July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner

We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

Response of the parents of Colonel Robert Shaw as to whether they wished to have his body exhumed and brought back to Boston.

The 155th anniversary of the second assault on Fort Wagner, the Confederate fort on Morris Island, guarding entry into Charleston Harbor, made immortal by the film Glory (1989) depicting the attack of the 54th Massachusetts.  The 54th sustained the following casualties out of 600 men:  29 killed, including the commander of the regiment, 25 year old Colonel Robert Shaw, 15 captured, 52 missing in action and 149 wounded.  The white regiments that participated in the attack also sustained heavy losses.  A total of 1515 Union casualties against approximately 174 Confederate casualties.   Ironically, Fort Wagner would be abandoned by the Confederates in September, it being too difficult to keep the Fort supplied in the teeth of a continual Union bombardment, and the water supply in the Fort being contaminated by the number of corpses in the soil surrounding the fort from the two unsuccessful assaults.

The courage shown by the men of the 54th put the lie to the fairly common belief, completely at variance with history, that black men could not make good soldiers.  The 54th would go on to fight in several more battles during the course of the War.

Sergeant William Carney of the 54th earned a Medal of Honor in the assault.  Despite being wounded several times he placed the national flag on the parapet of Fort Wagner, and when the 54th retreated he brought back the flag in spite of being wounded twice more.  He told the men he gave the flag to:  “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” (more…)

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American Expeditionary Forces

 

A good overview of the growth of the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I.  The narrator seems to have a German accent which does give a slight surreal quality to the video.

Published in: on July 17, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Springfield Book Haul

As usual my family and I took our annual July excursion down to Springfield to visit the Lincoln Museum and to pray for the repose of Mr. Lincoln’s soul at his tomb.  My son outside the tomb lifted up a little girl who was trying to reach the nose of Lincoln’s bust outside of the tomb so she could rub it for luck.  Thus are bits of Lincoln lore passed down the generations.  As usual I purchased books at the Museum and at the Prairie Archives bookstore.

 

 

  1. Stanton, Walter Stahr (2017)-Lincoln’s Secretary of War is one of those major figures of the Civil War who, for one reason or another, never seem to attract scholarly attention.  The research on Stanton has been truly meager, considering his importance, and hopefully this volume will spur further study of Lincoln’s “Mars”.
  2. Lincoln in the Atlantic World, Louise L. Stevenson (2015)- A look at how Lincoln incorporated knowledge from abroad both before and during his Presidency.  I will need some convincing here.  Few presidents have been more consumed by domestic considerations than Lincoln, and few presidents have been more completely focused throughout their careers on the US than Lincoln.
  3. Lincoln’s Greatest Journey, Noah Andre Trudeau (2016)- A veteran Civil War historian puts under the microscope the sixteen days that Lincoln spent with Grant at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac at the tail end of the War.
  4. Our One Common Country, James B. Conroy (2014)- A look at the abortive peace conference on February 3, 1865 which demonstrated why the Civil War was fought:  no grounds for compromise existed between the warring parties.
  5. Grant Rises in the West, Kenneth P. Williams, (1952, 1956)-Williams died of cancer in 1958 before he could complete his five volume study, Lincoln Finds a General.  These two volumes look at Grant up through the siege of Vicksburg.  Grant was fortunate that he had a few years to master the trade of being a general before he faced Lee in the Overland Campaign of 1864.
  6. Hitler:  The Man and the Military Leader, Percy Ernst Schramm (1963-English translation 1970)-In the very top echelon of German medievalists prior to World War II, Schramm, with the rank of Major, served as staff diarist for the German General Staff during the War and had daily access to the High Command including Hitler.
  7. A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918 (1974)-How this rattletrap collection of odds and ends survived as an empire as long as it did is one of the miracles of European history.  Compare and contrast the immensely powerful Second Reich that endured from 1871-1918.
  8. Lawrence of Arabia, Jeremy Wilson (1990)- The authorized, by his then surviving brother, biography of T.E. Lawrence.  New studies of Lawrence show up regularly and I doubt if there will ever be one that can be claimed to be definitive.  Lawrence was a fabulist (liar) of the first order, and loved telling conflicting versions of events in his life, and that greatly increases the work of any biographer.  Additionally, the people who came into contact with Lawrence often had quite different recollections than those set down by Lawrence.  Lawrence was a scholar and artist pretending to be a great warrior and prophet of Arab nationalism, and the pretense seems to have caused him to become somewhat detached from reality.  A deeply strange man who still eludes biographers down to the present.

