Category Archives: American Military History

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner

The Battle of Antietam – 17 September, 1862

The Battle of Antietam is interesting for several reasons the most important of which for me is that it is the single bloodiest day in American military history. There have been bloodier battles in American wars but no single day matches the blood spilled on those Maryland fields that early day in 1862. The Union victory at Antietam, if you can call it a victory, also provided Abe Lincoln with the opportunity to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation. An executive act that was totally unconstitutional but that he did anyway for domestic and foreign political reasons.

Antietam was the final battle of Lee’s first invasion of the North and while it was not a decisive battle it changed things because of what came after.  If anything, from a purely tactical and operational standpoint the battle was a draw.  Both sides essentially beat themselves bloody over a few square miles of Maryland territory that neither considered vital.  The battle is only considered a Union victory because Lee took his army and left instead of renewing the fighting for a second day leaving the Army of the Potomac in possession of the battlefield.

The commander of the 75,000 man, six Corps strong Union Army of the Potomac was General George B. McClellan.  He was opposed the 39,000 man two Corps Confederate Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General Robert E. Lee.

In the fall of 1862 following the Confederate victory at Second Manassas Lee decided to invade Maryland. There were several competing reasons for this decision. One was that it was thought that that best way to force the Union to a negotiated settlement was to inflict a defeat on Northern forces on northern soil. Another was the hope that by successfully taking the war to the North the Southern states could win foreign recognition and potentially aid. It was also believed that Maryland was the state still in the Union whose population was the most sympathetic to the southern cause. Lastly, Lee believed that by invading Maryland and threatening the capture of Washington D.C. he could force the Army of the Potomac under McClellan to accept battle on his terms.

The invasion began on 3 Sep. 1862 and almost immediately (McClellan was a notorious slowpoke) provoked a reaction from the Union forces garrisoned in and around Washington D.C.

Movements at the Battle of Antietam Sep. 3-17, 1962 Map Courtesy CivilWar.org
Movements at the Battle of Antietam Sep. 3-17, 1962
Map Courtesy CivilWar.org

There were several skirmishes and minor battles prior to the culminating battle of the campaign at Antietam. The most significant of these was Stonewall Jackson’s capture of the federal garrison and Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on Sep. 15th. This was the largest surrender of Federal troops during the war and the loss of weapons was considerable. The Confederates captured roughly 13,000 small arms, 200 wagons, and 73 artillery pieces when they took the Arsenal.

In the days leading up to the battle McClellan was slowly gathering all the disparate forces of the Army of the Potomac together and began to converge them west of Frederick in the vicinity of Sharpsburg.  By contrast Lee’s army straggled in from their scattered positions in Maryland on 15 & 16 Sep. but McClellan’s habitual caution allowed Lee the time to consolidate his position prior to the Union assault on the morning of the 17th.

The first engagements between the two armies was on the night of 16 Sep when the Federal I Corps (Hooker) encountered rebel pickets.
During the night the Federal  XII Corps (Mansfield) moved up in support of I Corps.

At around 0600 on 17 Sep Hooker’s Corps advanced and attacked the Confederate Left in the area of the North and East Woods and the Cornfield that was held by Stonewall Jackson’s Corps.  The attack was almost successful until Hooker’s Corps was hit in the flank by Hood’s division who drove off the Union attack.  As the I Corps retreated Mansfield was told that he was needed to cover the broken I Corps or the battle was lost before it really began.

As the XII Corps moved up to the attack Mansfield, it’s commander was mortally wounded and confusion briefly reigned as the 1st Division commander established his command of the Corps
At 0800 the XII Corps finally got into the fight and after heavy combat took and held the Dunker Church area unsupported by other Federal troops.

Morning attacks of the battle. Map Courtesy USACMH
Morning attacks of the battle.
Map Courtesy USACMH

At about 0830 the II Corps (Sumner) entered the battle passing through the area where I and XII Corps had been so severely handled by Jackson’s Corps earlier.  As the II Corps advanced into the battered formation of Jackson’s Corps they were  hit in the flank by Fresh troops Lee had sent from his right and last Confederate reserves who managed to halt the attack in and around the Dunker Church and Cornfield.  The failed attack by II Corps ended the first phase of the battle.

In the afternoon Sumner wanted to attack the Confederate left again because he believed the Rebels were more badly damaged than him and with the reinforcements from VI Corps he had the chance to

Afternoon movement's during the battle. Map Courtesy USACMH
Afternoon movement’s during the battle.
Map Courtesy USACMH

crush the Confederate left.  The matter was referred to McClellan who denied permission for the attack and probably squandered the Union’s best chance to decisively defeat Lee’s Army, which was exhausted of reserves.  The IX Corps (Burnside) begins to enter the battle around the Burnside Bridge at approximately 1300.  At 1600 the IX Corps attacks towards Sharpsburg but the attack falters as the Corps is attacked in the flank by the Division of A.P. Hill and falls back to the bridge by 1700.  This was the last major Federal assault of the day and ended the battle although skirmishing continued.

