Streetwise Professor

May 18, 2024

The Tragedy of G. K. Warren

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 2:42 pm

Outside of relatively specialized Civil War publications (which are shrinking in number), one seldom sees reference to Major General Gouverneur K. Warren. Hence it was a pleasant surprise to see a rather lengthy article about him in The Epoch Times of all places.

G. K. Warren

The article ends with a discussion of Warren’s “Unjust Fall” during the Battle of Five Forks in April, 1865, when a furious Philip Sheridan unceremoniously relieved Warren of command of the V Corps, believing that Warren was too slow in attacking.

Warren’s relief–and particularly Sheridan’s refusal to reverse it, or apologize for it after the heat of battle had passed even though his victory was complete–was indeed unjust. The part of the V Corps under Warren’s direct observation advanced into a vacuum, rather than attacking Pickett’s Confederates directly as Sheridan wanted, because of the fog of war, and in particular unfamiliarity with the Confederate dispositions due in large part to the heavily wooded terrain. It was the kind of thing that happened numerous times during the war, and which happens in every war.

But although Warren’s fate was decided on in the smoky Virginia woods on 1 April 1865, it was written long before, and was in many ways emblematic of the history and culture of the Army of the Potomac and the clash between that culture and U.S. Grant and his coterie–which prominently included Phil Sheridan.

Philip Sheridan

Warren was an engineer by training. Indeed, his greatest service in the war was his direction of two brigades to the vacant Little Round Top at Gettysburg while serving as the AoP’s Chief Engineer. After Gettysburg, he became a corps commander, first in temporary command of II Corps after W. S. Hancock’s wounding at Gettysburg, then in permanent command (until Five Forks) of the V Corps. Warren brought an engineer’s mindset–precise, deliberate, and cautious–to corps command. This drew the ire of Grant and his circle, who during the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Campaign were repeatedly frustrated by what they perceived as Warren’s lack of aggressive spirit.

In his defense, one could say that based on experience, especially at the Wilderness and after, caution in attack was prudent, and aggressiveness foolhardy. But Grant was not alone in his frustration with Warren. Even before Grant’s arrival in Virginia, AoP Commander George Gordon Meade had been furious with Warren for failing to attack as ordered at Mine Run (in November, 1863). Meade was also harshly critical of Warren’s caution at the Wilderness on 5-7 May 1864, and tension between Warren and Meade, not to mention Warren and Grant, was pronounced throughout the balance of 1864 and into 1865.

Warren also had a touchy personality, resented criticism, and argued with his superiors constantly–Meade in particular. The intense mental and psychological stress of the brutal Overland Campaign only aggravated Warren’s (and Meade’s) tempers and mutual dislike.

Thus, Warren was skating on very thin ice when Grant’s grand offensive against Lee commenced in March, 1865. His assignment to cooperate with and support Phil Sheridan made falling through it almost inevitable.

Sheridan was everything Warren was not, and vice versa. The former was blunt and hyper-aggressive, the later high strung and sensitive, and as noted above cautious rather than offensive-minded, especially after the 11 shattering months of combat in Virginia in 1864-5. Sheridan had come originally from the western theater (brought by Grant to command, though he had not served extensively with him and had not commanded large cavalry units), and from the start clashed with the AoP establishment which he found lacking in the will to do what was necessary to win the war. (Note his confrontation with Meade in over how to deploy the cavalry the immediate aftermath of the Wilderness, which led to Grant turning him loose to raid Richmond, resulting in the death of Jeb Stuart and little else).

Whereas Warren was something of an intellectual, by army standards (the engineers were, in general), Sheridan was anything but. He finished 34th (out of 55) in his West Point class: Warren was second in his. Sheridan had been suspended for a year for threatening to bayonet an upperclassman. Warren’s conduct record was exemplary.

Sheridan had won smashing victories in the Shenandoah Valley in September-October 1864, and had wreaked destruction in the Valley afterwards–a “hard war” policy that the AoP had shrunk from since its formation. Sheridan was viewed by the AoP as something of a barbarian.

Thus, Warren represented everything that Sheridan despised, and epitomized everything Sheridan found wrong with the AoP. Sheridan was looking for a chance to get rid of him, specifically asked Grant for the permission to do so (before Five Forks), and did it at the first opportunity on a flimsy pretext–even after Warren had extricated Sheridan and his cavalry from a difficult situation at Dinwiddie Court House on 31 March.

In the box of 1 April 1865, Sheridan was clearly in the wrong. But in the large, he was in the right. Men like Gouverneur Warren were not going to win the Civil War. Hard men, relentless men–men like Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant–were, and did.

Warren was thus a tragic figure, in a war chock full of them. He was a good man, but in the wrong position. You would almost certainly find Warren to be much preferable as a companion to the brusque, relentless, and blunt (“the only good Indian I ever saw was dead”) Sheridan, and you can genuinely pity his fate. But good companions are typically not cut out to be good commanders, especially in total wars. The sons of bitches are. And Phil Sheridan was one of the Civil War’s leading sons of bitches.

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April 13, 2024

Would You Believe . . . Ukraine Refinery Attack Edition

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 10:53 am

As I noted in a previous post, the Biden administration has tried to restrain Ukraine from attacking Russian oil refineries. The previous reason, as set forth by SecDef Lloyd “AWOL” Austin, was that these attacks would disrupt world energy markets.

Translation: these attacks would increase gasoline prices which scares the bejesus out of an inflation-battered administration in an election year.

But apparently the administration decided that wasn’t a very good look. Too obviously self-serving, and perhaps too dissonant with its the-war-in-Ukraine-is-a-vital-US-national-interest one.

So, would you believe, the administration is REALLY concerned on humanitarian, just war grounds:

Nah, we wouldn’t believe that, actually. Especially since this oh-so high minded critique of Ukrainian military tactics has heretofore been completely absent from American policy makers’ discourses. It’s obviously a lie to cover the election-obsessed administration’s true motivations. That is, AWOL Austin committed the Kinseyan gaffe of speaking the truth, and this gaffe had to be cleaned up.

This justification is also utterly ridiculous on myriad grounds. For one thing, as Rep. Scott pointed out, why should Ukraine fight asymmetrically, but in a bad way, taking blow after blow to its civilian targets but not striking back. For another, oil refineries are a legitimate military target, given (a) Russia’s armies in Ukraine run on the fuel they produce, (b) fuel exports are a material source of revenue for the Russian government, and (c) the Kremlin is clearly concerned about higher fuel prices, and the potential effect they would have on support for the war.

