On the night of November 8, 1800, fire devastated the United States War Office, consuming the papers, records, and books stored there. Two weeks later, Secretary of War Samuel Dexter lamented in a letter that “All the papers in my office [have] been destroyed.” For the past two centuries, the official records of the War Department effectively began with Dexter’s letter. Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, an innovative digital editorial project, will change that by making some 55,000 long lost documents of the early War Department available online to scholars, students, and the general public. By providing free and open access to these previously unavailable documents, Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 will offer a unique window into a time when there was no law beyond the Constitution, when the federal government hardly existed outside of the Army and Navy, and when a new nation struggled to define itself at home and abroad.
Archive for the ‘U.S. Military History’ Category
W. J. Wood called Braxton Bragg the “most complicated of all the Confederacy’s generals.”(1) A graduate of the academy, where he excelled, he displayed skills as an administrator and adept trainer of troops. He had seen action in the Mexican War and was heralded as a war hero for his actions commanding artillery during the Battle of Buena Vista. Bragg was a stern disciplinarian, which Wood attributes to his experiences in Mexico where volunteer units ran when under fire from the enemy. He could be brusque even to the point of being rude.(2) He also shared his opinions freely, often too freely.
(1) W. J. Wood, Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command [book on-line] (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997, accessed 29 November 2009), 118; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=30549970; Internet.
Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.
My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.
Check them out. Very much worth perusing.
Always on the hunt for opportunities to inform my understanding of history, I’ve hit a gold mine. In addition to my fascination with the Civil War, I am equally passionate about maritime history and am a degreed engineer. Those three fields of study converge in a fascinating symposium hosted by the DeepArch Research Group in Technology, Archaeology and the Deep Sea at MIT in April 2003 which they have made available for viewing on MIT Earth (TM).
The symposium, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor gives us an opportunity to hear from the senior archaeologist on the recovery of the C.S.S. Hunley, Maria Jacobsen. For those of you familiar with Civil War Naval history, the CSS Hunley will not be a new name. For those not, its story is nothing less than remarkable. A Confederate submarine, it was lost after driving a mine into the hull of USS Housatonic, detonating it, and sending the ship to the silty bottom of Charleston Bay in five minutes. But the Hunley was lost as well, only to be found, recovered, and excavated in the last decade or so.
I have made it through the first presentation on the Hunley (wow) and hope to watch the second half of the symposium on the Monitor. But for now, this from the MIT site:
- Moderator: Merritt Roe Smith
- Maria Jacobsen
David A. Mindell PhD ’96
Brendan Foley PhD ’03
About the Lecture
In the last few years, archaeologists have recovered two of the Civil War’s most ingenious inventions: the Union ironclad warship Monitor and the Confederate submarine Hunley. In this symposium panelists discuss the newest technology projects that have brought these inventions to light from the sea depths, and what they can teach about technology and the Civil War.
- Submarine built by Horace L Hunley
- First submarine to destroy an enemy ship
- All three crews died aboard although several from the first crew were able to escape.
- Lost off of Charleston after sinking the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo
- Remains discovered in 1995 by NUMA
- Recovered August 8, 2000
Photo credit: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph [#NH999]
You may be interested in previous posts I’ve made on the Hunley. My first was the following:
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’d been contacted by a publicist at PBS to preview the upcoming documentary that begins airing this week (May 6th), WWII Behind Closed Doors. I’ve had a chance to watch the full documentary and found it fascinating.
When I think of PBS, I think of credibility. Add credibility to reenactments performed by an extremely talented cast, the drama of war on a global scale, and the intrigue of information hidden from the public for decades, and the result makes for excellent viewing.
The story largely centers around Joseph Stalin – his hatred of Poland, betrayal by Hitler, paranoia and its impact on his leadership cadre, dealings with Churchill and Roosevelt, and hand in decisions that doomed millions. It also depicts how a few leaders determine the fate of nations. The deception around Stalin’s atrocities against Poland, these lies perpetuated by England and the United States, is startling. Another of the documentary’s highlights is its presentation of the war from the view of the Poles.
This from the publicist…
Rare wartime documents made briefly available only after the fall of the Soviet Union help reveal the real story of confidential meetings held during the war between c. Award-winning historian and filmmaker Laurence Rees (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, Nazis – A Warning from History) tells the hidden story of Stalin’s back room dealings – first with the Nazis and then with Roosevelt and Churchill. By juxtaposing conventional documentary elements with dramatic recreations, WWII Behind Closed Doors breaks through the myths of the Allied powers, illuminating the hidden motivations of “The Big Three” and creating a dynamic reappraisal of one of the seminal events in world history.
View an excellent video on the making of the series here.
For full information on each episode and a wealth of additional information, see the PBS program site here or by clicking on the image below.
Just a note that I’ve picked up a copy of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson. This book, the first in his Liberation Trilogy, won the Pulitzer Prize. I was quite impressed by Mr. Atkinson’s book, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, which I reviewed here.
Paperback: 768 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised edition (May 15, 2007)
I also purchased the second book in the trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, which many reviewers have indicated surpasses the first.
Paperback: 848 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
Even better, I’ve discovered that most of Mr. Atkinson’s books are available in audio format free from my local public library and so they will be on my MP3. Sweet!
Today I discovered a remarkable site, George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media which you can access here. It’s really about exploring history using digital media. It has three broad sections.
- Teaching + Learning
- Research + Tools
- Collecting + Exhibiting
Not only do I like the site’s premise but it makes available some outstanding tools including Zotero which I downloaded and began using today. It is an extension to Firefox designed “to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.” It was very easy to install and is free.
Another find linked to the site is the “Papers of the War Department 1784-1800.”
The CHNM site is well worth a visit and some serious exploration for historians and students alike. I’ll be adding to my links. Highly Recommend.
I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
On October 29, 2008, the National Parks Conservation Association’s Center (NPCA) for the State of the Parks released the first of ten Civil War park assessments. It presented a “good news – bad news” story. According to Perry Wheeler, with the NPCA, the Vicksburg assessment…
“…finds that overall conditions of the park’s known cultural resources rated a score of 67 out of 100, indicating fair conditions. This score includes ratings for the park’s historic structures, cultural landscapes, archaeology sites, and extensive museum collection.” [The Vicksburg assessment is available in its entirety by clicking here.]
Wheeler indicated that a recent grant of $142,000, “received as part of the National Park Centennial Challenge program, additional maintenance funding and staff needs” will help, but it’s only a start.
“NPCA’s assessment found that the park is in need of an additional 9.4 full-time employees and roughly $716,000 in funding, which obviously the grant will help with. The park currently has only two full-time cultural resource staff: a historian and a museum curator.
Furthermore, Vicksburg’s interpretive staff consists of only two interpreters, two guides, and one supervisory park ranger — not enough to serve the 700,000 people who visit the park each year. Current staff levels equal 140,000 visitors per ranger each year!!”
If you’re not a supporter, consider becoming one or help spread the word.
Find out how on the Civil War Preservation Trust site here.
The Vicksburg National Military Park photostream on flickr is available here.
Peter Maslowski and Allan R. Millett. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. Enlarged edition. Simon & Schuster, 1994. See the book on publisher’s site here.
This monumental survey of American military history has three stated purposes. The first is to analyze the development of military policy. The second is to examine the characteristics and behavior of the United States armed forces in the execution of that policy and the third is to illuminate the impact of military policy on America’s international relations and domestic development. Millett and Maslowski propose that there are six major themes that position military history within the larger context of American history. These include the following and are quoted from the text.
- Rational military considerations alone have rarely shaped military policies and programs. The political system and societal values have imposed constraints on defense matters.
- American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers.
- Despite the popular belief that the United States has generally been unprepared for war, policy makers have done remarkably well in preserving the nation’s security.
- The nation’s firm commitment to civilian control of the armed forces requires careful attention to civil-military relations.
- The armed forces of the nation have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized.
- Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, but especially during the twentieth century, industrialization has shaped the way the nation has fought.
