April 30, 1863: Hooker Arrives at Chancellorsville

Fighting Joe HookerHooker arrived at Chancellorsville on the morning of April 30.  He was in high spirits and issued this order to his army:


HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 30, 1863.

       It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.  The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements.

       By command of Major-General Hooker:

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant General.


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April 29, 1863: Battle of Grand Gulf

On April 29, 1863 Grant commenced his movement to cross the Mississippi and begin his operations to place Vicksburg under siege.  Grant decided to cross the river south of Grand Gulf, approximately twelve miles south of Vicksburg.  Admiral David Porter led seven gunboats against the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf.  with the intention of silencing the Confederate guns and then securing the area with troops of Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps troops who were loaded aboard transports and barges. The attack by the seven ironclads began at 8 a.m. and continued until about 1:30 p.m.  Uable to silence the batteries, he Union ironclads  and transports retreated. After dark,  the ironclads attacked the Confederate batteries again while the trasnsports and barges ran the batteries to get south of Grand Gulf. After the transports had passed Grand Gulf, they embarked the troops at Disharoon’s plantation and disembarked them on the Mississippi shore at Bruinsburg, below Grand Gulf.  Charles A. Dana, personal represenative of Secretary of War Stanton, reported on the fight at Grand Gulf and the crossing of the Mississippi: (more…)

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April 28, 1863: Marching Towards Chancellorsville

Hooker's Plan

One hundred and fifty-eight years ago the Army of the Potomac was en route to what would be come the battlefield of Chancellorsville.  Hooker was in fine spirits.  He outnumbered Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia 133,000 to 60,000, two of Lee’s divisions being in Southeastern Virginia on detached duty and that would take no part in the battle.  He planned to crush Lee between a Union corps at Fredericksburg led by General Sedgwick and and an attack by six corps led by him from The Wilderness, the rugged wooded terrain that surrounded Chancellorsville, that would fall on Lee’s rear.  E.P. Alexander who fought at Chancellorsville as a Confederate artillery colonel, and who would end the War as a Brigadier General and commander of First Corps artillery, in his two memoirs, Military Memoirs of a Confederate and Fighting for the Confederacy, demonstrated ability as a keen military analyst, and he thought Hooker’s plan was the best, and the best executed up to May 1, of the many plans of campaign by the Army of the Potomac against the Army of Northern Virginia. (more…)

April 27, 1861: Proclamation of Blockade

At the outset of the war, on April 19, 1861 President Lincoln proclaimed a blockage of the Confederate coast.  On April 27 the states of North Carolina and Virginia were added to the list of states subject to a Union blockade.  Widely derided at the time as a “paper blockade” by the end of the War the blockade would become a decisive weapon of the Union, denying the Confederates much needed munitions and supplies.  The text of the blockade proclamations: (more…)

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Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign

I was ruined for the time being in 1915 over the Dardanelles, and a supreme enterprise was cast away, through my trying to carry out a major and cardinal operation of war from a subordinate position. Men are ill- advised to try such ventures. This lesson had sunk into my nature.

Winston Churchill

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

This year I thought we would focus on taking a closer look at the Gallipoli Campaign.  It was the project chiefly of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.  Churchill was an idea man.  He constantly came up with ideas that ranged from insane to brilliant.  The Gallipoli idea I think was on the surface brilliant.  Seize the Dardanelles, the opening of the sea corridor between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, take Constantinople, ferry Russian troops over the Black Sea by the Royal Navy to knock out Turkey from the War and then launch a war winning campaign up the Balkans to drive the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of the War and then defeat a surrounded Germany.  It had the hallmark that would always remain Churchill’s goal in the realm of grand strategy: a short cut to victory.  Rather than slug it out against Imperial Germany in bloody trench warfare where, in Churchill’s grim phrase, brave men matched their bodies against machine guns, take an easier and quicker path to victory by defeating the weaker allies of Germany.  Small wonder that Churchill convinced the British war cabinet to back this bold gamble.

