An Unsolicited Review of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War

Full disclosure: Jay D. Zollisch, (LTC, MI, USAR, Ret), the reviewer, is an old Army buddy of the author.

“From my view point this is a definitive book on the Civil War Battle of Shiloh.  If I were to read only one book on Shiloh this would be the book.  Why, because Johns book is so comprehensive and insightful.  The first 2 chapters set up the strategic influences that are going to come together to cause Shiloh.  The pre-Shiloh battles of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry are discussed, the different strategic objectives of the North and South and their lack of specific resources, the tradition and composition of the American militias, the peculiarities of the war in the West, the infantry and artillery weapons of our Civil War, how linear tactics were to evolve, and the importance of the American rivers in the Midwest as ‘travel and commerce waterways.’ All of this information flows nicely, and constitutes an excellent military PRIMER on the pre-Civil War soldier, logistics, officer quality, terrain,
and supporting government bureaucracies on both sides.

“After setting up these strategic influences, John drills down to discuss the operational level complexities.  All of the army, corp, divisional, brigade, and regimental commanders/units are noted with half page line and block charts.  All the key commanders are profiled so the reader can see some of their strengths, weaknesses, political influences, military experiences, and their specific contributions to the battle of Shiloh [especially Generals Grant, Sherman, Prentiss, Buell, Johnston, Breckinridge, and Beauregard].

“After setting the stage for the why, where, and who is going to fight, John narrates the Confederate pre-march and the Union camp setup immediately before the battle.  The actual battle scenes are narrated on a timeline basis, with Confederate action and Union reaction by corp, division, and regiment.  The reader gets a rare insight as to what happens when one militia army fights another militia army, and the following unique consequences to those type of soldiers ‘retreating and regrouping and who could lead them effectively’.  The battle flows are described in detail, the intentions of the flanking units revealed, and the perceptions and misperceptions of the higher level commanders identified.  There are ample battle position maps/charts in the book, to show the progression of regiments and brigades, every few hours.

“The research that went into this book, at all levels, is exhaustive but never boring.  If I were to make a documentary on the Battle of Shiloh, I would use this book as the format for Shiloh [and for any other Civil War battle].  I am a slow reader, but I could not put this book down and read it in 3 evenings, and this book goes into the top 10 category in my military library.  I highly recommend this book to all Civil War readers/historians.”  

The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty is available in paper back and PDF from Booklocker and other fine booksellers.

Advertisements

Tragedy and Triumph

18 February marks two events in 1945 that would have profound consequences for the future of warfare.  First, after fifty days of siege that cost some 50,000 military and civilian lives, Budapest fell to Rodion Malinovski’s 2nd Ukrainian Front.  Some ten thousand or so Germans and a handful of Hungarians had broken out to the west on 11 February, only to be caught on the road to Vienna and wiped out.  The Soviets suffered some 100-150,000 casualties during the long siege.

Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Beyond (edited by Timothy Dowling) discusses Budapest and a thousand other battles.  John Beatty’s essays of Soviet casualties 1941-45, Soviet armor development in WWII, Joseph Stalin and the battle for Berlin in 1945 are also featured.  Russia at War is available in hardback from fine booksellers everywhere.

On the same day, the three-day tragedy of Dresden began.  Spared heavy bombing for most of the war, Dresden was attacked three nights and two days in a row, devastating most of the medieval city.  One young American POW caught in the bombing was Kurt Vonnegut, who described his ordeal in his novel Slaughterhouse Five, named after the shelter he was trapped in.  He was also quoted in Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and complained more than once that he could never get the smell of Dresden out of his nose.

The bombing has been heavily criticized ever since. Dresden has been the subject of more than one book, one of the worst being David Irving’s Apocalypse 1945, which severely inflates the already tragic casualty count.  Officially and finally refuted in a libel trial in London described in Richard Evans’ Lying About Hitler, Irving has even served a term in jail for denying the Holocaust.

