Saturday, September 27, 2008

Anti-Revisionism, Part 1

...Because we just can't let the new interpretations be the only ones, now can we?

Here's a rejoinder to the frequent argument, made to tear down an established "great person", by saying, "Well, they weren't all that great; after all, their competition was second rate. They were just lucky":

(NOTE: The source is G. F. Henderson's Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, published sometime in the early 20th century; exact date unknown)

"By the ignorant and the envious success in war is easily explained away. The dead military lion, and, for that matter, even the living, is a fair mark for the heels of a baser animal. The greatest captains have not escaped the critics. The genius of Napoleon has been belittled on the ground that each one of his opponents, except Wellington, was only second-rate. French historians have attributed Wellington's victories to the mutual jealousy of the French marshals; and it has been asserted that Moltke triumphed only because his adversaries blundered. Judged by this rule few reputations would survive. In war, however, it is as impossible to avoid error as it is to avoid loss of life; but it is by no means simple either to detect or to take advtange of mistakes. Before both Napoleon and Wellington an unsound manuever was dangerous in the extreme. None were so quick to see the slip, none more prompt to profit by it. Herein, to a great extent, lay the secret of their success, and herein lies the true measure of military genius. A general is not necessarily incapable because he makes a false move; both Napoleon and Wellington, in the long course of their campaigns, gave many openings to a resolute foe, and both missed opportunities. Under ordinary circumstances mistakes may easily escape notice altogether, or at all events pass unpunished, and the reputation of the leader who commits them will remain untarnished. But if he is pitted against a master of war a single false step may lead to irretrievable ruin; and he will be classed as beneath contempt for a fault which his successful antagonist may have committed with impunity a hundred times over."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revisionism, Part 1

I have a love-hate relationship with historical revisionism; love because it provokes new thoughts and challenges old assumptions, and keeps my thinking fresh, hate because it tends to tear down my idols and erect in their places tarnished images that I don't particularly care for.

But in the spirit of revisionism, I'd like to present the following excerpt from a series of essays on the Fredericksburg Campaign, entitled (appropriately enough) The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock, edited by Gary Gallagher.

Chew on this for a while:

When Robert E. Lee spends more than five hours hammering the Federal position at Gaines's Mill, assaulting uphill on a constricted front against a strong, entrenched enemy who is well supported by artillery, losing nearly 8,000 men in the process,he is called bold and ferocious. When Ambrose Burnside spends more than five hours hammering [the Rebel position at] Marye's Heights, assaulting uphill on a constricted front against a strong, entrenched enemy who is well supported by artillery,losing nearly 8,000 men in the process, he is called stubborn and stupid. In each case, the army commander operated in anticipation of a left-flank movement that never came. The only real difference is that when John Bell Hood told his Texans to rush at the enemy without firing and get in among them with the bayonet, they succeeded,whereas when Andrew Humphreys gave the same instructions to his division of untried [Pennsylvania] militiamen, they failed (p.23).*

I guess the only way you could reconcile the above two situations
is with that old adage, "Nothing succeeds like success." It covers
over a multitude of errors. Likewise, lack of success will obscure
a multitude of good deeds and best intentions.

* For the ill-informed, here are some
links to the above-mentioned battles:

Gaines's Mill -

Fredericksburg -

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Peachtree Creek - The Park That Wasn't

This past Monday was another one of the summer/fall lectures at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which I attended. The subject was the attempt to create a National Battlefield Park at Peachtree Creek during the 1890's through the 1920's, at least ten or fifteen years before anyone mentioned Kennesaw itself as a viable park.

In a few days I'll put up my notes about it; in the meantime, I'm toying with a little appropriate Photoshop madness to spruce this particular post up a bit.

Meanwhile, here's a little more Peachtree Creek, for those unfamiliar with the battle there: