Maps of the Wilderness – Bradley M. Gottfried

An atlas of the wilderness campaign, including all Cavalry operations, may 2-6 1864

This is the latest of the Savas-Beatie series of atlases on Civil War campaigns.  Each page has a map on the right page and text on the left explaining the map. In the thick of the battle the time intervals per page can be as short as 15 minutes, but are usually about an hour.  Each part of the field has its own connected set of pages so there is a minimum of mental scene switching.

The text is contains a good amount of tactical detail, but is by its nature more of an overview of the battle than a more in-depth study is.  The strength of the book is that it does give the tactical details and maps that usually are described in a sentence or so with a map every chapter or so.  In that way it is a good counterpoint to those other books.

The battle itself is the start of the Overland Campaign, the first where Grant met Lee in the field.  The Army of the Potomac had been overmatched by Lees’ Army in part due to its own faltering leadership.  This fact was compounded by fact that it had to fight on Lee’s turf, and being so close to the capital it was both under scrutiny and was tempted to play politics itself.  It isn’t a coincidence that the two times Lee invaded the North and there was a clear purpose for the Army it fought much better and turned him back with a drubbing.

The Overland Campaign would be a strategic defeat for Lee, ending with him being pinned against the vital rail lines protecting the capital for the winter, then routed out of them and forced to surrender.  Thus it starts the period where Confederate history starts to lose interest in the battles and shade into vagueness.and excuses.  A recent study shows that by examining the newspapers of the time there is evidence that Lee received more reinforcements and lost more men in all these battles than estimated previously.

The Army of the Potomac had just been reorganized by Meade in the fall because the small corps previously in use were hard to manage and required many commanders, which could not be found due to battlefield losses.  Complicating matters was the fact that Confederate corps were larger than Union due to the way regiments were recruited, so it required multiple Union Corps to contend with a Confederate one.

However, in retrospect the new size of the Union Corps was probably too large, compounded by the propensity of the high command to attach and reattach divisions from place to place in battle.  Repeatedly the Union found its corps commanders unable to handle their large units, most having doubled in size or more since their last battle.  As the campaign went on this tended to be ‘solved’ by losses and veterans going home, thus making the units more in line with what commanders were used to.

The main change in this battle was that at the top, Grant had no reluctance to engage the Confederates when encountered.  Lee, despite what historians claim for him, did not realize this as his usual rush to contact on two widely separated roads put him in an embarrassing position when Grant attacked his forces, pinning them in place.  Meanwhile, an entire Union division was in-between the two, able to pitch into the  flank or rear of either.  Sadly for the union, the high command did not realize this and the forces retired later to the main line.  Later attempts to hit this wide gap from the front never quite managed to strike home.

A second crisis happened at the start of the second day of the battle.  The southern prong of Lee’s army had been hard pressed at nightfall.  Lee refused to pull the men back to another position claiming that his last corps, Longstreet’s, would arrive before the Union would attack.  Since they had marched 32 miles and were still 15 miles off, this shows that he did not consider a dawn attack a possibility.  Longstreet did arrive at 6 AM, but only after Hancock had routed Hill’s corps and driven them back nearly a mile.  Only a stellar performance by Longstreet and the confusion of the attack column allowed the situation to be stabilized and kept his army from being driven west away from the capital.  This would not be the last time in this campaign that Lee avoided disaster by luck and the Army of the Potomac’s fumbling rather than by his own decisions.  By the next spring, the middle leadership of the Union Army had absorbed Grant’s attitude and become much more deft, and the result was a series of crushing defeats and eventual surrender.

Grant, as supervisor of Meade’s army, played a more limited role in tactical issues than he would later.  He loses some points for confusing the command structure by dispatching divisions all over the field outside of their chain of command.  This added to the hesitantness of the remaining troops who lacked reserves, and to the confusion of the arriving troops and the burden of the other corps commander.  While you might expect poor commanders like Burnside to have problems, all the others also did, even veterans like Hancock and Sedgwick.

