halialkers: William T. Sherman, one of the Civil War's most ruthless and its best generals (Yohanin)
The more I've looked at that war, the more I've become convinced that we can claim its prolongation was due to two men: George McClellan, for scotching the fighting in Front of Richmond when in tactical terms he lost only one of the battles, and Henry Halleck, who single-handedly ensured the war in the West would drag on for years. If we look at the actual warfighting, almost all the major strategic victories in that war outside Virginia were for the Union, not the Confederacy. In terms of the major battles, Lee wins only in part of 1862 and 1863 (his West Virginia campaign was written out of the history books). In Gettysburg the Army of the Potomac had its best show in any of its battles ever, while only James Longstreet showed up in terms of Confederate battlefield leadership.

In 1864, outside Louisiana (always the odd man out in the South), the USA had a virtually uninterrupted set of advances and the CS Army was forced into sustained, modern-style warfare which its system was incapable of surviving the shock of.

Essentially to me the Union was building and did build a war-army, one suited to waging and winning a war more than for any individual battle. The CSA wanted a battle-army, one that did very well in an individual battle but never managed to get won battle into won war, though occasionally won battle became won campaign. This explains why when the CSA won its victories were impossible for it to push on past, while when the USA won it could and did exploit its wins. The USA also promoted leaders like Grant and Thomas who focused on waging a war and on a grand war-scale, the CS military system as an institution..........does not deserving dignifying with the i-word. Most fictional villains with chronic backstabbing problems look like the bush league next to Leonidas Polk, and he was just one of those chuckleheads........
halialkers: Red Rosa Luxemburg. Woman with round face and big hair (Hadassa)
Reflecting on something I wrote earlier: Braxton Bragg had the worst logistical situation of any general in the entire Civil War. His army basically was required to defend Lee's food sources while itself starving. He had a guy who could teach most Starscreams lessons in how to backstab the unpleasant tyrannical superior. He additionally had a much greater numerical disparity than the Army of Northern Virginia ever did, against an enemy which by converse embraced modernity much earlier than the Army of the Potomac ever did, while having leaders much better-prepared to actually fight and overall more, not less, competent. In addition to all of this, Bragg never was sure what he controlled when or who answered to him when in which situations.

For all this, at the tactical (the lowest) level of military science Bragg had an unbroken string of victories from Perryville-Chickamauga, and twice proved to be the only Confederate general to actually retake Confederate territory in the war. TWICE. How the Hell did he possibly do that? I mean the US Civil War as a war is pretty much "US Army arrives. US Army beats up Confederates. US Army stays". With Bragg he twice makes the US Army give up territory it won, in the one theater that nobody generally pays attention to on either side.

It's bizarre.

halialkers: Red Rosa Luxemburg. Woman with round face and big hair (Hadassa)
Both this: http://www.amazon.com/Perryville-This-Grand-Havoc-Battle/dp/0813122090

and this:


Both of which describe the Confederate high tides in the West and in the East respectively. The conclusion I've come to with both actually is again an odd one, related to my growing view that from a strictly military POV Braxton Bragg may be *the* CS general of the war (but in the most savage irony of all for poor ol' Bragg the Civil War was never a purely military war). Bragg reversed single-handedly a CS war effort in Tennessee that was about to die a quick and painless death to Buell's offensive, and what's more Perryville was actually a tactical victory, even though it was a US strategic victory (kind of the Civil War's version of the Battle of Savo Island). Bragg really did despite all the odds rout an entire Union Corps and got his entire army away, and in the process was the only CS general in the entire war to actually regain territory.

Gettysburg, of course, was both Meade's finest hour and a sequence of errors and failures from a CS army where only one general acted like a general in a battle: James Longstreet. He criticized Lee's plans or the lack thereof because of the entire CS leadership, only he was actively on the battlefield conducting the fighting in accordance with his rank and his usual pattern. Lee pulled a Benedek and sat and watched and did nothing. The other two generals did likewise. Only Longstreet, the man who actually did his job, got the blame for failure, this more for using black United States troops to gun down the Klan in New Orleans than anything else.