 

Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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July 15, 1918: Second Battle of the Marne Begins

 

On July 15, 1918, the Germans began what would be their final offensive on the Western front in World War I.  The attack on the French Fourth Army east of Reims was stopped on the first day by fierce French in depth resistance.  The attack on the Sixth Army west of Reims fared better, making a breakthrough across the south bank of the River Marne.  Reinforced by British forces and 85,000 American troops, the French Sixth Army brought the German  offensive to a grinding halt on July 17.

The Germans had shot their bolt and now it was time for the Allies to launch a counteroffensive with twenty-four French divisions, four British divisions, two Italian divisions and eight American divisions.  (The American divisions were twice the size of British and French divisions and thus were the equivalent of sixteen French divisions.)  The counter-offensive was a complete success capturing 800 artillery pieces, 30,000 German troops and inflicting an additional 139,000 German casualties.  French observers highly praised the American troops for their elan and their willingness to accept high casualties in order to take ground.  German reports noted defects in American attacks due to inexperience, but also routinely mentioned that the Americans fought with great tenacity and courage.  Here is an extract from General Pershing’s report on the battle:

 

 

The enemy had encouraged his soldiers to believe that the July 15th attack would conclude the war with a German peace.

Although he made elaborate plans for the operation, he failed to conceal fully his intentions, and the front of attack was suspected at least one week ahead.

On the Champagne front the actual hour for the assault was known and the enemy was checked with heavy losses. The 42nd Division entered the line near Somme Py immediately, and five of its infantry battalions and all its artillery became engaged.

Southwest of Rheims and along the Marne to the east of Chateau-Thierry the Germans were at first somewhat successful, a penetration of eight kilometres beyond the river being effected against the French immediately to the right of our 3rd Division.

The following quotation from the report of the Commanding General 3rd Division gives the result of the fighting on his front:

Although the rush of the German troops overwhelmed some of the front-line positions, causing the infantry and machine-gun companies to suffer, in some cases a 50 per cent loss, no German soldier crossed the road from Fossoy to Crezancy, except as a prisoner of war, and by noon of the following day (July 16th) there were no Germans in the foreground of the 3rd Division sector except the dead.

On this occasion a single regiment of the 3rd Division wrote one of the most brilliant pages in our military annals. It prevented the crossing at certain points on its front, while on either flank the Germans who had gained a footing pressed forward. Our men, firing in three sections, met the German attacks with counter-attacks at critical points and succeeded in throwing two German divisions into complete confusion, capturing 600 prisoners.

The Marne salient was inherently weak and offered an opportunity for a counter-offensive that was obvious. If successful, such an operation would afford immediate relief to the Allied defence, would remove the threat against Paris and free the Paris-Nancy railroad.

But, more important than all else, it would restore the morale of the Allies and remove the profound depression and fear then existing.

Up to this time our units had been put in here and there at critical points, as emergency troops to stop the terrific German advance. In every trial, whether on the defensive or offensive, they had proved themselves equal to any troops in Europe.

As early as June 23rd and again on July 10th at Bombon, I had very strongly urged that our best divisions be concentrated under American command, if possible, for use as a striking force against the Marne salient.

Although the prevailing view among the Allies was that American units were suitable only for the defensive, and that at all events they could be used to better advantage under Allied command, the suggestion was accepted in principle, and my estimate of their offensive fighting qualities was soon put to the test.

The selection by the Germans of the Champagne sector and the eastern and southern faces of the Marne pocket on which to make their offensive was fortunate for the Allies, as it favoured the launching of the counter-attack already planned. There were now over 1,200,000 American troops in France, which provided a considerable force of reserves.

Every American division with any sort of training was made available for use in a counter-offensive.

General Petain’s initial plan for the counter-attack involved the entire western face of the Marne salient. The First and Second American Divisions, with the First French Moroccan Division between them, were employed as the spearhead of the main attack, driving directly eastward, through the most sensitive portion of the German lines, to the heights south of Soissons.

