Foolish Thing in the Balkans

 

Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.

Otto von Bismarck,  said during the Congress of Berlin in 1878

(I posted this at The American Catholic and I assumed the history mavens of Almost Chosen People would enjoy reading it.)

One hundred years ago the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, setting off a chain of events leading to World War I, the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, the reshaping of the map of Europe, ultimately to the rise of Nazism and World War II.  The deadliest bullets fired in the course of history were those fired by Gavrilo Princip.

Looking back, one is struck by how slow contemporaries were to grasp where events were heading.  The general feeling was that this crisis would be ultimately resolved and that war would be avoided, perhaps by a meeting of the great powers.  Alas such was not to be.  Austria used the assassination as a pretext to militarily settle accounts with Serbia.  Kaiser Wilhelm, against the advice of wiser heads among his advisors, gave Austria a blank check.  Russia would inevitably enter the war on the side of Serbia, which would bring in her ally France.  Germany would quickly be fighting a two front war.  The German invasion plan of France required an invasion of Belgium which would bring Britain into the war.  All of these domino actions were clear enough at the time, but the powers that be in each of the Great Powers assumed that their adversaries would back down rather than risk a general war.  Such was not the case.

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, was preoccupied, as was the rest of the British cabinet, with the issue of Irish Home Rule, which threatened to lead to violent clashes in Ireland and a possible revolt by segments of the British Army in Ireland against Home Rule.  This was a major crisis and it was not until July 25, 1914 that Churchill grasped what was coming on the Continent.  After a long discussion on the issue of Home Rule in Ireland. the Foreign Secretary read to the cabinet the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia:

“We were all very tired, but gradually as the sentences and phrases followed one another, impressions of a wholly different character began to form in my mind.  As the reading proceeded it seemed absolutely impossible that any State in the world could accept it, or that any acceptance, however abject, would satisfy the aggressor.  The parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange light began immediately, but by perceptible gradations, to fall and grow upon the map of Europe.” (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Foolish Thing in the Balkans  
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Revolution, Independence and Schoolhouse Rock

 

Something for the weekend.  I loved these schoolhouse rock videos when they were first broadcast back in the Seventies right before the bicentennial.  Among a fair number of kids I knew they sparked an interest in history.  Of the videos, I believe No More Kings has the catchiest tune.  For a cartoon, The Shot Heard Round the World does a fairly good job of conveying information about the Revolution in a very short span of time:  it manages to include the opening battles of the war, Washington as the central figure of the war, the role of the militia, the endurance of the Continentals, the battle of Trenton, Valley Forge, the frequent defeats of the Americans, the importance of diplomacy and foreign intervention, and the decisive victory at Yorktown.  Fireworks is a nice opening view of the Declaration for kids.  If readers have kids, or if, like me, part of them has never really grown up, watching these cartoons can be a good way to get into the Fourth of July spirit! (more…)

June 27, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Kennesaw_Mountain

I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war

they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this memorable day,
every man in our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea,
five score men. I mean from twenty to one hundred each. All that was
necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the
reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their
living men passing over the bodies of their dead. The ground was piled
up with one solid mass of dead and wounded Yankees. I learned afterwards
from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord
wood, twelve deep.
Private Sam Watkins, Company H, First Tennessee Infantry

 

Throughout his maneuvers to slow Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, General Joseph Johnston often occupied strong positions that he hoped Sherman would assault.  At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 he got his wish.

Following the battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27,1864, go here to read about it, the Union and Confederate armies would spend June with Sherman attempting to find some way to outflank or make his way through the defensive lines constructed by Johnston to defend Marietta, Georgia, and his rail supply line.

 

atlanta_campaign_17-27

Sherman having successfully turned his initial line, Johnston fell back on a previously prepared fortified line astride Kennesaw Mountain, an immensely strong position, on June 18-19.  Sherman’s attempt to turn the left of Johnston’s position came to a halt at the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22.  Here Hood, in a foreshadowing of dark days to come for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had his corps attack without adequate reconnaissance and incurred heavy losses of 1500 to 250 Union.  Nonetheless, Sherman’s flanking movement was stopped.

