, Julius himself rode to the front of his army, ordered the whole army the equivalent of 'right face, forward march', cleared the river, and gestured for the enemy to help themselves. sensing a trap, the senate commanders tried to reign in their troops but, mad with thirst, they all charged to the river bank...and Caesar and army did nothing.
not entirely altruistic, as most of the army subsequently defected over to Julius' side. Caesar forwent a probable victory on the field for the sure victory in the heart.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
as I recall;
during the Roman civil war; Julius Caesar's army was maneuvering against a Senate army and had successfully cut it off from the river, the only local supply of water. as the senate army formed up for a desperate charge, Julius himself rode to the front of his army, ordered the whole army the equivalent of 'right face, forward march', cleared the river, and gestured for the enemy to help themselves. sensing a trap, the senate commanders tried to reign in their troops but, mad with thirst, they all charged to the river bank...and Caesar and army did nothing.
not entirely altruistic, as most of the army subsequently defected over to Julius' side. Caesar forwent a probable victory on the field for the sure victory in the heart.
A great story. Caesar was truly a genius when it came to dealing with soldiers.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,325
I read about an incident from the AWI. A british soldier happened across an elderly rebel who was wounded and basically abandoned. In the spirit of mercy he stopped to dress the old guys wounds and some basic care before marching off. The grateful old man then shot the soldier in the back.

(No inference of factional characteristics intended - that was the anecdote written during the period)
 
Dec 2010
272
Southwest U.S.
The Allies gave the Red Baron a very dignified military funeral when they discovered his body. The United States gave full military burials at sea for several Soviet crewmen whose bodies were recovered by the Glomar Explorer when it clandestinely recovered part of a sunken Soviet submarine.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
During the Battle off Samar in World War Two, some of the shipwrecked survivors of the American destroyer escorts that had gone down while making a suicidal attack against cruisers and battleships (to buy time for escort carriers to retreat), saw Japanese sailors and marines of one ship manning the rails as it steamed past them.

Since the Pacific War was often waged without quarter for either side, the sailors feared the worst, and expected to be fired upon while in the water. Instead the Japanese saluted them as the ship passed by, paying tribute to their bravery.

One of the rare incidents of chivalrous conduct in that theater of the war.