The authors further suggest that Americans do not consider themselves a warring people but have in fact become involved in a number of conflicts and that because of this, the study of the United States’ military history is important in if one hopes to gain better insight into both America’s history and its current and future identity.
Millett and Maslowski structure their book chronologically, which is completely fitting. They begin with a survey of colonists from 1609 – 1689. They devote a chapter as well to the Colonial Wars that occurred between 1689 and 1763. The American Revolution follows and includes the years between 1763 and 1783. Two chapters cover the military history of the new republic including its expansion. This includes the period 1783 – 1860 after which the country is on the precipice of civil war. Two chapters are devoted to the American Civil War the first focusing on the early years of 1861 and 1862. The second surveys the years between 1863 and the war’s end in 1865. And so the format continues covering major years of either military growth or conflict through to two great wars. Several chapters are devoted to the period spanning the Cold War during which the Korean War took place. The Vietnam War covers the period from 1961 – 1975. The periods marking the end of the Cold War follow and then a chapter is devoted to the Gulf War.The book was written and published in its revised format prior to the Iraq War.
Millett and Maslowski’s work provides outstanding bibliographies expanded in the revised edition to include selected references at the end of every chapter as well as a generous General Bibliography. It also includes an excellent set of illustrations and photographs. This work is intended for students of American military history and American history in general. It should also appeal to the reader who wants a perspective on the events of world history in which the American military has been engaged.
Both authors bring impeccable credentials to their authorship of this text. Allan R. Millett (see his 2007 vitae here) is the Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor Emeritus of History from The Ohio State University. He is the Stephen Ambrose Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. He received his B.A. in English from DePauw University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University. He is a retired colonel of the Marine Corps Reserve, and a specialist in the history of American military policy and 20th century wars and military institutions. He is one of the founders of the military history program at The Ohio State University. Dr. Millett was recently honored with the 2008 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing (see the news release here).
Peter Maslowski is Professor of History at the University of Nebraska where he specializes in the history of the Civil War, military, and Vietnam War. He received his B.A. from Miami University and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Professor Maslowski served as the John F. Morrison Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff from 1986 to 1987. In 2002, Professor Maslowski, a highly regarded teacher/lecturer, received the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA). He is on the Advisory Board of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. For an excellent interview with Professor Maslowski on his career, see the 2005 interview in the Daily Nebraskan here
I have found no other resource on U.S. Military History that is so comprehensive in nature. Recommend.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson presents as narrative history the Persian Gulf War from its opening salvo to the American victory parade in the nation’s capital. His stated purpose is to tell the story of this “limited war,” certainly, but in doing so, he reveals much about America’s military elite and their need to heal from the failures of Vietnam. He exposes a heightened intra-service competition not unexpected in a campaign of this size but indicative of the growing role of air power in limited war. He also presents a study in leadership and a particularly frank examination of the Schwarzkopf war room which most senior commanders feared entering due their leader’s explosive temperament and demoralizing criticism. It is Atkinson’s view that his leadership style actually prevented, to a significant degree, decentralization of initiative conducive to effective field command. The book demonstrates well that the America of the 1990’s had reached the level of superpower. Equally revealing is the jockeying for power among Schwarzkopf’s commanders. Atkinson makes a clear case for the lopsidedness of the war evidenced by an American technological and logistical strength unparalleled in history. He also emphasizes the advantages enjoyed by America’s dominance of the air and the crucial role that played in the conflict’s outcome. But he concludes that the American and allied war machine was not flawless. Weapons technology proved in some cases finicky, airplanes vulnerable to Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries, and friendly fire mishaps unavoidable.
Mr. Atkinson comes to the task of authorship with impressive credentials. A graduate of East Carolina University and the University of Chicago, his most impressive qualifications come from a strong record of investigative and writing skills. His role as primary correspondent for the Washington Post during the Gulf conflict certainly put him in the thick of that which could be revealed during the war. More extraordinary is his thorough post-conflict research including extensive interviews and the study of documents made public after the war. At the time of the book’s publication, Atkinson had already won a Pulitzer Prize (for national reporting, 1982). He would go on to win two more, one for Public Service (1999) and a third, the 2003 Pulitzer for History, for his book “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943.” He would also serve as the 2004 General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership at the Army War College, and has been a recipient of numerous journalism awards.
Crusade carries importance for a wide audience within the United States military, military historians, and civilian government. But it is particularly informative for the American public. Atkinson pulls from the shadows information about the inner workings of the American political and military engines that drove both strategy and execution of the Gulf War in a manner decidedly more guarded than the Iraq War of the 21st century. The insight allows the reader to make a more balanced evaluation of the conflict. Atkinson demonstrates the fickleness of public opinion in a powerful epilogue which contrasts the military victory parade in Washington with the demise of the Bush administration, even after what was initially considered a successful war. I find it difficult to attribute this, and other conclusions Atkinson draws, as evidence of any bias. Indisputably, the power and relevance of the book has grown immeasurably given Bush-the-younger’s return to Iraq post 911.
Change is inevitable and organizations must learn to adapt. Author Andrew Krepinevich, Jr. asserts in this work of history and analysis of the United States military experience during the Vietnam War that the army failed prepare or adapt to new circumstances. Instead it prepared and proceeded to fight the type of war to which it had become accustom, a war like that of World War II in a European theater.
Krepinevich asks a remarkable question worth repeating.
“How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology was assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”
Analyzing this question gives the book its purpose. His conclusion is that the nation’s civilian and military leadership failed to adapt. In so doing they ensure that the “United States Army was neither trained nor organized to fight effectively in an insurgency conflict environment.” At issue is what Krepinevich calls “The Army Concept” of war which he defines as “the Army’s perception of how wars ought to be waged and is reflected in the way the Army organizes and trains its troops for battle.” A key conclusion is that the army’s previous experience, which would help to inform “The Army Concept,” simply didn’t prepare it for a counterinsurgency. While the U.S. Army became masterful at the World War II form of battle, it did not prepare for the deployment of light infantry formations, firepower restraint, and the need to resolve political and social issues with a country targeted by insurgents. Interestingly, Krepinevich also concludes that the ability to adapt to this type of war should have been maintained in the collective military for we had been insurgents ourselves during the American Revolution. Likewise, America fought the equivalent of an insurgency against Native Americans, and guerillas during the Philippine War. But the author contends that Army leaders chose to focus rather on more conventional forms of war.
Krepinevich structures his text chronologically into three parts. The first reviews the period from 1954 – 1965 when the United States served as advisor to the South Vietnamese. The second part covers the period from 1965 – 1968 during which time the U.S. had committed a significant number of troops. His final section covers the years of withdrawal, 1968 – 1973. The author provides a thorough notes section. This work’s intended audience is broad. It’s appropriate for military historians certainly, as well as today’s military and civilian leadership and strategy makers. Given the evolution of counterinsurgency as the norm for warfare in today’s world, the lessons to be learned all the more urgent. The author of the forward for the work, Colonel George K. Osborn III, also points out an additional audience, students of organizational change within large bureaucratic organizations. I couldn’t agree more.
Dr. Krepinevich is a graduate of West Point and at the time of the book’s publication was a Major in the U.S. Army. He holds an MPA and Ph.D. from Harvard University and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He presides over the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute established to promote innovative thinking about defense planning and investment strategies for the 21st century. He is both author and lecturer on U.S. military strategy and policy. His recent works include Strategy for a Long Peace; Transforming America’s Alliances; The Quadrennial Defense Review: Rethinking the U.S. Military Posture, and How to Win in Iraq. His has published work in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, Issues in Science and Technology, Joint Forces Quarterly, The Naval War College Review, and Strategic Review. He is also a contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on each of the major networks, National Public Radio, and The McLaughlan Group. He has lectured at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, the U.S. Military Academy, the Air University, the Army and Naval War Colleges, Europe’s Marshall Center, and France’s Ecole Militaire. His book, The Army and Vietnam, received the 1987 Furniss Award. Krepinevich’s book is sure to be provocative. As an overview of America’s engagement in Southeast Asia and the lessons learned there, it is excellent.