For yet another, in military conflicts in the modern age the United States has made attacking enemy energy assets a primary target. In WWII, the most effective element of the strategic bombing offensive (and one that probably should have been introduced earlier) was the attacks on Germany synthetic fuel production. (The attacks on the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania in 1943 less successful, but the April-August 1944 attacks did materially restrict fuel supplies to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe). In Gulf War I, one of the first targets of American air strikes (after Iraqi air defenses were dismantled in the first wave) were Iraqi electric power plants, which were attacked with graphite bombs. Soon after, the US turned its attention to, yes, Iraqi oil refineries. In 1999 the US unleashed graphite bombs on Serbian power plants.

The US, in other words, has long recognized the strategic importance of enemy energy production, and has made it a priority target. So why shouldn’t Ukraine?

And note that given the previous history, Wallender is implicitly accusing the United States of violating the laws of armed conflict.

It’s actually quite disgusting that the administration covers its nakedly political motivations with high sounding blather about “the laws of armed conflict” and the “standards of European democracy.” Maxwell Smart was funny. These clowns are not.

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March 4, 2024

“White Rural Rage”–Modern Catharism and the Crusade Against It

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:00 pm

The “Cathars”–the target of (a) the first intra-Europe crusade (and arguably the first crusade period*) that resulted in the deaths of 10s of thousands (often by fire) and the desolation of vast swathes of southern France, and (b) an inquisition that killed more–are a source of fascination and mystery. They left little of a written record, and most of that which is “known” about them was written by a Catholic Church that ruthlessly persecuted them as “heretics.” Thus, what their “heresies” actually were is unknown.

In his fascinating The Rest is History Podcast, historian Tom Holland conjectures that their heresies had nothing to do with dualism or celibacy or any of the other theological sins with which they were charged. Instead, the Cathars’ (not something they called themselves, by the way) crime was essentially that they were rustics who were not willing to conform with aggressive reforms adopted by the Catholic Church in the early-13th century. In particular, they were in a way proto-Protestants who believed that salvation was not dependent on the intermediation of priests, bishops, archbishops, and Popes. One could become a “bon homme” destined for heaven by one’s own conduct and faith without priestly intermediation. This clashed with Pope Innocent III’s aggressive centralizing efforts to enforce the primacy of the priesthood and the formal church.

Put simply, this was a clash between self-governing rural traditionalists and an extremely assertive–and in fact murderous–bureaucratic government with universalists pretensions insistent on controlling the private and public lives of everyone.

Voltaire said that history does not repeat, but humans do. Viewing the current political landscape in the United States and Europe speaks to Voltaire’s veracity.

Case in point, the currently raging hysteria regarding “white rural rage” and “Christian nationalism” in the United States. Though the United States government has not–at least not yet–channeled its inner Innocent III and launched a murderous crusade against American rustics, the aforesaid hysteria echoes the Albigensian Crusade. (“Albegensian” was another epithet applied to the Cathars, and was a reference to Albi, Italy, which was a Cathar stronghold.)

Specifically, the heresy of non-urban Americans is that they fail to–refuse to–subordinate themselves to a zealous and distant bureaucracy, and who adhere instead to traditional beliefs about freedom, local control, and religious observance. Since those beliefs are inimical to a clerical class which arrogates to itself authority on all matters of belief, they are a threat to the establishment “elite” and must be crushed.

Hence the hysteria.

Although the Cathars resided in what is now France (though a “French” identity is an anachronism would have been alien to them), their experience rhymes with various events in American and British history in which rural peoples resisted centralizing government authority.

Case in point. The Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the 1880s-1890s was made into urbanist pornography–it was the subject of rapt and lurid coverage in big city dailies–in large part because it was a narrative that “othered” mountain people who resisted “progress” and attempted to maintain their autonomy. A major driver behind the legal consequences of the feud was that the Hatfields owned large tracts of timber and coal land coveted by large coal producers in particular. (Timber–used in mine construction–was a vital resource. One of my Hatfield ancestors was a timber cutter for coal mines.). (The Coal Wars of the 1920s was an aftershock of the victory of the large mining companies.)

Also in the late-19th century, the propaganda war against moonshiners was also directed at people who insisted on traditional practices that clashed with the interests of a distant government. But it goes back further than that. The Whiskey Rebellion and the subsequent military campaign against it (led by George Washington and importantly Alexander Hamilton) similarly involved a conflict between rustics (for whom alcohol was an essential staple of commerce) and a central government grasping for revenues.

But it goes even further back, and farther ashore. The actions of the British government (and the more settled and urbanized Lowland Scots) against the Highland Scots in the 18th century were driven by similar forces and accompanied by similar pejorative narratives. (Cf. Rob Roy.). Ditto the centuries-long depredations of England (and then Great Britain) in Ireland.

In brief, the current moral panic in “elite” circles about rural (really non-urban) whites is yet another example of an ages-old struggle between an arrogant, centralizing “elite” power structure and those who would quite prefer to live outside it, thank you very much. Heresy now and then is non-conformity and refusal to take the knee before central authority.

That is, it is about control, control, control. Period. The current chapter in this very long-running saga is particularly Orwellian because the war against the rural Other is waged in the name of “democracy”–i.e., self-government–when in fact what the “elite” desires is antithetical to true self-government. (It is also particularly disgusting because of its overt racism.)

Perhaps it is not coincidental that I am a (maternal) descendent of Hatfields, moonshiners, and Whiskey Rebels. For it is abundantly clear where my sympathies lie.

*The word “crusade” was not used in the 11th-12th centuries to describe the Christian campaigns in the Holy Land. Its first recorded usage was to describe the war waged on the Cathars.

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February 9, 2024

When Vlad Met Tucker

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:47 pm

The hysteria over Tucker Carlson’s interview of Vladimir Putin is yet another monument to the stupidity of our age. And a very revealing.

Apparently Carlson was supposed to go all Perry Mason on Vova, leaving him to blubber out confessions. As if.

Putin is a pathological liar and master of whataboutism and projection. He would have batted away more aggressive questions with ease, and probably enjoyed it. As the old joke goes, never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it.

As it was, Carlson’s questions gave Putin ample opportunity to put his psychopathy on full display. His long historical disquisitions were particularly revealing, though not at all surprising to me as someone who has written about them for going on two decades.

As for projection, this is a classic:

This from the guy who has for decades intimidated his own population with an imaginary Nato threat.

But most are probably unfamiliar, and giving Putin a platform to spin his Fractured Fairy Tales view of history to a Western audience is a great service.

