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  • How Easy It Is to Forget

    I'm rereading Foote's ACW trilogy, since I promised myself I would someday; I enjoyed it so much the first time, ten or fifteen years ago. One thing that amazes me is how much I've forgotten.

    I mean, besides these books, I've read several other ACW overviews. Just reread Catton's trilogy a year or two ago, for instance. And I've been at it most of my life, so you'd think that by now I'd have a good sense of what happened when. But I'm up to where Sherman is about to start his March to the Sea, and the whole story is brand new to me!

    If anyone had asked me about it, I'd have said something like: Well, after Sherman captured Atlanta, he decided that instead of chasing Hood's army, he'd march to Savannah instead, tearing up the country as he went. Grant approved the plan, and Sherman executed it brilliantly, while Hood marched his army around ineffectively and eventually wrecked it in unwise attacks at Nashville and Franklin.

    I guess that's not too far off the mark, but I'd forgotten that in fact Sherman did begin by chasing Hood's army. He chased it quite a ways, and for quite a while, and Grant was very reluctant about approving Sherman's plan at first.

    Furthermore, Hood was not as inept as I'd remembered. He lured Sherman here and there and sometimes punished him severely. For all Hood's faults, he was a dynamic and decisive leader. Sherman's complaint that Hood was not "sensible" like Johnston might actually be an unintentional compliment; basically it meant Sherman was unable to outwit Hood. Hood was pretty much calling the shots for a while, until Sherman turned his back on him.

    I'd also forgotten that Sherman's march was, from the outset, seen as mainly a political move, not a military one per se. Its main purpose was to demonstrate that a northern army could pass through the southern heartland at will. The attendant destruction of property was secondary.

    So much of this war, it seems, was "political" -- i.e., consisted of moves made mainly for show. Everything from trying to capture the enemy's capital city, to all the raids and "invasions," to Stuart's rides around the AotP, to the duels at sea and damning of torpedoes and running past forts -- it was all designed to impress the people with a sense of strength and elan. In contrast, much of the purely military side of the war was basically just a slugfest -- one army slamming headlong into another, clashing bloodily, but both sides remaining intact and preparing to do it again.

    I wonder if it's always that way with war -- at least in the modern age of mass communication (say, since the advent of the printing press, and especially in the era of literacy and daily newspapers): military moves being made with an eye to their "propaganda" effect.

    Well, I digress. I started out just being astounded at how much I've forgotten since last time I read about the fall of Atlanta and Sherman's march. Now I'm musing on the political aspect of military operations.

    I guess the common thread there is ignorance. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know -- and the more I forget. It sure is hard to build a good understanding under such conditions!
    --Patrick Carroll


    "Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property." (Richard Maybury)

  • #2
    "In contrast, much of the purely military side of the war was basically just a slugfest -- one army slamming headlong into another, clashing bloodily, but both sides remaining intact and preparing to do it again."

    The number of casualties in such a short time is one of the things that blows my mind away when reading about the Civil War. Trying to comphrehend the number of casualties at Gettysburg or Antietam is hard for me. I had heard that the South's wagon train of wounded from Gettysburg was estimated to be 20 miles long. I'm not an expert in the Civil War, but wasn't The Wilderness similar to Antietam in that it was considered a draw with large numbers of casualties, but the difference is that Grant decided to pursue the South as they retreated rather than going back to DC and rebuilding his army like previous commanders did?

    "Get three coffins ready" The Man With No Name

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Sgt. Rock View Post
      "In contrast, much of the purely military side of the war was basically just a slugfest -- one army slamming headlong into another, clashing bloodily, but both sides remaining intact and preparing to do it again."

      The number of casualties in such a short time is one of the things that blows my mind away when reading about the Civil War. Trying to comphrehend the number of casualties at Gettysburg or Antietam is hard for me. I had heard that the South's wagon train of wounded from Gettysburg was estimated to be 20 miles long. I'm not an expert in the Civil War, but wasn't The Wilderness similar to Antietam in that it was considered a draw with large numbers of casualties, but the difference is that Grant decided to pursue the South as they retreated rather than going back to DC and rebuilding his army like previous commanders did?

      "Get three coffins ready" The Man With No Name
      That's correct. Grant pursued Lee to even further major bloodlettings at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and finally, the long siege at Petersburg. The Northern Newspapers referred to him as "Butcher" Grant.
      "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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      • #4
        Two things stike me as I read this thread.

        1) I totally agree with Patrick regarding the discovery of how little we really know.

        I try to read recreationally when I can, but one of the neat things about trying to get tours put together is the research end. Everytime I start digging into something - even a topic I think I know - its like pealing an onion. I start off looking for documentation for something I think I know and very quickly either learn that I am either somewhat or outright wrong or I find a related topic that drags me down into a rabbit hole full of information and topical branching. Without fail, each of these trips down the rabbit hole ends with the delivery of several books and a conversation with my wife about bugetary responsibility and my cc bill

        2) Rock, sometimes the scope of loss in military conflict is sometime incomprehensible.

        I spent 3+ weeks in Europe last year - 80% of it in the Ardennes, Normandy, & Somme. One of the things that had the most impact on me was the Thiepval Memorial where 72000 men who died in the Somme and whose bodies were not recovered are named. The emotional impact of this site rates right up with a visit to the Vietnam Memorial at night.


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        Tray Green

        www.abandofgamers.com

        Battlefield Tours for Wargamers
        Normandy 2007
        ACW Border Wars 2008
        Bulge 2008

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        • #5
          Thanks for sharing that Tray. Yes from what I've read about Somme that was extremly devastating. I believe both sides had 400,000+ casualties by the end, and the British suffered 50,000+ on the first day. Trying to comprehend 50,000 casualties in such a short time is rather difficult. From what I've read about Galipoli, that sounds extremly horrific as well.

          "Get three coffins ready" The Man With No Name

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Sgt. Rock View Post
            Thanks for sharing that Tray. Yes from what I've read about Somme that was extremly devastating. I believe both sides had 400,000+ casualties by the end, and the British suffered 50,000+ on the first day. Trying to comprehend 50,000 casualties in such a short time is rather difficult. From what I've read about Galipoli, that sounds extremly horrific as well.
            That was the thing that was so humbling about Thiepval and the rest of our time in the Somme. I had heard from a Cpt friend of mine in Iraq just before the trip. He had lost a soldier and was venting a bit.

            Four days later I am looking at 70k names and on the verge of tears contimplating that each of these names was a life that was ended. Couple that with the located dead and the scope is beyond comprehension for most of us (myself included). The closest I think I have come to that experience was the room of shoes at the Holocaust museum in DC.
            Tray Green

            www.abandofgamers.com

            Battlefield Tours for Wargamers
            Normandy 2007
            ACW Border Wars 2008
            Bulge 2008

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