Farewell to Civil Warriors

On September 28, 2006, I did my initial post here on Civil Warriors. I expressed then a great sense of honor and appreciation at having been invited by Mark to participate and still feel that today. I have, however, come to the conclusion that the time has arrived to end my participation on Civil Warriors. In light of the decline in the quantity of my postings here, I can’t imagine this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been following the blog recently.

This has not been an easy decision and it is one I have wrestled with, and signaled my interest in making to folks from whom I have sought advice on professional matters for a while now. A number of factors have stayed my hand, though. One is that I hate the thought of quitting anything. Another is the fact that the nearly seven years since I joined Civil Warriors have been very good ones for me professionally and the blog undoubtedly played a role in that. Consequently, there is some anxiety that Civil Warriors could, going forward, be the nail that for want of my kingdom could be in serious trouble. Another factor has been the difficulty of figuring out how to go out on the right note. I did not want to just stop blogging and leave it others to figure out that I had. I also wanted to make a clear break from blogging, both for myself and the audience (though mainly on behalf of the former), and it has taken a while to find the time to put together a farewell post that does that properly and provides something close to what I consider an adequate explanation for my decision.

One of the factors in my leaving is a sense that over the past few years, the medium of blogging has been in decline. I know that my interest in it certainly has. Five years ago, I followed, along with this blog, Eric Wittenberg’s, Kevin Levin’s and two or three others pretty much daily. Now, if I look at another blog besides Brooks’s more than once a month it feels like a lot. The decline in interest in blogging is, at least for me, also a consequence of the emergence of Facebook. I know joining Facebook in late 2009 removed one of the motives I cited for joining Civil Warriors; namely, to facilitate the efforts of those who wish to contact me. I will also say that my decline in interest in blogging preceded Gary Gallagher’s much-discussed critique of blogging a year or so ago, though I have to say it reinforced it, for there was much in it that I agreed with.

It has been suggested by some with whom I have discussed this move that I could recharge my interest in blogging by breaking away from Civil Warriors and starting my own blog, one more personalized that might engage with folks on matters of interest to me other than the Civil War. I considered it, but in the end, have simply decided I just do not want the obligation of blogging anymore. (I do hope Mark would be open to my returning if I should wish to do so at some point; indeed, I shall be very surprised if I don’t.) Mark stated in a post a while back that he never wanted to feel obligated to blog for the sake of blogging, but my experience is that feeling is unavoidable as long as the blog is there and you are affiliated with it.

The ramifications of the ongoing budget problems my employer is experiencing also unavoidably figured into my decision. In the past year or so, my department has lost seven of the forty-three members of the faculty and staff, with no prospect of replacement. (Perhaps most regrettable, as anyone who works in the military or academic setting—or a place that combines the bureaucratic processes of both like this one does—will appreciate, is that our department secretary was one of those who departed.) Consequently, the workload of just about everyone in my department has increased significantly in the past year. For me personally, the last academic year saw a 25% increase in my teaching load during the core course and a doubling of the number of elective courses I taught. The increase in my workload was partly offset by the staff ride program for the other campuses of the Command and General Staff School falling victim to the budget axe earlier this year. That of course was hardly a positive thing from my perspective, as I believe strongly in the importance of the properly directed study of historic battlefields in officer education. (It also provided some good material for posts.) But this was a development that was far beyond my power to prevent.

Above all, though, I just want to spend my time in other ways than blogging. I have a number of projects that I am currently trying to bring to completion and personal interests that I would like to spend more time on. Moreover, my daughter’s turning ten recently has impressed on me that her childhood is running short (and teen years are approaching too fast for comfort). While I can’t say I think this is the case at this point, I don’t want to look back and lament I missed something because I was worrying about a blog. I know that the period a year or so ago when there were technical glitches here were a great relief to me, for during that time the obligation to blog was lifted and I could do other things without feeling guilty that I was neglecting the blog. After the glitches were resolved, obviously, I resumed posting. But I do not think it is hard to see a decline in both the quality and quantity of the posts I have been producing since then to a level where I am justified in being skeptical as to what value my continuing here has anyway.

I would like to express my appreciation to Mark for extending the invitation to me back in 2006 to participate in Civil Warriors, and to the other folks who participated in the blog during my time with it. I also thank the friends and colleagues who participated with me in this blog, especially those who served as sources of material, commentators on posts, or guest bloggers.