On 13 February 1951, United Nations forces (mostly Americans of the 23rd Infantry, but also the French Battalion, and a Dutch company among the 4,500 or so men) met Chinese troops (about 25,000 from the 39th, 40th and 42nd Armies) at Chipyong-ni (Dipingli in Chinese) in Korea.  The two day battle would be called the “Gettysburg of the Korean War,” and because of its disconnected and decentralized nature, one of the biggest “soldier’s battles” in history, costing the Chinese about 3,000 casualties and the US forces about 300.  It was the “high water mark” of the Chinese incursion into southern Korea, and the beginning of the gradual retreat of the Chinese and North Koreans to around the 38th parallel.

Ft Donelson on Lincoln’s Birthday

After a forced march of some five days, some 25,000 men under US Grant started his assault on Ft Donelson on 12 February 1862.  The weather on 6 February when they left Ft Henry on the Tennessee River was balmy, but by the time they were halfway to the Confederate fort on the Cumberland it turned cold and wet.  The Federals, few of whom had ever heard a shot in anger nor gone more than a day’s walk from where they were born, suffered in the cold in part because they had discarded their heavy winter coats and blankets along the way.

The Confederates, less than a week after the loss of Ft Henry, scrambled to protect the last bastion protecting Nashville, just three days’ march south.  Nearly all the Confederate uniform manufacturing west of Virginia, and half the ammunition manufacturing, was in Nashville.  That and some 16,000 Confederate troops (probably more) at Ft Donelson, as well as 48 irreplaceable artillery pieces were in peril from the larger Federal force.  Albert S. Johnson, the Confederate commander of District Number 2 that encompassed everything Confederate between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, knew that holding Ft Donelson was key to holding middle Tennessee and the gateway to the Southern interior, but had nearly nothing to send to John B Floyd, the garrison’s commander.

As Grant began his siege (Impractical, since his batteries only had the ammunition in their batteries, as his staff had neglected to send any more), he realized that if Ft Donelson held out more than a few days, he would have to withdraw or wait for reinforcements.  Henry W. Halleck, Grant’s boss, had already said that Grant had to win to get stronger.  Excuses were not to be tolerated, for Grant’s reputation in the Army was not one of a stellar officer, but tainted by allegations of drink.  To go any further at all just to provide for his family, Grant had to take Ft Donelson.  To hold the western theater at all, Pillow had to hold it.

If Grant informed Halleck that he had reached Ft Donelson it would have been by horseback messenger to Ft Henry (or by steamboat to either Paducah or Galena), then by relays of telegraph stations to Halleck at St Louis.  If Lincoln had heard about Ft Donelson before it was captured, it would have been at least a day after his 53rd birthday.  Still, when he and the rest of the country heard about the fall of the fort, he regarded it as a wonderful gift.

The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War is the story of the middle Tennessee campaign in the spring of 1862, of which Forts Henry and Donelson were just the opening act.  Available in paperback and PDF at fine booksellers everywhere.

Beginnings: Crop Duster a Winner; Japan Attacks Russia and Britain; Bloody Mary is Beheaded; Elizabeth II Becomes Queen

As the badge on today’s post says, Crop Duster: A Novel of WII is an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Writers Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for Mainstream Fiction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that Crop Duster is regarded at one of the five best of over a hundred submitted books in this category.  It’s also a Notable Book in Shelf Unbound’s Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2014 for Page-Turners. Find out what the judges see is so great about Crop Duster today.  Available in paperback and E-book at fine booksellers everywhere.


On the night of 8 February 1904, Japan attacked the Russian naval base at Port Arthur with torpedoes from four destroyers.  A Russian protected cruiser (Pallada) keeled over and sank, and two battleships (Retvizan and Tsarevich ) were damaged.  An indecisive daylight action the next morning damaged vessels on both sides, but the Japanese had the advantage of being able to sail out of range of the Russian shore batteries, while the Russians were trapped in port by the strong Japanese fleet.

