The Frankish Invasion – Thomas Hodgkin

Its Volume VII in the “Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire” from the Folio Society, and the balance of power between the Byzantines, the Pope, and the Lombards is fatally broken by the fall of Ravenna to the Lombards.  Now there is no Exarch to be the Pope’s political superior, even nominally.

Under a series of strong Popes at this time (720-760 AD) the Papacy realigned itself to find a new counterbalance to the Lombards – the Franks.  Its king, Pippin, the father of Charlemagne, wasn’t hugely interested in intervening in Italy at first, but as a good Christian was influenced by the Pope’s cries for aid.

The point of contention was the Pope’s demand to get back part of the area around Ravenna.  However, this time the towns would be under the rule of the Pope and not Constantinople.  The King of the Lombards agreed under pressure, but then found reasons to delay turning over the cities.  Pippin even defeated the Lombards in a few small wars but once the Franks returned home the king returned to his foot-dragging.

Then a new king, Charlemagne, took over the Franks.  He soon had enough of the situation, and conquered the entire Lombard Kingdom and decided to rule it himself. Now the three-way split was the Pope, the Franks, and the Byzantines.  And the Papacy was aligned firmly with the West and the Franks.  But while the rift between East and West would continue to grow, the current happy relations between the Papacy and the Franks would not.  However the breakdown would only happen outside the scope of these books.


Unholy Sabbath – Brian Matthew Jordan

Battle of South Mountain (northern field of ba...

Battle of South Mountain (northern field of battle) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This book is about the Civil War battle of South Mountain, on September 14, 1862.  This was part of Lee’s first invasion of the North with the Army of Northern Virginia, and it marks the time when the operation went from bold stroke to a scramble for survival for Lee.

If you look at this map of the area of Frederick, MD, you can follow the strategic positon. Early in September Lee had moved across the Potomac to Frederick after driving the Union army back to Washington DC after the battles of Second Bull Run and Chantilly. His initial plan was to move further north, rallying southern sympathizers in Maryland and garnering political points to possibly gain European intervention.

As he rested at Frederick, the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry began to draw his attention.  It sat behind him, on his line of communications south.  He decided to take it out.  This was the first mistake – if the goal is to move north, taking your eyes off the main army and scattering yours is a dangerous mistake.  Lee was counting on the Union army to remain inactive.

His plan was to break his army into five parts and use three of them to surround Harper’s Ferry.  The other two would cover the rear – D. H. Hill‘s division at South Mountain and Longstreet at Hagerstown against anything coming from the north.  This was another mistake – the position at South Mountain was the more critical and most exposed to danger. It should have had the larger force.

The Army of the Potomac was quickly reorganized under McClellan who showed his usual energy and efficiency that was always present in him except when in contact with the enemy.  He marched them out to meet Lee and arrived at Frederick on September 12 to find him gone.  Now at this point, McClellan had already made the risk of any move North by Lee too dangerous.  From Frederick, he could move on interior lines or cut his lines of communication.  If Lee attacked him directly, the hills to the west of town made a good defense.

But then McClellan had a stroke of luck – soldiers found a misplaced copy of Lee’s entire march plan.  McClellan thus knew that Lee’s army was scattered and that he was closer to the forces attacking Harper’s Ferry or holding the center than Lee’s other forces were.  Lee himself knew nothing of this, because his cavalry under Stuart were doing an unbelievably poor job of scouting and delaying the Union forces. So on the 13th, when Hill saw two-thirds of the Union army approaching his positon, it was a shock indeed.

South Mountain is a considerable hill, so the defense had an for man, but that was not nearly enough to overcome the weight of Union force.  The defenders of Crampton’s Gap to the south were routed, the forces at Fox’ Gap were crushed and pushed back, and the main pass at Turner’s Gap was closely pressed and flanked.  Several of the defending units suffered severe losses.  Lee had to fall back at night to avoid a worse defeat the next day.  McClellan had broken the center of his position, and Lee retired towards the Potomac.