Historians have been hesitant to call this battle what it was, a decided Union victory. Unlike most other battles in the East, even Union victories, there was no long rebuilding pause and no change in policy by the army commander.  Losses were proportionally even (or by modern research, higher for the South), and losses aren’t the point.  Grant’s objective was to press Lee continually, and he continued to do so.  Lee’s objective was to disrupt this campaign and gain time for the South, and he failed to do so.

Northern Men with Southern Loyalties – Michael Todd Landis

The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis

This book is a great complement to the previous book Slave Power.  That book describes the start of the process, while this book details the final decade as the Democratic Party failed to meet the challenge of how to reconcile the power of the slaveholding bloc in national politics with the increasing reluctance of the northern voter to accept the situation.

The poster child of the 1850s rift is the “doughface”, a term that originated in a diatribe of a southerner over how easy it was to manipulate northern politicians.  When it begins to be a term used by your own voters, you have an image problem.

The book is a short, but detailed look at the inner workings of the 1850s Democratic Party, by then the one national based party.  As the dominant force, it had the fate of the nation in its hand, and the result was continual sectional crisis, division, a virtual civil war in Kansas, and eventually the breakup of its own party and true national warfare.

The inner workings of the Democratic Party were the essential forces causing the problem, not outside agitation or other forces.  This book exposes that in a short and clear way.  No party ever had such a dominating position in history, and yet within a decade it had all crumbed to dust.

I’ll be reading this one again, like I do America in Kenneth views into political collapse.


The Rzhev Slaughterhouse – Svetlana Gerasimova

The Red Army’s forgotten 15-month campaign against Army Group Center, 1942-1943

Ever since the old Soviet archives were opened up a few decades ago, new information has been revealed about the war in the East in WWII.  In the US, this was first popularized by the works of David Glantz.  In the last several years works in English by Russian authors have also started to emerge, adding even more viewpoints.

While this work has less detail on a single operation than Glantz’ do, it does provide a walkthrough of a section of the front that has received less attention than others, despite its importance.  After the German attack on Moscow and the Soviet counteroffensive in late 1941, German attention and post war historian’s attentions shifted south, to the area where the 1942 Fall Blau campaign would begin, and end with the Stalingrad battle.  But at the time the Soviets spent considerable effort on the central sector, the one closest to Moscow.

At then end of the Soviet Winter Counteroffensive in 1941, the line in this area was in a very confused state.  For the most part, Army Group Center survived by clinging to the areas around cities and towns, and the Soviet forces bulged in and behind them in the forested terrain.  A major bulge remained between the north-south communication lines between the cities of Rzhev in the north, and Viazma on the main highway to Moscow. The rest was a jumble of counterbulges of Soviet forces and pockets nearly cutting off the Rzhev salient.  The front face of this extension was the closest German position to Moscow.

The First Russian Offensive – Jan-April 1942

Almost at once after the Winter counterattack ended, the Soviets regrouped and attacked again to cut off and surround the forces in the German bulge, and to rescue their own forces in the German rear areas.  While the front face of the bulge was pushed in, and some breakthroughs were made into the German rear near both Vyazma and Rzhev, in the end these incursions were cut off and eliminated.

The Germans Tidy Up – May-JuLY 1942

With the end of Soviet attacks in the spring in this sector, and before Fall Blau took off in earnest in mid summer, Army Group Center attacked and eliminated the pockets inside the bulge and a counterbulge on the west face of the salient.  This made their hold on the salient much more firm.

First Rzhev-Sychevka – July-September 1942

While the Germans were driving East in the south of Russia, the Soviets mounted a major offensive to take Rzhev or cut it off from the south by taking the town of Sychevka on the communication road to the South.  A massive frontal assault, it managed to bash forward to the outskirts of both towns at great cost.

