The Slave Power — Leonard L. Richards

The Free North and Southern Domination 1780-1860

I continue to try and catch up to the pile of books read over the last few years waiting for recap, with a little success.  I find if I wait too long, I get a little vague on my impressions, or am tempted to read it all again.

This is one of the “read again” group, even though it hasn’t sat on the pile for as long as some others.  It is another in the cluster of books I read in sequence on ante-bellum politics.  The American Civil War is a great interest to me, although the blogs here don’t reflect that as much as writing in the field has tapered off slightly.

So the drift to all-out war is of great interest, as any sensible person would need to wonder what failures led to the all out cataclysm of the war.  And failures there were – one side lost its entire basis for political contention and was physically devastated, while the “winners” paid a huge price in wealth and lives.

This short but information packed book describes the continuing huge influence of the slave power bloc in the young country from the very start, and how it distorted politics during the entire time.  Picking up on the term that the young Republican Party used for them at the climax of their influence in the 1850s, he calls it “the Slave Power”.  And rather than dismissing it as a conspiracy theory of the politicians of the time, he takes it as a real and important factor.  It is almost always a good idea to assume that actors in the past actually knew what they were talking about rather than the reverse.

He goes all the way back to the initial “Three Fifths Compromise” debate in the development of the Constitution.  Today, this is usually totally characterized as “those racists saying that blacks were only 3/5 of a person”.  If only.  Actually, blacks were considered no fifths.  Rather, their owners got a political bonus for owning slaves without any cost.

Before this book, I was under the impression that the quid-pro-quo the rest of the nation was supposed to get was additional taxes from the slaveholders under the direct taxation principle.  The government would assess the states based off of the representation, and thus the slaveholding states would pay more per capita.  So at least both sides were honestly intending to exchange something.

As it happens, however, direct taxation never took off and other means that applied evenly per head such as import and export tariffs and assessments dominated, so the South got extra representation for nothing.  This book, however, shows that even at the time there was significant opposition to the deal, because they knew that direct taxes would never fly politically.  So rather than a bargain that went sour, it was instead a power play from the start, with a fig leaf of cover.

The effect of this was huge, as these extra seats were a large lump of political power at the federal level, and the federal spoils system could and did put these men in control of money that affected every corner of the country.  Every postman in the entire country owed his job to the party in power, and more often than not this party depended on the slaveowning bloc for its victory.

To make matters worse, other issues came and went, and thus advocates would in other states get turned out of office more frequently.  Slave holding never went out of style, so the seniority system at the federal, and the political party level all increasingly favored the influence of southern leaders.  Even the most northern politician had to kowtow to them, and if they wandered too far the hammer of political purges could and did destroy them,

This would have a huge distorting effect on the democracy.  The ideal is that a representative, or senator, would owe his job primarily to his own voters in his own district. Even the views of his opponents in his district would be of some interest, as then he could undercut future political battles before they began.

But if men instead owed huge debts to out-of-state power brokers, then at some level they have to pay that back in votes, votes that oppose those of their own region. And as this effect grew, the division of the parties outside the South grew as voters tried to call them to account.  Factions beholden to the South warred with opponents to win control of State parties, again at the cost of their own constituents.

Finally, the use of this power broke loose – first with a sectional party that owed nothing to the South, and then with the northern Democrats having to break with the South in order to survive the wrath of northern voters increasingly angry at the domination.  The Southern bloc then decided that war was preferable to a political solution without them as a dominant force.  It turns out they were wrong.

An excellent book full of new insights on the politics of the US.



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.

With Musket and Tomahawk Volume II – Michael O. Logusz

The Mohawk Valley Campaign in the Wilderness War of 1777

In a post on Volume I of this series on the American Revolution’s 1777 campaign in New York State, I discuss the overall strategy for this year.  The British attempted to bring the revolt to and end by subduing New York state with a three pronged invasion from north, south, and west.  This volume is on the invasion from the west, up the Mohawk valley towards Albany.