Indeed, those screeching the loudest should be particularly happy that Putin’s pathologies are put on display to the world: it gives them an opportunity to show them for what they are.

But the “elites” cannot countenance the idea of Putin (or Trump for that matter) communicating with the public without going through their filter. This betrays either deep insecurity about their ability to demonstrate that the ludicrous is in fact ludicrous, or more likely, a deep disdain for the ability of the hoi polloi to discern Putin’s mendacity without the tutelage of their betters. In their minds, they are pre-Reformation priests and only they can be trusted to convey scriptural truth to the masses: the shlubs cannot be relied upon to draw the “right” conclusions–that is, the officially sanctioned ones.

The Reformation is a pretty good metaphor of our current travails. Publication of the Bible in the common languages of the people made possible “every man his own priest,” which was a deep challenge to the authority of the established Church, which claimed a monopoly on truth, and in particular on the interpretation of the Bible. Today, modern platforms permit people to access information not filtered and curated by our “elite” clerisy.

And the clerisy’s reaction is no different than that of the Catholic Church in the 15th and 16th centuries: moral panic that triggers a repressive response.

The reaction also shows what they think of you. That without their oh so benevolent guidance, you are all to prone to lapse into heresy. So the repression is for your own good, dontcha know.

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February 3, 2024

The Groundhog Day War

Filed under: History,Military,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 4:44 pm

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and the classic movie by that name is an apt metaphor for the war in Ukraine. Different day, same bad shit, day after day after day.

Defense Minister and all around shlub Sergei Shoigu proudly claims that Russia has the initiative. Yeah, I guess you could say that, because they are the ones attacking repeatedly all along the front. But seizing the initiative yields them nothing but piles of corpses (disproportionately Russian) and masses of demolished tanks and AFVs (almost all Russian). It certainly does not yield them gains on the ground, at least not gains measured in more than meters, and a tree line or field here or there.

Russian tactics, such as they are, beggar description. Day after day they send penny packets of armored vehicles in strung out along some muddy track, only to see them centimated (decimated means losing one out of ten, so I made up a more accurate word). The armor seldom makes contact before it is blown up. What progress the Russians do make is with bloody infantry assaults that take slivers of ground, often because the Ukrainians run out of ammunition. Sometimes those slivers are taken away in counterattacks.

Decisive action by armor requires it to be deployed in mass. Sending a platoon here and a platoon there is idiotic and cannot achieve anything, let alone a decisive breakthrough.

To give an idea of how farcical this all is, in a rare Russian advance measuring more than a kilometer (in southern Avdiivka) they tunneled under a Ukrainian strongpoint, popped out of the ground, and seized it. As a result, Russia obtained a long finger of territory, under fire control and at constant threat of attack on either or both sides of the bulge.

What, is Russia going to tunnel its way to Kiev, let alone Lviv or Odessa?

Most of the Russian vehicle casualties are now caused by drones, especially First Person Video (FPV) drones (you don’t hear much about Bayraktars anymore), rather than artillery. That’s because the Ukrainians are suffering from a severe shell shortage. Western stocks and production cannot keep pace with the prodigious consumption of ammunition in a static battle.

Videos tell the tale. Back in the summer many videos (taken from drones) depicted Russians being plastered with artillery, and cluster munitions in particular. One seldom sees those now. Instead, it is video after video of FPVs smashing into Russian armor: some from the attacking FPVs themselves, some from recon drones loitering overhead.

Ukraine’s vaunted summer offensive, which was worse than a damp squib, was stymied primarily as a result of deep Russian prepared defense lines, including dense mine belts. Apparently after eschewing constructing such defenses themselves, Ukraine is belatedly doing so. (The fraught situation around Avdiivka largely reflects the lack of prepared defenses in that salient.)

Ukraine apparently took a similar attitude to the French and British in WWI, whereas the Russians adopted the German approach. The Germans built massive, semi-permanent fortifications in the lands they captured in France and Belgium: one of the few interesting parts of the otherwise vastly overrated film 1917 was the depiction of the elaborate German trenches and bunkers that they abandoned when withdrawing to the Hindenberg Line, and which amazed the Tommys who stumbled into them. The Tommys were amazed because their trenches (and French ones too) were much less elaborate, and much more in the nature of temporary field fortifications than permanent positions (like the Germans’). This was a conscious choice by the Allies, and in particular the French, who reasoned (if you can use that word here) that building more permanent defenses would be seen as a concession to German occupation of French lands, demarcating a new border. The trenches were just launching points for offensives–that failed.

Ukraine’s failure to build up lines analogous to the Russian Sorovikin Lines (three deep) is evidently due to the same “reasoning.” Building them would establish a de facto border.

The reconsideration of more elaborate defensive lines is just one reflection of a command crisis in Ukraine. The failed offensive and the recognition that the war is likely to drag on for years is creating consternation in Kiev, and one manifestation of this is the falling out between Zelensky and Ukrainian military chief Valery Zaluzhny. Zelensky is trying to push Zaluzhny out, but the general says: I won’t quit, you have to fire me. Given Zaluzhny’s popularity, that’s risky for Zelensky to do–although truth be told Zaluzhny’s popularity is probably the main reason Zelensky wants him gone.

Zaluzhny’s fate was sealed last year in articles quoting him criticizing Zelensky and the Ukrainian strategy overall. Doubling down, yesterday he released an article calling for a complete revision of Ukrainian strategy.

So all is not happy in Kiev, but it shouldn’t be smiles and giggles in Moscow either because if anything Putin’s strategy and tactics are failing even worse than Ukraine’s. But Vlad appears drunk on delusions, this week saying that his objective was to advance the front sufficiently to put Russian-occupied territory out of range of Western-supplied long range weaponry. Beyond the fact that this logic implies that Russia would have to occupy all of western Europe (including the UK!) because more territory would be required to create a buffer for the new territory (wash, rinse, repeat), this reflects a complete failure to recognize the realities on the ground, where Russians cannot take and hold meters here and there, let alone tens or hundreds of kilometers along a 1000 kilometer front.

The one area in which Ukraine has achieved some success is in deep strikes by drones and Western weapons (e.g., Scalp missiles, HIMARs). And by deep, I mean well inside Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities. These strikes have hit air bases and economic targets, most notably arms manufacturing facilities, ports, and oil assets.

Crimea has been hit the hardest. The Black Sea Fleet has been driven away to Novorossiysk after losing several ships in Sevastopol. Russian air bases and command centers on the peninsula have also been hammered.