As the opening battle of what would come to be called the Russo-Japanese War, Port Arthur was a template for Japanese conflict initiation for the next fifty years: strong attacks with little warning followed by relentless pressing of the advantages of surprise.  While the Japanese attacks in 1904, 1914, 1932, 1937 and 1941 were expected in a general sense, their location often was not.  The 8 February 1942 invasion of Singapore after two months of attacks all around the Pacific Rim was forewarned, but the British had never expected an attack from landward along the Malay Peninsula.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look At Japan at War, 1941-1945 probes the Japanese mindset reaching back to before the Tokugawas. Available in hardback, paperback and PDF.


Two distantly related events, ironically, are marked in early February.  Mary,Queen of Scots was beheaded on 8 February 1587, an unfortunate victim of a dynastic feud begun in prehistory, for all intents and purposes.  The Stuart throne of Scotland dated from the 14th century (or 12th, for purists) in a country that had the poor luck of being weaker than most of her neighbors but stronger than her closest kin.  Britain had the sense to try to “civilize” the traditionally tribal Scots off and on for centuries, while Scotland allied with France and was used as a cudgel against Ireland in between periods of independence.  Mary’s poor timing that she would reign while Elizabeth I sat in Windsor, but was lucky enough that Elizabeth would be childless, so that her son would inherit the throne of England.

Nearly four centuries later, Elizabeth II,oldest daughter of George VI would be proclaimed queen on 6 February 1952.  She would be the first British monarch for over a century who was not also empress of India. She is at this writing the longest reigning British monarch in history.


The Long War

On 5 February 1985, in a solemn ceremony of unknown origins and unclear location, the mayors of Rome and Carthage signed a peace treaty ending the Third Punic War.  This conflict was the longest in human history, but had had no practical effects on either city for more than two thousand years.  No doubt the two were prodded into the peaceful and wholly ceremonial action to promote international relations, or a cruse line, or something else without either warlike or other international implications.

The conflict had begun in 151 BCE, and (openly) ended when Carthage fell to the Romans under Scipio Aemilianus after a three year siege that ended in the spring of 146. In the nature of such things, the city was rebuilt by Julius Caesar as a Roman city, and would become a major trading center under the Empire.

Unlike the Third Punic War, the prospect of a “long war” has reared its ugly head in the mass media as a conflict between militant Islam and the rest of the world–principally the industrial West–that would have a very active presence for generations.  Despite the protestations of some on both sides, it has very little chance of a peaceful resolution within the next news cycle or before the next elections.  It seems likely, indeed probable, that it will only end when people in the most influential factions (not necessarily the most powerful) realize the futility of continuing.  And that could take a very long time.

As the American Indians were gradually assimilated (by and large) over the course of 500 years, and the Irish insurgency against Britain waxed and waned over the course of at least as long, some elements will eventually ask how they could possibly prevail.  Both the Indians and the Irish, the Walloons and the Basques, the Armenians and the Maori and countless other small ethnic cultures eventually simply had to stop struggling against the inevitability of demographic defeat everywhere even if they won every battle in their own back yards.  After the fall of Carthage, it was likely that partial assimilation–not armed resistance–became the obvious key to survival.

Not that it would necessarily happen, but it could.  Declared wars, or open warfare, don’t always end in victory parades.  They don’t even always end in clear military success.  But they do always end.  The real challenge is to still be alive when the shooting stops.

“…Und Vin ze Var!” and Other Myths of War

On 3 February 1917, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in the wake of Germany’s announcement that she would commence unrestricted submarine warfare again.  The notion that Germany would be able to “win” the war against Britain by doing this was popular at the time, but unfounded.  It’s not clear exactly what the Germans expected, but “winning” the European war by then was simply a matter of outliving rivals.  France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia and the Balkan states were completely spent: Britain was conscripting men for the first time in her history; Germany was starving through her first “turnip winter.”  Of all the world powers, only the United States was relatively undamaged by the war, then entering its third year.