Again, initial troubles

General Barry St. Leger would lead the attack with about 500 regular soldiers and a large force of Indians.The first step was to collect the Indian forces, and there was trouble. In London, the idea was that you could call them up like regular forces.  In the wilderness of the Great Lakes, this wasn’t so easy.  A huge meeting was held on the shores of Lake Ontario, and St, Leger was met with some hostility, as previous English promises had not been met and joining this expedition would be breaking their own word given to the Patriot colonists to not attack the settlements.  New and extensive promises had to be given, and the Indians were assured that the fighting would be easy and the loot rich.

Dealing with Indian allies was never easy, and many of the British on the scene were skeptical of their usefulness on an extended campaign.  Again, things looked much easier on paper than they did on the ground, hundreds of miles from any substantial settlement.

The Gloves are Off

This backwoods war was considerably nastier than you often get to hear. Both sides had bounties for scalps, and both sides scalped, including colonial settlers and regular British units.  And they didn’t just scalp Indians.  The book relates a lot of stories about scalping and butchery in battles and outside of battles.

St. Leger also sent parties out to attack concentrations of Patriot settlements outside the Mohawk valley with the usual atrocities.

Fort Stanwix

This fort was the first obstacle. It was held by a Patriot garrison, who decided to hold out to the last, since the chances after a surrender would be poor indeed.  Here the terror policy of the English army backfired, as their army had no ability to mount a real siege and could not afford an assault.  A blockade was begun.

Oriskany and the raid on St. Leger’s Camp

General Herkimer, at Fort Dayton to the east heard about the attack on Fort Stanwix and organized a relief army.  When St. Leger was informed of its approach, he sent about 800 troops, mostly Indians, to ambush it.  Initially the ambush worked well, but the Patriot army did not dissolve and soon the two forces were locked in a bloody struggle with gun and tomahawk, hand to hand.  Losses for both sides mounted.  Again, the Patriots knew that fleeing or surrendering would lead to death and they fought with desperation.

Meanwhile, the garrison of Fort Stanwix had been notified by a scout of Herkimer’s approach, very late since he had been pinned down outside the fort by Loyalist troops. Taking stock, and hearing the firing for Oriskany the commander decided to sortie from the fort and attack the few troops left around the Fort.  Twenty one wagon loads of supplies were taken into the Fort with no losses.

As time went on at Oriskany, the Patriots collected themselves and delivered more punishment to their attackers, but they had suffered too much to move forward.  They retired back towards their base.

End of the Siege

Although the siege of Stanwix continued, things were falling apart for St. Leger.  His supplies were short, his Indian allies were deserting or hostile at the losses they had suffered, and a new relief expedition would be coming.  When news of it did come, mostly a bluff run by General Benedict Arnold passed along through friendly Indians, St, Leger decided to fall back. The attempt to fall back went to pieces.  The disgruntled Indians, giving liquor to make them tractable, instead attacked the regular troops and looted supplies and a small battle was fought.  The Indian allies vanished, and the rest of the army went to pieces, abandoning its equipment and only a few stragglers made it back to Lake Ontario.  Arnold and many troops from the area went back to the Hudson to face Burgoyne at Saratoga.


Destroying this force was a major confirmation that Patriot forces were tough opponents in the war, to be confirmed at Saratoga a little later.  It is hard to see what good could have come in a military sense from St. Leger’s invasion – it was too weak to do much more than burn and kill but too strong to fan out and do that effectively.  Even had the first fort fell, the forces collected around Albany would have forced it away sooner or later, with more destruction than it caused in history. Its legacy can be little more than the numerous atrocities it spread across Western New York.

With Musket and Tomahawk Volume I – Michael O. Logusz

The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777

The Saratoga Campaign was supposed to be the finishing stroke to crush the Rebellion of the American Colonies. After the retirement from Boston, the reinforced British returned and took New York City, nearly destroying Washington’s army multiple times in the process. Now, this success was to lead to a grand campaign to cut off the New England colonies and isolate them by a three pronged invasion of inland New York from Canada and New York City. It looked nice on paper, anyway.

And usually, studies remain at this elevated, paper level. This book, and the second volume of a three part series, go beyond that to put you in the realities of 18th century life and warfare in the colonies better than any other I have read.

