Book Haul

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a hopeless bibliophile.  Fortunately my bride shares that affliction.  Yesterday we went down to a library sale in Normal, Illinois.  Here are my purchases with comments.  For the sake of brevity I will not include the purchases of my bride.

  1. The Class Struggle in the Ancient World, G.E.M. de Sainte Croix (1981)-I have long searched for this tome.  Although a Marxist interpretation of the Ancient world, I have heard good things about it from historians I respect.  We shall see.
  2. Chivalry, Leon Gautier (1989)-A Nineteenth Century look at the everyday life of French knights in the Twelfth Century.
  3. The Black Death, Philip Ziegler (1993)-An illustrated version of Ziegler’s classic 1969 study of the plague that killed 25% of the population of Europe in a handful of years.  Not light beach reading.
  4. 1812: Napoleon in Moscow, Paul Britten Austin (1995)-It is a melancholy reflection on human intelligence to ponder that the greatest general, perhaps, in human history decided to invade Russia in order to cause the Russians to stop trading with Great Britain.  The trade embargo of course was a disastrous policy that merely caused problems in Europe, the Brits getting rich by having a monopoly on trade with the rest of the World, and carrying on an immense smuggling trade with Europe.  In addition, Napoleon assumed that Russia was merely Austria writ large, and if he took Moscow, (not even the capital of Russia at that time), the Tsar would come to heel.  Of course Napoleon also amassed 600,000 troops for the invasion without making sufficient logistical arrangements for them, once they could not live off the land.  When geniuses make blunders, they often are beauts.
  5. 1812:  The Great Retreat, Paul Britten Austin ((1996)-See above.
  6. Jacksonland, Steve Inskeep (2015)-The story of the great land grab from the Cherokees.
  7. The Southern Dream of a Carribean Empire, Robert E. May (1989)-A fascinating look at Southern based filibustering expeditions in Central America in the 1850s and the desire of some Southerners to acquire Cuba and other islands in the West Indies.  If the Confederacy had achieved independence, I have no doubt that the Union and the Confederacy would have directly clashed, or waged proxy wars, in this area.
  8. Attack and Die:  Civil War Military Tactics & the Southern Heritage, Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson (1982) One of the more laughable books written about the Civil War, it attributed to the South a fondness for head long attacks due to the “Celtic” heritage of the Southerners.  The thesis was ridiculous for many reasons, including that both the Union and the Confederacy had similar ethnic makeups among their native white populations, and that Union commanders were just as fond of headlong attacks (Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, Kenesaw Mountain, etc.) as Confederate commanders.
  9. Fesseden of Maine, Charles A. Jellison (1962) A biography of the Civil War era senator from Maine, who sacrificed his political career when he voted against the conviction of President Andrew Johnson.
  10. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volumes 11 and 12, June 1-November 15 1864, editor John Y. Simon (1984)-These volumes go for a hundred bucks apiece, so I was happy to get these books for a buck apiece.  Grant was a master of conciseness and clarity in an age that treasured verbosity and a rotund style.  His writings are a pleasure to read, beyond their historical value.  This was a lifetime project of Professor John Y. Simon at Southern Illinois University.  He had completed his 30th volume when his life’s work came to a screeching halt in 2008 due to sexual harassment claims by two co-workers when he was 75.  Under the stress of the allegations he died, and SIU ultimately lost the Grant papers to the University of Mississippi which completed the project with the publication of the 31st and 32nd volumes.  Simon’s widow, they had been married for 51 years, disputed the sexual abuse allegations.  Go here to read about what may have been a modern version of a witch hunt.
  11. Civil War Books:  A Critical Bibliography, edited by Allan Nevins, James I. Robertson and Bell I. Wiley (1969)-I am a sucker for annotated bibliographies, so I was delighted to find this bibliography by three great Civil War historians.  The descriptions of the entries are blunt.  For example in regard to the Civil War history of Herbert Aptheker the entry reads:  “Primarily propaganda masking as history, with very strong Marxist overtones and influences.” 
