On Military History

12 12 2014

In the blogosphere, in print, and on social media currently there is a buzz about the subject of military history. I won’t go into the details and give links – just Google Civil War and Military History and you’ll find plenty of examples. Opinions on what “military history” is, what it is not, and what it is becoming vary widely, as do opinions on whether the issue is a mountain or a molehill. So who am I to not take the opportunity to weigh in?

First off, let me stress that I don’t consider myself a historian, military or otherwise. I’ve said that before and nothing has changed. To me, a historian is an individual who has been trained and accredited in the field of history. In short, someone with a degree in history from a post-secondary institution. Now, I try to adhere to a set of standards which I understand to be good practice in the field, but you only have my word to go by. It’s a base-line thing. It’s not qualitative. Historians can produce awful history, and non-historians can produce great history.

While I have not yet found a good definition for military history, I have developed my own, after a fashion. I’ll make it simple – military history to me is not history that simply involves military operations (though based on some awards given out this past year – and pretty hefty ones at that – that does seem to be a working definition for some pretty prestigious organizations.) Military history, in my opinion, at the very least reflects an understanding of  not only military conventions and doctrines of the time in question – say, the American Civil War – but also of how they fit on the developmental timeline. For example, if one is going to critique decision making, one had better have a good grasp of the experiences (education, training, service) that led the actor to that point. And a military historian is someone whose education in history focused on this specialty. That does not mean that someone untrained in military history cannot produce good military history. It does mean, however, that they are not military historians. To me. At this point.

To put it in simple terms, Sheldon is a theoretical physicist. Leonard, poor Leonard, is only a practical (or applied) physicist. Raj is an astrophysicist. And Wolowitz only has a masters. In engineering. A glorified plumber. You see the differences, right?





More on “Corps Commanders in Blue”

11 12 2014

517bM0P30PL._SL500_AA300_Back in October I gave you a sneak-peak at the Ethan Rafuse edited essay collection “Corps Commanders in Blue.” I’ve submitted a full review that will run in either Civil War Times or America’s Civil War – not sure which. This is a really good collection, and I’d put it on the short list for Best of 2014. While the eight authors varied in how well they stuck to the central theme (examination of the individual officers strictly as corps commanders), all produced informative sketches of their subjects. Best of the eight for me were Fitz-John Porter, George G. Meade (a great counter to some recent suggestions about the snapping-turtle), Joseph Hooker and 20th Corps, and Winfield Scott Hancock in the Overland Campaign. This last stuck to the theme best, I thought, while some others went astray into the weeds of operations. Thumbs up, and here’s hoping more along this line – especially more Union sketches – is on the way.





Dixon Miles’s Petition for Court of Inquiry

28 11 2014

Exhibit “A”

Head Quarters 2nd U. S. Inf.
Camp South of Alexandria, Va.
26: July 1861 –

Sir.
The commandg. Genl. Dept. N. E. Virg. not having taken any action in my case (so far as I know) and having by sickness been prevented from giving any personal attention to it: I now most respectfully solicit from the Executive of the United States, or Lieut. General commander-in-chief of the Army, to grant me a Court of Inquiry, to investigate the charge of “Drunkeness,” publicly made against me on the heights of Centerville Va. about 7 O’clock P. M. on the 21st Inst. by Col. Richardson commanding a brigade attached to my command, and on which false accusation the Brgd. Genl. commandg. did me the injustice to relieve me in command of my Division.

I am Sir,
Very respectfully Your Obt. Servt.
D. S. Miles
Col. 2d. Inf.

To
Capt. J. B. Fry
Asst. Adjt. Genl.
Hd Qr Dept. N. E. V. Arlington –

Document Image

M1105, Registers of the Records of the Proceedings of the U.S. Army General Courts-Martial, 1809-1890
Colonel Dixon S. Miles, 2nd US Infantry (August 1861), Washington, DC. Court-Martial Case File #II-498 pertaining to the Court of Inquiry for the Battle of 1st Bull Run





Dixon Miles Court of Inquiry News

26 11 2014

Friend Jim Rosebrock, host of the blog South from the North Woods, on a recent trip to the National Archives was kind enough to photograph the contents of the file containing the documents associated with the Dixon Miles First Bull Run Court of Inquiry for First Bull Run. Late in the day on July 21, 1861, Colonel Israel B. Richardson leveled a charge of drunkenness at Miles, to whose division Richardson’s brigade had been temporarily attached. This charge resulted in Irvin McDowell removing Miles from command, and at Miles’s request the Court of Inquiry was later convened.

I now have over 150 images of handwritten documents to transcribe, the bulk of which are of witness testimony. As far as I know, this file has never appeared in print or digital format, so we’re breaking new ground here. Long ago I posted the summary of the court’s finding here, and this is the index page I’ll be using for all the documents. Below is a taste of what I have to work with – thankfully the penmanship is not generally this poor (click for a larger image.)

IMG_1245





Preview: David Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. I”

25 11 2014

Layout 1The fist of David A. Powell’s proposed three volume study of the Chickamauga Campaign, A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 – September 19, 1863, is now available from publisher Savas-Beatie. Even though Dave is a friend (about 10 years or so ago I spent a few of wonderful days on the Chickamauga fields with him as part of a very small group of about four or five, and have interviewed him here), I firmly believe that, unless something goes horribly wrong, when complete this will be the most important work on the campaign to date.

The skinny on Volume I: 631 pages of narrative (and yes, there are two more volumes!) with foot – not end – notes. There’s no bibliography in this volume – it will be included in Volume II. I imagine it will comprise a good chunk of that volume: Dave’s newspaper sources alone are extensive. Despite the title, this installment covers most of the summer of 1863, beginning with the Tullahoma Campaign June 24 to July 4, to the crossing of the Tennessee in August, and through the close of the second day of the battle on September 19. Photos and illustrations appear throughout (not in a separate photo section, which seems to be part of the Savas-Beatie MO, along with the footnotes) as do sufficient maps by David Friedrichs, who performed the same task in Powell’s earlier Maps of Chickamauga.

Don’t miss this one.





Preview: Eric Wittenberg, “‘The Devil’s to Pay’ – John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour”

24 11 2014

downloadNew from Savas-Beatie is “The Devil’s to Pay” – John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour, by prolific Civil War cavalry author Eric J. Wittenberg. This is the first “book-length study devoted entirely to the critical delaying actions waged by Buford and his dismounted troopers and his horse artillerists on the morning of July 1, 1863.”

Here’s the skinny: with “The Devils to Pay” you get 204 pages of narrative taking the reader along with Buford and his men from Fredericksburg to Pennsylvania (including Brandy Station), covering in detail the actions in the Gettysburg vicinity through their ordered departure on July 2. This narrative includes background and biographical information on Buford and his men, a lengthy conclusion summarizing their performance and use, and an epilogue. In addition, there are four appendices (an order of battle; a treatise on “The Myth of the Spencers”; an analysis of the nature of Buford’s defense on July 1; and consideration of the question of whether or not Lane’s Confederate infantry brigade formed squares against a perceived cavalry threat on July 1); a 22 page, illustrated walking and driving tour; and a bibliography. Sprinkled throughout are more than 80 images and 17 Phil Laino maps.





Preview: Noah Andre Trudeau, “The Last Citadel: Petersburg June 1864 – April 1865″

23 11 2014


Savas-Beatie
has released a new, revised, and expanded edition of Noah Andre Trudeau’s 1991 study of the Siege of Petersburg, The Last Citadel: Petersburg, June 1864 – April 1865. For years, Trudeau’s works on 1864 action in Virginia have rested on the shelves of many students of the war, including those of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey’s character in the series House of Cards). So, what’s new here? I’ll let the author speak for himself, from the Preface:

511VHRArmjL._SL500_AA300_[The] revisions lie in several areas. On a visual level I have reworked all the maps with what I hope is a touch more skill than I possessed when I crafted the originals in 1991 (my first effort in that direction!), and even added a couple. Text-wise, and in my eternal search for perfection, I corrected all errors of fact (thankfully, not many) that were pointed out to me in reviews and conversations about the book and even a couple I found on my own.  I would like to especially thank Dr. Richard J. Sommers, who took time off from his busy schedule to read me through the notes in his annotated copy, which directed me to details I am pleased to have now attended to. Thanks also to historians Chris Calkins and James H. Blankenship, Jr., who passed along corrections. I also too advantage of the fact that Savas Beatie was not merely reprinting the original to add several pages of new material. I’ll ‘fess up to having learned a few things in the years since the book first appeared, and in some places changed the text to better reflect what I now know, or think I do.

As what remains the most significant single-volume work on the Petersburg Campaign, this revised edition is a must if you don’t have the original, and is an improvement if you do.








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