…way behind


As some might have noticed, posting books here has gotten erratic.  It isn’t because I stopped reading books.  In fact, I have branched into reading more on Kindle and have gotten into Audio books.  I’ll be trying to catch up with the stacks of books as I can


Corinth 1862 – Timothy B. Smith

Siege, Battle, Occupation

Often it seems like there are only two kinds of Civil War campaigns – those that are done to death, with a thousand books rehashing the same territory and those that are not covered at all.  The prime example of the former is of course, Gettysburg.  There are quite a few of the latter – Petersburg, the post Gettysburg 1863 Virginia campaign.

But pride of place has to go to the post-Shiloh Corinth campaign of 1862.  I can’t recall a single treatment of any size.  The armies were large, and the goal was important.  Holding Corinth, a key railroad junction, would block any move up the Mississippi Valley into Tennessee.

The book centers on this vital little town and the capture of it by the Union under Henry Halleck.  It continues to the attempts by Earl Van Dorn to take it back, ending in the medium-sized Battle of Corinth in October, 1862.

The Advance

In March and April, 1862 the Confederates in the West, under Albert Sydney Johnston, concentrated all of their force to repel Ulysses Grant‘s army of the Tennessee at Shiloh.  They were thwarted due to some good fighting and to the arrival of Don Carlos Buell‘s Army of the Ohio at the end of the first day.  Corinth was the staging ground for this attack, and the force fell back on that town after the battle, now commanded by Beauregard after Johnston’s death at Shiloh.

Halleck, in overall head of the Union forces in the west, was taken aback by the near run battle.  More men had fallen at Shiloh than in the entire Revolutionary War.  Halleck wanted no such risks, so he collected his entire force to face the army in Corinth 22 miles away.  He reorganized the forces, kicking Grant to a ‘second in command’ role and putting Buell, George Thomas, and John Pope (fresh from taking Island #10) at the head of the three armies.  In all, he had over 100,000 men.  With a large superiority of force and some careful movements, this would be a sure thing.

In the end, it was too sure a thing.  In the first week they were about two thirds of the way to Corinth. There were a few skirmishes, and then Halleck began an almost siege-like creep forward toward the city, entrenching at each stop.  The advance became a crawl.  By the end of May, Beauregard decided to pull out and managed to sneak his entire army away before Halleck noticed.   Corinth had fallen. but it was an empty victory.


Halleck split up the army, sending part east to try and take Chattanooga and secure the entire state of Tennessee.  Grant had the other half, spread out to hold the western half.  Then Halleck was called east to command all the armies, taking Pope with him.

Beauregard was sacked, and Braxton Bragg took most of the Confederate forces to beat Buell to Chattanooga and begin the Kentucky invasion.  Buell had to follow.  Grant was tied down holding Memphis, Corinth and the area between.


Earl Van Dorn, left in charge in North Mississippi, was itching to jpin in the tide of offensives the South was undertaking in September 1862.  Lee was heading to Maryland, Bragg was in Kentucky heading for the Ohio River…only Grant had not lost ground.  But his troops were spread out and perhaps vulnerable.

The first try went awry as Grant planned at attack on half of the Confederate force under Stirling Price.  Forces under Ord and Rosecrans would trap him at Iuka, coming in from both directions to crush him.  The initial attempt failed as Ord’s troops did not hear the fight and Roescrans fought alone at Iuka.  Price then marched out of the trap, as Rosecrans had left an unblocked road for him to escape on.

With this escape, Van Dorn decided to try a similar trick to destroy Rosecrans at Corinth.  He would circle to the north to attack, hitting from an unexpected direction and blocking reinforcement from the rest of Grant’s army.

In early October he struck.  The fighting was furious, but the Union were aided by reusing the Confederate’s lines from the May campaign against them.  There were some breakthroughs, but in the end Van Dorn was repulsed.

Thsi left him trapped between Corinth and Grant’s arriving reinforcements.  But again, an unblocked river crossing and road allowed the army to escape south.  This was the last offensive in the Mississippi Valley, and now the attempts to take Vicksburg and divide the Confederacy at the Mississippi would begin.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass – Thomas S. Edrington & John Taylor

A gettysburg in the west, March 26-28, 1862

One of the lesser known incidents in the American Civil War was the Confederate attempt to secure western territories beyond Texas – and perhaps secure part of California, thus establishing themselves on the Pacific coast.  This might seem far fetched, but in the Mexican War less than 20 years before small forces had similarly secured the region for the United States.