  12. Centennial History of Illinois, Volume III The Civil War Era, Arthur Charles Cole (1919);  Volume IV The Industrial State, Ernest Ludlow Bogart and Charles Manfred Thompson (1920);  Volume V The Modern Commonwealth, Ernest Ludlow Bogart and John Mabry Mathews (1920)-Three of the five volume history commissioned by the Illinois Centennial Commission.  This year is the bicentennial of Illinois.  I am unaware of any history like this underway.  That may be because Illinois is broke.  It may also be just as well.  Glancing through the three volumes they seem pretty lackluster, although the third volume, due to the intrinsic interest of the Civil War, may be worth reading.
  13. Illinois Literature:  The Nineteenth Century, edited by John E. Hallwas (1986)-With such writers as Lincoln and Grant, and a host of lesser luminaries, this book will supply some interesting reading for me.
  14. McLean County in the World War, E.E.Pierson and J. L.Hasbrouck editors (1921)-One of a host of books in the wake of World War I commemorating the war effort of local communities.  These volumes provide largely untapped resources for histories of American participation in the Great War.  Glancing at it, I am struck by the number of servicemen who died of Spanish influenza and accidents.  A section on “Our Colored Heroes” recalls the participation in the War of black men from McLean County.  Extensive information on the home front helps bring to life a time a century ago in a county I am quite familiar with.
  15. A Guide to the History of Illinois, edited by John Hoffman (1991)-A great resource for those interested in the history of the Land of Lincoln.  Chapters by experts on the different periods in Illinois list available articles and books with comments as to their value.
  16. The American Revisionists:  The Lessons of Intervention in World War I, Warren I. Cohen (1967)-A look at five historians who, prior to World War I, championed the viewpoint that American intervention in World War I had been a mistake.
  17. The Panay Incident, Hamilton Darby Perry (1969)-World War II almost came early when Japanese bombers sunk the American gunboat Panay in China on December 13, 1937.
  18. Combined Fleet Decoded, John Prados, (1995)-Prados is a game designer and a writer.  I have played his games and read his books with enjoyment over the years.  Left wing in his politics, he does not allow that to impact his historical research.  This book looks at American intelligence in the Pacific in World War II.  Being able to read the messages of the Japanese fleet gave the Americans a huge advantage, the impact of which Prados examines in detail.
  19. Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Mark Rigg (2002)-I was surprised to learn that some 150,000 men of Jewish ancestry served in the Wehrmacht during World War II, almost all of them draftees.  The Nazis regarded Jews as a race rather than a religion.  This opened endless perplexities as to who was a Jew.  Half Jews were discriminated against, but usually not rounded up for extermination if they lived in households with non-Jews.  Quarter Jews usually escaped discrimination.  Serving in the Wehrmacht, some half Jews attained General rank.  Hitler had the power to declare that the anti-Jewish laws did not apply to a specific individual and/or “Aryanize” someone by declaring them to be a German rather than a Jew.  These men often served valiantly while having relatives who were being exterminated by the Nazis.  In 1940 Hitler ordered the expulsion of half Jews from the Wehrmacht, but exceptional soldiers could apply for exemption and many of them did.  Of course, the safest place for many Jews in Nazi Germany could be, ironically, serving in the Wehrmacht.  Jewish veterans often noted that their fellow soldiers tended to accept them, and tried to protect them.  Like most features of life in the nightmare that was Nazi Germany, the treatment of partial Jews in the Wehrmacht has a bizarre quality to it.
  20. Flying Tigers, Sam Kliener, (2018)-If Hollywood ever wishes to celebrate real life American heroes they have to look no farther than the men of the American Volunteer Group who flew for China from November 1941-July 4, 1942.  Always vastly outnumbered, and flying planes in many respects inferior to most of the Japanese fighters they fought, the men of the Flying Tigers shot down 229 Japanese planes, achieving a stunning ten to one kill to loss ratio.  Their victories sustained American morale in the dark early days of the War.  On July 4, 1942, the Flying Tigers were transformed into the 23rd Fight Group, United States Army Air Force, with their commander being Brigadier General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers, the man whose brilliant tactical innovations and skilled leadership helped his men achieve their incredible against the odds victories.  The 14th American Air Force stationed in China would later take up the proud title of Flying Tigers.
  21. Islands of Destiny, John Prados, (2012)-A look by Prados at the Solomons Campaign which he rightly views as the turning point of the War in the Pacific.  As Admiral “Bull” Halsey said, “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure– after Guadalcanal he retreated at ours.”


