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.

The Roman Emperor Aurelian – John F. White

Restorer of The World

Alternative History tends to fall into two flavors – one is that what happened historically was fixed and unchangeable, or that every tiny contingency will lead to a huge divergence instantly.  Viewed from the future, the Roman Empire appears to be a monolith that existed without change for centuries, until it came to its inevitable end.  The reality shows that the end of the Western Empire was less clearly inevitable – despite its weakness, nobody wanted the empire to end.  Rather, both the invading tribes and the current residents all wanted to find their place in an ongoing system, but the disruptions of the time were enough to make it impossible to support the overarching government on the scale of the Empire.

Centuries before this, when the Empire was far stronger, there was a huge crisis that nearly tore the entire Empire apart.  In fact, for decades the Empire was divided into three separate entities, as the provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Spain broke away to defend themselves.  In the East, in the midst of Persian invasions most of the East broke away under the domination of the city of Palmyra.

Elsewhere, the Goths first made an appearance, sweeping through the center of the Empire and overrunning and sacking parts of Asia Minor, Greece and the Balkans.  One Emperor, Valerian was captured by Persia.  His son, Gallienus, seemed unable to fight the combination of the Goths and the unruly troops that routinely created new Emperors,

While the Empire was down, it wasn’t out.  In the central third, the army was developing a group of officers from the Illyrian provinces that would dominate for the next fifty years and more.

Signs of recovery started even before Gallienus’ murder in 268.  The limited records of the time record a victory over the Goths, and there are signs that he created a reserve “reaction force” that was able to ride and respond to the raiders in a more timely manner than before.  Gallienus’ murder led to the naming of Claudius II Gothicus,

Claudius, too, had success in breaking up the Gothic tribes keeping the central core of the Empire on the defensive, but he died of the plagues sweeping the land.  In the West, the death of the Gallic “Emperor” led to Spain returning to the central core, while in the East, the death of the ruler of Palmyra led to changes in the reverse direction.

In our time, we think of states breaking away as being due to the desire of these lands and rulers wanting autonomy and independence.  In Rome at this time, almost the opposite was true.  Many usurpers and breakaway states were a response to the lack of central direction, and the locals trying to stand in for the absent Imperial authority, busy elsewhere for years at a time.  There was no central state apparatus to manage the regions away from he physical presence of an emperor.

At first, Palmyra followed this scenario.  With the Emperor captured and the Persians running wild, the city took over defense itself and managed to defeat the Persians.  The leader was actually given Imperial office by Gallienus.  With his death, his wife Zenobia began to take matters in a different direction, as she took steps to acquire and manage the entire East under Palmyra.  The Illyrian officers nominated another of their own, Aurelian, over a relative of Claudius, to be the next Emperor.

Within two years, Aurelian had gotten his house in order.  He ordered the construction of walls around Rome, fully defeated the Goths and adjusted the borders, abandoning the province of Dacia.  Now he was ready to take on the “reconquest” of the East.

Given the desire of many districts to return to Rome, parts of the advance were easy,  However, the fifty years of chaos made even the simplest thing difficult.  It shows the skill of Aurelian that he managed to restore the East to central rule in a few years, and that the system lived on even beyond the fall of the West in 476.  Turning to the West, the approach of the army led the emperor of the Gallic Empire to essentially abdicate in his favor and Gaul and Britain returned to the fold.

Aurelian then intended to turn on Persia, but he was murdered himself by dissident officers.  But the Illyrian “line” of similar thinking Emperors lived on and continued to restore and reform the state,  The Emperors Probus and Carinus got the state on track and defeated Persia, although their deaths by murder show that the army still was not under full control.  Diocletian then took over for 20 years of strong rule, forming the Tetrarchy.  After that Constantine, another Illyrian, made Christianity the official religion of the state.

Aurelian put the Empire back on course and gave it hundreds of years of life.  The book is an excellent review of a hugely under documented period of the Empire.

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 1857.by Kenneth Stamp.as views into political collapse.

 

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 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.

 

 

The Siege of Lexington, Missouri – Larry Wood

The Battle of the Hemp Bales, 1861

This little volume is another in the History Press’ Civil War Sesquicentennial series.  Rather than produce yet another book on the major battles, or even one on a small element of such a battle, the series covers less known battles or campaigns so as to increase the coverage in print of these lesser known aspects of the war.  The smaller format works to add a little meat past what you get from flyers from military parts, say, And there are plenty of local historians that can write, or contribute to such a book.

At the start of the American Civil War both sides seemed hesitant to get the ball rolling.  In the east, the Union defeat at Bull Run put an end to serious action.  The state of Kentucky’s quixotic attempt at neutrality was convenient to both governments who were scrambling to raise enough forces to even cover the frontier.  That left the final border state of Missouri open for serious action, and unlike the rest of the country there was leadership on the Northern side that provided action.