The key to the situation was the New Mexico territory – which consists of the current states of New Mexico and Arizona.  The Confederates claimed the southern half of the territory as their own, calling it the Arizona territory.  The dividing line was east-west, rather than north-south as it is today.

The Rio Grande flows north after leaving the southern border of Texas, splitting the eastern part of the territory and providing a sure source of water, a requirement in this arid region.  The Santa Fe Trail leaves the river in the northern, hilly part of the area and curves into Colorado and Kansas, back to the North.  To hold the current state of New Mexico, this road would have to be blocked.

The Confederate General Sibley faced the Union General Canby.  Canby had concentrated his forces in Fort Craig, on the Rio Grande in the center of New Mexico.  Here he awaited reinforcements. But Sibley advanced to Valverde, near the fort and to the north of it.   Canby met him in battle and was defeated.  But rather than try and retreat north ahead of Sibley, he elected to retire into the fort.  The Texans were superior in cavalry and could probably have broken up his force if he had tried to move north.

Sibley left him to move north. capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Another fort lay ahead, Fort Union, but reinforcements had arrived from Colorado – the 1st Colorado volunteers, recruited from the mining district around Denver.  They were inexperienced, but willing, and the Santa Fe trail passed along canyons where the Confederate cavalry would have less use.

The two sides met in Glorieta Pass, fighting a skirmish at Apache Canyon and Pidgeon’s Ranch.  The Confederates got rather the better of the Coloradans, but they did not break them.  Then a disaster struck – a small force of Coloradans under Major Chivington had passed through the hills above the pass, into the rear and captured and destroyed the supply and ammunition wagons.  It then retreated back the way it came.

The Coloradans had retired north, but this news forced the Texans to retire south to the Rio Grande and water.  Now, with the Coloradans to the north and Canby moving up from the south,. the retreat would have to continue all the way to Texas.

For a time, Canby shadowed Sibley across the river.  But as Ft Craig neared, Sibley decided to leave the river and circle around it into the desert.  Canby let him go, as the waterless 15 day, 100 mile trek did a better job of breaking up the force than his green troops could.  The retreat didn’t end until El Paso, Texas.

There were  no other attempts to take New Mexico from the north.  The South would continue to find the limits of their giddy view of their situation – before the war they imagined there would be no war, or that the fight would be quick and easy.  Now it was seeming less easy with each passing month, and that the South itself was not as unified as they wished.

Twilight of the Hellenistic World – Roberts and Bennett

Since Alexander rewrote the map of the eastern Mediterranean and the near East in the 330s BC, the history of that region was a story of contending states – Egypt under the Ptolemies, Syria, Macedonia – under Greek leadership.  Little in the 220s predicted that it would all be swept away and be replaced by a universal empire under Rome.  Histories of the period often get ahead of themselves and write the history as if this future was apparent from the start, or they just avoid the period and move on to a history of Rome from a Roman point of view.

At this time. Rome was looking to italy and the West, as the second Punic War versus Hannibal was in full swing.  The cities and states of Alexander’s successors had divided up his empire, but no one thought that matters were settled and anyone who thought they could have the power made attempts to carve out an empire of their own.  In Greece, Sparta was finally crushed as a power, and the other city-states formed leagues to attempt to keep up with the power of the states around them.  This was soon found to be a case of too-little, too-late and these leagues would fall under the domination of more powerful neighbors – such as Rome.

There were some major battles – Raphia, where Syria failed to defeat Egypt.  Instead Syria under Antiochus the Great moved East and subdued many of the provinces in Persia as Alexander had done.  Macedonia tried to put Greece under its heel with mixed success, and also tried to create an Empire to the north in the Balkans.

None of these states had any idea that within the next thirty years Rome would change the dynamics entirely – and neither did Rome itself.  It all goes to show that there usually isn’t a master plan for history.

Vanished Kingdoms – CCCP and wrapup

This last chapter of Norman Davies‘ book on states that have been lost to history purports to be on the Soviet Union.  However, it really spends most of its effort in discussing Estonia, and again falls a bit flat.

In a way, it reminds me of the chapter on Byzantium.  There, he spent so much effort on complaining about how everyone miscasts and ignores the state’s impact that he barely noticed that he was producing the same result himself.  Here, even as he complains about the simplistic nature of everyone’s view of the USSR and its rise he glosses over that same period in a few paragraphs.  A good chapter on the USSR would have been interesting.  A good chapter on Estonia would have been so as well.  A chapter that wanders from one subject to the other accomplishes little.

…and a wrap!