Fascinatingly, high ranking Russians, including the commander of the Black Sea Fleet and even the head of the Stavka, Valery Gerasimov, have not bee seen since attacks on Sevastopol, leading to suspicions that they were killed or badly wounded in the strikes. Hell, Lloyd Austin reappeared after a couple of weeks. Gerasimov has been MIA for 35 days. Where’s Valery?

The success of these strikes lays bare the Potemkin nature of Russian air defenses, including their vaunted S-400 systems. Indeed, the Ukrainians have taken out many of these systems: SAMs, defend thyself!

The Russians claim to shoot down everything shot at them. I mean everything. So why the explosions and destruction of valuable assets? Well, you see, the missiles and drones their valiant air defenses down hit the targets while plummeting to earth. Like this one that started massive fires at a Lukoil facility:

Dizzy with success! Or should it be on fire with success?

The failure of Russian air defenses should not be surprise. Soviet and Russian built AA systems have been shredded every time they have been confronted since their initial successes (due largely to surprise) in North Vietnam in the late-60s and early-70s, and Egypt (in 1973). After the shock of their losses to these systems in those wars, the Americans and Israelis designed and implemented comprehensive suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD–which really means DEAD, for destruction of enemy air defenses) operations. Dismantling of Russian air defenses is therefore not unexpected, although it is shocking to see how Ukraine has been able to extemporize a successful SEAD strategy with such scant resources, especially as compared to the US and Israel.

The chain reaction effects have been fascinating to watch. Ukrainian destruction of Russian ground based radars required them to fly their version of AWACs (the A-50) close to the shores of the Sea of Azov–which happened to be in range of Ukrainian operated Patriots, which destroyed the A-50 and seriously damaged its companion aircraft, an IL-22 (poor man’s version of an RC-135 Rivet Joint).

These deep strikes are damaging, and embarrassing to Russia. (Assuming Putin is capable of embarrassment, which on the basis of the record is a dubious proposition.) But they are not war winning.

Instead, they are just another vignette in Groundhog War.

I haven’t written much about this war because there’s seldom little new to say. I have every expectation that there will be another long hiatus, because there’s nothing in prospect that will decisively alter the situation.

So here we are, and here we will stay.

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November 30, 2023

Ridley Scott Screws the Pooch

Filed under: History — cpirrong @ 3:24 pm

I saw Ridey-Scott’s Napoleon on Thanksgiving. I am not thankful.

The film has been savaged by numerous reviewers, so perhaps it is gratuitous for me to put the boot in, but I figure I have to get my money’s worth somehow.

I went in ready to grant liberal artistic license and overlook some historical inaccuracies. For instance, yeah Napoleon didn’t shoot cannon at the Pyramids of Giza, but whatever.

But the movie definitely violated the terms of its license in ways that are grossly misleading. For example, Napoleon was a spectator of the Battle of Waterloo–when he wasn’t taking a nap, that is–and fled after watching “la Garde recule” and the Prussians crushing his right flank. He definitely did NOT lead a cavalry charge–especially given that he might well have been suffering from hemorrhoids at this climactic moment of his military career. Depicting him doing so gives an extremely distorted picture of Napoleon the man and the historical figure. (Napoleon’s departures from his armies in Egypt, Russia, Germany–after Leipzig–and Waterloo were the subject of criticism, but the film only mentions the criticism regarding Egypt.)

This is not a minor rewriting of history.

The battle scenes were painful to watch because of their comic book unrealism. My groaning began at the very outset. Napoleon’s attack on the British at Toulon was nothing like the actual thing. He didn’t assault a masonry fortress (which I think was depicted by the Vauban fort at Collioure, one of my favorite places): he assaulted earthen fortifications. His leadership there was valiant, widely admired, and oft remarked upon: in Ridley-Scott’s version he was just part of the crowd.

And speaking of earthworks, the French at Austerlitz and the British at Waterloo didn’t have them, let alone trenches festooned with fraise.

Yeah, I get that it is hard to depict on the screen the surprise that Napoleon pulled at Austerlitz by abandoning then assaulting the Pratzen Heights, but to convey surprise by having French cannoneers hide under white tarps pulled over their (non-existent in reality) trenches is just silly. Better to describe Napoleon’s tactical coup through dialog.

I could go on dissecting the battle scenes, but will leave it at that.

These failings are minor compared to fundamental problems in plot and character development.

Most notably, the real Napoleon was amazingly charismatic, and that never comes through in the film. Not only is Joaquin Phoenix too old by far to play anyone but the dying Napoleon, his Bonaparte comes off as something of a loser closer to the shlub living with mom in The Joker than a world striding colossus. Who would follow this guy to the concessions stand, let alone into the frozen wastes of Russia? Maybe a more accurate depiction of Toulon, or a scene of Napoleon at the Bridge of Lodi, would have helped convey why Napoleon could move armies and nations.

For understandable reasons–not least that it is easier to portray inter-personal dramas than sweeping historical events like epic battles–a good deal of the plot revolves around Napoleon and Josephine. We know that Napoleon was smitten by her, and often acted like an idiot about her especially in his absence, but Napoleon Dynamite seems like a manly chick magnet in comparison to Phoenix’s Napoleon Bonaparte the lover. And the depiction of Josephine also makes one wonder what Napoleon–and the many other men in her life–and I do mean many!–saw in her.

As another illustration of Ridley-Scott’s fundamental distortions of history that goes well beyond justifiable artistic license, in the film’s telling Napoleon leaves Elba because he reads in the newspaper that Josephine was canoodling with Tsar Alexander. FFS. (His departure from Egypt was also supposedly in response to being informed of Josephine’s infidelity.)

Napoleon thought much more above the neck than below the waist. This film would have you believe otherwise.

Casting was uniformly odd. The character playing Robespierre, for example, would have been better suited as Danton :P. (That said, the scene in which Robespierre was accosted and shot himself–unsuccessfully–was one of the better ones in the movie. Another was the assault of the Council of Five Hundred on Napoleon’s person during the Brumaire coup.)

Another minor but repeated and therefore annoying irritation was the atmospherics. The weather in most scenes was depicted as cold, cloudy, and/or rainy: scenes in sunny places (like Egypt or at Tilsit) take place largely in tents. You would think that France was Ridley-Scott’s native Yorkshire. He has said that the dreary, ever-raining atmospherics of Blade Runner were inspired by memories of his Yorkshire childhood. So I guess in Napoleon he gave us have Blade Runner meets Bonaparte.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Ridley-Scott is trying to say that Napoleon’s world was dystopian. There are certainly many–and have been since he exploded on the world stage–who believe that Napoleon led the world to perdition, and that is a valid stance for Ridley-Scott to take. But it begs the questions of what drove him to it, and why people followed him to the dystopia to which he led them. Ridley-Scott and Joaquin Phoenix provide no answers.