The advance began on July 18th, without the usual brief warning of a preliminary bombardment, and these three divisions at a single bound broke through the enemy’s infantry defences and overran his artillery, cutting or interrupting the German communications leading into the salient.

A general withdrawal from the Marne was immediately begun by the enemy, who still fought stubbornly to prevent disaster.

The First Division, throughout four days of constant fighting, advanced 11 kilometres, capturing Berzy-le-Sec and the heights above Soissons and taking some 3,500 prisoners and 68 field guns from the 7 German divisions employed against it. It was relieved by a British division.

The Second Division advanced 8 kilometres in the first 26 hours, and by the end of the second day was facing Tigny, having captured 3,000 prisoners and 66 field guns. It was relieved the night of the 19th by a French division.

The result of this counter-offensive was of decisive importance. Due to the magnificent dash and power displayed on the field of Soissons by our First and Second Divisions the tide of war was definitely turned in favour of the Allies.

Other American divisions participated in the Marne counter-offensive. A little to the south of the Second Division, the Fourth was in line with the French and was engaged until July 22nd. The First American Corps, Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett commanding, with the Twenty-sixth Division and a French division, acted as a pivot of the movement toward Soissons, capturing Torcy on the 18th and reaching the Chateau-Thierry-Soissons road on the 21st.

At the same time the Third Division crossed the Marne and took the heights of Mont St. Pere and the villages of Charteves and Jaulgonne.

In the First Corps, the Forty-second Division relieved the Twenty-sixth on July 25th and extended its front, on the 26th relieving the French division. From this time until August 2nd it fought its way through the Forest de Fere and across the Ourcq, advancing toward the Vesle until relieved by the Fourth Division on August 3rd.

Early in this period elements of the Twenty-eighth Division participated in the advance.

Farther to the east the Third Division forced the enemy back to Roncheres Wood, where it was relieved on July 30th by the Thirty-second Division from the Vosges front. The Thirty-second, after relieving the Third and some elements of the Twenty-eighth on the line of the Ourcq River, advanced abreast of the Forty-second toward the Vesle.

On August 3rd it passed under control of our Third Corps, Maj. Gen. Robert L. Bullard commanding, which made its first appearance in battle at this time, while the Fourth Division took up the task of the Forty-second Division and advanced with the Thirty-second to the Vesle River, where, on August 6th, the operation for the reduction of the Marne salient terminated.

In the hard fighting from July 18th to August 6th the Germans were not only halted in their advance but were driven back from the Marne to the Vesle and committed wholly to the defensive.

The force of American arms had been brought to bear in time to enable the last offensive of the enemy to be crushed.

 

Published in: on July 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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High Flight

 

Something for the weekend.  High Flight.  One hundred years ago on Bastille Day 1918, Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, youngest child of President Theodore Roosevelt, died in combat at 20 years old.  He shared with his father a brilliant mind, an exuberant spirit and the ability to make countless friends wherever he went.  All of Roosevelt’s  four sons served in combat in World War I, a true Lion’s Brood.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s World War I Ace of Aces, knew Roosevelt and described him in his memoirs:

 

“As President Roosevelt’s son he had rather a difficult task to fit himself in with the democratic style of living which is necessary in the intimate life of an aviation camp. Every one who met him for the first time expected him to have the airs and superciliousness of a spoiled boy. This notion was quickly lost after the first glimpse one had of Quentin. Gay, hearty and absolutely square in everything he said or did, Quentin Roosevelt was one of the most popular fellows in the group. We loved him purely for his own natural self.

“He was reckless to such a degree that his commanding officers had to caution him repeatedly about the senselessness of his lack of caution. His bravery was so notorious that we all knew he would either achieve some great spectacular success or be killed in the attempt. Even the pilots in his own flight would beg him to conserve himself and wait for a fair opportunity for a victory. But Quentin would merely laugh away all serious advice.”

 

 

He had his crowded hour, he died at the crest of life, in the glory of the dawn.

Theodore Roosevelt on his son Quentin

 

 

On July 14, Roosevelt and three other American flyers were jumped by seven German planes:

 

September 5, 1918

FATHER DEAR,: –

You asked me if I knew Quentin Roosevelt. Yes, I knew him very well indeed, and had been associated with him ever since I came to France and he was one of the finest and most courageous boys I ever knew. I was in the fight when he was shot down and saw the whole thing.

