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November 2, 2009

And furthermore, the Anaconda Plan didn’t actually take place on the Snake River
Posted by Patrick at 08:55 AM * 204 comments

John Keegan, author of the excellent The Face of Battle (1976) and many other books, is possibly the most widely-respected military historian alive. James M. McPherson is an eminent historian of the American Civil War; his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) is often called the best single-volume history of that conflict.

Keegan has now published his own history of the American Civil War, and McPherson has reviewed it in the New York Times. And by “reviewed,” I mean “discredited it for the ages,” if even only a portion of the factual errors McPherson cites are in fact present in Keegan’s book.

The analytical value of Keegan’s geostrategic framework is marred by numerous errors that will leave readers confused and misinformed. I note this with regret, for I have learned a great deal from Keegan’s writings. But he is not at top form in this book. Rivers are one of the most important geostrategic features he discusses. “The Ohio and its big tributaries, the Cumberland and the Tennessee,” he writes, “form a line of moats protecting the central Upper South, while the Mississippi, with which they connect, denies the Union any hope of penetration.” The reality was exactly the contrary. These navigable rivers were highways for Union naval and army task forces that pierced the Confederate heartland, capturing Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and other important cities along with large parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Keegan acknowledges this reality later in the book when he notes that these rivers “offered points of penetration to the Union into Confederate territory.” Precisely.

But Keegan’s grasp of river geography and other terrain features is shaky. He confuses the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, seems to place the Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the wrong rivers, has the Kanawha River join the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River (it is the Allegheny River that joins the Monongahela, while the Kanawha empties into the Ohio 150 miles southwest of Pittsburgh) and shifts the state of Tennessee northward, where he says it “gives on to” Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The Confederates did not abandon their strong point on Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River; Union forces surrounded and captured it with its 5,000 defenders. Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga is not a feature of Lookout Mountain, and the battle of Cedar Mountain did not take place in the Blue Ridge.

McPherson goes on. Keegan is confused about when North Carolina was first invaded by the Union; he’s off by two years about when the British government recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent under international law. He misrepresents Lincoln’s attitude toward visiting soldiers in the field and makes the jawdropping claim that the Gettysburg Address “refus[ed] to differentiate between the sacrifice of the North and the South.” He is comprehensively wrong about the condition of the United States Navy at the outbreak of hostilities. Most amazingly, and I confirmed this one by using Amazon’s “Look Inside This Book” feature, Keegan, an eminent British historian, appears to believe that Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister during the American Civil War. (It was Palmerston.)

All books contain errors; book publishers, even long-established book publishers with large nonfiction lists, don’t have staffs devoted to “fact-checking,” nor is it clear that the world would be better off if they did. Moreover, as a book editor myself (albeit primarily of fiction) I usually hesitate to point fingers; I’ve made enough mistakes of my own that my more usual reaction is a sympathetic wince. But it’s boggling that no reader at US publisher Alfred A. Knopf noticed that this distinguished historian, at the beginning of Chapter Nine, asserts that Tennessee shares borders with Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. It’s equally amazing that nobody at UK publisher Hutchinson remembered that Disraeli wasn’t actually Prime Minister yet in the years 1861-1865. As for the Gettysburg Address, it was entirely about the sacrifice of Union soldiers, the ones being buried in a Union cemetery, the dedication of which occasioned the speech. The address is ten sentences long. It’s not exactly little-known or hard to find. Against my better judgement and all sense of professional discretion, I find myself compelled to emit that cry of the outraged reader: Didn’t anyone at either publisher actually read this book?

Comments on And furthermore, the Anaconda Plan didn't actually take place on the Snake River:
#1 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 09:00 AM:

On the other hand, I'll bet the book passed the spell checker....

#2 ::: David Dvorkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:09 AM:

That's astonishing.

#3 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:09 AM:

Not that industry wide layoffs of talented staff could have anything to do with this sort of thing. Oh no. Not at all.

Anyhow, kudos to the NY Times for getting that review. I'm a proponent of mixed positive and negative reviews, and this proves why we ought to embrace the occasional harshly negative one.