Fiery Nathaniel Lyon was in charge, and from the initial move of secretly carrying off the armory’s weapons to Illinois was showing that he was serious about acting.  One of the unintentional comedies of the period was the outrage of the local Southern sympathizers that he stole the guns before they could raise a mob to do so themselves, as happened in most of the rebel states.

Lyon moved out to crush the military forces in the southwest part of the state, near Springfield.  He had bit off more than he could chew, as the troops from Missouri and other states that could be gathered began to seriously outnumber him.  The lack of decent communication to the east, and a new district commander who was not a man of action meant that reinforcements weren’t coming soon.  Lyon, worried about retiring, decided to attack instead to catch the raw troops napping.  While it was initially successful, the over bold plan failed, and the superior numbers won the day,  Lyon himself was killed.

After the victory, the winners were in a bit of a quandary themselves.  The army consisted of two elements:  official Confederate troops dispatched from Arkansas and beyond, and a southern sympathetic “Missouri State Guard” under local general Stirling Price.  These forces were not under the orders of the CSA, as the breakaway government of the state had not seceded or joined the Confederacy at this time.

The leader of the CSA troops was not interested in risking his troops in any adventures into other parts of the state.  Opposing this, the breakway legislature wanted to increase its holdings from a nominal part of the Ozark hill country while it had an advantage. These aims were not reconcilable, so the army broke up and the Missouri State Guard was left to act alone.

Far to the north, on the Missouri river, is the town of Lexington.  There was an outpost of Union troops holding the town along the line of communication to Union sympathetic regions in Kansas.  The natives of the area were solidly southern in sympathies, as this is the slave holding belt in the state.  Supplies would also be easier to obtain than in the poorer sections they were in.  The decision was made to take that town and win a victory.

By mid September they were on the march and approaching the town.  The Union forces barricaded themselves into buildings in and around the grounds of the Masonic college north of town, and looked to be a nasty opponent.  So far, the inexperience of the troops had proven no bar to both sides fighting hard and long.

Then someone (who is disputed) came up with the idea of using hemp bales from around the town to use as protection.  These large cylinders of cut plant matter would stop a bullet, and if soaked in water would not burn.  Also, if tipped on their side they could be easily rolled by the men behind into new positions, closer to the defenders.  The creeping walls of hemp were the signal item that made this little battle notable at the time and now.

With this protection, the defenders lost the advantage of being able to shoot down the attackers faster, and the numbers began to tell.  Soon the defenders had to give up, and Price and his men had the victory and the fame.

Long term, of course, this could not be sustained.  Even the slaveholding Missourians were doubtful about long term prospects, both from sentiment and from the very practical realization that troops coming from Kansas and upriver from the rest of the country would make holding the area impossible.  The integration of the state forces with the CSA in the winter made the defense of the state much lower in priority, and the State Guard and Price would be diverted to the defense of Mississippi for the rest of the war.

Another great entry into this series that I need to get more of.

 

 

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 Counterrevolution of Slavery – Manisha Sinha

Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina

This is an excellent book that delves deep into the antebellum South Carolina planters’ continual moves to increase the power of slave owners and defeat democracy both in their state and on the national stage.  By using the slave owner’s own words to define their intent and actions she makes the point even more clear, as they did not mince words. They had their position and they meant it.

After the war, there was a sort of gentleman’s agreement between the sides that the North would not press the point about slavery if the South admitted it was just as well they lost. This might have had its uses in the past, but for the last hundred years historians for the South have polished the image of the rebels that some can contend that the South was fighting for limited government without being instantly being called out for their error.

It is far past time to call things as they were, and state that without slavery and the strident defenders of it who were eager to divide the country, we could have been spared a bloody civil war.  And of all the slave states, the South Carolina planters were the most extreme, most eager to boost and spread slavery, and the most eager to form a slave nation.

South Carolina was the most uniformly ultra section of the country, but that didn’t keep them from repressing unionist opposition by gerrymander, fraud, and violence.  There was a sincere, generally supported resumption of the illegal slave trade in the state in the 1850s.  When slavers were caught, juries refused to convict and the blacks were unlawfully taken out of custody and sold into slavery.

The book ranges across the pre-war decades making a number of points, but even as a student of the period and one that recognizes the ultimate cause of the war, the author concludes with a powerful statement of how we have been blind to the obvious:

“Historians, like contemporaries, have long noted that an overwhelming majority of South Carolinians were for secession.  But a majority of South Carolinians had nothing to do with secession or the glorification of human bondage.  A majority of South Carolinians in 1860 were slaves.”

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.