Four of us were out on an early patrol and we had just crossed the lines looking for Boche observation machines, when we ran into seven Fokker Chasse planes. They had the altitude and the advantage of the Sun on us. It was very cloudy and there was a strong wind blowing us farther across the lines all the time. The leader of our formation turned and tried to get back out, but they attacked before we reached the lines, and in a few seconds had completely broken up our formation and the fight developed into a general free-for-all. I tried to keep an eye on all our fellows but we were hopelessly separated and out-numbered nearly two to one. About a half a mile away I saw one of our planes with three Boche on him, and he seemed to be having a pretty hard time with them, so I shook the two I was maneuvering with and tried to get over to him, but before I could reach him, his machine turned over on its back and plunged down out of control. I realized it was too late to be of any assistance and as none of our machines were in sight, I made for a bank of clouds to try to gain altitude on the Huns, and when I came back out, they had reformed, but there were only six of them, so I believe we must have gotten one.

I waited around about ten minutes to see if I could pickup any of our fellows, but they had disappeared, so I came on home, dodging from cloud to cloud for fear of running into another Boche formation. Of course, at the time of the fight I did not know who the pilot was I had seen go down, but as Quentin did not come back, it must have been him. His loss was one of the severest blows we have ever had in the Squadron, but he certainly died fighting, for any one of us could have gotten away as soon as the scrap started with the clouds as they were that morning. I have tried several times to write to Col. Roosevelt but it is practically impossible for me to write a letter of condolence, but if I am lucky enough to get back to the States, I expect to go to see him.

Edward Buford

His German foes buried him with full military honors and paid tribute to his valor:

 

“The aviator of the American Squadron, Quentin Roosevelt, in trying to break through the airzone over the Marne, met the death of a hero. A formation of seven German airplanes, while crossing the Marne, saw in the neighborhood of Dormans a group of twelve American fighting airplanes and attacked them. A lively air battle began, in which one American (Quentin) in particular persisted in attacking. The principal feature of the battle consisted in an air duel between the American and a German fighting pilot named Sergeant Greper. After a short struggle, Greper succeeded in bringing the brave American just before his gun-sights. After a few shots the plane apparently got out of his control; the American began to fall and struck the ground near the village of Chamery, about ten kilometers north of the Marne. The American flier was killed by two shots through the head. Papers in his pocket showed him to be Quentin Roosevelt, of the United States army. His effects are being taken care of in order to be sent to his relatives. He was buried by German aviators with military honors.”

His parents were of course devastated.  Theodore Roosevelt never completely recovered from the shock and it may have hastened his death.  However, he kept his private grief private and issued this statement to the press:  “Quentin’s mother and I are very glad that he got to the front and had the chance to render some service to his country and to show the stuff that was in him before his fate befell him.”  Quentin’s mother summed up Quentin’s life when he went off to the War:  “It was hard when Quentin went. But you can’t bring up boys to be eagles, and expect them to turn out sparrows.”

Published in: on July 14, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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George Washington: Mitigating Circumstances

Toranaga: “[Another person] says that the Netherlands were vassals of the Spanish king until just a few years ago. Is that true?”

Blackthorne: “Yes.”

Toranaga: “Therefore, the Netherlands – your allies – are in a state of rebellion against their lawful king?”

Blackthorne: “They’re fighting against the Spaniard, yes, but – ”

Toranaga: “Isn’t that rebellion? Yes or no?”

Blackthorne: “Yes. But there are mitigating circumstances. Serious miti- ”

Toranaga: “There are no ‘mitigating circumstances’ when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord!”

Blackthorne: “Unless you win.”

Toranaga looked at him intently. Then laughed uproariously. “Yes, Mister Foreigner…you have named the one mitigating factor.”