The first reality is that the area to be traversed was a true wilderness that few Europeans had any idea about.  Inland travel was virtually impossible away from the few tracks and rivers.  Scouts could move well, but wagons and bulk traffic was virtually impossible.  So the idea that you needed to occupy this hinterland to ‘cut off’ New England was absurd. This traffic, if any, probably went by sea or by roads much closer to New York City than Albany and points north.  And putting a few thousand men in Albany wasn’t going to cut off the tracks for more limited communication such as messages and couriers.

The next issue was that of moving armies through the land.  Europe was trying to limit the impact of wars on civilians since the horrors of the 30 Years War, but even so imagine yourself on a tiny farm in the wilderness when a military unit of a few hundred men show up looking for a meal, or even more supplies. Even if they don’t lose control and shoot you and your family and burn the farm, the loss of what little food reserves were needed for selling for supplies or keeping you alive in the winter would often be ruinous.  The other factor was that both of the armies moving from Canada were going to make heavy use of Indians as scouts and even as a large part of the invading forces.  Indians on the warpath were going to generate a large number of atrocities. It was how they made war.

Not that the British weren’t counting on this terror factor in hopes of cowing the colonists. However, with the Indians not discriminating between loyal settlers and rebels, there wasn’t a lot of profit in staying loyal. so the effect ran to increase the bitterness towards England overall.  And during the year a woman, Jane McCrea, who was engaged to an officer fighting with Burgoyne, was killed by Indians and was made a symbol for the rebels and a reason for dissidents in the home country to oppose the war.

Initial Missteps

The first step in the plan going wrong was that Gen. Howe in New York wasn’t very interested in moving inland.  He wanted to use his naval forces and army to descend on the Rebel capital in Philadelphia.  And so he did, leaving the third prong moving north up the Hudson very weak. It was really now a support force, likely unable to act alone if something happened to the other two forces.

The northern forces had issues too – having fewer men than planned and being short of transportation.

Burgoyne Moves South

Volume I follows the northern invasion directly south from Canada.  The route was over Lake Champlain and the road beside it.  This let most of the heavy supplies travel in boats. At the south end of the lake as Fort Ticonderoga, a rebel stronghold. Burgoyne reached this fort and after a poorly conducted defense it fell, and the Patriots retired south, harassed by Indian scouts.  It was now early July.

Now, in the middle of the wilderness the real world began to take hold.  The original plan was to move up a river to Lake George, which ended up very close to the Hudson River. Now that he was on the scene, this river was little more than a rocky creek, and the other lake was 200 feet higher than Lake Champlain and the trail was small and nearly vertical. The river was vertical…there as a waterfall between Lake George and the river.

There were roads heading south, but no road heading for the Hudson.  Burgoyne decided to stay in this district and build a road to the Hudson, calling back for horses and wagons to Canada.  This took about a month, while Loyalist forces collected ahead of him.


While collecting himself for a final advance toward Albany, Burgoyne heard that there was a supply depot in Bennington, Vermont.  A force of about 800 men including some 150 British loyal colonists went off to try and collect them.  However, this was also where John Stark was collecting Patriot forces and he outnumbered this column.  The ensuing battle was a disaster, with most of the column being killed or captured.  Any loyalist men caught was killed by the army, or by angry Patriot civilians.  This was in no way a clean war. In this blow about 10 percent of Burgoyne’s force was lost.

Raid of Fort Ticonderoga

As Burgoyne moved off down the Hudson, Patriot forces attacked Ticonderoga in his rear and destroyed the supplies and boats there.  Burgoyne’s supply line north was now almost cut off.


With this news, Burgoyne had to break through the superior Patriot army fortified at Saratoga on the Hudson.  Beyond that was Albany, and a possible linkup with New York City.  There were several engagements there, which you could argue might be tactical victories but the strategic position was the same after each.  The Patriot army blocked the road south, it was being reinforced, and each battle cost the English men, officers, and supplies that could not be replenished.  Eventually Burgoyne had no choice but to surrender his force.

