Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for the ‘Military History’ Category

New: A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598

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It’s always a pleasure to receive a book about military history that’s a bit outside of my primary focus because invariably I learn something that informs my study. The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy of a new book by Kenneth M. Swope, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. The book becomes Volume 20 of the Campaigns & Commanders Series edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin from Temple University.

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Professor Swope (left) has labeled this conflict, which included Japan, China, and Korea, as “the first great Asian War.” His is the first full-length scholarly study in English of a six year military event was pivotal to the history of warfare, drove advancement in military technologies, and produced naval battles that rivaled any in Europe.

Impressive is an extremely rich Bibliography, solid Notes, and a “Selected Chinese Character List. Swope also provides a “Dramatis Personae” section to assist with keeping the long list of players straight, a table of “Chinese Weights and Measures,” and a “Timeline of the War.” Eleven maps and fifteen illustrations are also included, the latter not for the squeamish.

I’ll be making time to read. Here’s a snippet from the Introduction…

Tucked away in a back alley of Kyoto, largely ignored amid the temples, pagodas, castles, and teahouses, stands a curious monument to the cold, calculating callousness of war in early modern East Asia. Called “Kyoto‘s least mentioned and most-often-avoided tourist attractions” by one scholar, the Mimizuka (Mound of Ears) and children’s playground actually contains what is left of thousands of severed and pickled Chines and Korean noses sent back to Japan’s overlord and instigator of the First Great East Asian War of 1592-98, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98).

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Because heads, the normal proof offered to gain rewards for one’s deeds in battle in Japan, were too large and unwieldy to ship overseas, the Japanese resorted to severing the noses of slain foes and sending them home to satisfy the kampaku’s thirst for revenge against those who refused to accept his primacy in East Asia. Hideyoshi‘s men were assigned a quota of three Korean (or Chinese) noses per soldier. Although modern estimates vary, it is generally accepted that 100,000-200,000 noses eventually reached Japan, though some Koreans apparently survived the ordeal and spent the rest of their days without noses.

A photo of a Mimizuka shrine. Used with the permission of Nils Ferry (planetkyoto.com). {{CopyrightedFreeUse}})

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Class Starting on Monday – Civil War Strategy and Tactics

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Jomini

After a delay of several weeks due to work obligations (reorganization), I’m starting up on Monday the course CIvil War Strategy and Tactics with great enthusiasm. Having seen the syllabus, I know that we begin with a discussion/debate of Jomini’s (pictured right) influence on the strategies employed by both sides during the Civil War. We read, (or in my case read again, as  this was assigned in the course Great Military Philosophers), John Shy’s masterful essay on Jomini that appears in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Do a search on my blog on the word Jomini (or click here as I’ve done it for you) and you may be as amazed as I was on the number of posts I’ve made about him.

makers

See previous posts about the class below outlining the texts we’ll be using.

Next Course: Civil War Strategy and Tactics

New Class Starts with Jomini

Next Term’s Books are In! Mostly…

Book Review: Two Brothers, One North, One South

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Jones, David H. Two Brothers, One North, One South. Encino, CA: Staghorn Press, 2008. 320pp, ISBN 13: 978-0-9796898-5-7, $24.95.

two-brothersIn his historical novel, David H. Jones tells the story of the the Prentiss brothers, William and Clifton, who fight on opposite sides of the American Civil War. The primary narrator is era poet, Walt Whitman, who befriends a dying William in the military hospital at the close of the war. In the young Confederate’s final days, he recounts to Mr. Whitman his experiences which Whitman, in turn, finds opportunity to share with brother Clifton, a Union officer, who lies wounded in the same hospital. They are joined by family members who collect around Clifton following William’s death.

The story tells of young Southern men dashing off to join the fight and courageous Southern women who persuade politicos to contribute arms and supplies to Southern recruits and who even become blockade runners to ensure that those supplies reach the troops.  We are witness to a number of key battles of the war, introduced to the weapons used, and generally educated about what it would have been like to serve in, primarily, the Confederate ranks. There is significantly less information provided through the storyline about the war experiences of brother Clifton and the Northern perspective.

What is unique about the novel is that the brothers featured were real and many will find the facts surrounding their lives, so carefully researched, intriguing. The presentation of the novel is also stylistically unique in that it is written using the formal language of the era.

I had the sense in reading Two Brothers that Jones struggled to nail down the book’s genre as he set about writing it. The work often resembles non-fiction with much “telling” of history rather than the “showing” of character-driven action and drama that makes for good fiction. While the “telling” made for interesting history, as a piece of fiction, the book was less than satisfying. That said, Civil War buffs will enjoy the military aspects of the book which are well researched.

Acquisition: An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942 – 1943 Plus…

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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.

anarmyatdawn

Paperback: 768 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised edition (May 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805087249
ISBN-13: 978-0805087246

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.

the-day-of-battle

Paperback: 848 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080508861X
ISBN-13: 978-0805088618

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!

American Rifle, A Biography

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Under the guise of a Christmas gift for my husband, I have acquired a copy of Alexander Rose’s new book, American Rifle, A Biography. I have reluctantly agreed with him that he should thus have the opportunity to read it first.

Alex has been getting some outstanding reviews including one from the Washington Post which you can read here. You can catch up on more reviews over at Alex’s blog here.

americanrifle

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (October 21, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0553805177
ISBN-13: 978-0553805178
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches

Lincoln and His Admirals

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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.

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Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195310225
ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches

Civil War Battlefield Assessment – Vicksburg National Military Park Scores only “Fair”

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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.]

National Park Service Photo: Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the siege of Vicksburg and the ensuing battle, widely considered one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War.

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.

National Park Service Photo: Hovey's Approach. Vicksburg National Military Park.