Second Rzhev-Sychevka (operation Mars) – November-December 1942

This massive offensive, fully as large or larger than Uranus, which cut off the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad, was intended to cut off the salient by attacking the top, front and rear faces at once. This would have cut off Ninth Army in Rzhev and torn the center front wide open.  However, the Germans were not as overextended here and the terrain was worse here than near Stalingrad, so the ruptures in the line created by the overwhelming attacks were eventually pinched off and the units crushed by armored reserves.

This offensive was both overshadowed by the success of Uranus, and downplayed by the Soviets because of the immense losses taken.

German Withdrawal – March 1943

In early spring 1943, the commander of Army Group Center realized that with his armored reserve depleted to halt the series of Winter offensives in south Russia, he would be unlikely to stop the next attack in the Rzhev sector that was sure to come when the Russians were ready.  Almost uniquely in the war, he managed to convince Hitler and the high command to allow a planned, phased withdrawal out of the position to a prepared line across the base.

Timed to coincide with the mud season, it went off well enough.  The Soviets tried to turn the withdrawal into a rout by attacking during the process, but a combination of the weakness of the units and the natural reluctance to attack fixed positions without preparation led to no real results other than the territory gained and the ability to reduce their frontage too.

Results and Remembrances

As more information is collected, total losses for both sides in these campaigns are revised continually upward.  A conservative estimate is 1.3 million casualties for both sides.  More recent tallys surpass 2 million.  Some even claim 800,000-900,000 deaths which would estimate some three million casualties.  By any standard these are a major set of battles that should be studied more.

The final chapter of the book is a interesting, and thought provoking of the aftermath of the battle up to the present.  Even to this day, parties are working these woods and swamps removing explosives and finding and identifying bodies from the area of the battle.

This was an excellent book for students of the war.  I look forward to more Russian historians putting forward their view of the battles.

Valley Thunder – Charles R. Knight

The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864

This is another short history, this time by Savas-Beattie publishing.  But rather than being an obscure battle, this is a new retelling of a battle and campaign that probably gets written about more than it deserves from a military sense.

In the start of Grant’s 1864 campaign in Virginia, he set the satellite forces about the state to advance to occupy the forces the Confederates had opposing them and keep them from reinforcing Lee.  In the end, these aims all failed for the North, mostly due to these forces being led by high ranked generals shunted off to these unimportant regions to keep them away from the main army,

Here, the man in question was Franz Sigel, a German born officer who fought in the early campaigns in Missouri in 1861 with mixed success, and then was moved east and never had mixed success again.  Grant was hoping that Sigel would watch while the more talented General Ord took command of the advancing forces.  Sigel, however, wanted to lead the attack and his political importance with the German citizens was too much to overrule him.

The military moves were simple.  Sigel moved south.  The rebel general Breckinridge scrambled to collect troops to face him, most notably including the student militia troops of Virginia Military Institute.  The two armies met north of town, in a narrow location that made the best of the inferior numbers of the Confederates.  That, and the inertness of Sigel led to his troops being shot up piece by piece.  Eventually after being worked on the Confederates drove them out and they retreated North.

Even so, at a point of the battle Breckinridge needed to commit the VMI troops to the battle, and in the final charge to win the day they famously took a battery.  Hence the battle being kept alive in VMI, and overall Southern memory,

The writing has the appropriate level of detail for such a battle.  It doesn’t overdwell on it, or skip little incidents.One charming note about the book is the annotation on one map of the location of the author’s house.  I haven’t seen that before.

The battle did get Sigel fired, and Breckinridge and most of his men sent on to join Lee.  Within a month or so, a second attempt by General Hunter overran the Valley, so there was little impact of this battle on “saving the Valley”.   Hunter himself would be driven off in June and July by Early, and finally Grant would send Sheridan and overwhelming force to put paid to the military importance of the Valley by fall.

This is a great updated treatment of the battle and campaign, even if it isn’t that important of one.



AD 69 – Emperors, Armies and Anarchy – Nic Fields

Again, an attempt to make a dent in my huge pile of books and audiobooks to review! Since it has been a while since I completed this book, some of the recollections aren’t the freshest.