Where by contrast on the first day a vastly outnumbered US force held off the CSA to the point that it forced a general battle Lee did not want, and Meade thoroughly and completely outsmarted Lee through the whole process. The first day's "success" was not supposed to happen, the intended battles on the second and third day were triumphs for the first time of the Army of the Potomac. I think the irony of Bragg actually winning the combat aspect of Perryville and not even a token aspect of Gettysburg for Lee (as after all the general engagement was never supposed to happen as it did), does raise questions about which of the two generals, the Marble Christ of the Old South, or Vinegar Braxton the Scapegoat, was actually the worse of the two. Tactically speaking (not strategically, however, strategically his was a litany of flat failure), Bragg's victories were not interrupted until Chattanooga. But at Gettysburg Lee reverted to Malvern Hill. Odd, isn't it?

halialkers: (Default)
The context: on Alternatehistory.com, where I go by Snake Featherston, someone posted a "Neo-Confederates, what do you think of them?" thread. Well, knowing ol' Under L you had to figure I would respond to that there topic. My first response:
cut for language )

To which someone responded "Don't hold back Snake, tell us what you really think." Well.....I did: 

All right, you asked for it. The Neo-Confederates whitewash a pathetic regime of backstabbing treacherous blue-blood lazy rapist assholes who didn't have what it took to lead a spelling bee, much less a state. The Confederacy was one of the lousiest, most pathetic attempts at building an army and a state that ever disgraced human history, its generals were invariably mediocre at best and treacherous self-interested douchebag murderers at worst. It was dedicated to the premise that 2/3 of its population was divinely entitled to the labor of the other 1/3, with its own white supremacist ideal regularly and proudly undermined by its supposed champions. The Confederacy is regularly made out to be far more than it was, and is a wretched shame and decayed, shuffling zombie with its bony, rotten, foul-smelling fingers digging into the back of the South despite being all of four years in Southern history. It was a malicious, bloody-minded dictatorship that resorted to use of fire and sword whenever it was convenient, morality and justice be damned, and it was not only doing that but it was terrible at it.

The Confederacy was all this, and these people *admire* that time. As a descendant of both CS and US veterans I wish the CSA was roundly despised as a shame for the South, and that James Longstreet and Patrick Cleburne had memorials, not that murderous, thuggish asshole Nathan Bedford Forrest and that malaria-ridden paranoid, petty, waspish little man Jefferson Davis, and particularly not white-haired Marble Bob and his bunch of looters and murderers.

I am proud to call myself a Jayhawker because the CSA's been dead for 146 years now, and it should have no relevance whatsoever to the South, whose history is much broader than that, and the focus on it is to the detriment of the entire South.

Well, Rob, you asked me not to hold back......

Suffice to say that when ye ask, so shall ye receive. *amused*

halialkers: (revcekar)
I have finished reading biographies of Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis. The Jeff Davis biography is the one I was reading when I tripped and fell and scraped myself on concrete. Ironically at that point in the book Jefferson Davis was at the peak of his political fortunes. Go figure.

Anyway, reading about Lincoln and Davis, the two men had a few things in common. Both born in Kentucky, both absolutely convinced of absolute truths, both convinced absolutely of the virtue of liberty (Davis the Jedi Truth version of liberty), and both great orators of their time. The major differences I noted were that Lincoln never really got sick to any consistent extent and was always a very vigorous and strong man, Davis was vigorous and enduring but got sick at the drop of a hat. Davis was a man with a great deal of military experience and quite proud of it, Lincoln was a self-made man who focused strongly on the success of his ideal of rising from the bottom rail to the top.

Those two men were both absolutely convinced that the core of the USA was liberty, but Jefferson Davis's vision of liberty was the unchanged vision of the old USA where liberty was identified with a purely oligarchic system of great landowners. He believed so strongly in this vision that as President of the Confederacy he waged four years of remorseless war against the Union, while Lincoln as President waged four years of war to first save and then redefine and reimagine the Union into something grander. Lincoln was assassinated before the war was over, Davis died old and convinced he'd never done anything wrong in the history of ever. Davis believed in the Winston Churchill version of history, that it would be kind to him for he intended to write it-and he did.