Growing impatient, on June 27 Sherman launched the last frontal assault of his career.  Assuming that Johnston had stretched his line too thin, Sherman attacked the Confederate center.  The attack began with a furious cannonade at 8:00 AM involving 200 cannon.  The Union attack went in and was bloodily repulsed with 3000 Union casualties to 1000 Confederates.  The fighting was over by 10:45 AM.  Sherman twice urged General Thomas to renew the assault.  Thomas flatly refused, saying “One or two more such assaults would use up this army.” 

The aftermath of the battle was anti-climactic.  The armies stood facing each other for five days, until July 2, 1864 when Sherman again attempted to outflank Johnston’s left, this time with success, Johnston retreating to prepared lines at Smyrna.  Here is Sherman’s account of the battle in his memoirs:

 

On the 23d of June I telegraphed to General Halleck this summary, which I cannot again better state:

We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against fortified positions. The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least fifty miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. On the 21st General Stanley gained a position near the south end of Kenesaw, from which the enemy attempted in vain to drive him; and the same day General T. J. Wood’s division took a hill, which the enemy assaulted three times at night without success, leaving more than a hundred dead on the ground. Yesterday the extreme right (Hooker and Schofield) advanced on the Powder Springs road to within three miles of Marietta. The enemy made a strong effort to drive them away, but failed signally, leaving more than two hundred dead on the field. Our lines are now in close contact, and the fighting is incessant, with a good deal of artillery-fire. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another all ready, but I think he will soon have to let go Kenesaw, which is the key to the whole country. The weather is now better, and the roads are drying up fast. Our losses are light, and, not-withstanding the repeated breaks of the road to our rear, supplies are ample.

During the 24th and 25th of June General Schofield extended his right as far as prudent, so as to compel the enemy to thin out his lines correspondingly, with the intention to make two strong assaults at points where success would give us the greatest advantage. I had consulted Generals Thomas, McPherson, and Schofield, and we all agreed that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to attack “fortified lines,” a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half. The 27th of June was fixed as the day for the attempt, and in order to oversee the whole, and to be in close communication with all parts of the army, I had a place cleared on the top of a hill to the rear of Thomas’s centre, and had the telegraph-wires laid to it. The points of attack were chosen, and the troops were all prepared with as little demonstration as possible. About 9 A.M. Of the day appointed, the troops moved to the assault, and all along our lines for ten miles a furious fire of artillery and musketry was kept up. At all points the enemy met us with determined courage and in great force. McPherson’s attacking column fought up the face of the lesser Kenesaw, but could not reach the summit. About a mile to the right (just below the Dallas road) Thomas’s assaulting column reached the parapet, where Brigadier-General Barker was shot down mortally wounded, and Brigadier-General Daniel McCook (my old law-partner) was desperately wounded, from the effects of which he afterward died. By 11.30 the assault was in fact over, and had failed. We had not broken the rebel line at either point, but our assaulting columns held their ground within a few yards of the rebel trenches, and there covered themselves with parapet. McPherson lost about five hundred men and several valuable officers, and Thomas lost nearly two thousand men. This was the hardest fight of the campaign up to that date, and it is well described by Johnston in his “Narrative” (pages 342, 343), where he admits his loss in killed and wounded as

Total …………. 808

This, no doubt, is a true and fair statement; but, as usual, Johnston overestimates our loss, putting it at six thousand, whereas our entire loss was about twenty-five hundred, killed and wounded.