Back on July 5th, 2008 when I was reading East of Chosin as assigned for the class “Studies in U.S. Military History,” I posted several thoughts which you can read here. I made mention of it in another post on Technology in U.S. Military History here. This is a remarkable story and one of those rare books that I count among the best I have read. I know others in my class felt the same.
Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991. See the Texas A&M University Press page on East of Chosin here.
This haunting work by Roy Appleman falls into the genre of narrative history that is difficult to set down once a reader begins. Appleman’s stated purpose is to “tell the neglected story of American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division who fought on the east side of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.” He succeeds in portraying in significant detail the fate of these near 3000 U.S. Army soldiers trapped east of the Chosin Reservoir in the dead of the winter of 1950. This is good history. Because Appleman uses a number of primary sources (interviews with survivors), it is likely the most complete account of what actually occurred during this episode. Official records were almost non-existent.
The narrative spans a short period of time, approximately four days and five nights during which the battle took place. Appleton begins by setting the scene of the war in Korea in November of 1950. This framing of the picture provides an excellent background for the events of the story: a war five months old, an over confident MacArthur who saw unprecedented success in his Landing at Inchon, a “Chinese phantom force” stealing across the Korean border. He then chronicles the deployment of U.S. Army troops in the area of the reservoir. Pointedly he also devotes a chapter to what the troops and their leaders did not know, predominately the massing of Chinese troops in the vicinity. The remaining chapters give a day-by-day account of the action. He ends with a chapter that explores whether the troops could have been saved and a thoughtful epilogue. The text has an impressive collection of maps and photos. Appleman created the maps himself after careful study. Most of the photographs are published here for the first time having been collected by Appleton from survivors. The author includes a large number of first person accounts of experiences by the men who returned which adds to the work’s credibility.
In an essay in the Appendix, Appleton addresses the inevitable rival-based comparisons between the disastrous breakout attempt of the Army’s soldiers east of Chosin Reservoir and the successful breakout to the sea of the much larger Marine forces that occurred in December of 1950. His conclusion is that the Army units east of Chosin were pieced together quickly to guard the Marine flank. They were not given adequate time for supply and planning, This points the finger of blame for the resulting tragedy clearly at senior leadership.
The audience for East of Chosin is clearly military historians but it also has relevance for the families of those involved in the event. It is equally informative to lay readers who want to better understand the nature of the Korean Conflict, much forgotten to the current generation.
Appleman brings respectable academic credentials and those of a soldier who fought in the Korean War. He was not a professor of history, rather a civil servant and soldier and his experiences inform his publications. He received the A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from The Ohio State University, attended Yale Law School, and was awarded an A.M. degree from Columbia University. He was first employed as a sites survey historian by the National Parks Service in 1936, and in July 1937, entered on duty as regional historian in Richmond, Virginia. He retired as chief, Branch of Park History Studies, Washington Office, in 1970. Appleman served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. He was combat historian and captain with the Tenth Army on Okinawa and lieutenant colonel with the X Corps in Korea. His service as army historian during the Korean War required him to interview troops shortly after combat, a role that gives him a truly unique perspective from which to approach his writing. Appleman authored (or co-authored) several other military history studies including South to Naktong, North to the Yalu, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and Ridgway Duels for Korea, which won the Truman Library Book Award.
Appleman has successfully woven into his narrative much about the American military force in Korea including the weapons at its disposal and its command and control structure. The book is an excellent choice for providing a real accounting of the experience of soldiers in the Korean War. Highly recommend.
John W. Dower. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, 1987. See Pantheon’s site for this book here. See Professor Dower’s profile here.
- Published on: 1987-02-12
- ISBN-10: 0394751728
- ISBN-13: 978-0394751726
- Binding: Paperback
- 416 pages
Dower proposes in this out-of-the-ordinary work that we must constantly work at correcting and re-creating historical memory if we are to have hope of understanding World War Two in Asia or international and inter-racial conflict in general. He suggests that the war hates between the Americans and Japanese seemed to disappear almost overnight after the surrender of Japan and that they have continued to fade over time. His ultimate goal is to better understand how racism influenced the conduct of the war in Asia. To accomplish this, he went “beyond the formal documents and battle reports upon which historians normally rely” and drew “on materials such as songs, movies, cartoons, and a wide variety of popular as well as academic writings published at the time.” These were critical, he claims, “for re-creating the ethos which underlay the attitudes and actions of men and women during the period. One of Dower’s objectives was the identification of “dynamic patterns in the torrent of war words and graphic images” and to interpret from them “how stereotyped and often blatantly racist thinking contributed to poor military intelligence and planning, atrocious behavior, and the adoption of exterminations policies.” He also sought to explain how the hatred of the war years could have dissipated so easily. Chief among his observations is that atrocities occurred on both sides, thus making the subject a good one for comparative study. He concludes that the idea of race must be explored within “a larger context of hierarchical and authorities thinking” on both sides for race and power are inseparable.
Dower divides his work into four parts. The first looks at the larger topic of vilifying one’s enemies including a section on “War hates and War Crimes.” Here he seeks to answer the question of why the west would place the Japanese above their other enemies in level of hatred. The second section looks at the war from western eyes and the third from the perspective of the Japanese. A final section covers the war’s close and the nature of post war race relationships. There is an extensive bibliography and notes section as well as a large number of illustrations many of which appeared in mass media of the era.
John Dower brings an impressive albeit somewhat different background to the realm of military history. Currently Professor of Japanese History at MIT, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972 focusing on History and Far Eastern Languages. His book was honored with National Book Critics Circle Award and was an American Book Award Finalist. Among numerous other publications, Professor Dower’s more recent book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize in Letters for General Nonfiction, National Book Award in Nonfiction, Bancroft Prize in American History, John K. Fairbank Prize in Asian History, Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, Mark Lynton History Prize, and L. L. Winship/PEN New England Prize.
This work is one of considerable value to military and social history. It is a unique contribution and should be of interest to scholars of Japanese history as well as media history.
Peter R. Mansoor. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945. The University Press of Kansas, 1999. [See this item on the University Press of Kansas website here.]
Mansoor states as purpose for his study to examine the evolution of combat effectiveness in the American infantry divisions that fought against Germany and Italy during World War II. But an underlying goal is to refute recent arguments that suggest that the Allies won the war “through the sheer weight of materiel they threw at the Wehrmacht in a relatively unskilled manner.” He focuses on the “standard American infantry divisions that formed the bulk of the Western Allied forces by the end of the war.” Mansoor concludes that sheer numbers could not have alone been responsible for the Allied victory rather, the relative quality of forces fielded by the Allied and Axis powers was crucial to the ultimate outcome. He further concludes that Allied combat effectiveness increased over time while Germany’s declined, a victim of huge casualties and shortages of key resources. Mansoor examines a number of variables impacting combat effectiveness which he breaks into three groups: human, organizational, and technical.
An interesting conclusion is that endurance plays a key role in combat effectiveness which Monsoor defines as the ability of a military force to sustain itself over time. The element of time is an important, albeit often overlooked element of combat effectiveness, he argues, and “political as well as their military advisors tread a fine line between committing forces to combat to achieve the desired ends of policy and allowing those forces the time to develop into effective organizations before doing so.” Late and hasty mobilization plagued the American Army but it adapted, gained experience, and overcame those challenges sufficiently enough by the summer of 1944 to reach a level of effectiveness that enabled defeat of Germany and Japan.
Monsoor structures his work loosely chronologically. He begins with the mobilization of the Army followed by a chapter on pre-combat training. He then dives into the primary campaigns and battles of the war: North Africa and Sicily, the Italian Campaign of 1943-1944, Normandy, the Siegfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, etc. His final chapter summarizes the path of the American Army toward combat effectiveness.