There are fifteen chapters in the book, about ten of which stuck to the theme well and were interesting and successful.  The failures to me were the chapters where he lost track of what his book was about and either chose a poor subject or misused a good one.  The first half to two-thirds were very good, and had me thinking about getting more of his works.  The latter part of the book had me questioning that, as the closer the chapters neared the present day the worse they were.

I suppose if he follows that pattern than I could just be ready for the book to taper off in value in the last two centuries or so.

Vanished Kingdoms – Tsernagora

The next chapter in Norman Davies book on the Balkan state of Montenegro.  The chapter title is a way to be cute, I suppose, because it is only mentioned once in the entire chapter.

The chapter is mostly about the early 20th century, where the country grew as an after-effect of the dismemberment of the European parts of Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars.  Then in the aftermath of the World War I, the country was reabsorbed into the state of Yugoslavia – apparently not with universal approval by the Montenegrins.

Losers in a war get their sovereignty squished all the time, and sometimes so do bystanders.  But Montenegro was technically a member of the Allies, so this is a little more unusual.  But it isn’t totally unprecedented, the Franco-Prussian war terms did similarly to the minor German states, although they might have been more enthusiastic about it than Davies reports Montenegro was.

Davies uses Wilson’s “14 Points” to try and tar the Allies with being hypocritical, which is unfair.  At no time did any of the Allied powers aside from Wilson ever care about the 14 Points.  I’m not sure if Davies is naive himself, or thinks the reader is.  The post-WWI redrawing of the maps was the usual high-handed mix of punishment for some, reward for others, and the odd attempt to fix political problems for good or ill.

The creation of Yugoslavia was one of the latter, for all the scorn Davies heaps on it.  The major powers were tired of the wars breaking out in the region and the crises that it had caused.  They didn’t want too many weak states that might tempt a resurgence of Germany or Russia eastward or southeastward.

In the end, it partly worked – there were no wars in the area.  But this didn’t keep the area from falling into the orbit of Germany as WWII grew nearer.

Aetius – Ian Hughes

Flavius Aetius was the third of the major “Generalissimos” that dominated the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD leading to the extinction of the Empire in 476.  The emperors in this period were a succession of children or weak puppets, leaving true power in the hands of a senior official – the magister militum.

Stilicho, a general of Vandal extraction and thus unacceptable as emperor was the first of these warlords.  He was placed in charge by the dying Emperor Theodosius in 395 to watch over his young son, Honorius. This he did, although the stresses of the revolt of Alaric the Goth and the invasion of Gaul by tribes fleeing the onset of the Huns made matters difficult.  The alternative to a general like Stilicho was made plain when court intrigue led to his execution in 408.

Not only was the army leaderless, but a pogrom against the families of Gothic soldiers in the Empire’s service led to these troops deserting to Alaric in a body.  The result was complete impotence that in the end led to the first sack of Rome by the Goths in 410.

The second warlord, Constantius, used the 410-420 period to begin a recovery.  The usupers and brigands in Gaul were suppressed.  The Goths were ‘hired’ to help contain the Vandals in Spain, and given part of Aquitaine as a homeland.  Things appeared to be on the mend, when both Constantius and the Emperor Honorius died in the early 420s.

This led to some confusion, as both the emperor-ship and warlord-ship were up for grabs.  Valentinian, the only blood relative of Honorius, was off in the Eastern Empire.  A general, Castinius, set up an emperor, John.  The easterners did not like this, and prepared for war.

Aetius, who had been living with the Huns as a hostage for years, was sent to them to gather support for John.  He showed up in Italy with the army, but the Eastern Empire had sent their army first and toppled John and his general.  Aetius cut a deal with Galla Placidia, the emperor’s mother and is given command of Gaul.  The Huns are sent home.

It is now 425, and with the Romans busy elsewhere things have started to slip in Gaul and Spain.  The Goths and Franks are advancing in Gaul, and the Vandals are expanding their region of Spain.  Aetius makes progress in Gaul, restoring the situation there and earning further titles and influence.

The Vandals in Spain, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, took the respite given as Gaul was pacified to cross from Spain into Africa.  The general there, Boniface, was unable to defeat them.

Africa was a wealthy province that provided grain to feed Rome and taxes to support the Empire.  Now, when a unified front to defeat the Vandals would have been useful, we come to another power struggle.  Boniface, Aetius, and Felix were the three “co-warlords” at this time and were bitter rivals.  The early 430s were to be wasted in settling the matter.  Aetius eliminated Felix, but was defeated by Boniface.  However, Boniface was wounded and soon died, leaving Aetius as sole warlord.