New York Starves

New York City, cut off from its agricultural supplies and stuffed with a garrison and numerous loyalist refugees, would be very short of supplies for the forseeable future. The inland areas, ravaged by war, would not be a lot better off themselves this year.

A final incident

The author relates a story where a group of retreating British soldiers were spotted by Captain Allen and some scouts. However, there was a black woman and baby along with the group.  It was common knowledge that blacks found by British soldiers, slave or free were taken and sold in Canada as slaves.

Allen intercepted the group, and found that the woman was Dinah Mattis, a domestic slave.  She was removed from her captors and sent to Vermont, where she and her baby were given papers as free citizens.


This book moves easily between the small personal details and the big picture views that somehow get left out of most descriptions of the campaigns.  Even the views of the impact on blacks, slaves, and women does not descend into political correctness but actually shows the complexity of the life in the wilderness.  From a “witch woman” executing prisoners to Jane McCrea and Dinah Mattis, its a nasty and complex world that we don’t often hear about.

A Warrior Dynasty – Henrik O. Lunde

The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611-1721

This book is an overview of the short period when the tiny nation of Sweden became the not only a superpower in Europe, but nearly the arbiter of Germany and the Baltic.

This period was punctuated by the short careers two famous warrior kings – Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII.  Gustavus is famed for his intervention in the Thirty Years War and major victories that stabilized the situation and kept Protestantism viable in Germany.  Charles XII is noted more for his struggles against Poland and Russia in the Great Northern War.

Sweden early in this period gained a technology advantage over standard military practice which gave their armies more flexibility in battle and attached light artillery that could pound the unwieldy square pike formations then in vogue.  This advantage and the ability of Gustavus Adolphus led to a crushing victory at Brietenfeld and moved he theater of war from the Baltic Coast to south Germany.

While the able general Wallenstein was able to fend off Gustavus for a time, a second victory at Lutzen confirmed the superiority of Swedish arms.  Sadly for Sweden, the king Gustavus was killed at the battle and the war was put in the hands of a Chancellor while a young Queen waited to grow up.

Continue reading

Blundering to Glory – Owen Connelly

Napoleon’s Military Campaigns

After the book by the Napoleonic apologists last time, I thought a glimpse of the other side would be warranted.  In the end it was a bit disappointing not because the author proved his case or did not prove it, but never really seemed to bring it up.  So the title is a bit of false advertising.

The only ‘revisionist’ discussion I remember is some early mention about him not being an innovator in Military Science and by not having a bullet-proof perfect plan at the start of a campaign.  I guess I never saw either of those as an issue or even something that historians contend.  Being able to adjust to inevitable surprises and win out is the mark of a great general, not a poor one.

But even these themes are dropped almost entirely in favor of a standard recounting of the rest of his career.  While this is fine, it isn’t what the title seemed to promise, nor does it really examine either his strategy or his opponents’ strategies in any substantial way.  As a short roundup of the era, it is fine, but the confrontational title isn’t lived up to.

The Wars Against Napoleon – Gen. Michel Franceschi, Ben Werder

Debunking the Myths of the Napoleonic Wars

This book – or rather this set of three articles, as they don’t really mesh into a single narrative except in that all are attempts to refute the overall view of Napoleon as a warmonger and the sole cause of the wars of the Napoleonic era.  Frankly, I’m not sure that the viewpoint that they are attacking is prevalent aside from British propaganda from the year 1806 or so, but the question is – do the authors pull it off?

Let’s find out.

“An Irreducible Belligerent Situation”

This section is probably the best, possibly because it is shortest.  There were a number of reasons for the wars of the era, aside from Nappy himself.  Remember, England in particular had been at swords’ point with France under the kings every dozen years or so.  England has always had an unofficial policy of opposing a single overpowering nation dominating mainland Europe.  When this nation was France, they opposed France.  When in the 20th Century Germany became that nation, suddenly England and France were chums.

Added to that was the horror of the Revolution by the Monarchists, and the desire to avoid having that spread to their lands and you have the recipe for a long struggle.

