Category Archives: American Military History

Veteran’s History Project by the Library of Congress

If you are a history geek like me, and I assume you are because you are reading the blog, then here is a project that should be interesting.  In the late 90’s and early 00’s there was a much bandied statistic floating around that 1,000 World War II vets died every day.  If that number were true then it is probably not true anymore because there probably are not enough World War II vets left to keep dying in those numbers for very long.

One thing that modern technology allows is to capture the memories of individual and put them into a form accessible to both the public and historians.  One project like that is the Veteran’s History Project by the Library of Congress.  What this project does is it “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”  The project makes all of this material available through its own website and includes not just narratives but also pictures and videos made by the veterans.

What is neat about this project is that it depends on non-historians to collect the material for it.  The veterans themselves can submit their own stories or people who just want to preserve history can go out and interview vets for inclusion in the database.  They have a VHP Field Kit that people can download to help guide them in their interviews of vets.  I plan on filling one of the kits out with my own experiences and also interviewing my brother and father who are also both vets.  My dad was in Vietnam and my brother was in Operation Desert Fox in 1990 while I was in both Bosnia in 1995 and Iraq 2004-2005.

This is a great project for history teachers to get involved in.  Not only does it make the kids aware of the men and women who walk among them every day who put their lives on the line in service to the country, it also preserves the memories of the men and women for future generations.  I can imagine finding and interviewing a vet being a pretty enlightening project for high school sophomores or juniors.

Reading and Military Service

There is an interesting piece on Medium.com recently about basic training and encouraging new soldiers to read.  I read, and read a lot, and have always tried to encourage others to read, not only my fellow soldiers when I was in the Army, but people in general.

I find that the idea of having a reading list and free copies of said books available to basic trainees to read in their less-than-copious free time is an awesome idea and I am chagrined that I did not do it when I was a Drill Sergeant at Fort Knox many years ago.

I don’t necessarily agree with all the titles on the list, I would remove some and add a few others, mot notably Storm of Steel, The Face of Battle, and Helmet for My Pillow.  That being said, the idea is an excellent one and I would hope the Army would pick up on it and actually sponsor it so that Drill Sergeants do not have to finance such a worthy idea themselves.

The original article is linked below.  KNUCKLE-DRAGGERS NEED TO READ TOO:

Book Review: House of War by James Carroll

House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power is one of those books that when you are done reading it you cannot quite decide if it was worth reading or not.

If you want to know what history looks like, particularly American history, from the perspective of someone who sees evil and nefarious dealings in just about every single action taken by the United States then this is the book for you. I never thought I would see the day when the Marshall Plan would be described as economic warfare but it is in this book and that is just one example. I found it difficult to suspend disbelief and finish this book but I managed to man up and do so. This is history of the Zinn School. That is, it is a history written by a person consumed with spite and self-loathing for the culture and nation that nurtured and created them.

There are several outrageous claims made throughout the book and they all essentially boil down to America was/is evil.  Here are some examples:

  1. The Point Blank campaign that destroyed communications infrastructure in occupied Europe prior to the Allied invasion on D-Day was purposely designed to kill as many civilians as possible and any industrial or strategic effects were secondary results at best.  Richard Overy does a very good job of destroying this particular fanstasy in his recently published book, The Bombers and the Bombed.
  2. The Marshall Plan was not designed to help rebuild Europe from the devastation of WWII, it was economic warfare against the Soviet Union and had nothing to do with helping anybody.
  3. The Soviet land blockade of Berlin that led to the Berlin Airlift was a response to economic attacks by the West.  Specifically, he claims it was a response to the West’s apparently malicious introduction of the Deutsche Mark into the Western occupied zones.
  4. The North Korean’s were probably goaded into attacking the the South in 1950 by a speech by Dean Acheson.  The subtext here is that the war would not have happened if it were not for the US.

He goes on and on ad nauseum about NSC-68 being evil and completely ignores the fact that the strategy of communist containment outlined in the document was ultimately the strategy that won the Cold War for the West.  Of course, he thinks the West should not have won.  If you take this book at face value you would come away believing that Communists the world over are/were a bunch of peaceful little boggles that were forced into being the brutish thugs who murdered their own people by the millions because of the evil machinations of the West.  In this long story of the perfidy of the West the brutal Soviet crackdowns on satellite states are ignored and Soviet intervention elsewhere are always presented as being reasonable responses to Western aggression.

I would call this book a waste of paper but that is not strong enough. It is worthwhile in one respect though. If you can see beyond the banality and fake moralism it gives a pretty clear picture of the intense dislike of the modern American left for the United States.  I found myself wondering, if the author finds America so evil why is he still here? The one thing that comes through clearly in the entire book is the author’s conviction that America and the wider West are the true Evil Empire and it is only if the West gives itself over to the modern left/progressive movement that we can hope to atone for the sin of our very existence.  That all this comes from a de-frocked Catholic Priest should be no surprise.

I cannot recommend this book except as an excellent example of what infinitely biased history and twisted facts look like.  Luckily I did not pay for it having borrowed it from my local library.