All of these liberties–to characterize them kindly–could be excused if they were taken in the cause of conveying fundamental truths. But they do the exact opposite. They give us an inverted Napoleon.

Successful biopics, like say Lincoln or Patton, succeed in this despite departures from the literal truth. Yes, Ridley-Scott made a daring choice of attempting to cover virtually the entire sweep of one of the most eventful lives in recorded history, and one that spanned more than two decades, unlike Lincoln which focused on a few months or Patton which covered barely three years. But that choice means that he had to be all the more precise and creative in his choice of how to convey accurately Napoleon’s personality and conduct. By choosing dramatic devices that uniformly deceive and distort, Ridley-Scott fails his audience, and fails the history he claims he wants to portray.

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November 28, 2023

Tales of Two Wars

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 2:12 pm

The war in Ukraine grinds on with no appreciable movement on either side–except in the body counts.

The conflict is often compared to World War I, but this is in some respects unfair to World War I. Territorial gains on both sides are measured in meters–when there is any progress at all. Even catastrophic assaults like the Second and Third Battles of Artois in 1915 saw the French advance a few miles.

The most extreme current example is the sustained Russian assault on Avdiivka. Day after day for more than a month the Russians have mounted attacks on the three fronts of the Ukrainian salient enclosing the town. And day after day their attacks are repelled with massive losses. Many times the assaulting troops do not even make it to the contact line, being smashed by Ukrainian artillery and drones as they move to contact.

At most the Russians take a field or two here, a tree line there.

The Ukrainian experience to the south, around Verbotene, is much the same. The Ukrainians made some decent (albeit slow) progress there during the summer, creating a modest bulge in the Russian positions, and here and there breaching Russian minefields and fortifications. But for months the two sides have fought to a standstill, exchanging fields and tree lines here and there.

Moreover, in each location the attackers at first attempted armored assaults, only to suffer massive tank losses from mines, artillery, and drones. Consequently, each now mounts small infantry assaults. In Avdiivka, the Russian AFVs drop off their mounted infantry a couple of kilometers from the front. The soldiers slog forward and then throw themselves into frontal assaults.

You can find lots of video of the results on Telegram. It is not pleasant viewing.

And if these infantry assaults succeed breaching enemy lines? Nothing will change. Just as in WWI, infantry cannot exploit a penetration by infantry. The “successful” attackers are worn out and often combat ineffective due to heavy losses. Even if they were capable of moving forward, or reserves could be rushed into the breach (something neither side has proved able to do) the defenders can withdraw and regroup faster than the attackers can advance. Meaning that a “breakthrough” just moves the stalemate a kilometer or two. Absent the ability to exploit with armor–and crucially, without the logistics to support armored exploitation–decisive advances are impossible.

The stasis of the battlefield is in large part due to the inability of either side to achieve air superiority. In Ukraine, air superiority does not refer to manned fixed wing aircraft or helicopters, but drones. Both sides are able to operate drones for both reconnaissance and attack with relative impunity. This is a major reason (mines being another) for the impotence of armored forces.

The only front holding out the prospect for maneuver is in the south, on the left bank of the Dnieper/Dnipro River near Kherson. Unlike on the remainder of the front, here Russia did not create deep lines of entrenchments, and its forces are spread relatively thin. But an advance here would require Ukraine to send large amounts of supplies over a wide river, and it is doubtful that it is capable of doing this. (Its logistic capabilities to support a deep drive are suspect generally, even without the necessity of bridging a wide river, and defending the bridges.)

The Ukrainian government and its Western supporters claim that if it only had more weapons, it could drive out the Russians. Given the trivial incremental effect of the offensive weapons already supplied, this is to be seriously doubted.

The real constraint on Ukraine now is manpower, not equipment. It started at a severe manpower disadvantage, exacerbated by the emigration of many military aged men, evasion of conscription, and lukewarm volunteering. In contrast, Russia has proved able to replace its ravaged ranks by hook and crook, even without resorting to a formal nationwide mobilization. Even at an inflated exchange ratio, this meat swap is a contest that Ukraine cannot win.

That said, there is no real prospect for peace because Zelensky and many others in Ukraine are still wedded to the idea of driving Russia out of Ukraine altogether, and Putin is perfectly willing to pay the exchange rate for as long as it takes to out wait Ukraine.

Israel stupidly hit pause in the other war, in Gaza, apparently bowing to U.S. pressure. The pressure was stupid, and bowing to it was too. Israel was making steady progress at extirpating Hamas and digging up–literally–its military infrastructure.

The deal it made with Hamas takes off the pressure on the terrorist organization. Moreover, the terms of the deal, in which Israel releases more prisoners than Hamas does hostages only encourages future hostage taking. This is utterly insane.

The fecklessness of Biden and his administration exceeds even what I had expected–which is saying something. The only American hostage released so far is . . . wait for it . . . a relative of one of the connoisseurs of Hunter’s art. I mean you cannot make this shit up. And it demonstrates that the administration calculates that it will pay no political price.

The proper response to the taking of American hostages should have been reboot of “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.” The Hamas “leadership” livin’ large in Qatar (apparently on large stacks totaling billions) should have been told: all our hostages alive, or you dead.

But noooooo. Indeed, that’s not even the worst example of his cravenness. Yesterday, he abjectly apologized to five (unnamed) Muslim heavyweights for questioning whether Gazan “authorities'” (AKA Hamas stooges’) casualty figures are accurate.

Joe is disappointed in himself. Aren’t we all. Aren’t we all.

He “promises to do better.” Even though the bar is very low indeed, I’m taking the under on that one. It’s always the sure bet with Biden.

War is always grim. These wars are even grimmer than most. They will be long running attractions, with no constructive results.

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November 19, 2023

A Dozen More Observations on Israel-Hamas

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:42 pm

About 3 weeks have passed since my previous post making 18 observations on Israel v. Hamas. Events in those 3 weeks prompt some additional observations.