Peter Mansoor (see full bio here) is a warrior and a scholar. He graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982, and received master’s and doctoral degrees in military history from The Ohio State University in 1992 and 1995. He also holds a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is currently holder of the Mason Chair in Military History at The Ohio State University. At the time of the book’s publication in 2003, he was poised to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Freiburg, Germany. His units went on to receive acclaim in the Iraq War. His star has continued to rise as a person of influence of policy and strategy within America’s war machine.
Mansoor’s book won the Society for Military History Book Award and the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award. It should be of interest to the serious military historian and both civilian and military leadership.
This work has several features worth special mention including a large number of campaign maps and illustrations, a glossary, and impressive notes section, index, and bibliography. The introduction is a masterful essay that serves as an excellent foundation for the rest of the work but easily stands alone. Mansoor’s conclusions appear fact-based and pull no punches. He is honest about the military’s early mistakes but ability to learn and adapt. This work is an excellent addition to military history.
This week I received a review copy of James M. McPherson’s new work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief from the good folks at Penguin Press. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to diving in as Dr. McPherson’s books on Lincoln remain among my favorites.
He opens the book with the following.
“The insurgent leader…does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory.”
—Lincoln’s annual message to Congress,
December 6, 1864
Tried by War
Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
James M. McPherson – Author
Hardcover | 6.14 x 9.25in | 384 pages | ISBN 9781594201912 | 07 Oct 2008 | The Penguin Press
Jennifer D. Keene. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. See the JHUP book reference here.
Jennifer Keene, (see her bio here) in her study of the experience of American soldiers who served in World War I, sets as goal to fill what she contends is a significant inequality in the focus of scholars of World War I when compared to more popular conflicts: the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. She suggests that in light of other wars, World War I is seen by many as a “dissatisfying experience with little transcendent significance.” She states as purpose a quest for the true importance of the Great War in American history by telling the story of the generation who served in that war and the way in which their experience shaped American society. Her thesis is that World War I was, in fact, a pivotal experience because it led to a transformation of the federal Army into a stronger national institution. Critical to this change was what she considers the most sweeping social welfare legislation in American history, the G.I. Bill, driven by the generation who would fight in the Great War. Her conclusion is that the Bill changed dramatically the experience of the millions of American men who would participate in mass military service in the twentieth century and was a direct result of the mistakes made by the military in the care of World War I servicemen. She approaches the subject less as an examination of the traditional themes of military battle tactics and strategies and more as a study of the experiences of citizen-soldiers. This allows an in-depth view of topics such as training, combat, discipline, race relations, experiences in France, health care, and the re-entry process after the war. The result is a sobering view of war’s realities at the troop level, a far cry from typical ideologically-based accounts of the Great War. One of the most important conclusions of Linn’s work is that this generation of citizen-soldiers refused to conform to the expectations of military officials and so found their collective voice, becoming political and societal advocates for military reform. Their biggest effort was on adjustment in postwar compensation, a cause they eventually won in 1936 after prolonged lobbying and activism. At issue was the government’s contract with citizen-soldiers, and the debate expanded to include the government’s obligations to the poor.
Keene chooses a chronological organization of her material and follows the experience of the common soldier through conscription, training, and deployment overseas. She describes in a fresh manner the experience of black soldiers abroad and the startling revelation that they were more highly regarded and better treated by the French than by their own countrymen. She continues their story through the post war years and their battles for compensation, finishing with the history of the G.I. Bill.
Keene brings strong academic credentials to the work and an impressive resume. At the time of this book’s publication, she was an assistant professor of history at the University of the Redlands in Redlands, California. She is currently the Chair of the Department of History and a Professor of History at Chapman University. She has been recognized with the Wang-Franklin Professorship in Scholarly Excellence award (2007-2009). Professor Keene received her Master of Arts from George Washington University and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University.
Her work should be of interest to both military and social historians as well as those investigating the experience of black soldiers in the military. She provides an impressive notes section revealing a plethora of primary source materials. Keen’s work is noteworthy for its examination of the pluralistic military tradition of professional and citizen-soldiers. America had to conscript, train, and deploy a huge army in a short period of time and made many errors in the process. Her coverage of this aspect the Great War was exceptional. The text also provides an interesting take on America’s commitment to civilian control of the military. The power of the states and the federal government to raise and manage a large conscription force was tested as was the responsibility of civilian government to those soldiers upon return to a peacetime society. Fascinating issues of contractual obligation to fair wages are covered in depth. Inherent in the latter issue is that fact that rational military considerations alone rarely shape military policies.
Keene demonstrates that once again, that the United States was able to raise an army fairly quickly in support of a perceived threat to the nation’s security. However she also highlights the cost in lives of that rushed effort.
This is an impressive addition to the scholarly base of American military history albeit of decidedly different focus. Highly recommend.
After a short break, I’ll be diving into my next class which starts November 3rd. As is my custom, I’ve added this to “The Courses” page.
“Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War” (starts November 3rd)
This course is an analysis of the conditions existing in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The course focuses on the political, cultural/social, economic, security, leadership, and other issues that played roles in starting and shaping the Civil War. We will analyze the issues in the context of war and peace to determine whether or not such conflicts as civil wars can be avoided prior to their inception.
TBD once the syllabus is available. For now, the list is as follows which is very light in comparison with my last class:
Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine
Road to Disunion : Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 by William W. Freehling
Brian Linn recounts the military operations that took place between the opening months of 1899 and July 1902 in what some of his reviewers have labeled as the “definite study” of the Philippine War. Ultimately, his goal is to set the record straight on the myths surrounding the conflict and recount its history as the complex and challenging event it was. Written from the American perspective, he concludes that the war was nothing less than the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in U.S. history.
He sets out to write a narrative history of the conflict but admits to encountering challenges because the war varied so greatly in the different locations in which it took place. The geographical expanse of the Philippines thus becomes a part of the story of the war itself. These challenges lead Linn to organize the book around two broad themes. The first section describes conventional military operations on the island of Luzon that took place in 1899. The second focuses on operations in other parts of the archipelago which can be categorized as guerrilla warfare and pacification activities.
While the book’s focus is on United States military activities, Linn provides excellent historical background on the Philippine leadership cadre as well. He makes specific mention of the need for a study that more comprehensively represents the Filipino perspective of the conflict. Linn is blatantly honest about the strengths and the foibles of both the United States military and the Philippine Army of Liberation. He captures the intra-service rivalries and associated squabbles and maneuvering for notice and promotion among officers on both sides. He also describes the performance of America’s volunteer citizen-soldiers, who distinguished themselves by behaving with aggressiveness, courage, and élan, and yet were at times difficult to restrain.
Linn captures well instances of the fog of war and its impact on both sides. He provides a fascinating description of the recruitment, training, transport, and sustaining of volunteer American troops engaged in the conflict. His review of the Battle of Manila reveals superior preparation and discipline among American troops and yet the recklessness of officers who ordered repeated frontal attacks over open ground against armed fortifications. He notes that most of these attacks were successful due primarily to insurgents shooting high. Linn points out that this gave the Filipinos the impression of American invincibility, increasing the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that at times caused native soldiers to flee.
Linn arrives at several important conclusions. First he refutes the clichés so often attributed to the Philippine War. He posits that while the U.S. military was victorious, this occurred as a result of the ineptitude of the independence movement and its “titular leader,” Aguinaldo, as opposed to the prowess of the Americans. Some guerrilla leaders showed brilliance at the small unit level but there was never a successful prolonged defense of any area or recovery of any areas once lost. Rebels also failed to effectively win the broad support of the populace. American forces struggled with a number of problems including maintenance of forces levels, diseases, and logistics.
Americans did have clear advantages in weaponry and this added to their effectiveness. The Krag rifle, armed gunboats, and field artillery were all contributory to American success. The U.S Navy was also a key contributor to the win providing not only transport of men and matériels but also blockade functions and support for amphibious operations. Linn also points to the role of civic action or social reform as a crucial component of the American victory.
Because of the unique nature of this conflict, and its counter insurgency flavor, Linn suggests that it has much to offer readers of both civilian and military cadres. I agree. The book’s notes section is impressive as is the bibliography. The book has received the following honors: Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Air Force Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Winner of the Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award, Selection of the History Book Club.
