The Restoration of Rome – Peter Heather

Barbarian popes and imperial pretenders

This is the third book in a series about the end of the classical world and the development of modern Europe.  The first centered on the fall of the Western Empire, and the second was on the change in Europe from a Germanic dominated to a Slavic dominated eastern Europe and Balkans.

The Restoration of Rome covers another aspect of post-Roman Europe – the attempt to recover the idea of the Empire in a new world.  First, came the attempts to physically duplicate the Empire – starting with Theodoric the Ostrogoth.

Within 20 years or so of the Fall of the West, Theodoric took a faction of Goths into the Eastern Empire to make their fortune, just as many other groups had in the last several hundred years.  With a little luck and cleverness, his faction grew to be powerful enough to be considered a threat to the Empire.  Thus they were ‘invited’ to move into Italy to take it away from Odovacar, who had put the final nail in the Western Empire.

Theodoric succeeded very well, and managed to dominate the successor states and become the arbiter of the region.  For a short time he even acquired south France and Spain.  He and his court saw himself as a true successor of Rome.  And he might well have pulled it off – except he did not produce an heir.

This left an opening for the second attempt to physically recover the Western Empire – Justinian’s attempt to recover the West.  He managed to destroy the Ostrogothic state in the end, but did not have the strength to hold on when faced with the subsequent threats of the Lombards in Italy and the Muslims in the East.

The third successor to claim Imperial honors was Charlemagne and the Frankish Empire in North France and Germany.  This was the first successor to move beyond the Mediterranean core and set up an Empire in Europe proper.  Again, they managed to produce a mini Enlightenment that lasted a while, but soon the power of the Empire faded, this time for structural reasons.  Dr Heather notes that a feudal state has a fundamental issue with rewarding followers – a state like Rome can give jobs and money from tax revenues perpetually.  A feudal state leader needs to give land to followers, which results in a permanent transfer of power from the central government to the aristocracy. Eventually, central power fades away.  This happened to the Frankish Empire, and the subsequent Ottonian Empires in Germany.

The final chapter is a new take on claiming the mantle of Rome – the Papacy. Rather than using force to make a physical copy of Rome, that could not be sustained in a post-Roman world, the Papacy claimed a moral successorship to Rome and became a moral arbiter of the successor states in Europe.  They had to pull some interesting tricks to pull it off, but the Middle Ages until the Reformation and later centered around the power of the Papacy in Europe.

This is a great, readable series on not only the history of this period, but also its reflection on other times.

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The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle – David A. Powell

From the Crossing of the Tennessee River through the second Day – August 22-September 19, 1863

This is the first of a three volume set on the battle of Chickamauga and its aftermath, and even without the last day of the battle set down this already stands as a must-have beside Cozzens’ single volume book This Terrible Sound.

While the jacket claims coverage of the June Tullahoma campaign, and there is some, the book really takes off at the end, when Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland forced Bragg out of Tennessee into the mountains of North Georgia. It is hard to complain, as everyone skips over this advance that  cost only 100 or so men to take a good fraction of the state.  Rosecrans’ complaint that this victory was being “ignored because it is not written in letters of blood” certainly applies to future historians!

Luckily, the subsequent pre-battle marches where the Union army crosses the Tennessee River and turns Bragg out of Chattanooga are not skipped over. The treatment here is by far the most detailed and complete ever done.  The long marches and the confusion as both sides try and outguess the other are well covered.  And the situation was changing every moment.

Having lost Mississippi to Grant, and Tennessee, the Confederate government scrambled to recover the situation.  Forces were transferred to Bragg from all over the Confederacy…even Longstreet’s Corps from Lee was dispatched.  Rosecrans had dispersed to pursue Bragg south into Georgia, but now Bragg was stronger and better concentrated.

Bragg made several controversial tries to crush one part of the Union Army all of which failed to even come off in a battle.  This has generated a lot of post-war sound and fury but in reality it was just the sort of missed chance that afflicts an army that has been hastily thrown together operating in an unfamiliar area.  And the overall mistrust of Bragg by most of the officer corps did not help.

Grant would have just the same misfires in his Overland Campaign against Lee.  The next year when he had had time to remake the army to his liking these breaks started to go his way and he wound up the war quickly.

So at this point, the two armies are facing each other across Chickamauga Creek, which sits in one of the parallel valleys of the area.  Bragg kept trying to cross the creek north of the Union army, to cut it off from Chattanooga (downstream and one valley to the rear).  But Rosecrans managed to slide sideways and block the moves. This would be the state of this entire campaign – Bragg usually had little idea where the enemy was, and his flank moves ended up running squarely into Union forces. In the thick woods of the battlefield, sometimes you could catch a gap or a flank because nobody saw you coming.  But then, someone else would stumble on yours.

On the evening of September 18th, Bragg forced Alexander’s Bridge, yet another stage north of the Union position.  Thomas was sent north to meet it in a night march.  The next morning, he took it upon himself to attack the forces at that bridge, which he thought was a brigade.  It wasn’t a brigade.

This was a mistake – there was as many of them there as the attackers, and more on the way.  Probably Thomas would have been better advised to wait, since Braggs plan was to sweep south down the creek.  If Thomas had held off, this sweep might well have missed the Union army marching north entirely, or Thomas would have been in the rear and flank of the attackers and could have given them a nasty shock.

Instead, this move directed attention northward to the real open, undefended Union flank and there was a huge gap between the action and the rest of the army.  The Confederate reinforcements tended to be closer and arrive first, and there was a gap in the center of the army that was continually threatened.  Another few hours of concentration before giving battle might have made a huge difference.

But now the battle continued all day, with the action generally moving southward as they tried to work out where the enemy’s flank was located in the thickets. On both sides the command structure was discarded and troops were sent all over without regard to their commander. The Confederate army restructured itself more than once in the three days of contact, which is surely the worst idea imaginable.

In the evening, the Union had just managed to save its center from being broken. Bragg, hearing that General Longstreet would arrive about midnight, proposed to reorganize the army again.  The next day of battle would decide the matter.

And so we wait for the next volume!