'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wrap up post on summer strategy

So, as we enter the dog days of summer, I am trying not to go completely crazy contemplating the political goings-on in Washington...so, as always, I turn to blogging about military history and bacon.  However, bacon is a very short topic to write about in its awesomeness, so I decided to wrap up the summer history series on strategy.  Over the course of the summer I have posted about Grand Strategy, a very amorphous topic from the point of view of the Ancient Chinese, French, British, GermansAmericans, Soviets, and Israelis.

To wrap up, we close with a really outstanding book edited by a number of terrific authors on the subject. 

In a nutshell, Grand Strategy is HARD.  DUH.  B. H. Liddell Hart probably said it best when he defined Grand Strategy as:
[T]he role of grand strategy – higher strategy – is to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war – the goal defined by fundamental policy.
Grand strategy should both calculate and develop the economic resources and man-power of nations in order to sustain the fighting services. Also the moral resources – for to foster the people's willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power. Grand strategy, too, should regulate the distribution of power between the several services, and between the services and industry. Moreover, fighting power is but one of the instruments of grand strategy – which should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, and, not least of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent's will. ...
Furthermore, while the horizons of strategy is bounded by the war, grand strategy looks beyond the war to the subsequent peace. It should not only combine the various instruments, but so regulate their use as to avoid damage to the future state of peace – for its security and prosperity.
 It has also been said that a nation that gets strategy right can learn operations and tactics, but if you get your strategy wrong, the best operational and tactical acumen mean nothing.  Look at the difference between the Allies and Axis in World War 2.  The Germans were far and away the best operational and tactical army, at least until very late in the war, yet the Allies were able to suffer pretty horrendous reverses early in the war because their overall strategic goals were achievable...if they had enough time.  The Germans really never had a chance to win the war after the failure of the 1942 Summer Offensive in Russia, and the fact that they held on for three more years speaks to their tactical, not strategic prowess.

So, that ends our summer of Grand Strategy.   Lots more to write about....the whole COIN debate in the U.S. military is coming to a head as the retreat from Afghanistan continues...more on that later.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

87 SIR!

So, as the Plus +1 and I were doing the Saturday errands, I looked at my watch and it hit
me....on this day 30...THIRTY, Three-Zero years ago, I stood in the hot and humid environment of Annapolis, Maryland and became a midshipman in the United States Navy....darn that seemed so long ago.  Many of those memories have faded, and some of them will stay with me all my life...the smell of sweaty whiteworks...chow calls...comarounds...PEP..."GOOD MORNING EIGHTY SEVEN!!"  More pushup...situps...running...Reef Points....

"How's the Cow"  "Sir, she walks, she talks, she's full of chalk..."

"How long have you been in the Navy?"  "All me bloomin life sir, I was born on the crest of a wave and rocked in the cradle of the deep...."

I was a small town boy from Oklahoma...yes, a landlocked state...I still get a lotta crap about that....

It was at Annapolis that I learned about teamwork, comradeship...helping out your buddy...and even sometimes the Noble Order of the Blue Falcon.

I made two important decisions while at Canoe U...ONE...I wouldn't let myself be defeated by doubt or hard work...I certainly had plenty of the former and not enough of the latter...and SECOND...I would be a history major.  That decision didn't come easy, but when I made it...I was glad to have the inestimable help of Professor Craig Symonds as my academic advisor.  He was  a fantastic teacher and an invaluable mentor.  Any success I have had as a writer, teacher, and student of history I owe to him. 

I just had my 25th class reunion...and it was just like being at the Rams Head Tavern with 22nd Company...a bit heavier...a bit grayer...some...a bit balder...but stories were told, beer was drunk...glasses were raised to fallen classmates...and for just a few hours, we were all invincible 21 year old First Class Midshipman again...and the world was our oyster. I was fortunate enough to have a fine naval career as a Naval Flight Officer in the mighty...and now retired P-3 Orion.  I served in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Joint Endeavor, and lots of other missions and deployments.  I wouldn't have traded my time in the Navy for anything...my only regret is that circumstances prevented my from serving a full 20 year career...but God has a sense of humor when he gives you a mission in life.  So, today I will think of that time long, long ago...and maybe even look up the menu for evening meal....hmmmm Neeb's Loaf and Cannonballs with Hard Sauce....  Carry On, Pleber...Carry On.....87 SIR!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The sad state of the modern American progressive liberal historian.

Well, I guess it was a forlorn hope that the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg could avoid liberal historian asshattery.

Doris Kearns Goodwin at Gettysburg: A Few Inappropriate Remarks

On Sunday, a stunned audience sat in silence as Doris Kearns Goodwin turned the keynote address at the opening ceremony for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg into a political lecture focusing on women's and gay rights.

Missing from much of her keynote: Gettysburg.

Self-centered, insular, and oblivious to the occasion, the historian who was infamously caught plagiarizing merely recycled much of what she has said before about herself in previous speeches. And her rambling, self-promoting, and borderline inappropriate lecture touched upon nearly everything except for the heroic sacrifices made on that battlefield.

In so doing, she desecrated the hallowed land on which she spoke, dishonored Gettysburg's honored dead, and disrespected the nearly 8,000 Americans in attendance who did not come to Gettysburg to hear about her life's story and a progressive history lecture.
I mean really?  Yes, really...and historians and teachers of the "liberal arts" wonder why conservatives and REAL Americans like myself (yes I said that) hold them in such disdain...but wait...it gets better!

Then, Kearns Goodwin commented on last week's Supreme Court decisions that she called "stunning."
"On the one hand, a critical section of that same 1965 Voting Rights Act which had stood for fifty years was struck down," Kearns Goodwin said. "On the other hand, the struggle to end discrimination against gays and lesbians took a giant step forward."
She compared the gay rights movement to the women's rights and civil rights movements, and then gushed about how privileged she was that she had a "curious love of history" that allowed her to look back and tell stories--if they were her own--about the past.
The closest she came to discussing the Battle of Gettysburg at length was when she mentioned "Stonewall." But instead of talking about how different Gettysburg could have been had the great Southern General Stonewall Jackson lived to aid Robert E. Lee, Kearns Goodwin instead spoke about the Stonewall gay riots that united the gay community, which she used to discuss how women's rights and civil rights and gay rights were all "human rights" while quoting Robert F. Kennedy's "ripples of hope" speech. She even compared "Stonewall" to "Selma," linking the gay rights movement and the black civil rights movement.

This is beyond sad and pathetic, but it is unfortunately not unexpected from the ranks of modern American historians...and sadly, even military and Civil War historians constantly feel the need to recall their hippie, pot smoking days of the 60s and 70s.

What really makes this personally sad for me is I read Team of Rivals and thought it was pretty good.

I guess she is just another aging hippie trying to relive her glory days...can't say I'm surprised though..the college professor ranks are pretty much 100% liberal progressive Obama lovers...no need for diversity there comrades.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gettysburg--the long retreat to Virginia

July 4, 1863 is a really remarkable day in American and Civil War history.  Independence Day took on a special meaning that year.  The Union Army of the Potomac had stood firm at Gettysburg and turned back Robert E Lee's last throw of the dice, and more importantly, General Sam Grant and his Army of the Tennessee accepted the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg.

This headline from a Civil War newspaper says it all.

Historians still debate the real affect of Gettysburg on the war...especially since it went on for another bloody 21 months.  But there can be no doubt that although the Union did not win the war that day...they did not lose it either.  And, most historians, including yours truly, believe that in the strategic scheme of things, the Union victory at Vicksburg was much more significant.  With Grant's victory, the Confederacy was truly cut in two and the mighty Mississippi was now completely in Union hands, a sure sign of ultimate victory.

As my man Ralph Peters noted in his column I discussed yesterday, Gen George Meade gets a generally bum rap from Civil War historians, and a great deal of criticism is levied at him for not vigorously riding down Lee's army and destroying it before they can retreat back into Virginia.  I think this is a really absurd criticism.  As I also noted yesterday, Civil War battles tended to leave both winners and losers bloodied, nearly out of ammunition and food, and usually burdened with thousands of wounded men to tend to.  All of these were certainly true at Gettysburg, in addition to a heavy rainstorm that started on July 4.

One of the recent areas of Civil War scholarship is the story of that long and bitter retreat from Gettysburg for Lee's Army..pursued by Union cavalry and followed by Meade's army at a respectful distance.  It is safe to say that Lee certainly did not feel defeated, and was looking for an opportunity to turn and snap at Meade if the chance presented itself.  Meade did not take the bait, and Lee was able to finally slip across the Potomac on July 14.

I think the criticism of Meade is unfair...having just seen what well dug-in infantry can do, he would have been just as criticized if he had launched a headlong charge at Lee's army in the final entrenchments at Williamsport.  It is amazing to me that the full blown frontal assault was even still contemplated in the Civil War after the carnage and futility of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, but those tactics would continue to be used at Cold Harbor, Franklin and Nashville, always with the same result...high casualties for the attackers, minimal loss for the defenders.

So, one of the better books to come out recently is by a trio of authors and does a great job of detailing the cavalry skirmishes, pursuits and fights during the long retreat.  This is a book that's long overdue and final tells the incredible tale of how close the Union army actually came to trapping Lee's army.  Although Jeb Stuart clearly bungled his assignment leading up to the battle, his cavalry also clearly saved the day for Lee's battered army, particularly the lumbering wagon train carrying thousands of wounded Confederates back to Virginia.

The book by Brown is, well highly detailed to the point of almost tedious, in my opinion.  He has clearly done his research, but large parts of the book read almost like an after-action S-1 report..for you army guys.  It is not nearly as action packed as the other volume and is a good pedestrian, but uninspiring, work on the aftermath of the battle.

Now, here's a wildcard recommendation.  If you like alternate history...and I LOVE good alternate history, then I'd like to recommend Newt Gingrich's trilogy on the battle.  I know liberals will cringe, but Gingrich is a pretty decent historian and a darn fine writer.  I was skeptical myself, but they are plausible and enjoyable books that take a completely different ending than I expected.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The final day at Gettysburg...desparate times call for desparate measures.

· 3rd Day-July 3, 1863
 --Lee considers one final assault to break Union center; “Picket’s Charge”
-- failure of Confederate artillery preparatory barrage
-- lack of Union counterattack when Confederates vulnerable
-- end of combat due to mutual exhaustion of both sides

The final day of Gettysburg was, well, tragic. I have to say the military logic of Picket's Charge really eludes me.  I can only conclude that physical ailments inhibited Lee's decision making ability...or maybe he really did think that one final charge would carry the day.  His logic was not far off...in a strange way...since the Confederate charge did break the Union center.  However, Lee had no more reserves to throw into the fight and exploit the breakthrough while the Union army had reserves to plug the hole and drive the final charge back. 

One of the great unanswered questions of Gettysburg is why didn't Meade counterattack right after Picket's Charge was repulsed?  This is a good question...Lee was nearly out of artillery ammunition, his center was very weak, and his men were exhausted.  However, the same was true for Meade's force.  One of the reasons that very few battles in the Civil War were really decisive like an Austerlitz or Waterloo was that even the 'victorious' army was nearly spent and had little energy or forces for a pursuit.

There were some really outstanding columns and commentaries on Gettysburg today...hopefully more this week.  Of course, one of my favorites was by Ralph Peters, one of my favorite, favorite grouchy military analysts and commentators...and authors.

The hero of Gettysburg:  Hardly anyone knows his name, but 150 years ago, one of America’s greatest generals, George Meade, saved a nation

First of all, just the title says it all...most Americans can name a freakin' Kardashian sister, but they don't know about our history...but I digress.  It's a great column and really shows that Meade was a key factor in the Union victory.  

So, on to books.  Jeffry D. Wert is an outstanding Civil War historian, and has penned the final of my three books covering the three days of the battle. 

Now, normally, I only recommend non-fiction books, but there has been some really outstanding Civil War fiction produced, primarily by the Shaara father-son duo.  If you haven't read Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and Last Full Measure...you really should.  However, I would like to recommend the new novels by Ralph Peters.  I have them both on hold at the library and am anxious to see if he actually does write a better novel about Gettysburg than Michael Shaara...pretty tall shoes to fill.  And, he has written a follow up book on the Overland Campaign of 1864...which I am also looking forward to.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg--the second day...what do we do now?

The second day at Gettysburg can be described as the "what the hell do we do now day?" Neither army wanted a fight in this town, but they got one nonetheless.

Let's begin with our campaign analysis:

· 2nd Day-July 2, 1863
-- Lee plans next day offensive; no cavalry for reconnaissance
-- Union maintains defensive posture; awaits developments

--Confederacy launches uncoordinated attacks on both Union flanks; Confederates not strong enough to overlap Union lines to enable flank attacks; allows Union to use “central position” and shorter battle lines to move reinforcements to maintain lines; day ends inconclusively

In a nutshell, Lee's army was in a horrible geographic position, and the long standing controversy about whether Lee's should have chosen the "slip around the Union right" alternative plan that history says his subordinate Gen James Longstreet recommended can really be seen on the map above.  The challenge for Lee was that he was outnumbered and although he could no doubt see the potential for a double envelopment of the Union position...always a commanders dream sense the days of Hannibal, he just didn't have the numbers to make it happen.  Not to mention, his attacks were piecemeal and not coordinated at all, another truth of the time when orders were passed verbally by dispatch riders, so that Gen Meade could just move troops around to the threatened sectors and hold off Lee's attacks.  Not that things could have turned out differently if the 20th Maine hadn't made their stand, but the math just didn't add up for Lee to win a decisive victory the second day either. 

Of course Lee won several tactical victories that day..most notably the near destruction of Gen Sickle's III Corps because of his insubordinate and boneheaded move to place his troops in a salient in front of the main Union position on Cemetary Ridge.  Lee quickly pounced on his stupidity and wiped out the salient in an afternoon of hard fighting.  However, Lee could make no traction on either Little Round Top or Culp's Hill and the positions of the armies remained pretty static.  Even when Stuart finally showed up his cavalry forces had no real influence on the battle as Lee was now committed to one mighty and final blow the drive the Union army off the heights and secure victory.

I was watching Gettysburg last Saturday night and was really struck by the scale of the geography these men fought over.  If you have never been to the battlefield and stood on Little Round Top, or looked at it from the Devils Den.... it was really a long march in the hot summer for those Confederate soldiers sent to take the hill.

THE definitive book on the second day at Gettysburg remains Harry Pfanz highly detailed and encyclopedic account.  I inherited my father-in-law's copy, which maintains center stage on my Gettysburg shelf.  This is truly a book for Gettysburg aficionados as it describes the day's actions almost down to the company level.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Gettysburg, the first day....

Ok, so let's dive into the first day, using our Campaign Analysis as a guide.
· Prelude/ Preliminary Maneuvers on 30 June
 ---Union Cavalry located west of town

---Confederate plan to move infantry into town in search of supplies; expect light to no resistance

· 1st Day-July 1, 1863
---Begins as meeting engagement between Union cavalry and Confederate infantry north and west of Gettysburg
---Both sides feed forces piecemeal into battle as they arrive; Confederates push Union forces through town and onto high ground south of town. Union forces make final stand and Confederate vacillation on launching final attack of day leaves Union army in strong defensive position
 A meeting engagement is by definition, a confusing and uncertain time for both armies, where the strength and disposition of the enemy army is uncertain, which can cause a great deal of stressful moments for a commander.

Gettysburg was a classic example of a meeting engagement, something that has becoming increasingly rare in military circles, and the amount of confusion and plain old chaos that occured that first day in the hot Pennsylvania sun is hard for modern Americans to understand...given that we are bombarded with instant information from a variety of sources in this era.

The Union and Confederate commanders did have some idea of where their opponents were and generally where they were going, but the lack of Jeb Stuart's cavalry and the dispersed nature of both armies not only made reconnaissance tough, but command and control nearly impossible.

This fact lead to the first major turning point in the battle---the failure of Lee's army to secure Cemetery and Culp's Hill.  Again, most Americans are unaware of the influence of geography on warfare in this day of mass mechanization, but when you either marched or rode into battle on a horse or wagon, having control of the high ground was the key to winning any battle.

At the end of the first day, both armies were disorganized and battered, but Lee's army was on the move and had the initiative.  Unfortunately, the loss of Stonewall Jackson the month before had left the Confederate I Corps in the hands of General Richard Ewell, a much less capable general.  Lee's famous order to "take the hill if practicable" would have been understood by Jackson as take the hill no matter what---but Lee and Jackson had shared a unique command relationship that would not be duplicated in the war.  Ewell let caution overtake him and did not seize those hills before darkness fell. 

In a real sense, this battle was one that neither side wanted to fight...least of all Lee, and it was clear that both commanders reacted to actions by their subordinates rather than lay out a real operational battle plan.  Fortunately for the Union, it is much easier to figure out a plan on defense--"HOLD THE HIGH GROUND" than it is for the offense.  In addition geography played a huge role in the development of the battle...not only as the focus of the battle in terms of high ground, but the nature of the road system which served to funnel the corps of each army into the fight piecemeal, which allowed the Confederates to maintain the upperhand most of the day until the Union army arrived in strength.

At the end of the first day, Lee may have won in terms of holding the initiative and driving the Union forces out of the town into the heights, but there was still no sense of the strength or disposition of the Union forces as Jeb Stuart's cavalry was still nowhere to be found.  Lee would begin the second day of the battle nearly as blind as he was on the first.

SO, no Grouchy Historian post on Gettysburg would be complete without some book recommendations...

I read this book when it first came out and it is fantastic.  IF you only want to read one book about the battle...make it this one.  Sears is one of my favorite Civil War historians and all of his books are superb.  Coddington's book is not for the faint of heart...I have picked it up a few times, but it is really dense in material and thought. It is always highly recommended on most Gettysburg book lists..but it is not for the casual reader.   
I just got a used copy of this new book by Allen Guelzo, I will no doubt compare it to Sears' book, and we will see how it measures up.  It supposedly puts the battle more into  it's political context of the day and discusses strategy, tactics and doctrine to a greater extent.  We shall see.  Gary Gallagher is another one of my favorite Civil War historians and I actually have an autographed copy of this book, which has a special place on my Gettysburg shelf.  This book looks at brigade, division and corps level leadership of the battle from both sides and has some wonderful examples of both heroes and knaves from some usually unheard of regiments and brigades.  What really makes this book stand out is there are no sacred cows, so to speak, and the critiques of both decision making and execution are pretty brutal.  Again, this book is not for the average reader, as you must have a pretty good working knowledge of the battle in order to place the examined unit and leader into the wider context of what's going on the battlefield.  However, if you have read reasonably extensively on the battle, it is a real treasure not to be missed.  

This book finally attempts to lay to rest many of the myths of Stuart's ride to Gettysburg and his controversial role in the battle.  There have  been some really excellent books published lately on some lesser known events both before and after the battle, a story that has been neglected far too long.  This was a wonderful Christmas present a couple of years ago and is in my "cavalry section" of the Civil War bookshelf awaiting its turn.

Oh, and of course, let's not forget the definitive book on the first day of battle.  Harry Pfanz is kind of the grand old man of Gettysburg history...and has written almost micro histories of the fight for Culp's and Cemetery Hill.  His book on the first day is really marvelous.

So that's the end of the first day...lots of casualties and confusion, but no real decision..and as we shall see tomorrow...no really excellent tactical options for either army.