At the time of the book’s publication, Brian Linn was professor of history at Texas A & M University, a post he has held since 1998. He received a B.A. with High Honors from the University of Hawaii, and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He has also taught history at Old Dominion University and the University of Nebraska as a visiting professor. He is widely published and the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships.
Overall, Linn’s work is an important contribution to U.S. military scholarship.
Fred Anderson. A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War. Reprint. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Anderson sets out to examine New England provincial soldiers and their experiences during what he terms the “last and greatest of America’s colonial wars.” He considers it a work of social history because of the quantitative data on which it is based but caveats that its focus is a single conflict, the Seven Years’ War, as opposed to a long term study. His focus is on ordinary men. His conclusion is that the Seven Years’ War was nothing less than world-shaping and thus unifying to the lives it impacted. Their common experience marked them as a unique generation, like others in later times who would be identified with the major events of their lifetime.
He also considers this work to be one of military history because of its focus on war and military service. But he claims an intentional diversion from the classic approaches of military historians whose focus is more on campaigns and the “analysis of generalship.” Anderson’s focus is the story of the common citizen-soldier inclusive of their shared values and their beliefs concerning war and military service.
He divides his study into three parts. The first section titled “The Contexts of War,” provides background for military service of men in Massachusetts. A key conclusion of this section is that “the way in which provincial armed forces were recruited strongly influenced their performance in the field.” The second section, “The Experience of War,” looks at the details of daily life in the military. Anderson examines both the nature and impact of variables such as diet, shelter, disease, discipline, work, and combat. He concludes that the delta between the experiences of these men before and after military service began was so large that it created a unique frame-of-reference from which they subsequently viewed their experience. The third section, “The Meaning of War,” explores in more depth the unique frame of reference possessed by soldiers from Massachusetts and how that remained incomprehensible to both their superiors and British regular officers. Much of the content of the book comes from primary sources of soldier’s own accounts.
The audience for this book is those interested in scholarship on America’s early history, social history, and military history. It has several special features including five informative appendices. One includes as listing of primary sources predominantly in the form of diaries. Another provides a fascinating summary of troop disorders suffered within the Provincial Army between 1755 and 1759. Anderson has chosen to footnote his work rather than have a separate notes section.
Fred Anderson brings strong academic credentials in fact this work is based on his doctoral dissertation. He received his B.A. from Colorado State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1981. He has taught at Harvard and at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is currently Professor of History. His has also published Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000) and, with Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2005). This work is entirely readable and an excellent addition to early American scholarship. Its extensive use of personal accounts adds to its appeal.
I received a review copy of David Fuller’s Sweetsmoke today from the good folks at Hyperion and very much look forward to reading it and passing along my impressions. Mr. Fuller is a screenwriter by profession. He has an interesting lineage of combatants in the American Civil War, which you can read more about on his website here.
Charles Royster. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783. Reprint. University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
In his award winning, sweeping work on the American Revolution, Charles Royster sets out to prove his thesis that “there was an American character prevalent during the War for Independence and that we can profitably analyze it.” His focus is on the emotions, attitudes, and conduct of Americans in wartime but he also set out to prove that Americans exemplified collectively the disposition of revolutionaries. This notion of national character is an important one because it suggests an emergence of a sense of nationhood among the inhabitants of America’s colonies. Royster acknowledges that not all Americans were anti-British but he does conclude that the majority of Americans during the War for Independence were loyal to the revolution’s cause. These arguments are foundational to his discussion of the Continental Army. Royster deals with the rather broad topics of the ideals of revolutionary citizenship, society, and state by limiting his scope to the standards “that Americans defined for themselves in creating, recruiting, and fighting in an army” and it is this focus that makes the book more relevant to the military historian. He finds evidence of a disparity between society’s ideals and its actual conduct, the latter being “always flawed.” To find reasons for the disparity he touches, admitted lightly, on other areas such as religion, government, and commerce, drawing a connection between these and the way in which Americans related to the army.
Royster describes his book as analytical rather than narrative history. This distinction drives the book’s chronological format which supports his position that the study of revolutionary attitudes and the changes that took place over time are best observed “in the order that Americans experienced them.” Royster begins with an examination of the high ideals that Americans caught up in the revolutionary mindset placed upon themselves and others, ideals of virtue and valor. This foundation then allows him to explore the “tension” created when Americans failed to live up to those ideals and how they dealt with the disparity between desired standards and reality. Thus Royster begins with the years prior to the war’s start, describes the “rage militaire” of 1775, and then proceeds through the early war years in a series of chapters with religious titles and analogous themes: 1776: The Army of Israel, Jericho, and The Promised Land. The second half of the book focuses on Valley Forge, Treason, Division, and finally Legacy. It is in this final chapter that Royster brings together his analysis of the whole of the American experience at war.
This work is intended for students of early American history and particularly those who want to better understand the American Revolution. It should also find interest among military historians because of its focus on the experience of soldiers in the American Army of Independence as well as the institutional history of America’s armed forces. Royster’s forays into the realms of sociology, psychology, political, and civic history, should allow the book to find even broader readership. The work’s extensive notes section is worth mention. There is also an essay in the appendix that challenges some other authors who draw conclusions too quickly from statistics about American soldiers who fought in the Revolution, many of whom were both young and poor. The book is particularly noteworthy for its use of readily available primary sources but fresh approach to the information contained therein. His presentation is entirely satisfying albeit occasionally repetitive. One of the clear strengths of the book is its introduction to the reader of a broad number of characters of the period often through their own narrative or those of others around them.
Charles Royster brings impressive credentials to his work which is a shortened version of his doctoral dissertation. He received all of his degrees from the University of California, Berkeley including an A.B. (1966), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1977). At the time of the book’s publication, Dr. Royster was assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He is now professor of history at the Louisiana State University. Royster has amassed an impressive list of publications several of which received academically recognized awards. His work Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans won the Bancroft Prize, The Lincoln Prize, and the Charles S. Sydnor Award in Southern History. A Revolutionary People at War was recognized with the 1981 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the 1979 John D. Rockefeller III Award, the 1981 National Historical Society Book Prize, the 1980 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award from the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, and the 1980 Silver Medal, Nonfiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.
Overall, Royster provides an excellent addition to scholarship of early America.
Edward Hagerman. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. Reprint. Indiana University Press, 1992.
In this important work on tactical and strategic military history, Edward Hagerman posits that the American Civil War marshaled in a new era in land warfare colored by the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. He argues that the complete command and control systems of armies was impacted by factors both occurring across the globe (i.e. technological developments in weaponry and transportation) and unique to America: its culture, geography, and history.
Hagerman is clear in setting two broad aims for the book. The first is to provide a new analysis of the “theory, doctrine, and practice of field fortification in the tactical evolution of trench warfare.” The second is to analyze the development of field transportation and supply and its impact of the movement and maneuvering of Civil War armies
Hagerman organizes his study around several themes. The first addresses the ideas and education that informed the American military including the influence of theorists such as Jomini, Clausewitz, and at West Point, Dennis Hart Mahan. Secondly he looks at the organizational change, or lack thereof, in the Army of the Potomac including an explanation of the educational orientation of its leaders. Thirdly he explores the Army of Northern Virginia and the culture and traditions which informed men of the south who entered the military. Next he dives into the emergence of trench warfare and the strategic and tactical evolution that resulted from it. And importantly, he finishes with the evolution of total war and the strategy of exhaustion.
This work should be of particular interest to military historians and even more so to those interested in the American Civil War and its impact on military logistics, the use of technology, weaponology, military tactical and strategic thought, and the concepts of modern warfare and its history.
There is an extensive notes section valuable to the serious student of military history. This is augmented by a “Works Cited” section including listings of primary sources. The introduction to the book provides an exceptional summary of many of the key factors that impacted the war.
Edward Hagerman brings to this study the credentials of academician. He was Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada at the time of the book’s publication. He is also the recipient of the Moncado Prize of the Society of Military History.