Lee then found out that Harper’s Ferry was about to surrender and decided to unite his army for a final battle at Sharpsburg.  This was his last mistake of the campaign, because there was no real chance of a decisive victory coming out of it – even a victory would let the Union fall back out South Mountain and defend there.  And the poor condition of his own army made that victory unlikely, where a defeat with his back to the Potomac could be a disaster.

But Little Mac managed to take three days to advance to the battle, and though he managed to grind up Lee in the bloodiest day of the entire war and defeat him, he could not crush him, and the Army of Northern Virginia retired to fight again.

To the Union Army, South Mountain was a tonic – it was the first victory they had had in months and gave them the confidence that on their home turf they could match the Confederates and drive them off.  This confidence carried on to Sharpsburg and to Gettysburg the next year, which ended the invasions.

Notable Historical Trials IV – The Duc de Praslin

This chapter in the Folio Society‘s collection of historical trials takes place in 1847.  The fe of the Duc, the Duchesse de Praslin was found dead, with more than forty wounds.

The obvious suspect was the Duc, and there was plenty of evidence.  He had blood on him, the cut bell pull rope was stuffed in his clothes, the weapon was in his rooms.  The two had not gotten on well in recent years, and this was made worse by the governess of their children, who she felt was behaving improperly with the Duc.

She had dismissed the woman, and the Duc was apparently due to intercede with the Duchesse to get her a recommendation for a new job that day.  I suppose the request did not go over well.

Before the trial was complete the Duc killed himself.

Why was this trial (or partial trial important?  The Duchesse was popular, and this gory murder was one of a number of incidents that discredited the monarchy of Louis Philippe and the Aristocracy.  The Ambassador to Naples cut his own throat, the Prince d’Eckmuhl stabbed his mistress to death, Comte Mortier tried to kill his children, and the Keeper of the Seal committed suicide.  It seemed to many that the ruling class was no longer fit to rule.  Within months unrest grew and the last King abdicated and fled.  The government set up a republic under Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who soon became the Emperor Napoleon III until his ouster in 1870 during the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War.

The Lombard Kingdom – Thomas Hodgkin

This is Volume 6 in the Folio Society‘s edition of Hodgkin’s “Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire”. It covers the years 600-744.  In the previous book, the Lombards had swept in and taken a large part of Italy, leaving only small enclaves to the Byzantine Empire along the coastline, centered primarily around Ravenna, Rome, and the southern tip of Italy.  The Lombards took the northern Po Valley as the center of their kingdom – still called Lombardy to this day.

The position of the Empire in Italy continued to erode as the Lombard Kingdom chipped away at their territory, especially around Ravenna.  This tended to reduce the power of the Exarch of Italy, nominally supreme, and the political power of the Popes in Rome grew to compensate.  In earlier times a Pope could be called to Constantinople to account to the Emperor in a dispute. That time came to an end now, as exarchs no longer dared try to extract a Pope from Rome.  The Pope soon became the de facto ruler of the enclave about Rome.

The influence of the Pope also grew when the Lombard Kingdom converted from Arianism to Catholicism. The Pope could always try to use religion to mitigate the attacks of the Lombards or reduce their effects.  This was aided by the fact that the southern part of Italy was ruled by independent dukes around Spoleto and Benevento.

So there is a balance in this period between the Exarch, the Pope, and the Lombards.  But the incursions of the Muslims into the East weakened the Exarch, and yet another religious controversy split Italy from the rest of the Empire – Iconoclasm.

This mystical idea, from the mideast, that images of Saints and other figures are sinful.faced great resistance in Italy, and not just because it was yet another crazy idea coming unbidden from the east.  It was hard everywhere for common people and priests to see why venerable objects of religious art had to be broken up.  So now a rift between the secular powers and the religious arm and the people grew, just as the Exarch was unable to provide any security against the Lombards.