This brilliant idea also had drawbacks that tend to suddenly appear when a high concept plan is attempted to be implemented in this Vale of Tears.

  1. Geography-The rough terrain of Gallipoli offered superb defensive ground for the Turks.
  2. Mines-In a narrow sea passage like the Dardanelles heavy use of mines could negate the sea power of the Royal Navy.
  3. Logistics-Keeping a large invasion force supplied would require a maximum effort, limiting the number of troops that could be landed and supported.
  4. New type of warfare-This type of amphibious operation seems commonplace now.  It was not in 1915.  There was much to learn in a short period, and many mistakes to make.
  5. Johnny Turk-The average illiterate peasant Turkish soldier was almost totally ignorant of the outside world and had little but hate for the Young Turk politicians of Constantinople.  He had a great love for his religion and his country however, and he knew how to handle his weapons.  If commanded to hold a position he would hold it or die trying.  A superb soldier in defense.

Summing up the British implementation of the Gallipoli plan the phrase too little and too late recur.  Not enough forces were allotted,  and operations seemed to proceed in slow motion giving the Turks maximum opportunity to thwart the effort.

So the troops deployed, were left to endure a Golgotha of insufficient rations, appalling weather, millions of flies, some of the worst terrain on Earth over which to attempt to attack, all while fighting a valiant and tenacious foe.  By January 1916 the British had enough and withdrew.  The Butcher Bill was appalling:

British Empire:

198,340 (31,389 killed
9,708 missing and POWs
78,749 wounded
78,494 evacuated sick


9,000 killed & missing
18,000 wounded
20,000 evacuated sick


7,594 killed
18,500 wounded

New Zealand:

3,431 killed
4,140 wounded

The casualties for the sparsely populated countries of Australia and New Zealand sparked a moment in their new national histories that would never be forgotten, as they took pride in the courage and determination of their troops in a losing effort, which would ultimately end in victory in the War overall.

Published in: on April 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign  
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I Vow to Thee My Country

Something for the weekend.  I Vow to Thee My Country.  This seems to be appropriate for a weekend on which falls Anzac Day.  The song is a poem written Sir Cecil Spring Rice, a friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and British ambassador to the US during World War I.  The poem started life in 1912 under the title City of God and was rewritten in 1918 shortly before Rice returned to Great Britain.  The Great Composer Gustav Holst supplied the music and the song was published in 1925 as  a hymn.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

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Dawn Patrol

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  And you’re the one that gapped to Brand

about sending green kids up to get killed.

Combat maneuvers. Ground-school.

He doesn’t know.

What chance would he have up there?

Major “Court” Courtney:  He’ll have as much chance as the others.

There can’t be any exceptions.

Do you think I want to do this?

Those are the orders.

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  Oh, I know it’s orders, Court.

Give me three days, two days.

Then I can get him up in the air…

…and teach him a few basic tricks.

At least he’ll have a fighting chance.

He doesn’t know anything.

Court, he can’t even do a half-loop

and roll out.

Do you hear that? He can’t even roll out.

What good’s he gonna be up there?

Do you think he’s gonna bring down

any Boche plane? No.

They’ll slaughter him, Court.

Give me just a few days.

Major “Court” Courtney: I said every man goes into the air

at dawn.

– I’m sorry, Scott-o, but there it is.

One of the great war films, Dawn Patrol (1938) tells the grim tale of a Royal Flying Corps squadron on the Western Front.  World War One began a scant eleven years after Kitty Hawk, and the technology for heavier than air flight was still very much in the experimental stage.  It was quite hazardous just flying, let alone engaging in combat.  As a result, fighter pilots in 1917 had an average life expectancy of 40-60 hours of flight time.  That figure is deceptive, since the pilots who survived and became veterans had a huge advantage over rookie pilots fresh from flight school who had little chance and were often shot down during their first three missions.  Yesterday was the anniversary of the death in 1918 of Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, the highest scoring Ace of World War I, who survived an amazing two years flying on the Western Front and had 80 confirmed kills. and probably amassed a total of one hundred.  Rookies against veteran pilots like Richthofen was simple murder with the outcome all but certain.