  1. Israel appears to be filtering out the near universal screeching, preaching, and second guessing regarding its methodical campaign in Gaza, where assault by fire has been succeeded by a ground assault. It recognizes that a cease fire or “pause” would rescue Hamas from destruction, and likely in the long run result in more Gazan (and Israeli) deaths than will result from a campaign that extirpates the terrorist organization that rules Gaza. That is, it has determined not to play Sisyphus again.
  2. It is likely that Israel recognizes that the screeching, preaching, and second guessing is almost totally ineffectual posturing by pusillanimous western politicians and Hamas fellow travelers, and that the costs of bending to this criticism far exceed any benefits that would result from doing so. Doing so would spare Israel’s enemies, and not make it any friends. So the dogs are barking loudly, but the Israeli caravan is moving along inexorably.
  3. Indeed, those who could pose the greatest threat to Israel–namely Arab states, especially the Gulf states–are making only perfunctory criticisms at most–when they are not outright criticizing Hamas strongly as the UAE did today. It is telling that Saudi Arabia does not permit pro-Palestinian (i.e., pro-Hamas) protests while the streets of Paris, London, and Washington are awash with them. One can only imagine what the Saudis, etc., are telling Israel in private.
  4. Meaning that the pro-Palestinian ferment is a far bigger threat to western governments than to Israel. Which helps explain the bleating of those like Macron.
  5. The Biden administration is like a deer in the headlights. Its initial unambiguous pro-Israel stance unleashed a firestorm on the Democratic Party’s left that jeopardizes Biden’s already extremely shaky political situation. This firestorm has led to–well,what better way to put it?–insurrectionary actions (at least as those have been defined for the last 35 months). These include a boisterous protest inside the Our Lady of Our Democracy, AKA the Capitol, an attempt to storm the White House, and an attack on a reception at Democratic Party headquarters in DC. This is a no-win situation for Biden and the Democrats. Breaks me all up.
  6. There is opposition to the administration’s largely pro-Israel stance from within the State Department. I’m shocked! Shocked! Well, not really. The State Department has been anti-Israel since 1948. Truman recognized Israel only over the determined resistance of the “striped pants boys” in the State Department. La plus ca change.
  7. Reactions in the West generally, and the U.S. in particular are quite clarifying. In particular, the Left’s embrace of Hamas–largely dishonestly camouflaged as concern for oppressed Palestinians–is quintessential the-enemy-of-my-enemy “logic” that demonstrates the profound anti-western animus of the left. The Palestinian cause has been a major element in the anti-Western alliance since the 1960s. The USSR was a major supporter of Palestinian “resistance,” and now Islamist Iran–a rabid revisionist anti-Western nation–is the major supporter of violent Palestinian forces. Political Islam is also profoundly anti-Western. The Western left is also rabidly anti-West–and terms like “colonialism” are barely concealed anti-western code. A common enemy unites Western leftists and Islamist terrorists, and explains the enthusiasm of the former for the latter. They don’t love the Palestinians. They both hate you.
  8. The most bizarre manifestation of this nutty nexus is “Queers for Palestine” and the like. If the self-described queers actually went to Gaza, the only question among the Palestinians would be whether to hang them from cranes, throw them off rooftops, or crush them under large rocks. But since the self-described queers have no intention of setting a single painted toenail in Gaza, they can embrace Hamas from the safety of leftist enclaves like Cambridge and Amherst as a means of undermining traditional Western societies, ethics, and morality.
  9. The events since 7 October 2023 have demonstrated beyond any doubt the utter depravity of western–especially American–universities. Certainly the humanities and most of the social sciences, and clearly the administrations (administrators being a dominant force in the modern university), but also a non-trivial portion of the STEM faculties. And the more “elite” the university, the more profound the depravity. There really was not much doubt about the state of universities prior to 7 October, but whatever doubt that remained has been pulverized. I know how we got here, but I don’t see any way back. The institutional dominance of anti-western forces in the quintessential product of Western Enlightenment is too entrenched to be overthrown.
  10. These events have also made plain the depravity of public education in the United States. The vacuity of Zoomers, and their embrace of pathological pro-Palestinian propaganda like Osama bin Laden’s post-911 letter, show that the left’s march through the institution of public education has triumphed. And again, I don’t see any way back, especially given the vice grip of the teachers’ unions. Until that is broken, public education will become even more broken.
  11. Hezbollah doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to commit suicide by throwing in with Hamas. Its histrionics and support of groups that pull Uncle Sam’s beard in Syria and Iraq aside, the same is true of Iran. Which makes it all the more inexplicable that the Biden administration continues to shower billions on it. All that will do is convince the mullahs that they can go further without triggering a response that hits them where it hurts.
  12. Insofar as the Israeli campaign itself is considered, it is proceeding relentlessly and methodically. It has surrounded northern Gaza, then proceed to cut that half almost in half (from east to west). The Israeli inkblot will continue to expand until Hamas is eliminated in all of northern Gaza. There are very few reports of pitched battles, suggesting that Hamas realizes it is overmatched and that Israel’s overwhelming force and obviously long-standing operational plan make all but scattered resistance futile. The urban warfare nightmare widely predicted for Israel has not materialized. Casualties have been light, as compared to expectations and previous experiences in urban battle (e.g., Fallujah). Total Israeli casualties so far amount to the toll of a few hours of Russian assaults on Avdiivka, Ukraine. But that is a subject for another day.
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October 27, 2023