This will culminate in two acts in the next book – the Pope assuming secular power in Italy for his own after the fall of Ravenna, and then looking for aid elsewhere, from the Franks, to provide a counterpoise to the Lombards.

Partners in Command – Joseph T. Glatthaar

This book is a collection of essays about command relations in the Civil War – between generals and the political commanders, or about commanders and their subordinates. I’ll take them one at a time…

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson

English: Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Sto...

English: Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson photographed at Winchester, Virginia 1862. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author labels this as the closest most effective partnership on the Southern side. It wasn’t even the closest in the Army of Northern Virginia.

A good part of the text describes the early days of the war.  While nobody can disparage Jackson’s efforts at 1st Bull Run or the Valley Campaign, at this point Lee was not his commanderJoseph Johnston was.  So this is hardly convincing me that their command relationship was close or effective.

When first operating with Lee, Jackson was given a large fraction of the ANV to work with in attacking McClellan in the Seven Days.  He failed badly, and in the subsequent reorganization his troops were pared back to something closer to what he had shown able to handle.  James Longstreet was given about two-thirds of the army, and Jackson a third.

This had to reflect that Lee’s confidence in Jackson was reduced, and rightly so. Jackson performed well, but Longstreet just as well in the subsequent 2nd Bull Run and Antietam campaigns. Lee continued to rely on Jackson as a fixing force and Longstreet as the hammer. He also pitched his tent with Longstreet’s HQ when in the field.  At Chancellorsville alone was Jackson relied upon wholly, because Longstreet was not there.

After the war, Longstreet did not side with the post-war “Lost Cause” enthusiasts and thus has been marginalized to an extent.  It is disappointing to see it perpetuated here. There was enough room to describe the three-man team that was the true reason for the effectiveness of the ANV during its golden age from Cedar Mountain to Chancellorsville.

McClellan and Lincoln

I don’t have a lot of problems with this chapter, which is a good overview of Little Mac’s problems with being a good subordinate and Lincoln’s problems in trying to get him to move.  There is an appendix which tries to assert that Mac had some mental illness to explain how he was.

I just figure Mac was a jerk and leave it at that.

Jefferson Davis and Joseph Johnston

Another good chapter.  These two prickly personalities never got on well, and the tragic flaw of the West was that Davis used it as a dumping ground for anyone that annoyed him in the East.  Thus when these generals (Beauregard and Johnston) complained about the overemphasis on Virginia, it had a personal and political tinge that poisoned the source in Davis’ eyes.

Much of what Davis wanted was extremely difficult.  The command he gave Johnston was vague and contradictory.  But a Napoleon would have used this wedge to act, whereas Johnston used it as an excuse to act less.  The combination worked worse than the parts alone might have.

The Peacemakers.

The Peacemakers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grant and Sherman and Porter

This is actually two chapters – one on Grant and Sherman and the other on the Army/Navy cooperation and the part it played.  This is a real key element as these were the three forces that divided and conquered the West in the war.  Anywhere the Navy and Army could go together, the South could not stand.  The close ties that the army in the riverlands formed internally and with the Navy were the key to overcoming the formidable natural and military obstacles in the way.

The Final Call

This is a good book, if not really breaking a lot of new ground to the expert.

Notable Historical Trials IV – Daniel MacNaghten

This chapter in the Folio Society‘s collection of historical trials was pretty topical, as it involved an attempted assassination attempt on the Prime Minister, Robert Peel.  By a stroke of fortune for Peel, MacNaghten mistook his secretary Edward Drummond for the minister and shot him instead.  Drummond died of his wound a short time later.

The case was put to trial and the shooter was let off by reason of insanity and committed for life to an institution.  This left a bad taste in the mouth of many, including Queen Victoria who was aghast that a man who was in control enough to plan and execute his plot and conceal his intent was considered unable to distinguish right from wrong.

After the case the House of Lords approved some guidelines about the level of proof needed for an insanity defense for future cases.