The book is one of the Pen and Sword “semi obscure history” line that I was into quite a bit at the time.  And in a way this is one of the ones that tempered that phase, as overall it is something of a disappointment.

Like many of the books in this line, it isn’t a thick book in the first place, which is natural for a subject where the amount of primary documentation is limited — even although the Year of the Four Emperors is well covered by Tacitus, it hardly has the volumes of information that a more modern subject does.  Even in this short state, the book has a serious problem with padding.

About half of the book is appendices, and several are of only limited relation to the subject of this Civil War.  To make matters worse, the main text shows severe signs of padding, wandering off subject for paragraphs at a time to subjects that, frankly, would fit better in an appendix.

Ironically, ancient authors themselves did this as a matter of style.  If I thought the author was making a modern tribute to this by writing this way, I might have been more amused by it.  As it was, it left me wishing for better editing.

There is at least one, maybe more recent books on this same subject that I enjoyed more than this one.

The Conquering Tide – Ian W. Toll

The War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944

This is the second volume in a projected trilogy on WWII in the Pacific.  It follows his book “Pacific Crucible” which deals with the early stages of the war – primarily the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.  This book goes from the Guadalcanal invasion to 1944 and the conquest of Saipan.  This would allow the start of the B29 strategic bombing offensive against Japan itself to begin.

This period is the ‘swing period’ of the war.  The Japanese started with a significant advantage in trained pilots and the initiative that let them attack peacetime garrisons and weak and unprepared foes.  After a few months, the Allies started to get their bearings and start to be able to contest the Japanese fleet, especially when divided.  The battle of Midway ended the period where the Japanese could realistically continue expanding in the Pacific, but the US still needed time to collect their forces, get them into the battle.

That is the period discussed in this book – the US seizure of Guadalcanal was risky, as the Japanese could strike hard at the protecting naval forces and the troops, but the air base on the island increasingly took its toll on the Japanese ships and planes.  Surface actions came frequenty, from the disaster at Savo to others that were more even or even victories.  But regardless, the Japanese could not push the US away, and every month brought the arrival of massive US naval forces closer.

The US Navy (with some significant Commonwealth help, especially the Australians) needed time to gain experience meeting the Japanese, and took their lumps.  But every Japanese ship damaged or lost was gone for good, while the US kept getting more ships.

Finally, the US forced the Japanese out of the Solomons, and then began the Central Pacific offensives at Tarawa, Kwajalein and finally Saipan.  By this point, the Japanese Navy is hardly a threat to the assembled fleets – the latest battle was the famed “Marianas Turkey Shoot” where the air force was crushed and the newest Japanese carrier blew itself up from fuel fumes more than US bombs or torpedoes.

The book is big enough to give a more thorough treatment of the campaigns than standard one volume histories.  It has a little of the view of the Japanese side, but it is more the US view of the war than trying to show what both sides were doing equivalently.  Hopefully the third volume continues at this detail rather than slide off when the war gets totally one-sided as often happens.  I look forward to the third volume with some interest, as I am reading more about this part of the war these days.

Confederate Reckoning – Stephanie McCurry

Power and Politics in the Civil War South

I was very afraid of this book when reading the preface.  There was quite a bit of modern buzzwords about feminist theory and gender politics.  I’ve been burned before by books on even Ancient history suddenly being tarred by modern political posturing and trying to fit the more complicated values of the past into a simplistic framework to fit modern theories.  Marxist historians used to be especially prone to this.  Real life is a lot more complex, and a good history needs to remember that.

It did not take long to show that my fears were groundless, and that this is one of the most valuable corrective histories I’ve come across on the Civil War.  The author starts out with a direct expression of the nature of the Confederate Experiment – that the founders of the CSA intended to produce a Republic for White Men, and founded on a bedrock institution of Slavery.  This has been evaded for various reasons by the ex-Confederates after the war and by historians since.