18 Observations on Israel-Hamas

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 2:13 pm
  1. Israel has played the role of Sisyphus in Gaza for virtually the entire nearly 2 decades since it left Gaza. The horrific Hamas attacks of 7 October reveal the futility of that “strategy,” and persisting in it will only guarantee a repeat–or worse. Although success is not guaranteed, at least at a price acceptable to Israel, it should now endeavor to push the rock down the other side of the mountain and extirpate Hamas.
  2. Israel seemed determined to do that in the immediate aftermath of the horrific attacks, but has delayed, apparently due to pressure primarily from the US but also Europe. The claim is that the US needs a delay in order to rush anti-air and anti-missile defenses to protect its troops and facilities in the Middle East. Perhaps, but the mixed messages coming out of Washington suggest that there are elements within the administration who are opposed to Israel eliminating Hamas.
  3. The US’s and Europe’s interests are not aligned with Israel’s. The “leaders” of other nations do not face the threat from Hamas that Israel does, and would much prefer to kick the can down the road and make the reckoning the problem of future governments. Furthermore, Europe in particular is infested with Arab and Muslim populations who are violently anti-Israel. Feckless Europeans are deathly afraid of mass uprisings among these populations in the event of an overwhelming Israeli invasion of Gaza.
  4. The 7 October attack obviously represents a colossal intelligence failure by Israel and the United States. Virtually all such intelligence failures reflect not the failure to obtain the necessary information, but instead the failure to interpret the information properly. Such failures are almost always attributable to the dominance of preconceived beliefs that are inconsistent with the information. That is, to an overweighting of prior beliefs and a failure to update them upon receipt of contrary information. In the presence of such beliefs, the information produces, at most, cognitive dissonance that leads to its being dismissed.
  5. That appears to be the case for 7 October. Israel had been engaging with Hamas for months, and had become convinced that Hamas had become focused on economic development in Gaza, and hence that it would not jeopardize greater access of its population to Israeli labor markets and the like.
  6. There is no doubt in my mind that Hamas deliberately cultivated such beliefs precisely in order to lull Israel into a false sense of security. This is a staple of Muslim, Koranic war fighting doctrine. Israel and the United States–again–mirror imaged by thinking Hamas was motivated by the kinds of economic considerations that guide policy in their countries, and by ignoring Hamas’s adamant Muslim beliefs and tactics.
  7. Post-7 October and during the period of threatened a massive Israeli move into Gaza there has been a virtually unanimous outcry for a renewed pursuit of the “Two State Solution.” The Two State Solution is a zombie idea advanced by zombie politicians. It will never live but it won’t die.
  8. Those who matter in the Palestinian polity–the hardest men with the guns–have no interest whatsoever in the 2SS. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. They are interested only in a One State Solution, with the extermination of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state “from the river [Jordan] to the sea.” And these maximalist goals are supported by a large majority of Palestinians. The refusal of Western politicians to listen to Palestinians’ openly stated goals is precisely why these poltiicans are utterly useless, and why this conflict persists. Denial ain’t a river in Egypt, and it is a disastrous basis for policy.
  9. To the extent that various Palestinian interests do play along with a 2SS they are just reenacting Mohammed’s hudna with the Quraish–and at times have said that openly (e.g., Arafat). A means to buy time and gather strength for an ultimate resumption of a war of extermination.
  10. All of the above implies that all of the conventional wisdom and shibboleths that have dominated Western discourse and policy for the past 50 plus years should be eliminated, with extreme prejudice. But the scales still obviously remain over Western eyes–and many Israeli eyes too. Politicians are loath to admit failure or to admit that they were wrong. They are loath to jettison the comforting belief that this is a conflict that can be resolved through some Westphalian negotiation between non-ideological sovereigns, rather than an intractable ideological struggle between implacable foes with utterly incompatible objectives. So the zombies carry on with their zombie policies, meaning that the horrors will carry on as well.
  11. One wonders what Hamas intended to accomplish on 7 October. Perhaps an orgy of murder and rape was a sufficient end in itself for Hamas, because beyond that it accomplished nothing for Hamas and indeed may have put it in an existential crisis by greatly increasing the likelihood that Israel would respond by attempting to eliminate Hamas.
  12. But there is no reason to believe that Hamas is primarily an independent actor. Looking at cui bono, the most likely beneficiary is Iran. These events occurred precisely when Israel and Gulf Arab states were on the verge of mutual recognition that would have created an anti-Iran axis. That rapprochement is now in shambles. Thus, one explanation for the Hamas attack, and its timing, is that it was intended to prevent this development.
  13. If so, it has succeeded admirably–at least on the surface. If the Saudis et al do indeed back away from the normalization of relations with Israel, they will be handing Iran a victory. One can only hope that their public statements are a blind, and that in private they are actually continuing to move forward with Israel.
  14. Iran is the center of gravity in this conflict. Financially and militarily it is the driving force behind the anti-Israel axis (which includes Hezbollah as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad). Heretofore, Iran has been largely immune from direct attack because it can act powerfully through its proxies. A crucial question is whether Iran will remain merely the puppet master and paymaster if Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas. Its calculation will depend on its perception of the consequences of direct intervention (by, for example, launching missile strikes on Tel Aviv).
  15. Minimizing this threat requires putting at risk things vital to the Iranian regime. The two most precious things are their own hides, and their nuclear program.
  16. Russia has come out foursquare behind Hamas and against Israel. (A Hamas delegation is in Moscow as I write this). This despite the fact that Putin has had good relations with Israel historically. But the reason is readily understood–again, it is Iran. Iran is a major supplier of weapons (especially drones) to Russia in its war against Ukraine.
  17. One would think that since everything and everyone remotely pro-Russian is an anathema in present day DC, the Russian-Iranian alliance would make Iran an anathema. Yet the US has been notably circumspect in its condemnation of Iran despite its obvious central role in fomenting anti-Israel violence. The administration has bent over backwards to say it has no evidence of “direct” Iranian involvement in the Hamas atrocities–although what short of Iranian missiles impacting Tel Aviv would constitute “direct” involvement remains unstated. In his statements Biden has avoided even saying the word “Iran.”
  18. This is another baleful legacy of Obama’s obsession with treating with Iran and normalizing the Islamic republic. Taking his statements at face value (not that you should), Obama believed he was (and is, via his marionette successor) contributing to stability in the Middle East that would allow the US to pivot to Asia. How’s that working out, genius? Empowering Iran (via monetary payments, reintegrating them into the world oil market, restraining Israeli actions against it, etc.) has instead led to a situation in which substantial American military resources are being sucked back into the region. But the pro-Iran elements in the administration (and the State Department) still seem to be driving policy–yet another zombie policy implemented by zombie politicians and apparatchiks.
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September 21, 2023

The Rock of Chickamauga, Reconsidered

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 3:07 pm

One hundred sixty years ago, the battered Union Army of the Cumberland gathered at Rossville, Georgia, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the aftermath of its catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, 18-20 September, 1863. Fortunately, logistical difficulties and the inevitable disorganization following a battle in which the victors had suffered 30 percent casualties prevented the Confederate Army of Tennessee from pressing their advantage. Consequently, the Army of the Cumberland was able to shake itself into a semblance of order at Rossville, and retreat into the defenses of Chattanooga on the 22nd.

Chickamauga was the second bloodiest battle in the Civil War, with casualties in excess of 34,000 out of roughly 125,000 men engaged. It was by far the most decisive Confederate victory west of the Appalachians, yet it was barren of strategic results. The Army of the Cumberland survived to fight another day. Besieged in its works, it neared starvation but the Lincoln administration rushed reinforcements from the Army of the Tennessee in the Mississippi River valley (under Grant and Sherman) and from the Eastern Theater (under Joseph Hooker). These forces opened a supply line, and eventually in late-November launched assaults that drove the Confederates in precipitate flight into northern Georgia.

(My grandfather’s great aunt Amanda Roberts remembered seeing trainloads of Union soldiers trundling through southeastern Ohio on their way to Chattanooga. It was an eventful summer for her. Earlier, she and her family had fled to the woods with their animals to escape John Hunt Morgan’s raiders.)

