Tag Archives: Battle Analysis

The Hattin Campaign and the Triumph of Saladin in 1187

Medieval politics make modern politics look like child’s play.  If any act from medieval times highlights this it is the Hattin Campaign of 1187 in which the entire military might of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed because the Christians themselves collectively acted stupidly due to internal political factors in the face of an existential external threat.  The final campaign of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is best seen as an object lesson of what happens when you let internal politics direct external actions.

In 1186 Guy de Lusignan became king of Jerusalem through his wife Sibylla after the death of Baldwin V while in his minority.  The coronation was disputed at the time by Raymond III who had been regent under Baldwin V.  This dispute almost led to civil war and it did lead Raymond to leave the capital with his retinue and return to Tripoli.

In April, 1187 Raymond had negotiated a truce with Saladin to allow transit of Muslims below Galillee.  Balian if Ibelin violated the truce, attacked the Muslim force commanded by Al Afdal, and was defeated at the Battle fo Cresson on 1 May 1187.Hattin 1

The violation of the truce led Saladin to declare the Kingdom of Jerusalem essentially outlaw and mount an invasion.  Because the prospect of hanging concentrate a man greatly, the Christians of the kingdom put aside their differences and called out the host of the kingdom to try and defeat Saladin and save the kingdom.

The Christian army massed near the springs of Saffuriya. Meanwhile on July 2nd Saladin initiated of siege of Raymond’s castle (near modern Kinneret) at Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).  The castle garrison surrendered the same day after an offer to pay tribute was rejected.  Raymond’s wife remained holed up in the castle citadel.Hattin 2

When news arrived of the fall of the castle but that the citadel was still holding out a war council was held.  After much arguing it was agreed that the Christian army would move to lift the siege.

They approached Tiberias on July 3rd.  When they spotted Saladin’s army they moved to defensive positions on the Horns of Hattin, a two summited hill without a spring or water source about 4 kilometers from the castle.

Saladin seized the Springs of Tur’an, the only convenient water source for the Christians.  The single biggest mistake the fractious Christians made was to retreat there in the first place.  Saladin used his army, and especially hi horse archers, to pick off individual Christian soldiers who cam off the hill to find water.  Saladin aggravated the lack of water by setting grass fires that choked the Christian army with smoke and eventually the Christian army moved off of the hill and attempted to break Saladin’s line to get to the lake and water.

After the Christians came off the hill Saladin split his cavalry in two to flank the Christian army.  Saladin now had the Christians surrounded.  His archers continually harassed the Christians and they faded away when the knights charged only to start firing again when the knights returned to the Christian lines.  After the second charge Raymond of Tripoli was cut off from the main body and he retreated from the battlefield.  Eventually the remnants of the Christian army was trapped on the Horns where they surrendered to Saladin.  The captured included the Grand Masters of the knights Templar and Hospitaler as well King Guy and many of the Christian nobility.

After the Battle of Hattin the Christian nobility of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was decimated. The Kingdom would never recover although it would be another 100 years before the last vestiges of the Christian Kingdom were ejected from the Holy Land.

Casualties

Hattin 3

 

After the disaster at the Horns of Hattin Saladin marched on Jerusalem and laid siege to it.

The city surrendered on October 2nd and unlike the orgy of rape and pillage when the First Crusade had taken the city in 1099 Saladin allowed the residents of the city to ransom themselves.  The Patriarch of Jerusalem took up a collection which paid the ransom for about 18,000 residents.  Those who could not pay and the soldiers who defended the city were sold into slavery.

The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem was rescued by the Third Crusade, which captured Acre on the coast.  This rump state of coastal cities survived for another hundred years until the final Fall of Acre in 1291 to the Mamluk Baibars.

Manassas 5

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.

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: The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan and the Other Changed America by James Campbell

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

The Color of War is one of those strange history books that seems both bipolar and unified at the same time.  It is the story of the invasion of Saipan and the Port Chicago naval disaster told mostly convergently.  At first the somewhat bi-polar nature of the way the story was told was off-putting but the more I read the book the more the method made sense.  The two different but temporally convergent narratives reinforce the separation of black and white service members during World War II.  This is not immediately apparent, but true nonetheless.  The book is 362 pages with almost 100 pages of notes and a 18 page bibliography.

The story of the invasion of Saipan is told from the view of several marines the author interviewed personally and whose memoirs were made available to him.  It easily transmits the variables and uncertainty of the war in the pacific to the reader.  Where the author makes an impact is his description of race relations and the conditions under which black sailors worked at Port Chicago.  Those of us who grew up after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have only a vague idea at best of what life was like for black Americans prior to then and even that view is skewed.  The author does an excellent job of describing that life.  He does an even better job of describing how select individuals reacted to that situation.  The wonder is not that blacks put up with such treatment but with what dignity they endured it.  The author does an outstanding job of describing the situation faced by both white and black marines in Saipan but also that faced by black sailors forced to endure the intolerable at Port Chicago.

My only complaint about the book is that by trying to tell two stories at once it seems they both are somewhat neglected.  I cannot point to anything concrete, but I was left with the impression that there was more to both stories than the author had room to say.  Both narratives are worthy of book-length treatment individually and I would love to see that.  that being said, The way the stories are told is enlightening and it’s somewhat original organization will probably lead to the story of Port Chicago reaching a wider audience than if it had been published as a stand alone work.  One thing that is clear from this book is that the stories of Black soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in WWII is both interesting and compelling and needs to be told now before the people that experienced pass away and we lose their stories forever.

This is an excellent book that deserves to be on many historians bookshelves.  It tells an important story of WWII in a sensitive and compelling manner.  I highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Road to Valor by Aili & Andres McConnon

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

Road to Valor is the story of one of the many unsung and unremembered heroes of World War II. Gino Bartali was a prewar Italian racing champion and winner of the Tour de France.  Just about everyone has heard of Oskar Schindler and his List due to the 1993 Spielberg movie or Anne Frank.  What is less known are the thousands of others across occupied Europe that worked trying to help Jews and others that the Nazi’s persecuted.  This book is the story of one of those people.

The book is not overly lengthy at 257 pages but covers the story well.  One of the things that impressed me the most about the book was that while it is not a strictly scholarly work it is extensively endnoted and their are over 40 pages of source notes at the end of the book.  The one thing this book lacks is an index to make it easier to find key passages and figures from the book.  Price is not prohibitive either, the hardcover has an MSRP of $25, which is well within normal for such a work.  The paper quality and printing are above typical to my eyes as well, this is book that will remain in good condition for years, if not decades.

This book is essentially the story of his life with the main events between his twin wins of the Tour de France in 1938 and ten years later in 1948. The valor part of the the title of this book comes from it’s recounting of Gino’s efforts to aid Italian Jews during the Nazi occupation of Italy after the Italian capitulation in 1943.  The long and short of it is that Gino used his fame from cycling to help resistance groups and the Catholic church in their efforts to shelter Italian Jews.  Because of his position and fame he was uniquely able to serve as a courier and even managed to get out of detention by the Italian Fascists secret police.

Gino’s story is not only a story of courage, it is also the story of a life interrupted by war.  Gino Bartali lost what should have been the best years of his racing career due to WWII.  He won the Tour de France in 1938 and came back post-war to win it again in 1948.  The most interesting part of his life story is the way in which he used his fame and notoriety to help save some of the Jews of Northern Italy from persecution.

Although biographies are not the type of books, historical or otherwise, that I normally read.  I found Road to Valor to be easy to read and the narrative was well constructed.  The writing is very well done with none of the stiffness I normally associate with biographies.  This is an excellent biography at a wartime figure who achieved great things outside of World War II and I recommend it to anybody with an interest in World War II or the Holocaust and the way in which average Europeans cooperated to keep their neighbors out of the hands of the Nazi death machine.