 

Published in: on June 27, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 27, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain  
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If: Sound Fatherly Advice

I originally posted this at The American Catholic on Father’s Day, and I assumed the Kipling mavens of Almost Chosen People might like it.)
The twenty-eighth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here and here.
Nothing is more appropriate in all of Kipling’s writings for a Father’s Day than the poem If.
Written in 1895 as a tribute to the now forgotten Leander Starr Jameson, who helped set the stage for the Boer War, it was not published by Kipling until 1910 when it appeared in his childrens’ book Rewards and Fairies.
The poem takes the form of advice from a father to his son, and it is filled with the type of sage advice that the best of fathers attempt to pass on to bored children, hoping against hope that their kids will recall it in time of need.  Kipling had three children:  Josephine who died at eight in 1899,  Elsie who would live to be eighty and who died in 1976 and John “Jack” Kipling who died shortly after his 18th birthday fighting bravely at the Battle of Loos in 1915.  Kipling took the death of two of his children very hard, unsurprising since the grief that comes with the death of a child is  a temptation to bury oneself in a pit of despair for the rest of one’s  life.  However, Kipling did not do this, keeping his private grief private, and continuing his work, living out in his own life the advice that he gave in If:

(more…)

Published in: on June 26, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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June 25, 1864-Diary of Gideon Welles

 

 

Called Neptune by President Lincoln, Gideon Welles was perhaps the most effective Secretary of the Navy the nation had, as he oversaw the expansion of the United States Navy from a miniscule force into a force of 84,000 men and more than six hundred ships, the largest fleet in the world in 1865.  His three volumes of diary entries from 1861-1869 are an invaluable source for a behind the scenes look at the Lincoln cabinet.  Welles was not afraid to put down on paper his opinion of the men and events of his time in blunt prose.  Here is his entry for June 25, 1864:

June 25, Saturday. There are some blunders in the finding of the court in Scofield’s case that I do not like. I telegraphed to Wilson, Judge-Advocate, to come here for consultation and explanation, but a telegram just received says he is unable from indisposition.

            The Treasury management is terrible, ruinous. Navy  requisitions are wantonly withheld for weeks, to the ruin of the contractor. In the end the government will suffer greatly, for persons will not under these ruinous delays deal with the government at ordinary current rates. The pay of the sailors and workmen is delayed until they are almost mutinous and riotous. There is no justifiable excuse for this neglect. But Mr. Chase, having committed blunders in his issues, is now desirous of retiring certain paper, and avails himself of funds of creditors on naval account to accomplish this. It is most unjust. The money honestly due to government creditors should not be withheld for Treasury schemes, or to retrieve its mistakes.

            I am daily more dissatisfied with the Treasury management. Everything is growing worse. Chase, though a man of mark, has not the sagacity, knowledge, taste, or ability of a financier. Has expedients, and will break down the government. There is no one to check him. The President has surrendered the finances to his management entirely. Other members of the Cabinet are not consulted. Any dissent from, or doubts even, of his measures is considered as a declaration of hostility and an embarrassment of his administration. I believe I am the only one who has expressed opinions that questioned his policy, and that expression was mild and kindly uttered. Blair said about as much and both [he and I] were lectured by Chase. But he knew not then, nor does he know now, the elementary principles of finance and currency. Congress surrenders to his capricious and superficial qualities as pliantly as the President and the Cabinet. If they do not legalize his projects, the Treasury is to be closed, and under a threat, or something approaching a threat, his schemes are sanctioned, and laws are made to carry them into effect; but woe awaits the country in consequence.

The diaries are available online from google books and they are well worth the time to read for any Civil War scholar.

 

Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 25, 1864-Diary of Gideon Welles  
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Top Ten Movie Battle Speeches

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

Not a bad list, although I would have had Patton at number one and I would not have included The Great Dictator.  Shakespeare of course has set the standard for all pre-battle speeches:

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Top Ten Movie Battle Speeches  
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To Hell and Back

“I never liked being called the ‘most decorated’ soldier. There were so many guys who should have gotten medals and never did–
guys who were killed.”

Audie Murphy

 

June 20th this year would have been the 88th birthday of Audie Murphy if he had not died in a plane crash, fittingly enough on Memorial Day weekend, forty-three years ago.