Rather than fighting the Yankees, after Chickamauga the Confederate generals fought one another. Or more accurately, Longstreet, Buckner, D. H. Hill and others fought army commander Braxton Bragg. Chickamauga was a bitter victory.

The battle was a meeting engagement fought in deep forests, which resulted in confused and confusing actions. On the first full day of action, neither side knew quite where the other was, and plunging into the woods time and again they came unexpectedly upon their adversaries, to their mutual surprise. For much of the second day, the battle took place along a relatively static line to which the Union army had withdrawn on the night of the 19th.

The actions included the attack of Cleburne’s division:

These troops are firing at my great-great grandfather, George Immel of the 92nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, located a few hundred yards in their front. They missed! (Luckily for me. Perhaps due to the rude log breastworks that the Union troops had erected in the night. They also missed at Missionary Ridge, the entire Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and the Carolinas campaign. George returned home to sire eight children.)

Few commanders came out of the battle with burnished reputations: many saw their reputations destroyed. Union army commander William S. Rosecrans was relieved by Grant when the latter arrived in Chattanooga a few weeks after the battle. As noted before, Bragg’s management of the battle and the barren results resulted in widespread criticism throughout the South.

Only James Longstreet and George Thomas emerged from the battle looking good–and Longstreet soon undermined that by his squabbling with Bragg, his failure to prevent the Union from opening a supply line through Lookout Valley, and the disaster of his Knoxville Campaign. Thomas went down in history as the Rock of Chickamauga for his stalwart defense of Horseshoe Ridge/Snodgrass Hill on the 20th. His defense saved the Union army from utter destruction.

It must be said that the Union defense was only made possible by the decisions of small bodies of men to rally on Horseshoe Ridge, and later Reserve Corps commander General Gordon Granger’s decision to march to the sound of the guns without orders.

Thomas’ defense overshadows some dubious decisions.

Although by reputation a cautious and deliberate general (his knickname was “Old Slow Trot”), on the 19th Thomas ordered two divisions to attack into the woods on the basis of sketchy information. One of these decisions (Baird’s) was routed, and the other (Brannan’s) was roughly handled. Rosecrans’ army was in a false position, in danger of being cut off from its base at Chattanooga: Thomas should have established a solid line to protect the army’s line of communication (the Lafayette Road) and performed reconnaissance to find out where the Confederates were rather than plunging into the unknown.

On the night of the 19th-20th, and through the morning of the 20th, Thomas constantly importuned Rosecrans to reinforce the left (which Thomas held). (He sent something like 20 couriers to Rosecrans asking for the latter to send Negley’s division to the left.)

Now, it was the case that the left had to be held to prevent Bragg from interposing his army between Rosecrans and Chattanooga. That said, Thomas had easily repelled the attacks on his direct front (due in large part to those rudimentary log works), and those Confederates (of Breckinridge’s division) who did circle around Thomas’ left were defeated in detail. Moreover, Thomas had a reserve line in Kelly Field that could have been used to extend his flank beyond the Lafayette Road.

Moreover, Thomas was myopically focused on is own situation, and ignored the truly parlous situation of the Union right, which had been hammered the day before. The far right was held by Davis’ small division, that had been handled roughly in Viniard Field. Next to Davis was Wood’s division: Buell’s brigade of that division had also been hammered there.

Thomas’ constant call for reinforcements led the mercurial Rosecrans–whose judgment was probably clouded by an extreme lack of sleep–to make hurried adjustments to his line, pulling out some units to send them to Thomas and shuffling in other troops to fill the gaps thus opened up. This led to considerable confusion, not least in Rosecrans’ understanding of his dispositions. When he received a report of a gap between Woods’ and Reynolds’ divisions (the 92nd Ohio being in Reynolds’ outfit)–a gap that did not exist, but was in fact held by Brannan’s division–Rosecrans order Wood to pull out and “support” Reynolds. This opened a gap into which tragically or fortuitously, depending on your rooting interest, Longstreet’s powerful attack of four divisions poured. The entire Union right was routed, and the detritus of the smashed units–and one relatively intact one, Harker’s brigade of Wood’s division–formed the forces on Horseshoe Ridge.

Rosecrans probably deferred to Thomas due to fatigue, and the evident psychological dominance of the latter over the former. Regardless of the cause of Rosecrans’ deference, the confusion and shifting of troops caused by Thomas’ insistence on being reinforced set the stage for disaster.

Rosecrans is of course ultimately to blame because it was his responsibility to consider the position of the entire army. But Thomas pushed a psychologically fragile commander into bad decisions.

One pet peeve. I noted earlier that Thomas’ final defense occurred on what is known as “Snodgrass Hill,” a bald spur of the wooded Horseshoe Ridge. The monuments for Harker’s brigade are all located there, and it is undisputed that the repeated volleys of Harker’s brigade (the soldiers expending 100 rounds per man) were essential to Thomas’ defense.

But whom were they shooting at? The only Confederate unit in the area, Humphrey’s brigade from the Army of Northern Virginia that Longstreet brought to Georgia, suffered few casualties, and did not report making any attacks, let alone the numerous attacks directed at Harker. It was hundreds of yards south of Snodgrass Hill, and the accounts of the attacks on Harker’s line all indicate that the Confederates made it within a few yards of it.

Years after the battle, Archibald Gracie, the son of the commander of the Confederate brigade that finally breached the Horseshoe Ridge line (also named Archibald) wrote The Truth About Chickamauga, a sometimes polemical revisionist account which disputes the placement of the monuments, and the official War Department (later Park Service) account. Gracie’s book was based on a meticulous study of the Official Records and extensive correspondence with veterans of the combat there. I have always found Gracie’s case to be persuasive, but every modern account repeats the official version. The otherwise excellent Maps of Chickamauga, for example, has Harker’s brigade firing those tens of thousands of rounds at Humphrey’s distant (and stationary) troops.

Gracie more plausibly placed Harker’s brigade on what is referred to as “Hill One” of Horseshoe Ridge. That makes much more sense for many reasons.

Gracie is an interesting character. He survived the sinking of the Titanic, and wrote a book about it, though he died from the effects of the ordeal before it was published. Gracie Mansion in New York is named for one of his forebears (also Archibald). His father was killed at Petersburg.

Postscript: I edited this post to change the references to “Opdyke’s brigade” to “Harker’s brigade.” Opdyke commanded the 125th Ohio in Harker’s brigade.

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