As I finish up my final paper, I’ve gone back to the first book read for my class, “Studies in U.S. Military History.”
Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, 1999.
In this unusual book about King Phillip’s War, Lepore sets out to study war and how people write about it. She suggests that writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it. And writing can be essential to winning a war. Her work is thus in its essence about words and how they are used to both describe and impact the outcome of war. She concludes that “truth in war is relative,” a profoundly insightful statement that gets to the core of why many wars are waged in the first place, the clashing of points of view. And so, she concludes, “war is a contest of injuries and interpretation.” Lepore’s opening chapter, “What’s in a Name?” is nothing less than masterful.
To the victor go the spoils but also the power to explain the war completely to his advantage. For the loser, whether dead or defeated, loses his voice.
Belatedly, I want to mention that I’ve received a pre-publication copy of Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea, which I’ll hope to provide a full review of before too long. At first blush, it appears to be an excellent read.
Since this book falls into the category of Civil War Campaigns, I’ve added a shelf in my virtual bookstore to accommodate it which you can find here.
As a student of military history, one of the many things that I find so fascinating about Sherman’s march is that its destructive power encourages its consideration as “total war” a la Clausewitz. Can’t wait to dig in to this one.
For those of you in the Chicago area, Mr. Trudeau’s publisher Harper Collins, indicates that he will be publicizing his book at the following on Thursdays.
05:00 PM – 07:30 PM
PRITZKER MILITARY LIBRARY
2nd FL 610 N Fairbanks Court Chicago, IL 60611
Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here, 3 here, and 4 here. In posts 3 and 4, I introduced the captains and vessels of one of the most famous naval engagements of the American Civil War, the sea battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsarge. And now to the battle…
Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, in their fascinating book Manet and the American Civil War, do an excellent job of sifting through sources for a non-partisan view of the events of Sunday, June 19, 1864, a view without the “spin” of media. 
The C.S.S. Alabama anchored in the Cherbourg roads, “a huge sheet of calm water sheltered from Channel currents by a breakwater,” on June 11, 1864. It had stopped to disembark 40 captives taken during raids on U.S. merchant ships and to refuel. Captain Semmes asked permission of “Vice Admiral Adolphe-Augustin Dupouy, head of the naval district headquartered in Cherbourg,” to have the Alabama undergo repairs in the naval doc.  The offer was denied and the request withdrawn. Semmes was now well aware that Captain Winslow and his U.S.S. Kearsarge had come after the Confederate raider and was hovering offshore in wait. While the French attempted diplomatic maneuvers, Captain Semmes informed Samuel Barron, “his senior officer in Paris,” that he intended to fight Winslow. 
“On the morning of Sunday, June 19, Alabama left the Cherbourg roads followed by the French navy flagship, Couronne, and accompanied by a steam yacht flying the Union Jack and a British yach club flag. Alabama fired the first shot. Having elected to fight starboard to starboard, Alabama and Kearsarge then steamed in interlocking circles five to seven times as the current pushed them west. Alabama sank, and Kearsarge returned to anchor on the land side of Cherbourg’s breakwater.” 
This from George Terry Sinclair, a native of Virginia sent to Europe in 1862 to buy ships for the Confederate Navy, in a letter to his immediate superior, Samuel Barron.
“After some exchanges at long range, they passed each other, using their starboard batteries. They then passed & repassed, always using the same battery (which Semmes had told me was his intention) after passing the seventh eighth time, I observed Semmes make sail forward, and stand in, and I thought I saw smoke issuing from the ship.” 
He was told by another observer that “Alabama ‘went down with her colors flying…the Flag… was the last thing to disappear.’ Sinclair’s own view of the climactic moment had been obscured by a house.” 
In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.
 Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 31.
 Ibid., 28-29.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 28, 31.
 Ibid., 31-32.
 Ibid., 32.
Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here), in post 3 here, I introduced Captain Semmes of the C.S.S. Alabama, the target of U.S.S. Kearsarge in the waters off of Cherbourg France in 1864. This post provides background on the Kearsarge and her captain, John A. Winslow.
According to authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War, the U.S.S. Kearsarge was ordered built by U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (click here for bio) in 1861 as a part of the Civil War emergency shipbuilding program intended to augment the number of vessels available for blockade duty. 
As of March 4, 1961, the U.S. Navy possessed ninety vessels, twenty-one of which were being overhauled of those remaining only twenty-four were in commission. U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles needed many more than that to blockade a coastline 3,500 miles long. Welles therefore launched an ambitious program of acquisition and construction. U.S.S. Kearsarge was one of the steam sloops that he ordered to be built. It was roughly 198 feet long, 34 feet across, and displaced 1,550 tons, third-rate in the navy’s classification system. Construction began on June 17, 1861. 
The U.S.S. Kearsarge “was a Mohican class steam sloop of war, and was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine. She was commissioned in January 1862 and almost immediately deployed to European waters, where she spent nearly three years searching for Confederate raiders.” 
Her captain was John Ancrum Winslow (1811 – 1873), appointed in April of 1863 and given the task of patrolling European waters for Confederate raiders. He had begun his career as a midshipman in 1827 and saw action in the Mexican War and along the Mississippi during the Civil War.
In the next post, the sea battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama.
U.S. Library of Congress for photo of Gideon Welles available at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpb.04842 , accessed August 18, 2008.
[1,3] Naval Historical Center, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-k/kearsarg.htm, accessed August 18, 2008.
 Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 25.
I ran across this word in my reading today and have added it to “the terms” page (here) where I collect definitions of words I didn’t know. I’m continuing to finish the last book in my current course on Studies in U.S. Military History, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson. This book is filled with new terms, many associated with the vernacular of modern warriors. I’ll have some catching up to do on the terms page after the course.
Here is the context of Atkinson’s usage of thalassocracy.
If desert warfare seized the imagination of American Army commanders, the battleship held similar sway over many a sea dog. Her strategic value had long been eclipsed by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. As a tactical weapon she appeared doomed to follow the crossbow and blunderbuss. Yet, for traditionalists, no maritime silhouette better symbolized the American thalassocracy: the pugnacious, jutting bow the looming superstructure; the trio of triple-barreled turrets, each heavy as a frigate. When employed as a gun platform, she remained nonpareil, capable of tossing a shell with the heft of an automobile more than twenty miles. In the gulf war, her hour had come round at last. (Atkinson, 259)
n. pl. thal·as·soc·ra·cies
Naval or commercial supremacy on the seas.
[Greek thalassokratiā : thalassa, sea + -kratiā, -cracy.]
tha·las’so·crat’ (thə-lās’ə-krāt’) n.
thalassocracy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thalassocracy (accessed: August 17, 2008).
By the way, I’ve been so impressed with Rick Atkinson’s well researched book that I’ve purchased all of his other works including An Army at Dawn which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. See it on my virtual bookshelves here. Photo source: The Library of Congress which includes a biography here. I’ll be adding Mr Atkinson to my “the historians” page shortly.
Dave Rosenthal, the Sunday and Readership Editor for the Baltimore Sun, asked me to contribute to a discussion of Civil War Books on their book blog, Read Street. I’m up for any opportunity to talk about books. Check out my recommendations and those of fellow commentators here.
Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”
The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]
The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]
[i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
Continuing from post 1 here, in this post I explore the life of Edouard Manet, the artist. Born in 1832 to upper-middle class parents, Manet’s father was a magistrate who had hopes that his oldest son would follow him in his profession. But young Edouard had no interest in law and though attracted to art, decided to go to sea. But he couldn’t pass the French Navy’s entrance exam. Authors Wilson-Bareau and Degener provide a fascinating glimpse into the system by which young men could qualify for careers in the French Navy in their book Manet and the American Civil War which provides the reference for this series. A sixteen year old Manet would spend several months aboard the vessel, Le Havre et Guadeloupe on a trip for the sons of the wealthy who had failed the exam and could qualify to retake it if they sailed across the equator. The ship was staffed with teachers tasked with drilling the boys in the topics required for the naval exam. Manet failed the test again regardless but was exposed to the sea to a greater extent than most Frenchmen. (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 12-13)
Manet had another tie to the military. His interest in drawing and art was sparked by an uncle who was “attached to the [Army] artillery school who spent a lot of his time sketching…” (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 13-14)
“The schoolboy soon fell under the spell of blended lines and blurred cross-hatching. [Note: For a great glimpse of crosshatching, see a post at the blog, Big Time Attic here.) From that moment on, he had only one calling. He neglected his compositions and translations and filled the blank pages of his notebooks not with schoolwork but with portraits, landscapes, and fantasies.” (Ibid)
This diversion would lead Manet to produce arguably one of the most famous paintings of the naval engagement between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, that took place in June of 1864 off France’s Normandy coast.
Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
In the next post, the ships engaged in the battle.
A recently received a gift of a book that I am thrilled to add to my library. It is, Manet and the American Civil War published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [which I had the opportunity to visit for the first time this year], and Yale University Press. It is co-authored by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “an independent art historian based in London” and David C. Degener, an independent researcher based in San Francisco.
The book’s primary focus is the battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama. This from the front flap which provides an eloquent introduction to the book which I could not better….
“On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulonge-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Edouard Manet. Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after being ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulonge whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French paintings.”
In part 2, more on Edouard Manet followed in subsequent posts about the two ships and their encounter across the Atlantic.
Note that I have added a shelf to my online library titled “Civil War Art and Artists.” You can access that shelf here. I will shortly cross-reference this book on the Naval History shelf as well.
P. Balaram in his editorial for Current Science titled “Science, Technology and War,” describes the widespread use of incendiaries and chemical defoliants which, he suggests, “reached its peak during the Vietnam War, with the United States resorting to napalm bombs and the spraying of herbicides like Agent Orange (dioxins),” with, unfortunately, “little regard for human toxicity.”
Alex Roland describes the predictable phenomena that “armed services in the United States found themselves competing with each other to claim precedence in fielding the same technology.” Krepinevich confirms this in his description of the competition between the Army and the Air Force in the formation of the “airmobile concept.”
Interestingly, Roland claims that “the drive toward ever more sophisticated weaponry reached a climax of sorts in the American decade (1965-1975) of the Vietnam struggle for independence (1945-1975).” As Krepinevich also clearly argues, “prompted in part by the superiority of its weaponry, the United States military undertook the Vietnam mission of fighting a guerrilla insurgency with conventional arms developed for war on the plains of Europe.
Sensing devices were introduced to locate the enemy. The helicopter gunship evolved in the course of the war, a combat expedient to give Americans superior mobility and firepower in the face of an elusive and potent enemy. Strategic bombing targeted the enemy’s infrastructure as if North Vietnam was an industrialized state with the same vulnerabilities as the United States.”
But the fact remains that the advanced technological prowess brought to bear by the United States in the Vietnam conflict did not result in a victory. Rather, as Roland so aptly puts it, while exacting a horrific toll, the side with “superior technology lost to superior strategy.” So while the United States continues to lead the world in the technologies of war, a support of Millet and Maslowski’s premise, equal prowess in other facets of war are required to ensure success, a notion that remains true today.
P. Balaram, “Science, Technology and War,” Current Science, Vol. 84, Number 7, 10 April 2003. http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/apr102003/859.pdf Accessed 13 July 2008.
Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html
Accessed 13 July 2008.
Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.
The growth in level of focus that the United States has placed on technology as manifested by the Vietnam War era cannot be stated better than by Andrew F. Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam) who posited that the United States’ army was “equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology had assumed the role of a god of war.” 
Air power technologies continued to grow in importance throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The helicopter was used in the Korean War for both removal of wounded and the shuttling of commanders to and from the front. Use of helicopters in Vietnam was extensive as a tool for troop mobility and weapon. Roy E. Appleton (East of Chosin) describes the masterful albeit not flawless use of Marine Corsairs in support of ground troops and their ability to deliver deadly machine gun and rocket fire as well as napalm.  Use of radio communication between ground personnel (air controllers of the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) and fighter and bomber pilots was also impressive in ensuring that strikes hit their mark.
More in Part 4.
 Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
 Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991
This post continues on the theme introduced in post 1 here.
The growth in technological firepower was certainly evident in the Korean War. Roy Appleton in his fascinating work, East of Chosin (see previous post here) brings to life the murderous effect of mobile artillery including the M19 full-track (dual-40) below as used by trained American soldiers in their desperate defense of positions east of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
The two 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns which were mounted on revolving turret wreaked havoc among attacking Chinese soldiers as long as ammunition held out as did quad-50s.
That said, the effects of the extreme cold and lack of fuel also showed the weapon’s vulnerability as a mobile gun platform. Tanks were used by the American’s as well although Appleman covers well their limitations on icy terrain in Korea. The American’s use of 75-mm recoilless rifle (below) was also deadly, especially when in the hands of trained gunners. Likewise, the use by Chinese soldiers of American-made Thompson submachine guns showed the destructive power of automatic small arms against U.S. forces.
More in part 3.
My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.
Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.” The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]
More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.
[i] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.
[ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.
I’m a fan of Jack Coggins. An author and illustrator, Coggins has captured some golden nuggets of information in his book, Arms and Equipment of the Civil War. He has also written and illustrated a number of other mlitary history books no doubt influenced by his tour of duty as illustrator for YANK magazine during World War II. Members of Coggins extended family have put up a website (quite well done) by way of tribute to Jack. You can reach it here.
“How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology had assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”
From a letter by Private Mathew A. Dunn of Company C, 33rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, to his wife shortly after the Battle of Peachtree Creek.
“Our Reg. suffered worse than any other, being on the flank and was exposed to an enfilading fire. We lost our Col. He charged waving his Sword until he fell.”
Battle of Peachtree Creek
Source: Wikipedia Commons
The following are definitions from several sources.
- Gunfire directed along the length of a target, such as a column of troops.
- A target vulnerable to sweeping gunfire.
tr.v. en·fi·lad·ed, en·fi·lad·ing, en·fi·lades
To rake with gunfire.
[French, series, string, row, from enfiler, to string together, run through, from Old French : en-, in, on; see en-1 + fil, thread (from Latin fīlum; see gwhī- in Indo-European roots).]
Source: enfilade. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enfilade [accessed: July 06, 2008].
1706, from F. enfilade, from O.Fr. enfiler “to thread (a needle) on a string, pierce from end to end,” from en- “put on” + fil “thread.” Used of rows of apartments and lines of trees before modern military sense came to predominate.
Source: enfilade. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enfilade [accessed: July 06, 2008].
En`fi*lade”\ (?; 277), n. [F., fr. enfiler to thread, go through a street or square, rake with shot; pref. en- (L. in) + fil thread. 1. A line or straight passage, or the position of that which lies in a straight line. [R.] 2. (Mil.) A firing in the direction of the length of a trench, or a line of parapet or troops, etc.; a raking fire.
Source: enfilade. Dictionary.com. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enfilade [accessed: July 06, 2008]
This week I continue reading as a part of my class on Studies in U.S. Military History East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950 by Roy E. Appleman. In chronicles in great detail a little remembered event in the bone chilling winter of 1950 as a team of American infantry 3000 strong are caught by a surprise massing of Chinese and attacked in their position east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Only 385 survived.
The contrast between my comfortable holiday weekend in a mid-summer American suburb and the desperate events that took place east of Chosin that winter couldn’t be greater.
- Author: Roy E. Appleman
- ISBN-10: 0-89096-465-3
- Published on: 1991-03
- Number of items: 1
- Binding: Paperback
- 416 pages
A tip of my hat to Mr. Appleman (1904 – 1992) (see biography here and photo below) for an excellent piece of military history. His research and use of first person accounts is exemplary. The book is nothing short of spellbounding.
Roy E. Appleman (1904 – 1992)
Photo Credit: National Park Service
The 1st Marine Division fought on the west side of the Chosin Reservoir in equally desperate battle. I discovered a website that collects information about the conflicts that took place near the reservoir here. Available on the site is an essay by Patrick C. Roe (Major, USMC, Ret) about the destruction of the 31st Infantry east of Chosin. There is also a picture gallery.