In the Fifties actor Audie Murphy achieved stardom, mainly in Westerns.  Murphy looked like a typical Hollywood “pretty boy” but he was anything but.  From a family of 12 in Texas, he was the sixth child, Murphy had dropped out of school in the fifth grade to help support his dirt poor family after his worthless father ran off.    His mother died in 1941.  In 1942 he enlisted in the Army at 16, lying about his birthday, partially to help support his younger brothers and sister and partially because he dreamed of a military career.  He served with the Third Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany.  By the end of the War, just before  his 19th birthday, he was a First Lieutenant and had earned, in hellish combat, a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, a French Legion of Honor, a French Croix de Guerre, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.  He was the most decorated soldier of the US Army in World War 2.  Here is his Medal of Honor Citation  which helps explain why Murphy entitled his war memoir  To Hell and Back:

Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire, which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad that was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued his single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way back to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack, which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective. (more…)

Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on To Hell and Back  
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June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad

Petersburg_June21-22

With the War in the East now centering on the siege of Petersburg, Lee faced the daunting problem of protecting the rail lines that kept Petersburg, Richmond and his army supplied.  It took no military genius to realize that if the Union captured those rail lines, Lee’s position would be rendered untenable.  So that is what Grant promptly commenced to do.  The II and VI Corps were tasked with seizing, and destroying as much of the Weldon Railroad as they could take.

Skirmishing occurred on June 21 as the II Corps probed toward the rail line.   On June 22 both the II and the VI corps advanced towards the railroad, with rugged terrain causing a gap to open up between the corps.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone concealed his division in a ravine and launched an attack on the rear of the II Corps which wreaked havoc until the lines stabilized by nightfall. (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 21-23 1864: First Battle of Weldon Railroad  
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Battle Cries of Freedom

Something for the weekend.  The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War.  Of course they sang different lyrics to the song.  The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote:  “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand  orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”

Here is the Southern version sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man campaign to bring Civil War music to modern audiences:

 

Here is the version from the Lincoln (2012) movie:

A tribute to Ulysses S. Grant set to the Battle Cry of Freedom, which is ironic considering that the tone deaf Grant claimed to know only two songs:  one was Yankee Doodle and the other wasn’t.

 

Published in: on June 21, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Battle Cries of Freedom  
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Yankee Ingenuity in Normandy

 

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea. And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level—they would go through on the level keel—would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it—and that was General Bradley—and he did it very quickly. Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice, and then someone did have a big questions, “Where are you going to find the steel for all this thing?” Well now, happily the Germans tried to keep us from going on the beaches with great steel “chevaux de frise”—big crosses, there were all big bars of steel down on the beach where the Germans left it. And he got it—got these things sharpened up—and it worked fine. The biggest and happiest group I suppose in all the Allied Armies that night were those that knew that this thing worked. And it worked beautifully.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 10, 1961

Curtis Grubb Culin III, a native of New Jersey, was a Sergeant with the 102nd Cavalry Recon Squadron in the 2nd Armored Division during the Normandy Campaign.  He, like most Allied troops fighting in Normandy, was frustrated by hedgerows, those tangled messes of bushes and shrub trees that delineated boundaries between fields in the Normandy countryside and served as ready made fortifications for German machine guns and snipers.  Culin mentioned that one day he was discussing the problem that the hedgerows presented for their tanks when a “hillbilly”, Culin’s phrase, suggested putting teeth on the tanks.

That is just what Culin did, welding tusk like blades to the front of a tank that allowed it to cleave its way through the densest of hedgerows.  Ultimately demonstrated to General Bradley, he put the idea into mass production, using the metal crosses that littered the beach defenses installed by the Germans to make the blades on some of the tanks.  By the launch of Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy on July 25, 60% of First Army tanks had been teethed. (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Yankee Ingenuity in Normandy  
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