The interesting thing, though, about Jeff Davis is that he became so committed to the ideal of the Confederacy that from the late fall of 1864 after the fall of Atlanta he'd been seriously pushing through emancipation in the Confederate government, he finally succeeded....the day before black Union troops entered Richmond and he was in a train for Danville. By the end of the war the sheer sustaining, ravenous devouring that swallowed so many young men in a great deal of sound and fury had convinced the leader of a Confederacy built with a cornerstone that the white man is the superior to the black man that arming black men was the only way for the Confederacy to survive.

Sadly and typically Davis went on to help create the Lost Cause and would remain an utterly unrepentant racist motherfucker to his dying day. Reading about Lincoln, like with Grant, was actually enjoyable. Reading the self-delusion and prickish self-righteousness that engulfed Jeff Davis like a starship through a black hole makes me add Jeff Davis to the list of historical figures I will kick in the balls if I can ever develop a time machine.

Having read these two biographies tempts me for my next project: back to back biographies of Hitler and Stalin (sadly there's no biographies of Georgi Zhukov, else I'd read of him v. Eisenhower first). Edit-scratch that, they have only one biography of Hitler, Kershaw's twin door stoppers but no less than four modern Stalin biographies and two of Zhukov, one from the 1990s, the other from the 2000s. So seems like the USSR is my next big reading binge.
halialkers: William T. Sherman, one of the Civil War's most ruthless and its best generals (Yohanin)
Biographies of two very controversial and extremely political Civil War generals. These happen to be George Brinton McClellan and Joseph Eggleton Johnston. Both of them before the war were good friends, but during the war, well......I'll start with "the young Napoleon" first.

McClellan was a definite scion of privilege for his time. He was fast-tracked everywhere he went and never really met any failures in his life at any point. For anyone this is hardly the set of traits to encourage modesty or even realism about what one can or cannot do. For the young Napoleon things were compounded by three traits: 1) he was an inflexible conservative. This meant while he was 100% loyal to the Union he was always 0% loyal to the Lincoln Administration in perhaps the most political of all the USA's wars. Like Joe Johnston he wrapped himself up in the Administration's opposition and found himself fighting Lincoln more than he ever did the Confederacy. 2) McClellan had his ideas and he stuck to them come Hell or high water.....in a line of work where flexibility of a mental and often a physical sort is a premium. If the enemy wrong-footed him McClellan was incapable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat or really of knowing a victory when he had one. 3) McClellan was a quarrelsome asshole who ran everything himself and never trusted anyone for any length of time.

In this and in his few battles he actually fought but long periods of doing nothing McClellan reminds me much more of General Braxton Bragg than he does of Joe Johnston who for all his faults at least understood a general's job was in fact to fight every now and then. McClellan like Bragg had some pretty good ideas, like Bragg he never quite developed the ability to carry them out, unlike Bragg he fought with his President instead of being a suck-up.

Now, Joe Johnston was another set of contradictions. Like McClellan his supporters claim he was stabbed in the back by the President, but in this case it's more Joe Johnston's own damned fault. He deliberately tied himself with Davis's opposition in full awareness of what he was doing, and let his ambitions here overshadow good sense. This is not to say there was no Davisdickery toward Johnston. There was and there was quite a bit of it. However the dickery was two-way, not one way, and Joe Johnston had the political sense God gave a tardigrade. Joe Johnston was the most competent field officer the Confederacy produced, and the only one that understood that the Confederate cause was served best by the destruction of Union armies as opposed to focusing on cities. This, however, makes him competent, not brilliant, and his political ambitions meant even when he was doing the right thing it looked like the same old dickery it always was.

Reading the biographies of both men my contempt and hatred for both of them is not unscathed, it's rather more enhanced. It's like when I read the biography of Stonewall Jackson: if I ever invent a time machine I'm going back in time to kick both of these men in the nuts because they're annoying asshole sonofabitch bastards. >.<
halialkers: William T. Sherman, one of the Civil War's most ruthless and its best generals (Yohanin)
A new twist on an old theme. I decided to read a history of the Army of Tennessee, the premier Confederate army in the West, then read a history of the Union Army of the Tennessee (that was confusing even to people in the 1860s) and then of the Army of the Cumberland, the other Western army and the one that's been actually less neglected than Grant's original army (which received its first actual history in its own right all of 6 years ago. That is not a typo, the first one was in 2005). The result was an interesting set of contrasts. The Army of the Tennessee definitely imbibed Grant's willingness to fight and became such a skilled set of combatants that in the Georgia campaign it was winning major victories without any actual leadership required. This was certainly the case in the later series of Atlanta Campaign battles but also showed itself during the Georgia and Carolinas campaigns.

As a comparison/contrast Grant's army was the least disciplined out of all the armies, but the most effective, and actually resembled more of Lee's army in relying strongly on personal relationships and harmony among its generals to compensate for what military purists would consider a complete absence of discipline in the usual sense of the word. Despite this absence of discipline at Pittsburg Landing, through the Vicksburg Campaign's two phases, and through the fighting in the Atlanta Campaign this army had a degree of cohesion and effectiveness that did not apply to the others.

Now, where the Army of the Cumberland and Army of Tennessee are concerned, I think it's safe to say Braxton Bragg was the best general in that theater up until Grant came to Chattanooga. This is not to say Bragg was great, just that Buell and Rosecrans both were worse than he was. Bragg won two battles but only one strategic victory and controlled the tempo of the fighting even in his own retreats. The Army of Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland were deeply divided and prone to infighting of an almost ludicrous sort, this is one reason they had tremendous turnover at all levels. Now, the vicious irony is that both the Army of Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland were far better disciplined in terms of military definitions than Grant's army was. Yet Grant's army was much more effective than they were, and it was the personal leadership that made the difference.

As far as the generals, Grant's presence skews the whole picture relative to the rest as he was indisputably the best overall of the war and managed to win even when military maxims should have dictated overwhelming victory.....for the Confederacy. Bragg I've already said I consider better than his initial Union opponents as he got the jump on much larger armies and bruised them so badly that they needed months to recuperate their logistics from battles they won, much less the ones they lost. On the whole excepting George Thomas for the Union and Patrick Cleburne (Go Ireland!) for the Confederacy that whole theater produces a bunch of bickering incompetents most of whom should not have commanded companies, much less armies.

It's a pity that this part of this war, like the one of Kaiser and Tsar in WWI, has been in the main overlooked despite being the really influential ones on the outcome of the war and the high commands of both sides.

Up next a similar reading about the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.

halialkers: brunette elf with bangs looking down (Leani)
Er, the book I've been reading about him, that is. It's a biography that basically consists of http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShillingTheWesley for 763 pages. One continually hears Jackson referred to as awesome and then the man himself is a sour old fanatic who makes Caiphas Cain look like a good guy, shoots his own men as much as Bragg did, was as cantankerous as Braxton Bragg was, and screwed up battles in idiotic ways from first to last. Enough of that and I now feel like going back in time and kicking Jackson in the balls. 763 pages of being told of a greatness that never actually appears is too goddamn much.

The book appears as follows "Stonewall Jackson was the greatest general who ever lived. Here he fires guys for no good reason, shoots people for no good reason, acts like a heartless SOB even to his own wife and child, has a religious obsession to make a Warhammer 40,000 Ecclesiarch blush, screws up even when the rest of the CS army wins a lopsided victory, winds up with almost nobody but his own family able to endure him for very long but hey, he's the greatest soldier in American history and all of this was not at all whatsoever connected to him."