Published in: on September 30, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Book Haul  

The Almighty Has His Own Purposes


The American Civil War has become such a part of American folk-lore, and so romanticized by reenactments, films, movies, etc, that we sometimes risk losing sight of just how dreadful it was.  The death toll in the war would be the equivalent of us losing some six million killed in a war today and some ten million wounded, many of those maimed for life.  One quarter of the nation devastated, and a huge war debt.  Americans tend to be optimists and to view themselves as blessed by God.  How had this dreadful calamity come upon the nation was the cry from millions of Americans at the time.

Lincoln also asked this question.  In 1862 he and his wife had suffered the death of their 11 year old son Willie on February 20, 1862.  This was the second son that the Lincolns had lost and the death of Willie left Lincoln and his wife shattered with grief , almost sending Mary over the brink into madness.  The war was going badly for the Union, with many defeats, endless casualties and no end in sight.  No wonder that Lincoln began to think hard about why God was allowing these terrible events to  occur. (more…)

Published in: on September 27, 2018 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on The Almighty Has His Own Purposes  
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The Beginning of the Rise of George C. Marshall



A century ago George C. Marshall, an acting Colonel on the Operations Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces, was finishing up a military miracle, overseeing the movement of 400,000 American troops to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Marshall had first come to the notice of General Pershing on October 3, 1917 when Pershing was severely dressing down officers of the First Division after he had viewed what he regarded as a fouled up training exercise.  Major Marshall, the Operations Officer for the Division, interrupted Pershing and reminded him of the problems the First Division was laboring under. Pershing, instead of taking umbrage, listed carefully to what the young Major had to say, and on future visits to the First Division would take Marshall aside for the “straight scoop” on what was going on with the Division.  Pershing had Marshall eventually transferred to the Operations Staff of the AEF and after the War made him his aide.  Marshall, who would be Chief of Staff of the Army during World War II, remarked in an interview in 1957 that he never encountered an officer more willing to accept constructive criticism than Pershing.  Like many an American officer who rose to fame in World War II, Marshall’s service in World War I taught him many important lessons, and not the least important was the willingness to listen to subordinates who were giving him information to help solve the myriad of military conundrums that any conflict kicks up.

Published in: on September 24, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Beginning of the Rise of George C. Marshall  
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Spanish Ladies


Something for the weekend.  Spanish Ladies.  One of the most popular of sea shanties, it was written circa 1796, by that most prolific of all authors Anonymous, an artifact of the French Revolutionary wars.  It quickly became popular among American sailors.

Published in: on September 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Spanish Ladies  
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Unforgettable John Randolph of Roanoke


Of all the luminaries of our early Republic, none had a sharper mind than John Randolph of Roanoke.  It was his misfortune, and also the misfortune of the nation, that this formidable intellect was given to someone who was also more than a little mad.  From the time of his first election to Congress at 26, when the clerk of the House asked him if he was old enough to serve, he quipped, “Ask my constituents.”, his brilliance shone in his writings and speeches, as his madness grew as he aged.  But for the madness, I have no doubt that he would be one of the major figures in our history.  As it is, we have some immortal phrases to remember him.

“Time is at once the most valuable and the most perishable of all our possessions.”

“I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.”

“A state can no more give up part of her sovereignty than a lady can give up part of her virtue.”

“That most delicious of all privileges – spending other people’s money.”

“Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula’s horse was made Consul.”

“Life is not so important as the duties of life.”

“Mean spirits under disappointment, like small beer in a thunderstorm, always turn sour.”

“The surest way to prevent war is not to fear it.”

“We all know our duty better than we discharge it.”

Last but certainly not least is his memorable observation about political opponent Edward Livingston:   He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.

Published in: on September 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Unforgettable John Randolph of Roanoke  

September 20, 1863: Rock of Chickamauga


On the second day of the battle of Chickamauga the Confederates came close to destroying the Army of the Cumberland.  They were prevented from reaching this goal by a stubborn defense of Major General George Thomas, who earned that day the title of The Rock of Chickamauga.

Thomas commanded the Union left, and his men were involved in heavy fighting from 9:30AM to Noon on September 20, beating off a heavy two division Confederate attack.

Through a comedy of errors in miscommunication a gap appeared in the Union center when a division led by Brigadier General Thomas Wood moved out of the line.  At 11:10 AM Longstreet attacked the Union center with three divisions, one of those divisions going right through the gap in the line created by Wood’s withdrawal.  After several hours of hard fighting the Union center and right collapsed.