Only the dubious addition of a supposed fear of France economically spoils the mix.

“A Builder in Love with Peace”

This section is trying to show Nappy’s importance in rebuilding civil institutions and infrastructure after the feckessness of the Old Regime and the horrors of the Jacobins.  A lot of this is pertinent, and a nice corrective.

The rest of the argument goes entirely off the rails when it terms the annexation of North Italy and the Netherlands as a ‘protective glacis’, stuffing his relatives into rule of South Italy, Germany, and Spain as ‘a flank guard’ and dominating everything up to the Russian border as ‘a dream of European Union’.

Yes his neighbors were hostile, but chopping slices off of them and stuffing them with your relatives as a new Royalty isn’t making things better.

“Enemy of War”

This is probably the best section, being a brief history of his wars and the political maneuverings   While I don’t think the contention of the Little Corporal as a pacifist and innocent victim is quite sustained, and at times the tone of outrage at normal power political moves is amusing or tiring, it does show that to set up a 20 year era of war it takes two to tango.

My own view is that the other nations were very eager to take France down a peg or two.  Napoleon was perhaps a bit too eager to take the field himself, because that was what he was really good at.  A less sure general would have been more willing to play Prussia, Austria, and Russia off against each other too keep the peace. England, for all its bluster, really could do little without the backing of these powers.  But like the man with only a hammer who tended to see everything as a nail to be pounded in, Napoleon tended to think that one more campaign could solve his problems.

Even his one non-military act, the “Continental System” was too much a hammer to be effective.  By punishing all the nations, including his own, to harm England he drove them together and deprived himself of the trade.  A more interesting move would have been to try and encourage illicit trade and thus drive a wedge between the commercial interests in England financing the war and the hawks prosecuting it.  It might have resulted in England enforcing his own embargo themselves!

So overall, the book has some points to make, but tends to rush well past them into the lands of special pleading and distortion.  It also tends to be fighting a straw man picture of the image of Napoleon that hardly exists in the books I have read.  It then sets up its own cartoon image in opposition.  Personally, I prefer the real history and the real Napoleon, warts and all.

Vanished Kingdoms – Galicia

This chapter in Norman Davies‘ history of vanished states in Europe is a bit more problematic than the others.  The “Kingdom” of Galicia was formed as a way for Austria to organize the provinces stolen from Poland in the partitions in the late 1700s.  It also made the Emperor of Austria a triple monarch instead of a dual one.  But it seems a stretch to call this swath of Polish/Ukrainian turf a lost kingdom in any real sense.

Also in contrast to the other tales of states that rose to near greatness and influence, Galicia seems to be described here as more of a charming tourist destination with colorful peasant dances and quaint cultural sights – and low prices!  Book your tour now!

While there is some information about the history of the province as a sleepy border area and a site of war in the first World War, it all felt a bit flat.  The other chapters in this book were major or at least important players in the history of Europe.  This one is not, and the pages might have been better spent on another state that was important.

The German Way of War – Robert M. Citino

This is the first in a trilogy that examines the way Germany (and before unification, Prussia) made war from the Thirty Years War up until the first years of the Second World War.

In the Thirty Years War Brandenburg-Prussia was a scattering of principalities in North-East Germany with no secure borders. Nearby were much larger and more powerful states like Sweden and Poland.  A strong and well-trained army was a way to keep enemies at bay, and a source of income in these days of mercenary armies.  A country as poor as Prussia was could not easily sustain this kind of force on its own resources.

Picking and chosing its sides to fight on also was a way to grow Prussia itself.  But these sides had to be carefully chosen, as the country could not sustain a long war itself.  An example of this was the Wars of Frederick the Great, where fast campaigns to grab a province (Silesia at the start of the War of the Austrian Succession and Saxony at the start of the Thirty Years War) were the opening of the war.  Frederick managed to hold onto Silesia, but was nearly brought to ruin during the Seven Years War.

Tactically, the Prussians needed a fast decision, so they relied on fast marching and decisive attacks to gain the day.  To limit bloodshed, they tried to use outflanking moves to gain access to the rear and avoid a long campaign.  The fact that Prussian troops could appear out of nowhere and attack hard put a damper on the spirits of the opposing French or Austrian or Russian troops that made the advantage even greater.