The First Battle of Manassas – 21 July, 1861

First Manassas or First Bull Run as it was called in the North was the first major battle between land forces of the Civil War.  The outcome of the battle also set the general pattern for battles in the first two years of the war. That pattern being tactical Union defeats with the Confederacy being incapable of following up on the strategic opportunities presented by their victories.

Forces Involved:
Union – 28,450 troops under BG Irvin McDowell
Confederate – 32,230 under BG Joseph Johnston and BG P.G.T. Beauregard

A key point is to remember that uniforms were not standardized on either side this early in the war. Both armies looked like multi-colored mobs and the lack of standardization was to increase confusion about unit identity on the day of the battle.  Another Point to remember is that the Confederate forces were those of two different armies and neither army was completely engaged during the battle. Only about half of the Confederate forces took part in the decisive fight around Henry house Hill.  The commanders of both armies but especially the Confederates comprised almost a who’s who of people that would be prominent later in the war.

Manassas 1

The Opening Skirmish: On July 18th Tyler’s Division of the Union Army tried and failed to force Blackburn’s Ford across Bull Run on the direct route to Manassas Junction.  He was supposed to just demonstrate in that direction while avoiding an engagement.  Instead got into a fight with Longstreet’s Brigade of Confederates that was guarding the ford.  Tyler continued the fight at the Ford until McDowell arrived personally and ordered him to break off the engagement.

The Confederates planned on standing on the defensive just south of the Bull Run River with the approximate center of their line being the stone bridge along the Warrenton Pike where it crosses the river.  By contrast the Union planned a two piece attack with Tyler’s Division demonstrating along the river line while a Two Divisions would march around the Confederate flank, cross Bull Run at the Sudley Springs Ford and attempt to roll up their line from the confederate left.

The morning of the battle itself found the action beginning around 0800 as Tyler’s division demonstrated by the Stone Bridge. About 0900-0915 the Evan’s Brig. on the Confederate left flank began engaging the lead elements of the Union 2nd division as they approached Matthew’s Hill from the west. Evan’s was reinforced by two more brigades but the Union troops arrived too fast forcing the Confederates to engage as they came up and not allowing them concentrate. Around 1100 hours the Confederates were driven from Matthew’s Hill and retreated to Henry House Hill where the first units of Joe Johnston’s Army was arriving and they could establish a defensive line as the Union Army kept approaching.

As the Confederate troops attempted to establish their new position on Henry House Hill vital time was bought by the privately raised Legion of Wade Hampton which delayed the Union troops by about five minutes in a short sharp fight at the foot of the hill.  Incidentally, Hampton’s Legion suffered the highest casualties of any unit engaged at First Manassas.

Manassas 2

After the Confederates had retreated they established a defensive line in the shape of a an inverted semicircle.  This shape allowed the Confederates to fire on the Union troops from three sides as they came up the hill in the assault.

It was at this time that Stonewall Jackson earned his nickname as his Brigade fought desperately and bought the remainder of the time necessary for the Confederates to consolidate their position.

The key and decisive part of the battle was the fighting that swirled around Henry House Hill in the afternoon from roughly noon until 1600.  The Union army had gotten two batteries of Regular Army artillery in good position to fire on the Confederate lines.

As the fight developed the Union initially had a superiority of force of somewhere between 3 and as much as 5 to 1.  If they had concentrated and attacked with an entire division or even an entire brigade they probably could have taken the hill and won the battle, but they did not d that.  Instead, the Union troops advanced and attacked a regiment at a time.

The Decisive Moment
The Decisive Moment

As each Union regiment assaulted the crest of the hill they were repulsed and thrown back only to be replaced by a fresh regiment to whom the same thing happened.  Throughout the course of the afternoon the Union troops continued to assault in the way until there was a mass of defeated mixed up Union regiments at the foot of the hill.

Keep in mind also that the Confederate troops were continually being reinforced as Johnston’s Shenandah troops were fed into the battle as they arrived from the railhead at Manassas Junction.  Eventually the balance of forces started to swing against the Union.

The battle finally turned entirely against the Union hen the Confederate cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart attack and overran the two batteries of Union artillery that had been so damaging to the Confederates all afternoon. This was doubly worse as the artillery was caught as it was displacing to get a better angle of fire on the defenders.

As the artillery was overrun fresh confederate troops of Jubal Early and Arnold Elzey followed the cavalry and plowed into the Union right collapsing it forcing the entire Union army to begin to retreat.  The Union troops managed to retreat in fairly good order until they reached the Cub Run bridge where a destroyed wagon on the bridge itself caused a traffic jam forced the army to cross the creek on foot.  It was here that rumors of confederate cavalry turned a retreat into a rout and then a rout into a panic.  The only Union unit that maintained discipline was the 14th U.S. Infantry which kept its order and continued to fight serving as a rear guard for the entire union army as they fled the battlefield.Manassas 4

The Confederates were too exhausted to immediately pursue the defeated Union army and by the time they were rested the next day rain overnight had turned the roads into a morass and ruled out any effective pursuit.  This allowed the defeated Union Army of the Potomac to regroup and reconsolidate in and around Washington D.C. in the next few weeks.  The first Union campaign of the war had ended in failure. Casualties were actually fairly light for such a large battle, especially when considered by the casualties standards of later battles of the Civil War.