The film follows three commanders of 59 squadron in 1915, portrayed by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and David Niven.  At the beginning of the film Major Brand, Rathbone, is in command, constantly battling with his two top pilots, Captain “Court” Courtney, Flynn, and Lieutenant “Scotty” Scott, who view Brand as an unfeeling martinet who sends new pilots to their deaths with hardly a thought, not realizing that Brand is haunted by their deaths, he calls himself a butcher, and has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get more training time for the new pilots.  Brand is ultimately promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Courtney is promoted to Major and takes over the Squadron, while Scott is promoted to Captain.  Courtney now finds himself doing precisely what Brand was doing, sending new pilots to their deaths while pleading unsuccessfully for more time.  One of the new pilots who is killed on his first mission is Donnie Scott, the brother of Courtney’s friend “Scotty” Scott, who pleads unsuccessfully with Major Courtney for an opportunity to spend a few days teaching his brother combat flying so that he will have some sort of chance.  Courtney, to save the life of his heartbroken friend Scott, takes on a suicide mission himself and perishes.  At the end of the film Scott is the new commander of the Squadron and we see him prepping newly arrived rookie pilots for their first mission, as the War continues on its terrible way.

Rathbone was a combat veteran of World War I, the medals on his film uniform being actual medals he won in combat.  Niven would go on to serve in combat in World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Flynn would volunteer for service in World War II but be rejected for his ill health.  Flynn was unfairly mocked as a draft dodger.

Published in: on April 23, 2021 at 4:12 pm  Comments Off on Dawn Patrol  
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The War Generation Passes

From 1995.  As they are leaving us now, we should recall how the War marked the men and women of the generation of World War II, particularly those in their twenties and thirties.  They didn’t talk much about it, that wasn’t their style, and they had been eager for the madness of the War to end and return to normal life, but mark them it did.  As far as I know, Prince Philip was the last high level figure in public life who was a combat veteran of that great conflict.  With his passing we see the passing of a great generation, a title they would doubtless have scoffed at, particularly during the War, when their songs tended to be about anything other than the War or to engage in mockery of the crucible they were passing through.

Slightly over 300,000 American veterans of the Big One are still alive, out of the sixteen million who served.  About one hundred thousand British veterans  of the 2.9 million who served are still alive.

My Bride and I took a vacation week last week.  Over the weekend before last we visited the mother in law who turned 89 in December and who is still spry and active.  As we do during each visit, we went out to the grave of the father-in-law who passed away in 1997.  He served in the Navy during World War II, enlisting at age 17 with the permission of his parents.  As we were making our way to his grave we passed by the graves of many other World War II vets, and it occurred to me that these men and their wives were the building blocks of our world.

Published in: on April 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The War Generation Passes  

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Forrest Hills Academy

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

Forrest Hills Academy is an appallingly bad middle school and public high school in Atlanta.  It is making news for a name change:

A school in Atlanta is changing its name to honor the late MLB Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

The original name honored Confederate Army Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Following a unanimous vote, the Atlanta Board of Education is renaming Forrest Hill Academy, which will now be called the Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy, according to USA Today.

“It is very important that we understand our history,” said board member Michelle Olympiadis during the meeting. “It’s very important that we understand where we are coming from.”

The honor comes after Aaron died of natural causes in January. He was 86. Aaron was laid to rest in Atlanta, where he played nine years for the Braves.

Go here to read the rest.  One problem with the story:  there is absolutely no evidence that the school was named after Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Confederacy.

Atlanta has had black mayors since 1974.

The school was opened in the early years of the current century when the city of Atlanta entered into a contract with Community Education Partners.  They would set up an alternative school for troubled students in Atlanta.  The school was named Forrest Hills Academy.  Its name presumably deriving from the fact that it was located on a hill on Forrest Hills Drive.  I have found no evidence that the street was named after General Forrest.