The first case study is an examination of the secession campaigns in 1860.  The speeches of pro-secession speakers was avowedly based on fears of amalgamation between the races, claiming that Lincoln was elected by black votes.  The campaigns, even in South Carolina, featured armed bullies showing up at meetings to intimidate loyalists. Even there tensions between the upper class and lesser folk had to be papered over to gain the point.  Other states, like Georgia, were likely only won by fraud.  Even the official result of 54 percent for secession is hardly a mandate.  One of the first acts of the new independent Georgia was to define a treason statute giving the death penalty for allegiance to the Union.

In theory, women had no part of this political action, as their sphere was defined to be the home.  However, soon imperfections in this view were evident.  When resistance to the Confederate state began, there were serious questions if a woman, as not really a citizen, could be treasonous.  In practice, though, these mothers and wives of disloyal men were routinely harrassed, sometimes to the point of torture to get information.

The separation of women from the state continued to break down as the war continued.  As more and more men were pulled into service, and killed there, the problem of relief for soldiers’ wives became acute.  The CSA government was built as a war-making device, and to suddenly have to divert significant resources to nationwide welfare programs was a constant distraction.  And to lobby to get these claims, women had to group and lobby from a local to national level.

The strain became even worse with the bread riots led by women in the late war period. As prices rose, the food kept by the government or by speculators became a matter of resentment and finally, mobs of women took matters into hand and looted shops and warehouses. While the lawlessness was troubling, the government response was conflicted since the claim that women were not being sheltered from want was undeniable.

The issue of slaves became a problem too, for similar reasons.  The conventional excuse for slavery was that slaves, like children, were not responsible enough on their own.  Thus slave relations were a personal issue between master and slave, and not a government matter.  And again, slaves were purposely not part of the Confederate State.

So the war at once started to disrupt this pattern.  Slaves would flee to, or inform US forces about military matters.  If caught, masters usually resisted severe punishment. As the war continued, more white men left slaveholding regions so actual enforcement became difficult and counterproductive.  Slaves often left and lived off in woods for months at a time.  Owners resisted calls to divert slaves to the military for labor – partly out of fear they might be mistreated, partly out of fear they might lose them entirely.

As the end grew closer, the disjunction between the image of slaves and the reality grew more apparent.  Overt violence was not common, but reports of a kind of watchful waiting that the owners found unsettling were common.  And if the masters fled the plantation, slaves routinely took over and looted them.  This happened to Jefferson Davis and his brother themselves.

The final rock that broke the image was the fight over slave soldiers.  In the end, the overt need for more soldiers to preserve the nation could not quite prevail over the idea that each master could keep control over his own slaves.

Even to someone like me, that has read hundreds to thousands of Civil War books and articles, this book showed me something new and added depth to matters I already knew from the rare mentions in other books.  This will definitely stay on the shelf with the other important books in my collection.

Europe Between the Oceans – Barry Cunliffe

9000 BC – AD 1000

I picked this up a while back because of its wide coverage. It turns out it is a textbook, so it has the pluses and minuses of that.  It has lots of maps and pictures, covers a lot of ground but is a bit thin on an overriding theme.  It has some broad strokes but also goes down and shows diagrams of particular excavations.

Overall it didn’t do as much as other textbooks I have that aren’t as complete – it just doesn’t have enough text to tie the particulars that are discussed and also give a feel for the overall history that sticks with you.  Perhaps it was intended for a course after conventional ancient history so they assume you know the ebb and flow of Greece, Rome and so forth so a lot of that is glossed over.

So it has interesting bits and pieces, but didn’t make itself into enough of a whole to end up being very memorable.

The Chickamauga Campaign Part 2 – David A. Powell

Glory or the Grave:  The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863

This detailed look at the second (or third depending how you look at it) day of Chickamauga is the best treatment I’ve read yet.  Not only does it give additional detail on parts of the day often glossed over – I don’t think most other books do more than have a few paragraphs on the withdrawal from Kelly Field– but at many points an anecdote will be presented, then confirmed or questioned by appeals to knowledge presented or by other sources.