Thanks as well to those of you who have followed this blog over the past seven years. If I don’t see you in Gettysburg next week, I do hope our paths will cross somewhere else up the road.

V\R,

Ethan

Gettysburg in Kansas, 20 June

Dole Institute to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary

Gettysburg Dole

LAWRENCE — July will mark 150 years since the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas will honor the event with a full day of programming on Thursday, June 20.

The afternoon will be a conference-style event in which military historians and Civil War experts will focus on the three individual days of battle:

Day 1, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Day 2, 2:45 p.m.-4:15 p.m.
Day 3, 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.

The evening program at 7:30 p.m. will focus on the seven critical decisions made during the battle. Each afternoon session and the evening program can be enjoyed as a whole or individually. All programs are free and open to the public.

“This epic battle was a crucial moment in the Civil War that really set our nation on course for today. In order to create interaction and get a real dialogue going among our experts, we’ll be utilizing the same discussion format as our Post-Election Conference,” said Dole Institute Director Bill Lacy. “The quality of the conversation will be excellent.”

The expert panelists include: Steve Lauer, professor at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies; Ethan Rafuse, professor of history at the Command and General Staff College; Terry Beckenbaugh, professor of history at the Command and General Staff College; Jennifer Weber, associate professor of history at KU; Debra Sheffer, associate professor of history at Park University; and Kevin Benson, professor at U.S. Army University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies.

Gettysburg remains the most significant battle fought on American soil. More men fought and died during the Battle of Gettysburg than in any other battle before or since 1863. Today Gettysburg sees more than 1 million visitors each year, and efforts are still being made by the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation to preserve the monuments, memorials and grounds of this historic site.

For more information on the Gettysburg event and other summer programming, please visit the Dole Institute website.

Professional Military Education–A Perspective

higbeeLast night C-Span broadcast a program in which Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College discussed her book Educating America’s Military. I don’t agree with everything Johnson-Freese says, but there are a lot of important issues in professional military education (PME) that she touches on that merit serious discussion. A few years ago, a fellow by the name of Daniel J. Hughes–who is perhaps best known for compiling a volume of writings by Helmuth von Moltke (the elder)–raised many more in a highly provocative and controversial essay, entitled “Professors in the Colonels’ World”, that appeared in a book entitled Military Culture and Education. (My CGSC colleague Bradley J. Carter is also a contributor to this book.)

The relationship of those of us who work in PME with the rest of the academic history profession, and how we are perceived by it are, of course, matters about which I have expressed concern recently, though these are not matters that Johnson-Freese addresses. Still, she is someone who has raised a lot of compelling questions (both in her book and here) about the state of PME. Thus, this program well rewards watching even for–indeed, especially for–those who are not in PME and might be interested in the issues it faces.

Johnson Freese

The program can be found here.

Gettysburg, 30 June 2013

Sacred Trust Talks and Book Signings: 150 Years of History

Gettysburg Foundation

The Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park present 1-hour talks by Civil War literary giants followed by question and answer sessions and book signings. All lectures are free and take place outside under the Museum and Visitor Center tent; book signings follow inside the Visitor Center lobby.

George Gordon Meade and the Gettysburg Campaign
Kent Masterson Brown
Time: 9:30 a.m.

Deju vu All Over Again: Memory, Experience and Generalship at Gettysburg
Brooks Simpson
Time: 10:30 a.m.

Fighting Joe and the Snapping Turtle: Commanding the Army of the Potomac in 1863
Ethan Rafuse
Time: 11:30 a.m.

Lincoln and Freedom in Film and Fact: A Look at History and the Movies, Spielberg and the Civil War
Harold Holzer
Time: 12:30 p.m.

Gettysburg’s Missing Battle: The Case of the Missing Civilians
Margaret Creighton
Time: 1:30 p.m.

We Had Only to Close our Fingers: George Meade at Williamsport, July 14, 1863
Allen Guelzo
Time: 2:30 p.m.

General Lee’s Army and the Declining Margin for Error
Joseph Glatthaar
Time: 3:30 p.m.

The Joshua Chamberlin You Didn’t Know
Tom Desjardin
Time: 4:30 p.m.

“Civil War literary giants”? Wow! (And, of course, everyone knows that you always put your best hitter third in the line-up; ahem, right before lunch.)