Yes, I really hated that book, and I've read much more excrable works that didn't get me near this angry.

halialkers: Blonde elf with green eyes in armor, head looking up (Vani)
A biography of Robert E. Lee, Colonel in the US Army and full general in the Army of the Confederate States of America. The biography calls itself post-revisionist but reads like a modern version of the old hagiography of Lee, including the bizarre "Lee saves baby bird under fire" story. It does to its credit include the contrasts between what Lee did and said and how that can work both ways, it unfortunately tends to denigrate Jackson and Longstreet, who saved Lee from himself on a number of occasions like all Lee mythography must. It seems to lead to the obvious conclusion that Lee may have appreciated Jackson the general but was not fond of Jackson the man (to be fair he was a Sherman with religiosity, not the kind of person anyone would want to be around too much) and then shies away from that while as all Lee mythography must repeating outright lies about Longstreet.

I was interested in how it covered Lee's failure to detect Grant moving 115,000 men and their logistical supply train over the longest pontoon bridge in military history right under his nose and that covered most of a chapter and was mostly Beauregard's telegrams to Lee frantically demanding that Lee stop Grant and Lee's refusal to see what had happened and focusing little on why Marble Man Bob didn't realize he'd been snookered and missed his real chance to win the war as a Confederate general instead of counting on Grant to lose it as a Union general. Overall it portrays a Lee whose character in 21st Century terms can be described in the following phrase "you need to get laid, dude".  A marble man who was perhaps the poster boy for repression and who knew nothing but a string of frustration to even get a house that was actually his own to live in and whose idea of success was a Pyrrhic one.....at least MacArthur's foibles have a crude entertainment value to them, Lee's like That GuyTM whom you want to feel pity for but also shy away from at parties. I also still fail to see how taking higher casualties than an enemy that outnumbers and outguns you in every single battle even when you win them is brilliant generalship in any meaningful sense of brilliance.
halialkers: Blonde elf with green eyes in armor, head looking up (Vani)
About General James Longstreet, one of two Confederate generals I make allowances for as Confederate heroes. Keep in mind that this is Under L who thinks the only thing Sherman did wrong in Georgia was being too merciful to the Georgians and that his Carolinas campaign adopted as general strategy would have been just desserts. This is also the same Under L who sees the Confederacy as an evil, ruthless government dedicated to slavery and to the propagation of white supremacy and its most likely fate to fall into military dictatorship, economic collapse, and reconquest. So why then do I admire and revere Old Pete Longstreet? 

First, Longstreet was in many ways as a person the antithesis of the Confederate mythical soldier and general. No dashing cavalier descendant of tidewater aristocrats, he was a backwoods, rough-edged, somewhat petty and vindictive sonofabitch. He was a descendant of Dutch immigrants, and was one of the least aristocratic and charismatic Confederate generals. This in my view goes a long way to explaining what made Longstreet so effective and dangerous: he was a modern general, not a dandy aristocrat who had garbled ideas of Napoleonic warfare.

Second, Longstreet was to put it bluntly one of the only Confederate generals in high command who was worth his stars. Commanding a division, he did drill on the divisional level and built a staff suited to running a division. He was the only one to do so. In my view this in itself right here shows why Ulysses S. Grant tore the Confederacy to bits: Grant, like Longstreet, built a real staff and knew how to use large numbers on the battlefield. Longstreet hit like a hammer because he was a competent corps commander, and it was he who commanded the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia and had the ability to give US armies the bad touch.

Third, this is not to say Longstreet was a Mary Tzu. He was a petty, vindictive, egotistical man in an army full of such prima donnas. This trait recurred every now and then, and would go far to weakening his own attempts to rehabilitate himself as a Confederate general.

The ultimate reason I admire James Longstreet is not so much his being the most badass ANV general, but the Battle of Liberty Place where he led USCT against the White League, the Ku Klux Klan's successor. For being a Confederate general who used black soldiers to gun down white men, that is what qualifies him for admirable. He did serve evil, to be sure, but the whole incidents against the White League mean he evolved into goodness. Were he like Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose battlefield record was perhaps the most brilliant of all the CS cavalry generals, he would simply be a brilliant general. It's his postwar experiences that make admiring Longstreet excusable IMHO.
halialkers: George Thomas, big beard, thin hair, long forehead (Kanari-3)
In modern Civil War histories such as these two books: 



One sees at long last attention paid to how nuanced and gruesome the US Civil War actually was. People are now willing to acknowledge that 10% of the South's white population of military age, and 80% of the South's black population of military age not only fought in the Union armies but were the keys to its victories. The degree to which overlooking this makes the history of the era incomprehensible starts with Lincoln's successor Andrew Johnson. Without an understanding of Johnson as the only Senator from a Confederate state to stay in the Senate and his experiences as Tennessee's military governor during the war, seeing why Abe Lincoln picked him seems impossible.