Parents quickly became dissatisfied with the school which seemed to be merely warehousing students. Go here to read an article on some of the complaints in 2008.

The city of Atlanta took over the school in 2009.  The problems persisted.  Go here to read an article from 2012.  Go here to read about the abysmal current rankings of the school.

One would think that Atlanta would be concerned more about improving the school rather than besmirch Hank Aaron’s good name by attaching it to a failed school.  If General Forrest had been the monster his detractors believe, and there is good evidence that he had changed his mind about racial issues by the time of his death, go here to read a speech he gave to a black civil rights group on July 5, 1875 for which he was heavily criticized by groups of Confederate veterans, I am sure he would find this all vastly amusing in the next world.  The school is a very bad joke played on parents and students, and changing its name does nothing to correct to correct this ongoing crime against education, at the cost of 45.000 a year per student in taxpayer dollars.  The poison of identity politics is ever useful to those in power to detract attention from their blunders and malfeasance.

Published in: on April 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Nathan Bedford Forrest and Forrest Hills Academy  

Hell on Okinawa

“War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste… The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other – and love. That espirit de corps sustained us.”  

“Until the millennium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one’s responsibilities and be willing to make sacrifices for one’s country – as my comrades did. As the troops used to say, “If the country is good enough to live in, it’s good enough to fight for.” With privilege goes responsibility.”  

Eugene B. Sledge:  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

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

Language and violence advisory for the above video giving a fairly sanitized Hollywood version of what the battle of Okinawa was like.  Austin Bay at Strategy Page reminds us of just how bad the battle of Okinawa, raging seventy years ago, was:

On shore, some 80,000 to 100,000 Japanese manned hardened fortifications. Historians debate the total number of defenders. The Okinawan Home Guard (Boeitai) participated, but to what extent is uncertain: 500,000 civilians lived on the island. Though Tokyo’s ruling supremacists regarded Okinawans as low caste, they encouraged them to die for the Emperor, in droves.

That served the diplomatic end. With the European war drawing to a close, Japan’s rulers gambled that strategic fanaticism would convince war-wearying America that fighting Japan was too costly. Attention Missouri, New York, Texas — your soldiers will die for each inch of rock.

The Japanese decided to defend Okinawa in selected sectors. Troops would wait inland. If the kamikazes sank a few supply ships, that might slow the land attack. As U.S. troops approached, Japanese forces would attack then withdraw into the defense system, forcing a bunker-to-bunker fight. Defenders in the South might resist for months in the concentric defense surrounding the town of Shuri.

U.S. troops initially met limited opposition. By April 4, a Marine division had cut across the island. On the same day, U.S. Army units encountered in-depth defenses to the south. The kamikazes hit the fleet; Japanese in the Southern sector launched several vicious attacks. And Okinawa’s great bleeding began.

From April 12 to 14, the Japanese attacked along the entire south front. Both sides suffered casualties; the U.S. invasion stalled. On April 30, an Army division had to be withdrawn. Bunker battles had reduced the division to 30 percent strength.

Japanese attacks in early May rattled U.S. forces. However, outside their forts, the Japanese suffered heavy casualties. One assault cost the Japanese 7,000 dead. The Americans employed endless volleys of artillery and on-call air strikes.

Monsoon rains slowed operations in late May. The mud and muck reminded some of WWI’s Ypres battlefield. U.S. forces chipped away at the concentric defense. An intense artillery barrage would rake a Japanese bunker; a limited infantry assault would finish the dirty job. Behind the bunkers, GIs found more bunkers, but the defenders were less skilled. Fighting lapsed. On June 22, the Japanese commanders committed ritual suicide.

All told, Okinawa killed 12,500 Americans and wounded approximately 50,000. It was the U.S. Navy’s biggest killer, with 4,907 sailor deaths and 4,874 wounded. Japan lost an estimated 75,000 military dead. As for civilians? Estimates run from 50,000 to 110,000. (more…)

Published in: on April 20, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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