In light of George G. Meade’s evidently burgeoning popularity, the focus of my talk is actually going to be on Hooker, with “the Snapping Turtle” figuring marginally.

The entire The Gettysburg 150th Anniversary Commemorative Events Guide can be found here.

The Flying Dutchman

Last month, my former comrade in CGSC staff riding, Christian B. Keller, gave a presentation to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on “Flying Dutchmen and Drunken Irishmen: The Myths and Realities of Ethnic Civil War Soldiers”. He is the author of Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). The photo below is of Chris, on the right, with another member of the CGSC faculty in March 2010 at a point of some significance in the Chancellorsville Campaign and to enthusiasts of ethnic units in the Union army–though not to the Germans who who have been the focus of Chris’s work.

MallettKellerMaryes

The presentation (and others) can be found by clicking here:

The Gettysburg Semester

A guest post by Zachary Fry, a graduate student in the Ohio State University history department.

“Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?” -Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Gettysburg Semester was the time of my life.  As a student of the Civil War, how could it not have been?  I might easily say that the allure of the place was enough to make it so – living a block or so from where Coster’s Eleventh Corps brigade tried to stem the tide of triumphant Rebels on the battle’s first day, walking the autumn fields of Plum Run on the weekends, or even studying the war’s Eastern Theater while sitting just an hour away from Antietam and Harpers Ferry.  But the Gettysburg Semester was much more than just four months living on a beautiful campus in the cockpit of Civil War history.  I learned more than I ever expected and forged unique friendships that have added immeasurably to my life for several years now.

I had just finished my third year at Kent State when I received a scholarship to attend the Semester, and I entered the program with seven other stalwarts from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, and Oregon.              Together, we lived in an 1870s house on campus solely devoted to Gettysburg students receiving their degrees in Civil War Era Studies, fine friends all.  My academic life consisted of a crash course in Civil War historiography (where I first read my future graduate adviser’s work), a course in Civil War tactics supplemented with a battlefield trip every Friday, and a readings course on John Brown and the abolitionists of the late 1850s.  For the first two courses I enjoyed the powerful lectures of Dr. Allen Guelzo, eloquent director of the Semester and the foremost academic historian of Abraham Lincoln.

In addition to my regular coursework, I procured an internship at the Adams County Historical Society, housed in historic Schmucker Hall on the Lutheran Theological Seminary campus.  My bosses at ACHS were Wayne Motts, an OSU alumnus who has since gone on to even greater glory at the National Civil War Museum, and Ben Neeley, a passionate public historian who drove to work every day from distant Lancaster.  During the internship, I processed hundreds of newspaper articles detailing individual experiences at the Battle of Gettysburg, the most difficult part of which was training myself not to read each one so that I could finish the day’s work efficiently.   Thursday nights at ACHS were traditionally attended by members of Gettysburg’s subculture of lifestyle researchers.  I was certainly among that group by the time I left in December.

The most rewarding part of the Gettysburg Semester was not the history, such as the fact that I worked at ACHS next to the door where soldiers of the 151st Pennsylvania dragged their wounded colonel to safety during the chaotic retreat on July 1, 1863.  Nor was it the resources available, such as the numerous side-trips to the National Archives to conduct research for my ongoing senior thesis project on the 59th New York Infantry.  It wasn’t even the unique culture of Gettysburg itself and the Remembrance Day ceremonies, which I enjoyed with a very close friend from Washington. The Gettysburg Semester was special because of the people who made it happen – Dr. Guelzo, Dr. Matthew Norman, Cathy Bain, and, most of all, the seven accomplished Semester alumni whom I am fortunate to call my friends.  Nowhere else, not even in graduate school, could a student have enjoyed the companionship of so many others who live, eat, and breathe the Civil War.  The coursework, the research, the culture, and the friendships, all provided me a formative experience, academically and personally.  The Gettysburg Semester was, in short, a dream come true.

