Wig-Wags

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

Archive for the ‘Writing about History’ Category

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…

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!

Next Class: Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War

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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.

Required Texts:

TBD once the syllabus is available. For now, the list is as follows which is very light in comparison with my last class:

Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company

Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine

Publisher: Hill and Wang

Road to Disunion : Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 by William W. Freehling

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Since I read 14 books in Studies in U.S. Military History (a challenge but I loved IT!), this may be a light reading term.
Because William Freehling’s book, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836, received such high acclaim, I’ve purchased it as well.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Finally, it would not surprise me at all if Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, What Hath God Wrought, was added to the reading list as well.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
All of these texts can be found on the “Antebellum America” shelf of my virtual library here.

The Philippine War, 1899-1902

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Brian McAllister Linn. The Philippine War, 1899-1902. Reprint. University Press of Kansas, 2000.

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.

Emilio Aguinaldo

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.

New Addition – Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

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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.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN-10: 1401323316
ISBN-13: 978-140132331

Sweetsmoke

A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783

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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.

Manet and the American Civil War – 5: The Sea Battle Between The Kearsarge and the Alabama

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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. [2]

"The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]
The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. Contemporary line engraving, depicting an early stage in the battle. Alabama is on the right, with Kearsarge in the left distance. Courtesy of F.S. Hicks. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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. [3] 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. [4]

“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.” [5]

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.” [6]

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.” [7]
 

Charles Longueville. Combat naval (L’Alabama coulant sous le feu de Kearsage [sic]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.

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[1] 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.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 28-29.
[4] Ibid., 31.
[5] Ibid., 28, 31.
[6] Ibid., 31-32.
[7] Ibid., 32.