Always in search of primary sources relevant to military history, I wanted to pass along the following find.
The Online Library of Liberty is a free access website maintained by the Liberty Fund, Inc.
The Liberty Fund Library provides online resources in multiple categories including philosophy, art, economics, war and peace and much, much more. It provides both a forum and the library of resources. Both are excellent. It also has robust search capabilities.
Of particular interest for the study of military thought is a full version of many of Machiavelli’s (below) writings made available in English here. [See a good biography of Niccola Machiavelli here.]
This allows students to view directly not only Machiavelli’s Art of War (here), but also his more famous work, The Prince and Discourses on Livy. Versions are available for download in multiple formats including: html, pdf and ebook formats.
Also available on the site – in the category of war and peace – are: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s final address, Thomas Hobbs’ translation of Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian Wars (Vol. 1 and 2), Rousseau and many more. The site provides an outstanding overview of history and thought with access to hundreds of other primary works.
I’ll be enthusiastically adding to my links.
While on vacation, I received a review copy of David H. Jones’ Two Brothers: One North, One South.
This has moved very quickly up to the top of my reading stack for between terms. It is an aesthetically beautiful book. And I’m impressed by the weaving of fact into the story. I’m also hooked by the notion that poet Walt Whitman is the story’s glue. Can’t wait and more to come once I can put my feet up on the porch and enjoy.
By the way, Mr. Jones maintains a website here and a blog here which carries the same title as his book but covers more information. I’m adding it to my blogroll as I rather like the information and really do enjoy following the blogs or historical authors.
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher:Staghorn Press; First edition [February 1, 2008]
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0979689856
- ISBN-13: 978-0979689857
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
Please note that I’m in process of adding more links to the right nav bar under the heading of “Reading Lists.” Collected here are professional military reading lists and those associated with universities in military history. These lists are really quite interesting and range from the classical works of military theorists to the latest in business leadership. If you find a list I don’t have noted, please let me know.
Those of you who follow my postings know that I’ve ruminated a bit on Jomini (pictured above). You can find the complete list of related posts here. For those who find discussion of Jomini and Clausewitz interesting, I wanted to pass along a link to an excellent essay by Major Gregory Ebner titled “Scientific Optimism: Jomini and the U.S. Army” available here. Ebner, in an essay that appears as a featured article in The U.S. Army Professional Writing Collection, makes a case for how the U. S. Army presents itself as a Clausewitzian organization at upper levels but is “firmly rooted in the ideals of Antoine-Henry Jomini” at the tactical and operational levels. He posits that focus on “good staff work and the military decision-making process (MDMP)” reflects a reliance on military science and method over the application of genius as espoused by Clausewitz. He further suggests that the Principles of War developed by the U.S. Amy was an encoding of Jomini in the form of doctrine. This essay is instructive to the study of military philosophers and military thought on several fronts. First, for the military philosophy student, it reinforces the theories of both Clausewitz and Jomini and would therefore make an excellent reading assignment after studying the primary works of both theorists. Second, it provides insight into the extent to which the largest army in present day has adopted and incorporated the ideas of both men at the doctrinal and operational levels.
For more information:
By way of housekeeping, I’ve updated the Popular Series Posts page on the right nav bar titled Civil War Railroads here with the latest series of posts titled “Stewards of Civil War Railroads.”
Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
Continuing with my May book acquisitions which illustrate, as said by Civil War Interactive’s comments on my blog this week, why bank robbery may be needed to support my book-buying habits…
This looks like a great read. Author Tom Wheeler, an accomplished man by any measure, has a terrific website here with more about his book and research. This has moved to the top of my list of reading for between terms.
I have DISCOVERED Dr. Hess and the growing list of terrific titles he has published on the Civil War. No doubt his other books will show up in my library before long. Dr. Hess, who has impressive academic credentials, has a website here. His book, Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
I’ve been intending to pick this up. Authored by military history professor and fellow blogger Mark Grimsley, it too is at the top of my reading list. Dr. Grimsley’s OSU webpage is here. His blog is here.
Retreat to Victory?: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
By Robert G. Tanner
My post, “Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War” here, lead me to this book. One of my readers recommended it and suggests that it proves that the Confederacy could not have used the Fabian strategy effectively. I’m looking forward to this one.
Jav Luvaas is another prolific writer of military history and my collection of his books is growing. I first discovered his work while taking the course, Great Military Philosopers (see “The Courses” page here for details. I picked up his titles: Napoleon on the Art of War and Frederick the Great on the Art of War.
I’ll be adding these authors to my “The Historians” page shortly.
Catching up on acquisitions of new books in May. I’ve really got to get on a book budget.
Note that I’ve added two new category pages to my vitural bookshelves here. These include:
I’ve added serveral recommended military history reference books.
Encyclopedia of American Military History (3 beautiful volumes!)
The Reader’s Companion to Military History
By Society for Military History
By Max Boot
Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364
Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.
Above: Lincoln and McClellan
The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.
Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
This post continues from Part I, here.
Jefferson Davis (above) and the Confederate Congress, by contrast, were reluctant to wrestle control of the railroads away from civilian owners. This was consistent with a laissez faire pattern exhibited by Davis on a number of issues involving civilian commercial interests and may have been a response to the populace’s opposition to overbearing centralized government. The consequences were dire for Lee. In the winter of 1862, he found his Army of Northern Virginia completely reliant on its communications. [i]
Above: Pocotaligo, South Carolina - Railroad depot center of image surrounded by rough sketch of soldiers and covered wagons. Circa: 1865
Medium: 1 drawing on tan paper : pencil, black ink wash, and Chinese white ; 14.7 x 21.4 cm. (sheet).
Source: Library of Congress Ref: LC-USZ62-14306 (b&w film copy neg.)
With the mobility, indeed the survival, of the army dependent on the efficient use of the railroads, the railroad owners responded with an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate. Government shipments were accorded low priority. The railroads over which the animals’ feed had to be transported refused to use the space for bulk fodder. The breakdown of the railroad system led to a crisis in the supply of horses, mules, fodder, and subsistence. The Army of Northern Virginia was left hanging at the end of its lines of communications.[ii]
Above: Warrenton Depot, on the Orange & Alexandria RR, in August 1862. Supply point for Lee.
Davis’ refusal to give greater control to the military for operation of the railroads added to “the weight of this burden of waging war by improvisation within the confines of the Confederacy’s social and political ideals [and] helped break the back of Confederate offensive power.” [iii]
Edward Hagerman notes that problems continued into 1863 as “conflicts between the commissary agents of field commanders and those of the [Confederate] Subsistence Department hampered efficient gathering of available resources.” [iv] The largest obstacle was “the failure of the railroads to cooperate in the distribution of food surpluses from other states to the Army of Northern Virginia. Neither the army nor the government exercised any control over the railroads.” [v] It wasn’t until Lee’s army was faced with starvation that the Confederate Congress intervened. In April of 1863, it “hesitantly” granted Jefferson Davis the “authority to regulate the railroads.” [vi]
The laissez faire-minded Davis was as reluctant to accept the authority as the Confederate Congress was to bestow it. Here was the instrument to prevent a recurrence of the crisis of the past winter. It would enable through scheduling the interchange of rolling stock from one railroad to another. It also would enable the War Department, rather than the railroad owners, to decide on the priority of material to be transported. [vii]
Davis signed the bill into law but Congress ensured its ineffectiveness by failing to approve an “office of railroad superintendent” as proposed by the secretary of war and by sacking the temporary appointee. [viii] “Not until early 1865, far too late, did the Confederacy finally take control of the railroads.” [ix]
[i, ii, iii] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 121.
[iv, v] Ibid., 130.
[vi, vii, viii] Ibid., 131.
[ix] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, 165.
The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.
Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i] In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii] Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).
Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain
In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.
Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad
In the next post, the action of the South.
You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:
[i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
[ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.