Brandy Station 150th Event

Here is something to do, if you find yourself in Culpeper County in a few months:

THE BATTLE OF BRANDY STATION
June 9, 1863
150TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2013
Time: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
SPECIAL GUEST HISTORIAN GUIDE – CLARK “BUD” HALL

Bud Hall, the nation’s leading expert on the Battle of Brandy Station, will be conducting a uniquely rare walking tour of remote battlefield sites that have never before been visited by any tour group. Priceless anti-bellum homes and bucolic river fords are just a few of the historically significant and scenic sites that will be visited on this special tour. This is an exceptional Sesquicentennial event that you will not want to miss! All tour materials including maps and handouts will be provided. A bag lunch, hat, sunscreen, bug spray and walking shoes are suggested for this tour which will take place rain or shine. Come join us as we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station!

To sign up for this special FREE tour of the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War, accompanied by the leading authority on Brandy Station, click here and follow the registration instructions shown thereon.

For further details contact: Loudoun County Civil War Round Table.

Call for Papers: 2013 Mid-America Conference

Call for Papers

Transnationalism and Minority Cultures: The Mid-America Conference at the University of Oklahoma

Submissions for papers in the humanities, arts, and social sciences are invited for the 35th annual meeting of the Mid-America conference, dedicated to the interdisciplinary topic of “Transnationalism and Minority Cultures,” to be held at the University of Oklahoma, September 26th-28th, 2013.

Transnationalism transcends national boundaries and highlights the interconnectedness of people and places, of local communities and the global processes that link them. We welcome paper and panel submissions that respond to the conference theme, such as in the following approaches:

• Exile, Migration, and Diaspora Studies: transnational migration history; (trans)migrant and refugee experiences; histories of border-crossings; comparative diaspora studies

• Transnational Cultures: transnational print and digital production; world literature; Native American intercultural transfer; transnationalism in music, sound, and dance cultures; film; visual culture in transnational settings

• Theory; New Praxis: the transnational public sphere; transnational genocide/memory studies; transnationalism in educational studies; transnational geography

• Transnational Citizenship: transnationalism’s impact on indigenous and minority cultures; creative agency; subaltern cosmopolitanism; citizenship debates

• Critiques of Transnationalism: access to the cosmopolitan class; transnational history “versus” comparative history

• Transnational Communities: multinational / multiracial border communities; micro-histories of urban borderlands; “translocal” urban spaces; walls, borders, and boundaries

• Transnational Activism: Native American studies and social justice; transnationalism; sexuality; globalized queer activism; transnational social movements and religion; feminism & human rights discourses.

Faculty and graduate student abstracts on the conference theme are welcomed. Abstracts for individual papers should be 250 words. Panel proposals should contain a 250-word session description as well as three paper proposals and a moderator/commentator. All submissions should include a 1-page c.v. and audio-visual needs.

Deadline for submissions: April 30, 2013, via email to the conference organizer: Janet Ward, Professor of History, University of Oklahoma: janet.ward@ou.edu. Further information on the conference can be found on the conference website.

Stonewall and Me

For those who have 55 minutes and 22 seconds to kill, here is my lecture last June at the Kansas City Public Library on Thomas J. Jackson.

Enjoy.

Call for Papers – 2014 Society for Military History Annual Meeting

81st Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
“Transformational Conflicts: War and its Legacy through History”
April 3-7, 2014
Kansas City, Missouri

The Society for Military History is pleased to call for papers for its 81st Annual Meeting, hosted by the Command and General Staff College Foundation, Inc., Liberty Memorial – National World War I Museum, Harry S Truman Presidential Museum and Library, and the Department of History, University of Kansas.

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. It is also the 150th anniversary of the third year of the American Civil War, 200th anniversary of seminal events in the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812, and 300th anniversary of the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. The Society for Military History invites papers that examine these and other pivotal conflicts in terms of how they were conducted, their effects on the evolution of war, culture, and society and how historians and societies at large have remembered them. The program committee will consider paper and panel proposals on all aspects of military history, while especially encouraging submissions that reflect on this important theme.

Panel proposals must include a panel title, a one-page abstract summarizing the theme of the panel , one-page abstracts for each paper proposed, and one-page curricula vitae for each panelist (including the chair and commentator, with email addresses provided for all participants), as well as panelist contact information. Submissions of pre-organized panels are strongly encouraged and will be given preference in the selection process. Individual paper proposals are also welcome and must include a one-page abstract of the paper, one-page vita, and contact information, including email. If accepted, individual papers will be assigned by the program committee to an appropriate panel with a chair and a commentator.