On 18 September both armies remained in position and Lee considered renewing the battle but taking his own casualties and federal strength into account he instead stars withdrawing his army south.  McLellan chose not to pursue the retreating Confederates out of a belief that Lee was falling back on significant reinforcements.

Battle casualties near the Dunker Church. Image: Library of Congress
Battle casualties near the Dunker Church.
Image: Library of Congress

With 3,782 dead and a total of 22,000 casualties out of 114,000 troops engaged the Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in the history of American Arms.   The next costliest battle I can think of that took place on one day and is continually mentioned is the D-Day invasion of Normandy. At D-Day the US had roughly 1,400 dead and a further 3,500 wounded out of approximately 80,000 invasion troops.  Casualties at Antietam were roughly 19% while at D-Day they were 4.5 % of troops engaged.

An afterword is that an image was captured at Antietam that was a rarity prior to WWI.  Namely, Alexander Gardener captured an image of the battle as it was happening.  If you look at the below image on the right side you can see Union cavalry lined up awaiting orders and on the left side you can see the infantry of both armies on the fighting wreathed in the smoke from artillery and their rifles.  If you blow the image up you can even see a couple of places where guys are dragging casualties away from the line.  Why this has not become an iconic image of the Civil War I have no idea.

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner
Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner

 

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: D-Day – Minute-by-Minute by Jonathan Mayo

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Next Week is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day the Allied invasion of Europe.  I would guess that most people don’t think about it and if they do the picture that comes to their mind is a scene from Saving Private Ryan.  The movie gives a good idea but the words of those who were there are priceless gems in my opinion.

D-Day: Minute by Minute is a description of the events of D-day in the order in which they occurred taken from transcripts and interviews of those that were there.

It gives the reader a sense of the disordered perspective the average participant has in combat. All is chaos and confusion and it take courage and determination just to keep going, much less fight effectively.  It says much for the soldiers, sailors, and airman of the allied armies that they persevered despite the chaos of the landings.

The book itself is separated into three chapters that cover the period leading up to D-Day, the 5th of June, and D-Day itself.  By far the greatest portion of the book is dedicated to D-Day, 198 pages.  There is brief introduction and a postscript that details what happened to the people whose stories are told in the main narrative.  It also includes a 16 page, very tightly packed bibliography.

The minute-by-minute format is very appealing for an event as momentous as D-Day.  It gives the reader a sense of how the day played out and what I thought was more important, that the issue of whether the Allies would succeed or fail was in doubt until late in the afternoon.  One of the best things about this book is that although it focuses on retelling events from the Allied perspective it does not ignore the Germans fighting them and the recollections of several of the Normandy beach defenders are included as well.

This is an outstanding book and should be required reading in High School history classes.  I doubt that will happen though.  Everybody, whether history buff or not, should read this book.  I highly recommend it.  That it has been released near the 70th anniversary of the landings is appropriate as it gives voice to the generation that fought there and is rapidly passing away.

Periodic World Craziness Update # 30

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Ukraine Falters in Drive to Curb Unrest in East:  Perhaps the biggest mistake the Kiev government could make right now is to make threats they are unwilling or incapable of following through on.   Nothing could damage their credibility and legitimacy more than doing so.  It would seem they have done just that in regards to the protester seizure of government buildings in the eastern part of the country.

Fragile Europe Weakens U.S. Push for Russia Sanctions:  Who would have thought the current US admin could demonstrate more resolve than the EU right now?  Of course, Obama must follow through or he shows himself to the the paper tiger he has demonstrated before.  The disconnect among the western powers over Ukraine and the response to Russian aggression just makes the situation more fraught with peril than a strong united stand would be.

Ukraine pushes tanks and troops into separatist east:  So let me get this straight.  The Ukraine is acting to regain control of Ukrainian territory from Russian inspired insurgents and Medvedev, the Russian PM, deigns to blame Ukraine for starting a potential civil war by acting to protect their sovereignty?  If Russia had not instigated things in the Crimea last month this would not be happening.  Russia is to blame here and if a civil war or wider war starts there is no question where the war guilt lies.

Apparent Ukrainian troop defections escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine:  The Ukrainian slide into civil war that only Russia can stabilize continues.  Putin’s plan is either working great or he is using events to his advantage much better than is the West.

Japanese ship seized in wartime claims row:  Meanwhile, tensions between China and Japan continue to ratchet up.  The world is just an interesting place right now.  I would be curious to know exactly how big a percentage of China’s carrying trade moves in Japanese hulls and how much a suspension of such commerce would hurt China?  One thing is certain. China is more economically vulnerable than any other potential hostile power right now.