James Clavell, Shogun

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Hattip to commenter Dale Price for the idea of linking George Washington and Shogun.  Language advisory as to the below video:

 

Published in: on July 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The President on the Duke

The things you find on the internet! President Reagan being interviewed in 1988 about John Wayne:

 

Wayne was ever a friend and supporter of Reagan:

 

Published in: on July 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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July 11, 1864: Battle of Fort Stevens

 

 

The culmination of Early’s raid on Washington, the skirmishing at Fort Stevens, one of the many forts guarding Washington, on July 11-12, really didn’t amount to much, Early quickly realizing that the fort was now manned partially by veteran troops of the VI corps from the Army of the Potomac, dispatched by Grant to guard Washington, and that whatever opportunity he had ever had to seize Washington by a coup de main was now gone.

battle-of-fort-stevens-925

Early withdrew on the evening of July 12 and by July 13 was south of the Potomac, his raid on Washington becoming simply a matter for historians.  The attack on Fort Stevens is now chiefly remembered for the visit by President and Mrs. Lincoln during the engagement, and Lincoln becoming the only American president during his term of office to come under combat fire. (more…)

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Steve Ditko: Requiescat In Pace

 

 

In my misspent youth I collected comics.  (As a sign of advancing maturity I got rid of them when I was 13.  If I had saved such treasures as my beloved Spider-Man #2 I could have a tidy sum now!).  Perhaps my favorite comic book was the initial run of Spider-Man drawn by artist Steve Ditko.  Spider-Man became a crime fighter due to his beloved Uncle Ben, his foster father, being slain by a burglar that Spider-Man could have apprehended but did not due to his having been too self-absorbed to help a cop chasing the burglar.  I always thought Spider-Man had a powerful motivation as his lack of action, his sin of omission, led to the death of Uncle Ben, and as I was taught early by the nuns, a sin always requires reparation, and Spider-Man’s reparation was to fight crime, a theme that was constantly remarked upon in the comic.

I identified with Spider-Man.  Spider-Man was a bookish teenager lacking social skills suddenly vested with great powers.  He was also broke and his travails over money had a ring of familiarity to me.  My favorite Spider-Man story of the Ditko era was a trilogy in which he was suffering from the flu and had to stop the bad guys and somehow get the serum necessary to save the life of his Aunt May who was seriously ill.  It sounds silly in that bare bones summary of the plot, but the story arc emphasized some good lessons for a growing boy:  courage against the odds, fighting for those you love and that superpowers do not make the hero since Spider-Man lost much of his as a result of the flu, and was even more heroic as a result.

Steve Ditko, the legendary artist who drew Spider-Man, has passed away at age 90.  In a field dominated by Leftists, Ditko was a follower of Ayn Rand.  He had a very distinctive style, go here to see samples of his work.  His stark drawings were a reflection of how Ditko looked at the world.  Good and Evil were realities to him, and not merely differing shades of gray.  In 2004 Ditko wrote about another of his comic book heroes, Mr. A:

“Mr. A stands for a rational, objective philosophy of positive, pro-life premises and values. That is symbolized by his white and black card. A is A, no graying, no contradictions: Reality is an absolute, man is a rational being, reason (logic) is man’s only means to knowledge, man’s life is the standard of value, the good is that which supports a rational life, man must act on objective, rational virtues of integrity, independence, honesty, etc. The moral man is the man who leads a productive life, at his best in thought and action. …. Mr. A’s values are the highest values, the best values, for a man to live by if he wants the best life has to offer.”

A rather reclusive figure, as far as is known Ditko never married and had no children.  He politely declined requests for formal interviews, although anyone who wanted to could stop by his Manhattan studio and talk to him if he had the time.  Somewhat of a restless figure, not always easy to work with,  he was employed by many comic book companies during his career.  Ditko went his own way during his life, rarely willing to temper his art to suit his employers.  May he enjoy in the next life the peace and joy that his characters strove for.

 

Published in: on July 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Last Roll of the Dice for Germany

 

As the above video indicates, a century ago some German civilian leaders, notably the German foreign minister, were beginning to realize that the Western Allies could not be militarily defeated by the Germans.  Hindenburg and Ludendorff begged to differ, but they understood that if the War was to be won it had to be won quickly.  A million American troops were now in France and their ranks were swelling fast.  The German High Command busily were completing plans for yet another German offensive to being on July 15, 1818.  If this offensive did not succeed in placing Germany into a war winning position, then they might as well start planning for the next World War.

Published in: on July 9, 2018 at 5:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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