Participants may present one paper, serve on a roundtable, chair a panel, or provide panel comments. They may not fill more than one of these roles during the conference, nor should they propose to do so to the Program Committee. Members who act as panel chairs only for a session may deliver a paper, serve on a roundtable, or offer comments in a different session. Members who serve as chair and commentator of a session may not present in another session.

All proposals must be submitted electronically to the program committee by October 1, 2013. The address is: smh2014kansascity@gmail.com. All presenters, chairs, and commentators must be members of the Society for Military History by December 31, 2013.

The meeting will be held at the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City. It is located right next to the Liberty Memorial-National World War I Museum and accessible to the many sites in the greater Kansas City area that are of importance to the military history of the United States. Participants can reach the meeting site via hotel shuttle and cab from the Kansas City International Airport (MCI).

The Future of Civil War History–Some Questions

On 14-15 March, I will be in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, participating in a three-day conference on “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th”. (The program can be found here.) My former comrade in Chancellorsville staff riding Christian Keller and I will be leading a few dozen participants around the Gettysburg Battlefield for about two-and-a-half hours in what is billed as “Rethinking the Staff Ride Model” before I high-tail it down to DC to catch a flight to New Orleans so I can participate in the Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History.

A look through the program for the Gettysburg conference, though, has raised a couple of questions in my mind. The session of the program on the evening of 14 March is billed as “Popular Misconceptions about Civil War Military History”. Other sessions are dedicated to such questions/issues as How Can Civil War Sites Offer a Usable Past during a Time of War? Strategies in Educational Programming, Exploring Violence in the Classroom and in a Museum Setting, and Building a Dialogue among Museum Professionals, Academics, and Civil War Re-enactors. These matters and others addressed at the conference are naturally of interest to those of us who work in the professional military education system, teaching today’s makers of military history–who also happen to be perhaps the Civil War’s most committed audiences of scholars and students. Thus, one would think that our perspectives would as a matter of course be considered of value and interest to anyone else wrestling with these issues.

And yet, of all the participants in the program, only Chris (who teaches at the Army War College in Carlisle) and myself, are members of the professional military education system, which invariably raises the following questions:

1. What place do those of us who work in professional military education, our perspectives, and our real and potential contributions as educators and scholars have in the “future of Civil War history”?

2. Why, if this program is any indication of where the thinking of those who presume to be determining the “future of Civil War history” rests, does the answer to the first question appear to be “rather marginal”?

The floor is open. If you do not have answers to these questions now, perhaps someone at the opening session on Thursday afternoon (which I expect to attend) will.

Answering the question . . . or not

If the reviews here are any indication, my talk to the Puget Sound Civil War Round Table a few weeks ago seems to have gone over well with the audience.  (I certainly had a good time with its members.)  Evidently, though, my unwillingness to play the game of ranking the Army of Northeastern Virginia–Army of the Potomac-Army of Virginia commanders did not go gone over well with one member.

I, of course, understand this.  Both because I want to make my audience happy by answering their questions and because such exercises can be a lot of fun. Still, this is the sort of question that I am reticent to answer due to a reluctance to engage in exercises that can lead (especially given the time constraints one faces during the Q & A session that follows a lecture) to oversimplified analysis when the true reason we should study history is to understand historic actors and appreciate the complexity of events. Indeed, if there is one thing I have strove to push back against in my scholarship and teaching it is against oversimplified judgments about individuals and events–in other words, what Mark has labeled the “what fools they were” school of military history.  (And, yes, I am aware of the irony of this coming from a guy who recently published an article on “Civil War Generals We Love to Hate”.  I have pointed out that the purpose of my piece was to explain why the particular generals in question are hated, not say it was justified, though I can see how I might not have been as clear on that as I could and should have been.)

To illustrate the complexity of “grading” generals, take for instance what appears on the surface to be a simple question:  Was Grant a better general than McClellan?  The first response, naturally, is to say . . . absolutely!   Look who Lee surrendered to!   But, of course, there is the immensely inconvenient fact that, to get to the same place McClellan had in 1862, east of Richmond on the James River, fighting an Army of Northern Virginia that did not have James Longstreet or JEB Stuart for most of the campaign (and no Stonewall Jackson at all), which was symptomatic of the fact that two years of hard fighting had significantly dulled the strength and vigor of Lee’s army by May 1864, Grant pretty much wrecked the Army of the Potomac.   And, of course, one searches in vain for a Cold Harbor or Crater on McClellan’s military resume.