The scenario for this day of the battle is complicated.  Bragg’s’ Army is being reinforced by Longstreet’s Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia.  Rosecrans’ Union Army has been edging northward to block efforts to cut him off from the recently captured key rail junction of Chattanooga, TN.  Some good moves by the Union and fumbles by the hastily assembled Rebel army have preserved the Union force, now outnumbered.  Most of Longstreet’s troops were on the field for the first day, and at dark Longstreet himself arrives on the scene.

Bragg decides to reorganize the army overnight and give Longstreet half.  Normally, this would be a dubious decision, but given the chaos of the current command structure it probably was the right decision.  Just to complicate things even more, there an immense amount of confusion where various generals in the high command failed to make contact for an early attack.  Possibly this, too, was less of an issue than thought.  With the need for Longstreet to even find his command, and then organize it, a rapid assault by the other wing might just have led to even less unity of action than actually happened.  It is questionable that the Union made good use of the time.

The Union army was drawn up with a very thin, long line.  To the south, a major hospital complex had to be held until evacuated.  To the north, Thomas had a nice, compact position, but not one that protected the route to Chattanooga.  Thus he kept demanding more troops, but there weren’t enough to cover all the needs.

Rosecrans was starting to lose control of the situation.  Despite Thomas hoarding units like a crazy cat lady, he still respected him enough to send him more.  Thus he had virtually the southern third of the army in motion at once, edging northward and changing positions back and forth.  This confusion would cost them at a critical time.

When the Confederates to the north finally get going, they do manage to outflank Thomas on the north and cause some confusion.  Some of the dispatched units help repel this attack.  However, there were other units crammed into Thomas’ front that could and should have been pulled into a reserve for these contingencies.

Near noon, Longstreet gets going and smashes into the center.  In a final confusion of orders, Wood pulled his division out of line just as the attack started and created a hole.  The handling of this controversy is excellent – rather than the usual suspects, Powell gives all the details of both sides and points a finger at a new suspect for blame – the Corps commander McCook,  This chasm tore the army apart, and the lack of command control just made things worse.  Units were driven from the field, but thousands of others left under the orders of their commander without much cause, taking ammunition with them.  The corps commanders with the exception of Thomas went to pieces even more than the dire situation required.

A stand by some fragments was made on Horseshoe Ridge, to protect Thomas’ rear.  Luckily for the Union, a detached Corps to the north came south to add to the defense.  This line held for a time, but before nightfall Thomas had to leave the fleld in some confusion.  Again, the story of these retirements are told in great detail here.  A third volume will cover events after the night of September 30.

This is a great book.  It gives the history as best as we can understand it – it gives the arguments on both sides in controversies so we can decide the likely truth.  It tells the old stories and tries to confirm them, or cast doubt on them if they are post-war fudging.  It is fair to the scapegoats without necessarily exonerating them, and even identifies a few more.  And it is written in an interesting style that tells the stories of men on both sides, from privates to Generals.

The Seven Years War in Europe 1756-1763 – Franz A. Szabo

The Seven Years War is one of those ‘tweener’ periods in history.  It is bracketed on either side by the massive catastrophes of the Thirty Years War and the Napoleonic Wars, so there is a temptation to call it one of those ‘nice’ wars where nations played it safe and damage in wars was minimal.  In the US, most of the attention is directed at the local portion of the conflict, the French and Indian wars, which laid down the groundwork for American Independence.

But this is misleading.  The ‘cockpit’ of the war in Germany was the scene of the most cynical land grab by a country since…the last cynical land grab they’d done.  Alliances shifted so that countries that had been enemies for generations were now allies, and vice versa.  There were numerous battles fought with severe casualties on both sides, and nations had to dig deep to find the men to keep fighting.