Putin Warns of Consequences as Ukraine Steps Up Offensive:  The richest part of this story is Putin’s hypocritical quote: “If it’s true that the current regime in Kiev sent the army against citizens inside its country, then it is a very serious crime against its own nation,…”  Pot meet kettle who has been waging a war against it’s own citizens for damn near twenty years in Chechnya.  So, If Ukrainians do what Putin does it is a crime huh?  Expect the Russo-Ukrainian War to start before this update gets posted.

Ukraine official says he fears a Russian invasionExclusive: Putin Halts All Talks With White House:  The slide toward war continues.  The big question to me is if the West will stay out of it because they falsely don;t see there strategic interests threatened by Russian aggression and expansion.  Interesting Times indeed.

Russian jets cross into Ukraine airspace:  Yet one more step towards armed Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine.  What impotent steps will the West take now?

Pro-Russia rebels hold German-led observers hostage:  It will be interesting to see the steps Germany and the EU take in response to the kidnapping of these OSCE observers.  I am guessing it will be demands for their release under threat of even more sanctions.

Ukraine crisis: Mayor of second city Gennady Kernes fights for his life after assassination attempt blamed on Kremlin:  The assassination of public officials is a very worrying sign as that is the next logical step in the slide towards civil war and a very good indicator of how much the Kiev government is losing their grasp on events.

 Ukraine crisis: Kremlin insists it cannot control pro-Russian separatists and calls for dialogue with West:  If you believe Putin has not control or influence I have some ocean-front property for sale cheap.

Ukraine crisis: ‘This is not some kind of a short-lived uprising. It is a war’:  It is not a war yet but if the Kiev government cannot regain control quickly or if they suffer a major setback it could rabidly devolve into a civil war.

Iran and Assad have won in Syria, say top Tehran foreign policy figures:  While I hate to agree with anything coming out of Tehran, they are right.  It is clear that absent majore western intervention that is patently not forthcoming it is now only a matter of months before Assad defeats the rebels.  Then again, I don;t think the West ever had a dog in that fight to begin with.  If anything, the West should have refused all support as soon as it became clear that Islamists were among the rebels.

Pro-Russian Separatists Declare Victory in East Ukraine Vote:  Of course, it was to be expected that the separatists would claim overwhelming victory on the election they are holding at the barrel of a gun now isn’t it.

The House on Pooh Corner

The House on Pooh Corner

The below photo is the House at Pooh Corner (Our name) in Bosnia in the summer of 1996 as my platoon was returning to our camp after spending the day guarding some UN folks who were excavating a Mass Grave nearby.   I was deployed to Bosnia in 1996 with 3/4, later 1/4 Cavalry out of Schweinfurt, Germany.  I ran across this photo last night and decided to post it today.  I am not in the picture because I am behind the camera.

The House on Pooh Corner
The House on Pooh Corner

The picture is not very good quality because I had to scan it, digital cameras still being in the future except for the rich in 1996.  I used about 30 disposable cameras back then that I would take the pictures with and then mail them off to get developed.

Here is the story behind the name of the building. In the winter of 1995-1996 as my unit first came into the sector we did a lot of patrolling to familiarize ourselves with our AO and to keep an eye on the people to make sure they were not going to keep being stupid. As you can perhaps imagine there is not a toilet in a Bradley CFV so we had to find somewhere to do our business. Probably 40%-50% of the houses in our AO were either abandoned or partially destroyed and this house was one of the one’s that had been abandoned. We never did find out who owned it before although by the time we redeployed someone had moved in.

Well, the house got its name because it was abandoned and on a route we drove fairly often because we knew the road was un-mined. I can’t remember who first used it to take a dump but eventually everyone in our platoon had taken a dump in the house and some with christened it he House at Pooh Corner. It was ideal because it was large and still had a roof of sorts so you would not get snowed and/or rained on while inside and it was easy for the rest of the section or platoon to secure. It eventually turned into an almost regular break area for us. We also used the name as shorthand because everybody knew where the house was at so we could reference it on the radio.

I look back and find the story hilarious now and thought I would share it. This is the kind of stuff soldiers do when they are bored.

 

Russian Troops Ukraine

Periodic World Craziness Update # 29

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Crimea referendum: Voters ‘back Russia union’:  Yep, That had to be a fair election.  It’s not like the Russians don’t have armed troops all over the place there.  I stand by my prediction that the US and EU will meekly submit to whatever Russia wants and go no farther than sanctions despite the Western Guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty from the 90’s.  Ukraine will probably continue to dominate the news this month as well.

NATO general warns of further Russian aggression:  So, what led NATO’s commander to just now acknowledge the danger that the Crimea will not be enough for Putin?  I would be very curious to see one of his daily intel updates.