To support this kind of army, a kind of collegiate common outlook was cultivated in the aristocracy of Prussia.  Commanders needed to be aggressive and be able to take initiative in reaching the common goal.  As the marching columns needed to be on their own frequently, these leaders were encouraged to act as they thought best – even if this went against the overall master plan.    Loose cannons were rarely punished even when the errors cost battles or lives.

Prussia had a major setback when it was crushed by Napoleon in 1806.  The reforms were to add a staff officer to the command tent that paired a good thinker with a noble general  to provide a better mix of plan versus man of action.  But the man of action was in charge and still could override the plan at will.

Even as Prussia grew, it still felt itself to be a small state surrounded by larger ones.  Its war plans were still to strike hard and fast, and to use a short, limited war to gain its ends.  Bismarck was able to do this to unify Germany by striking the Austrians and French one at a time, but after that nations learned to group together.

As always, the German plan was to grab a province fast and strike the opposing armies hard to win a short war – in 1914 to hit the French hard and then turn on Russia.  This time it did not work, and the long war against all comers led to defeat.  This just reinforced the German feeling that wars needed to be quick and decisive, which led to the experimentation with tanks and airborne forces to break the stalemate.  Ironically, the limits on the army imposed by the Allies after WWI probably helped this process out, as the small size led to a concentration on theory and good cross-fertilization of ideas.  Perhaps a better idea would have been to force them to keep a few thousand generals over the age of sixty in charge instead!

These young Turks were the core of the German Generals that began the Second World War with a bang.  For a time, the quick blow worked and the armies took country after country.  But the ideology of a limited war by the army tied to the Nazi ideology of permanent societal change was always a bad pairing – there was no way to make a quick peace with just a province or two changing hands here.

And with that. the Germans were out of their depth even from the start.  The need for resources that were exposed to attack led to campaigns all over the map – Norway to protect the Swedish iron shipments, the Balkans and North Africa to protect Romanian oil…it was never a German priority to think these things through before getting into a war.

There was a story I read once that in WWI the Germans were shocked to find out that the supply of certain vital military supplies needed to fight the war came from Chile and France!  It was only due to breakthroughs by the chemists that they could fight the war without running out of ammunition.

The book ends with Barbarossa.  Why attack Russia?  The Germans were already stalemated in Britain and North Africa.  To win in North Africa would require a major change in logistics or a sea invasion of Malta, or both.  It was almost a sense of frustration that the army turned to striking Russia – this was the kind of war they were trained to fight in!

The only problem was that it was one they couldn’t win, as the poor roads, maps, and the ability of the Russians to raise more and more troops to face them made the limits of German war-making apparent early on.  And when the Russians became as battle seasoned as the Germans were, the handwriting was on the wall.

Vanished Kingdoms – Sabaudia

Sabaudia is the next chapter in Norman Davies‘ Vanished Kingdoms.  Sabaudia, like Burgundia, is another area on the ‘seam’ between France and the central European regions of Germany and Italy.  Later it became known as ‘Savoy’.

As a mountain region, it was safer against the growth of France than its neighbors, but could not expand in that direction.  Across the Alps, however, with time it took control of the plains region of Piedmont. Playing both sides for gain in the wars of the wars of the period was a major means of growth.

One treasured gain was the Kingdom of Sicily, which promoted the Prince of Savoy to the big time as an actual King.  Holding the region was tougher, so in the next peace treaty Savoy swapped Sicily for Sardinia and kept the King part.  It was in this form that in the 19th century Sardinia became the focus of Italian unification, which was achieved in the

Kingdom of Sardinia map

Kingdom of Sardinia map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

mid-century.  Ironically, one thing that was traded away on the road to being King of Italy was the district of Savoy itself, which was dealt to France along with Nice in the process.

The heyday of the King of Italy did not last long – after defeat in World War II the kingship was scrapped entirely.  The family had played one side in a war against the other one too many times.