So move Grant down in the rankings and McClellan up, right?   Well . . .  wait a minute, there are certainly extenuating circumstances in Grant’s case (which Grant fanboys, of course, label “excuses” when presented on behalf of anyone else)–not the least being that one can easily imagine ways that having Longstreet, Stuart, and/or Jackson on hand in 1864 might have actually worked to Grant’s benefit!  After all, anyone familiar with Longstreet’s performance at Seven Pines and Jackson’s conduct during the Seven Days Battles, can certainly make a case that their presence was to McClellan’s benefit in those instances.   They certainly did not prevent Lee from getting his army blasted to pieces at Malvern Hill.

Then, there is the question of how much weight should be given to the degree to which a general contributed to the cancerous command climate in the Eastern armies (caveating, of course, that the real villains in the story resided in Washington).  How much does malignant conduct in this regard, in the case of Hooker, balance against the very real ability he demonstrated as an operational commander?   And what makes for a good tactical commander in the Civil War besides the good fortune to fight on the defensive? (Of course, good fortune being something any successful general has–not exactly something that goes down well in a society that possesses an active management guru industry. Indeed, Napoleon is supposed to have asked only one thing of a general–that he be lucky.)  Should we view Pope as a victim of the Eastern command climate, or a villain in the story of its poisoning?   Burnside, of course, very clearly was a victim of the poisonous command climate.  In this light, and given the extremely problematic operational problem he faced in December 1862, can we really consider his time in command a fair test of his–or anybody’s–ability?   And was Fredericksburg really a defeat for the Union?  By what measure?  If a Union defeat, why did Lee declare himself “depressed” afterward?

In the end, though, I am willing to play the game on one point.  There really is no question who the best commander of the Union armies in the East, and indeed the entire Civil War, was (although a continuous stream of books and his fans insist on insisting there is) . . . Grant.  (What, you thought I was going to say Ben Butler?)   Lee was a great commander, but what sets Grant apart is the fact that he demonstrated the ability to successfully negotiate the Washington game and conduct joint operations–two things Lee never had to do.

Great trip to Washington . . . The State!

Few things cooler in this world than being, like Hooker’s men at Chattanooga, above the clouds, watching the sunset to the west. Check out this view looking west from near the top of the Skyline Chair at Stevens Pass Ski Area shortly after a cloud descended on the lower 900 or so vertical feet of the mountain but left the top 300 or so feet crystal clear in a way that my camera does not do justice to.  

BTW, Stevens Pass is not, as some people believe, named for first Washington territorial governor and Civil War general Isaac Ingalls Stevens, but John F. Stevens, a late nineteenth/early twentieth-century railroad engineer, who also served awhile as chief engineer on the Panama Canal. Here is a view of the pass, where US 2 passes through the mountains, from the Seventh Heaven lift at Stevens Pass Ski Area:

I also had a great time with the good folks who belong to the Puget Sound Civil War Round Table–with a caveat, which I will address in a future post.

How not to win a battle . . .

You think John Bell Hood was bad at Franklin?

Inside the Battle of Hoth
By Spencer Ackerman

How did the Galactic Empire ever cement its hold on the Star Wars Universe? The war machine built by Emperor Palpatine and run by Darth Vader is a spectacularly bad fighting force, as evidenced by all of the pieces of Death Star littering space. But of all the Empire’s failures, none is a more spectacular military fiasco than the Battle of Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.

The entire story can be found here.

Society for Military History Annual Meeting

The program for the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History, which is being held on 14-16 March 2013, in New Orleans, LA, and sponsored by the Center for the Study of War and Society at The University of Southern Mississippi, with the National World War II Museum and Southeastern Louisiana University, has recently been posted.

Not much this year, unfortunately, to interest the Civil War enthusiast. I saw only one session dedicated to the subject, which is definitely odd considering this is the 150th anniversary of not a few events of note in the military history of the Civil War. No doubt this is in large part due to a program on the 150th at Gettysburg College that is running the same weekend. Still, there will once again be a decent contingent of Civil War historians in attendance, including George Rable, Susannah Ural, and Carol Reardon. As for me, I will be chairing a panel on “Alcohol and Drugs in Three Wars: The Great War, Korea , and Vietnam”.

Further information about the meeting, including the program and logistics, can be found here.