Germany certainly hoped for victory, but in this more innocent time “victory” didn’t mean conquering one’s enemies and destroying their capacity and their will for war as it would in 1945.  What it meant was another negotiated settlement between leaders in morning coats and top hats; a dignified congress of gentlemen discussing matters before retiring and dressing for dinner.  There were to be no unseemly marches of mere soldiers past hastily built reviewing stands as the Americans had in 1865, and no shocking assassinations of emperors as the Mexicans had in 1866 to their Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I that France had so generously placed on the throne.

But on 3 February 1945, Operation Thunderclap would augur just such portents in Germany.  A thousand US bombers hit Berlin over the course of about three hours, plagued by German fighters and pummeled by flak.  While Germany was dying and everyone seemed to know it but Hitler, she was still vary dangerous.

Thunderclap wasn’t the first thousand plane raid.  That distinction belongs to Operation Millennium in 1942, when the RAF hit Cologne in the heart of the Ruhr with not quite a thousand bombers (though they did send over a thousand, not quite a thousand reached the target).  The point of these large raids, as the fictional Otto Thielmann would discover in Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII as he watched Cologne go up in flames, was that it took very large volumes of unguided iron bombs to do what the prewar bomber advocates had insisted would take very little.  Technology of the time didn’t allow the kind of theoretical precision that men like Harris and Eaker had promised.  But, Cologne also showed that large groups of aircraft could overwhelm Germany’s defenses.  Such strikes couldn’t win, but they could enable victory.

Finally, in the height of irony, on 3 February 1924 Woodrow Wilson finally succumbed to the series of strokes that had weakened him for somewhat over a decade.  The conflict for which he would be forever identified was long over, though the aftermath and rebound had only begun, but Wilson died after lingering for nearly a year as a complete invalid, and nearly five years as a somewhat feeble old man.  While his wartime decision-making will be forever tainted by politics, his record as a reformer and wartime president must also be weighed and colored by his chronic illnesses.

America Ascendant and Germany Descendant

On 2 February 1848 the Mexican-American War came to an official end, though for all practical purposes it had ended weeks before.  Winfield Scott, the only American General-In Chief to take field command (a whole other story, that) was the most celebrated soldier since Andrew Jackson.  An entirely self-educated officer who was first commissioned at age 22 as a captain of artillery (1808), “Old Fuss and Feathers” had led the American invasion of the Mexican Plateau in the first such expedition since Cortes.  What was remarkable was that European observers were all convinced that the European-trained Mexicans would handily defeat the Americans, whose last outing against European-style armies was in 1815.

Scott’s army never lost a battle, nor left a battlefield in retreat.  Six different American forces invaded Mexican territory from 1846-48 ranging in size from company to Scott’s small army, and none were unsuccessful.  “A little more grape, Captain Bragg” became a buzz phrase for a generation before the Civil War.  Mexico, beset by internal division, class warfare, and political uncertainty since its independence in 1822, would gradually settle into a twilight state between revolution and civil war that would obtain until the European invasion in 1862, and return until the Cristero War ended in 1929.


And then there was Stalingrad.  Though German Sixth Army officially surrendered on 31 January 1942, it would be two days until the last pockets of resistance were destroyed.  Between the Axis Allies and the Soviets, somewhere near two million soldiers and at least as many civilians died in the carnage and bitter weather at the City of Stalin.  Films like Stalingrad (1943) and Enemy At the Gates (2001) depict desolation, privation, random death and injury only to well-fed Germans and Russians, but the truth was that both sides were nearly on starvation rations even before the November 1942 offensive cut off the Germans and their allies.

Stalingrad changed the entire face of WWII in Russia, and arguably lost the war for Germany.  Between the loss of Guadalcanal by Japan earlier in the week, the brawl that was the American’s return to combat in North Africa in the next month, the British offensive into Libya and then Tunisia, the cracks in the Axis empires were becoming bigger, if not deeper.  It was clear that, if the Allies would fight long enough, both the German and Japanese monsters could be tamed.