Thomas held the field on the Union left, forming his men into a semi-circle and beating off Confederate assault after Confederate assault.  He only withdrew after he was ordered to, and after darkness fell.  His stand deterred the Confederates from what could have been a disastrous pursuit of the retreating Union troops.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s special investigator, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana was at the battle and he telegraphed the news to Stanton that would soon have the entire North hailing Thomas as the Rock of Chickamauga.  (Ironically on September 20, Dana, convinced that the battle was lost, and demanding an escort to Chattanooga, helped distract Union Colonel John Wilder from ordering a counterattack against Longstreet by his mounted infantry brigade that may have stopped the collapse of the Union center.) (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 20, 1863: Rock of Chickamauga  

Speak Like a Pirate Day

To all pirates I have but one thing to say:  amateurs.

Donald R. McClarey



Aye Maties, t’day is Speak Like a Pirate Day again!




Pirate Gettysburg Address




Ar, it be about four score and seven years ago since our fathers made ye new nation, a liberty port for all hands from end to end, and dedicated t’ t’ truth that all swabs be created equal.

Now we be fightin’ a great ruckus, testin’ whether ye nation, or any nation so minted like it, can last through the long watch. We be met on a great boardin’ fight o’ that war. We have come t’ dedicate a spot o’ that field, as a final restin’ place for those who here swallowed the anchor forever that that nation might live. It be altogether fittin’ and proper that we be doin’ this.

But, truth be told, we can not set aside, we can not pray over, we can not hallow this ground. T’ brave swabs, livin’ and went t’ Davy Jones’ locker, who fit here, have blessed it, far over our poor power t’ add or swipe back. T’ world won’t writ what we say here, but it can never forget what those swabs did here. It be for us t’ livin’, rather, t’ be dedicated here t’  finishin’ t’ work which they who fit here have begun.   It be rather for us t’ be here dedicated t’ t’ great chore remainin’ before us—that from these honored swabs we take increased love t’ what they died for—that we here Bible swear that these shipmates shall not have went t’ Davy Jones’ locker for nothin’—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth o’ freedom—and that government o’ t’ crew, by t’ crew, for t’ crew, shall not perish from t’ seven seas. (more…)

Published in: on September 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Speak Like a Pirate Day  

Great War Week by Week


One of the best resources on the internet during the centennial of World War I has been the Great War series on YouTube.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the Great War, but I think it would be especially valuable to home schooling families.  Bravo to Indiana ‘Indy’ Neidell, the host of the series, and to all involved in this grand project.

Published in: on September 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Great War Week by Week  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Allen Guelzo

Justice Holmes220px-Edward_White,_head-and-shoulders_portrait,_facing_slightly_left,_1905




Each year on September 17, the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been a lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts that day, received a red rose from his fellow justice, Edward Douglass White, a former Confederate soldier from Louisiana whom Holmes joined on the Court after Holmes’ appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. It was the kind of sentimental gesture Holmes appreciated, and which Frederick Douglass would have deplored. But Justice White had a point to make. “My God”, the old Confederate would mutter in palpable horror as he reflected on the war he had lost, “My God, if we had succeeded.”

 Allen Guelzo, Civil War Historian

Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Allen Guelzo  
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Prelude to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive





A century ago the United States First Army, personally commanded by General John J. Pershing, was deep in preparation for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest battle in American history that the American public  today knows virtually nothing about.  In his report on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, General Pershing wrote about the preparations for the campaign:

The definite decision for the Meuse-Argonne phase of the great Allied convergent attack was agreed to in my conference with Marshal Foch and General Petain on September 2nd. It was planned to use all available forces of the First Army, including such divisions and troops as we might be able to withdraw from the St. Mihiel front.

The Army was to break through the enemy’s successive fortified zones to include the Kriemhilde-Stellung, or Hindenburg Line, on the front Brieulles-Romagne sous Montfaucon-Grandpre, and thereafter, by developing pressure toward Mezieres, was to ensure the fall of the Hindenburg Line along the Aisne River in front of the Fourth French Army, which was to attack to the west of the Argonne Forest.

A penetration of some 12 to 15 kilometres was required to reach the Hindenburg Line on our front, and the enemy’s defences were virtually continuous throughout that depth.

The Meuse-Argonne front had been practically stabilized in September, 1914, and, except for minor fluctuations during the German attacks on Verdun in 1916 and the French counter-offensive in August, 1917, remained unchanged until the American advance in 1918. The net result of the four years’ struggle on this ground was a German defensive system of unusual depth and strength and a wide zone of utter devastation, itself a serious obstacle to offensive operations.

The strategical importance of this portion of the line was second to none on the western front. All supplies and evacuations of the German armies in northern France were dependent upon two great railway systems – one in the north, passing through Liege, while the other in the south, with lines coming from Luxemburg, Thionville, and Metz, had as its vital section the line Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres.

No other important lines were available to the enemy, as the mountainous masses of the Ardennes made the construction of east and west lines through that region impracticable.

The Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres line was essential to the Germans for the rapid strategical movement of troops. Should this southern system be cut by the Allies before the enemy could withdraw his forces through the narrow neck between Mezieres and the Dutch frontier, the ruin of his armies in France and Belgium would be complete.

From the Meuse-Argonne front the perpendicular distance to the Carignan-Mezieres railroad was 50 kilometres. This region formed the pivot of German operations in northern France, and the vital necessity of covering the great railroad line into Sedan resulted in the convergence on the Meuse-Argonne front of the successive German defensive positions.

The distance between “No man’s land” and the third German withdrawal position in the vicinity of the Meuse River was approximately 18 kilometres; the distance between the corresponding points near the tip of the great salient of the western front was about 65 kilometres, and in the vicinity of Cambrai was over 30 kilometres.

The effect of a penetration of 18 kilometres by the American Army would be equivalent to an advance of 65 kilometres farther west; furthermore, such an advance on our front was far more dangerous to the enemy than an advance elsewhere.

The vital importance of this portion of his position was fully appreciated by the enemy, who had suffered tremendous losses in 1916 in attempting to improve it by the reduction of Verdun. As a consequence it had been elaborately fortified, and consisted of practically a continuous series of positions 20 kilometres or more in depth.

In addition to the artificial defences, the enemy was greatly aided by the natural features of the terrain. East of the Meuse the dominating heights not only protected his left but gave him positions from which powerful artillery could deliver an oblique fire on the western bank.

Batteries located in the elaborately fortified Argonne forest covered his right flank, and could cross their fire with that of the guns on the east bank of the Meuse. Midway between the Meuse and the forest the heights of Montfaucon offered perfect observation and formed a strong natural position which had been heavily fortified.

The east and west ridges abutting on the Meuse and Aire River valleys afforded the enemy excellent machine-gun positions for the desperate defence which the importance of the position would require him to make. North of Montfaucon densely wooded and rugged heights constituted natural features favourable to defensive fighting.

When the First Army became engaged in the simultaneous preparation for two major operations, an interval of 14 days separated the initiation of the two attacks. During this short period the movement of the immense number of troops and the amount of supplies involved in the Meuse-Argonne battle, over the few roads available, and confined entirely to the hours of darkness, was one of the most delicate and difficult problems of the war.

The concentration included 15 divisions, of which 7 were involved in the pending St. Mihiel drive, 3 were in sector in the Vosges, 3 in the neighbourhood of Soissons, 1 in a training area, and 1 near Bar-le-Due. Practically all the Artillery, Aviation, and other auxiliaries to be employed in the new operations were committed to the St. Mihiel attack and therefore could not be moved until its success was assured.

The concentration of all units not to be used at St. Mihiel was commenced immediately, and on September 13th, the second day of St. Mihiel, reserve divisions and Army Artillery units were withdrawn and placed in motion toward the Argonne front.

That part of the American sector from Fresnes-en-Woevre, southeast of Verdun, to the western edge of the Argonne Forest, while nominally under my control, did not actively become a part of my command until September 22nd, on which date my headquarters were established at Souilly, southwest of Verdun.

Of French troops, in addition to the Second French Colonial Corps, composed of 3 divisions, there was also the Seventeenth French Corps of 3 divisions holding the front north and east of Verdun.

At the moment of the opening of the Meuse-Argonne battle, the enemy had 10 divisions in line and 10 in reserve on the front between Fresnes-en-Woevre and the Argonne Forest, inclusive. He had undoubtedly expected a continuation of our advance toward Metz. Successful ruses were carried out between the Meuse River and Luneville to deceive him as to our intentions, and French troops were maintained as a screen along our front until the night before the battle, so that the actual attack was a tactical surprise.

Pershing had insisted that the American forces had to fight as a unit and not be used merely to reinforce the operations of the British and the French.  Now the AEF had its chance, but against German defenses in extremely rugged terrain, and a vital area that the Germans would attempt to hold at all costs.  The AEF was about to have a classic baptism by fire.


Published in: on September 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Prelude to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  
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