Turkish PM defiant after Syrian plane shot down:  We should not forget that the Syrian civil war has not ended.  It is not in the news but the fighting continues and as far as i can tell the government forces are winning.

NATO’s Military Decline:  This is an opinion piece but it brings up a very valid point about some of the main reasons behind the tepid Western response to Russian actions in the Crimea.  The West is largely incapable of mounting an effective military response to Russian aggression if one were required.  Shades of 1938 anyone?

Russian military holds exercises in breakaway Moldova region: Personally, I don’t think Russia will go after Trans-Dnistria next.  I see Russia agitating for the amalgamation of the majority ethnic Russia eastern Ukraine and then seeking Anschluss with Belorussian before they look farther afield.  I also assume the endgame is a reconstitution of Greater Russia along the lines of the pre-Bolshevik borders.

Armed pro-govt militias roil Venezuela protests:  How long until the demonstrators in Venezuela resort to shooting back?  Venezuela is just as volatile, if not more so, than Ukraine was in November when the demonstrations started.  Civil war could start here too as the people begin to feel they have no other choice to better there lot.

Road_RunnerRussian Buildup Stokes Worries & Fighting Words: Schäuble Says Putin’s Crimea Plans Reminiscent of Hitler:  I think the Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine is ominous to say the least.  I also find it ironic that the only political figure in the West willing to call a duck a duck and point out the historical parallels in recent events is the German Finance Minister.  It is also amazing the speed with which other German politicians are running away from his remarks.  I almost expect to see a Roadrunner like rooster tail of dust behind Merkel.

Korea’s Trade Fire; Island Residents in Shelters:  Just when we needed more tension in the world, North Korea starts getting froggy again.  I guess Kim Jong Un is feeling neglected because he has not been in the news lately.

Putin Defies Obama in Syria as Arms Fuel Assad Resurgence:  I just wonder why the writer of this news story thinks Putin should listen to Obama in the first place.  Does anybody on the world stage listen to Obama?  Certainly not North Korea, Iran, Assad, or the Muslim Brotherhood.  At best Obama is treated with fake respect and then ignored.  Russia has interests in keeping Assad in power if for nothing else then to ensure they keep their naval base.

Russia cannot afford ‘collapsing state’ in its backyard: In a display of unparalleled cluelessness the German FM announces what is obviously untrue.  Russia has no problem with a collapsing state in their backyard because Russia is busy encouraging the collapse.  It is the states of the EU that cannot afford Ukraine to collapse and the loss of the strategic buffer that state represents.  European statesmen seem to not realize that Russia is an enemy, or at least is choosing to act as one and really, what is the difference?

Japan to intercept any North Korea missile deemed a threat:  Let us not forget that all is not calm in Asia either.  The North Koreans are still pursuing their own agenda that is at odds with the interests of every nation in the region except China.

Pro-Russians seize eastern Ukraine government buildings:  Stage two of the russian dismantling of Ukraine begins.  I would guess that if Putin can keep his agitators busy he will let the unrest in eastern ukraine simmer until early June sometime after the snap elections. That is of course,  unless he wants to use the agitation as a pretext for military action.  I would guess that is not the case though and the next major Russian move will not come until autumn when he can use Russian control of western European energy supplies as a lever to discourage western intervention.

U.S. accuses Russian agents of stirring eastern Ukraine unrest:  I wonder if Putin is losing control of the agitators in Ukraine.  It would appear that now is a poor time to increase the agitation given that outside nuclear weapons Russia’s biggest strategic threat is cutting off the flow of natural gas to western europe and that is a card that has much less sting at this time of year.  I would guess that Putin just wanted to keep the pot at a low boil until the early fall and the ethnic Russians in Ukraine are forcing his hand.  It just gets more interesting all the time.

Kiev gives pro-Russian protesters 48 hours to end their occupation:  The plot thickens.  I am still convinced that events are moving out of Purin’s control as current events in Eastern Ukraine are sure to alarm the West when alarming the Western powers if the last thing Putin wants right now.  I expect Putin to stand by as Kiev puts down te protest for now but to use the quelling of incipient rebellion later on as rhetorical ammunition to argue in favor of Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine.  A Sudeten Strategy if you will.

Kiev Government to Deploy Troops in Ukraine’s East‘Russia is waging war against Ukraine’:  It would appear that Ukraine is stealing a march on the separatists and Russia and attempting to seize the initiative as they should have done a month ago.  The question now is a two-parter; will the West support Ukraine to the hilt and will Russia escalate.  If the West supports Ukraine’s efforts to quash the separatists and affirms the sovereignty of Ukraine with concrete measures Russia has no choice but to de-escalate.  If however, the West does not support Ukraine then Russia has nothing to lose by tossing around threats and escalating the war of words and perhaps adding in undeniable military measures inside the territory of a sovereign neighboring state.  I think we are entering a new phase of the Black Sea Crisis.