Like most wars, the seeds of the current war were sown in the war before.  The War of the Austrian Succession began when the Emperor of Austria had no male heir, and made the diplomatic rounds trying to get agreement for his daughter, Maria Theresa, to inherit the realm intact.  But almost instantly when she took power, Frederick II of Prussia invaded the province of Silesia and took it from her.  When the war ended, Prussia still held the province and thus nearly doubled its wealth and population, thus becoming a notable power and a permanent enemy of Austria.

With Austria now more angry at an aggressive Prussia than fearful of a less than powerful France, these two now aligned with Russia to fight the growth of Prussia.  England, still an enemy of France thus aligned with Frederick against Austria.

The Opening of the War

Since it worked so well the last time, Frederick opened the war with a quick land grab.  This time it was the state of Saxony, and quickly its army was incorporated into Prussia’s and its resources were stripped to support the war.  Interestingly, the stamps used to coin money for Poland were also captured, and counterfeiting was added to the tools used to finance the war.

Quest for Victory

But as in the previous war, matters changed after the initial blitz.  Attempts by Frederick to win a decisive victory and end the war repeatedly failed.  Now, having managed to surround himself with enemies, he found that they could threaten him at widely dispersed points.  His strokes deep into Austria were turned aside, but when his enemies tried to strike deep into Prussia he did manage to defeat them.  These latter battles are where his “Great”-ness hinges on.  But in-between these wins were defeats small and large, and even the victories cost men that his tiny state could ill afford.  And as time went on his enemies learned, and dismissed their most incompetent generals, and victories were hard to come by and even more expensive.

Staring Defeat in the Face

By the latter stages of the war Prussia was on the ropes.  The caution of the other side, and the great distances the Russians had to travel to reach the battlefield were all that had kept the country from being overrun.  Then, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia died and the Czar Paul switched sides to join him.  Even when he was deposed by Catherine, Russia did not feel up to continuing the war.  Austria had to give up, and restore the situation to that before the war started.

How Great is Frederick

If you ask this author, the answer would be “not that Great”.  It is obvious that he is no fan of Freddie, and many of his reasons are solid.  I do think he might have gone a little too far in exposing the less noble side of the King.  He relishes reporting every occasion that he fled a battle only to find his army won it in his absence.  He notes every time he neglects to reward a general for saving his bacon, or punishes one for obeying mistaken orders. He quotes numerous whining letters during troubled times claiming he would have to kill himself or die gloriously in some battle to avoid capture.

And many of these would have served as a good corrective for the usual gloss laid over Frederick the Great. But when somehow there is never a single time noted that Frederick boosted the career of a subordinate, when additional claims of fleeing battles are backed up only with ‘some say’…it is hard to take all of this seriously, especially when the coverage of the ups and downs of the other courts are covered more even-handedly.

So was Frederick a great general?  Well, he balances out his great victories with overaggressive losses.  He never seemed to be able to get out of these wars as easily as he got into them.  His invasions of major countries were uniformly dismal defeats.  I would shade this towards ‘no’.

Was he a great King?  There, you might have something.  Before Frederick, Prussia was not the top German state outside of Austria.  It might not have even been in the top 5.  But at the end of the period, the Kingdom was a great power in Europe, equivalent to France, Britain, Russia, and Austria.  And there would be no more Powers after that, as the middle rank states were absorbed into one or another power.  He certainly miscalculated the furor that his power grabs would unleash, but he managed to hang onto Silesia through both wars and dominate Saxony through most of the Seven Years War.  That’s good enough to earn that title – the fact that Prussia would dominate most of Germany was locked down by these two wars.  The domination of all of it would be set up by the Franco-Prussian war and Bismarck.

Overall View

So how was the book?  Very good.  The detail of politics in all the countries involved is unmatched.  Again, there might be a slant in the Prussian view tending to make Frederick look more like a jerk than he was, but keep in mind that he undoubtedly was quite a jerk.  Descriptions of battles are relatively short, but balancing this is that many more battles are covered, including ones that Frederick was not involved with.  It does not cover the war outside Europe at all, but never claimed to.  It covers the Austrian and Russian sides better than any other history I’ve read.