George H. Thomas, the second-greatest general of the war after Ulysses S. Grant and the only other strategist during the war aside from Grant of note, was a Virginian and the most anti-slavery for ideological purity definitions of that concept general in the US high command. Grant shifted to become a defender of Civil Rights as a means of Northern states retaining a moral advantage over the losers. Thomas was always anti-slavery, and he was always against state's rights.

There were several movements of Southern Unionists during the war. 200,000 Southern whites served in the ranks of Blue. In the ranks of Grey this makes up for every single soldier Lee killed in his headlong attacks. There were anti-CS guerrillas that by 1864 controlled ever-larger chunks of the Confederacy. Most of these people were far from anti-racist, they in fact were often anti-secession but never anti-slavery with the few significant exceptions. It's why these people did not do well in the postwar scenario.

Southern slaves ran away to Union lines, and were already undermining slavery for the full year preceding the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Northern blacks volunteered to fight but were refused. Blacks from the South served to the tune of 300,000 soldiers, in bitter battles where their skill and tenacity far outpaced their white brethren. They fought heroically, and refused to accept the Lincoln Administration's attempts to pay them less than white troops (that firebrand of an issue actually goes back to 1863-4, Lincoln never gave them what they rightfully should have had). Black soldiers in the Civil War always risked massacres as a result of Jefferson Davis's precursor to the WWII Commissar Order. They were the bravest and noblest troops the Union had, and never broke against the Confederate soldiers opposed to them.

But to the planters and leaders who dragged the South into the maelstrom, this was an unforgivable set of rival coalitions against them. This is why the Bourbons were as vicious as they were. This is why Reconstruction saw the terrorism and emergence of the ur-totalitarianism of the KKK and White League and Red Shirts. The ex-Confederates could neither forgive nor forget. This is why white liberal histories (trigger warning-there is a lynching postcard that has some major trigger risks with it in the post linked): 


Put Civil War-era violence against blacks thus: cut for larger font difference )
Because without including Fort Pillow, the Battle of the Crater, and the history of USCT units in general it's easy to attribute violence to lynching alone, not to bring up the racial massacres during the Civil War by Confederate soldiers. It's easy to paint the abolition of slavery as having nothing to do with racial violence. It's easy to claim the KKK were the first fascists and overlook where they were no different than the CS Army they were a veterans' club of.

This rant brought to you by Halialkers Productions, you may now return to your daily DW.

halialkers: J. Edgar Hoover, right profile view. Receding hair line, short nose, beady eyes (Agati)

Four days ago, on the 26th of January was the 150th anniversary of the declaration of secession adopted by the Louisiana state government. In so doing Louisiana, like the rest of the Deep South displayed an extremist form of the secessionist ideology that was gripping the South by force at that time. Thus far by 30 January in 1861 South Carolina, then Mississippi, then Florida, then Alabama, then Georgia, and then Louisiana had all been carried on the tide of secessionist terrorism into uncharted waters. Kansas had been admitted to the Union.

With the 150 year anniversaries coming up I will be going through the 150 year anniversaries of the major and minor incidents of the horrific idiocy that led the Southern Slave Power into a war it had precious little chance to win. I remain convinced that this decision was the most foolish made by any US politicians in the course of the country's history. All it served to do was ensure the death of 360,000 Southern soldiers in the Confederate armies for nothing. I emphasized that KIA rate because in World War II the total casualties, KIA, MIA, and WIA were 500,000. Just the killed alone from the Civil War were 630,000.


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