But now with five years of inattention, Gaul and Spain were in trouble again.  The Goths were given land in Africa, and Aetius went back to Gaul to settle it and Spain.  In 439, the Vandals took Carthage and with it the Roman Province of Africa.  This put the West in a severe strait.

The plan, such as it was, was for the East Empire to try to eject the Vandals while Aetius holds the line in Gaul.  The invasion failed, and a new, ominous threat arose – the Huns under Atilla.

English language map.

English language map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ironically, the Huns had been a bulwark of support for Aetius and the West for years.  Their troops had formed the core of forces used to drive back the other barbarians in Gaul.  But now, Atilla was forming an Empire of his own and extending his influence to the Rhine.  In 451, he invaded Gaul.

Luckily for Rome, Aetius was an accomplished negotiator with the other tribes in the path of the invasion, having made treaties with them all at one time or another.  He managed to raise a combined force and meet Atilla at the battle of the Catalunian Plains, driving them off and saving Gaul from Hunnic domination.

Sadly, this victory made him dispensable to Valentinian, who assassinated him in 454. The emperor was soon killed himself, and the ensuing disruption led to the second sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455.  While the last warlord, Ricimer, made some attempts and recovering the situation, in the end the West was too weak to survive and went to pieces.

This is an excellent view into a period usually glossed over in the last pages of a larger history.

Reading Update – January


Books that are complete awaiting a write-up…

  • Drive on Moscow, 1941 – Operation Typhoon.
  • Path to Victory – Douglas Porch.  A book on the Med Front in WWII.
  • Aetius – Biography of the Roman Generalissimo that defeated Atilla in 451 AD.
  • Notable Trials IV – complete, just have Oscar Wilde to write-up.
  • Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective by Arthur Reeve.

Currently working on…

  • The Petersburg Campaign, Volume I – Ed Bearss.
  • Brute Force – another WWII analysis book.  Supposedly hard on the Allies, but so far is trashing the German’s war effort too.
  • The Wars against Napoleon – no progress – about two-thirds done.
  • Cats are Not Peas – A quick intro to Cat Genetics. – a little progress, maybe a quarter way in.
  • The War of the Ring – more of the “History of Middle Earth”.  These on the actual Lord of the Rings are a bit more interesting than the others.
  • Vanished Kingdoms – still working. Have a few chapters to write-up.
  • Islands of Destiny – John Prados on the Guadalcanal and later South Pacific campaigns.
  • Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft – on Kindle

Also found some new Historical Podcasts…

  • The History of England – David Crowther from 400-1300 AD (so far)
  • The History of Byzantium – Robin Pierson ‘contnuing’ the History of Rome podcast from 476 to hopefully 1453 AD.


Vanished Kingdoms – Etruria

This chapter in Norman Davies‘ book on lost nations in Europe concerns Etruria, a little statelet in Italy that was set up by Napoleon and the French in 1801 and later un-set it up in 1807 and incorporated it into “Greater France”.  All of this went down when Napoleon fell from power in 1814, of course.

In the previous 5 years before 1801, England, France and Austria had been using the Po Valley as a convenient battleground in their wars.  Without Napoleon, Austria and Russia had made it all the way to Switzerland.  When Napoleon was there, matters were far different, with his armies reaching nearly to Vienna.

After the third campaign in the area, the First Consul decided to shake things up.  Redrawing the map wasn’t a French invention, as it was common for provinces to be traded, swapped, or swallowed up as a result of wars for hundreds of years.  The statelets in the Po Valley were swallowed  up, some into France, some into dependent republics.  On the fringes, he made some changes to try to protect his borders.  The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by an Austrian Grand Duke, was reconstituted into a Kingdom under the Bourbon Dukes of Parma.  Parma itself was ceded into the satellite republics of North Italy.  The intent was to reduce the use of the port of Livorno by the hostile English and settle down the Italian Front.

While having Napoleon set up a Bourbon King has its ironic side, the Kingdom itself staggered along under its new rulers. The King died and the Queen became regent. One of Napoleon’s sisters used the area as a private playground, building Museums and the like.  In only a few years, though, matters had changed enough that a new settlement of the area was put through.  The Kingdom was abolished, part going to his sister and part being incorporated into France.

When Napoleon fell, the winners set up their own little galaxy of statelets in Italy, which lasted until the Unification in the middle of the 19th Century.

Like Galicia, this chapter seems an odd choice for a chapter.  There are thousands of these kind of states in history. none amounting to much.   I suppose I prefer ones that had a  moment that mattered in history, rather than those that never did or could have.

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.