#4 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:30 AM:

Unfortunately, McPherson makes one small error of his own, that I caught. For some reason, he refers to Palmerston as "Viscount Henry Palmerston." This is an incorrect form. He's usually called "Lord Palmerston" or "Viscount Palmerston," either of which is correct and enough to identify him. You could write, "Henry, Viscount Palmerston" or (probably more correctly) "Henry John, Viscount Palmerston" a la "Alfred, Lord Tennyson," though in Palmerston's case hardly anyone ever does. Or various other longer forms. But putting his first name after the title is simply wrong, because in the terminology of British nobility that means something entirely different (and impossible with any term of rank higher than "Lord" or "Lady" anyway).

#5 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:34 AM:

yeah, that's unacceptable.

at the same time, i feel bad for keegan, whose 'face of battle' was first-rate and influential.

and i also wonder how critical to his arguments the errors in fact actually were. to put this differently: would "face of battle" really be worth much less if keegan had committed similar botches about the belgian landscape and french rivers?

that's an open question: i really wonder. historians are supposed to develop arguments from facts, and if you screw up too many facts then your argument is built on bupkis. but the best historical arguments are founded on a very broad basis of fact, and resilient to the failure of a few here and there.

certainly if keegan had gotten all of his states and rivers in the right places, we would not be lauding him for his brilliance in doing so. getting geography right, even 100% right, is not sufficient for doing valuable history.

is getting geography 100% right *necessary* for valuable history? i doubt it.

in any case, i am much more troubled by his failures of analysis than by his failures of fact. putting rivers in the right place is trivial; not knowing whether they are obstacles or highways is not. the name of the british p.m. may be ancillary to this book; the identity of the soldiers being honored at gettysburg is not.

#6 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:49 AM:

I adore Keegan, and the point about "doesn't anyone edit anymore?" cannot be made often enough ... but, all that said, I don't know that I would ever buy a Civil War history written by a non-American. Sometimes home terrain DOES matter.

#7 ::: Thirsty Gargoyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:58 AM:

I like Keegan a lot, and his work has hugely influenced mine, but this sounds very sloppy. I've also long been troubled by how in thrall he has been to Victor Hanson's understanding of Greek warfare, especially given the rather questionable nature of some of Hanson's key ideas.

#8 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:59 AM:

I'm sure someone at either publisher read the statistics on Keegan's previous book sales, and the sales figures for Civil War books, and came up with projected sales and revenues for this book. By the time they got done with that work there probably wasn't time to read the actual book, and anyway what's the point of that? Is there any evidence that facts affect sales?

#9 ::: legionseagle ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:09 AM:

The stuff about Disrael is even more mindboggling in context. It's page 62 and the full quote is as follows: "Inexplicably, Gladstone was a pro-Southerner while the Conservative Prime Minister Disraeli and his foreign secretary Lord John Russell opposed recognising the Confederacy throughout the War."

This manages to get key facts wrong about no fewer than four British Prime Ministers in 25 words(the invisible man in the sentence being Palmerston, who actually was PM until he died in October 1865).

First, Gladstone's "inexplicable" pro-southern sentiments. Yes: I suppose it's really inexplicable that the son of a slave-owner, born in Britain's second biggest slave-trade port, whose family money came largely from sugar plantations, whose maiden speech in the House of Commons had been opposition to the Emancipation Act of 1833 would have inclined more towards the Confederacy side of things in the Civil War.

Disraeli didn't become PM until 1868: he was, however, actually a Conservative, in a rare brush with historical accuracy given the context. Unlike the foreign secretary Lord John Russell, who was a Liberal, and in fact became Prime Minister himself in Oct 1865.

According to The Education of Henry Adams he believed at the time that Lord John Russell was pro-Confederacy and extremely surprised to discover from later papers and memoires that he'd been wrong.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:21 AM:

the Mississippi, with which they connect, denies the Union any hope of penetration

"It's the couch for you tonight, dear."

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:33 AM:

legionseagle #9: I'm sitting here boggling at the thought that Keegan could commit that large a howler in British history.

I, too, really enjoyed The Face of Battle, though I found the historical theorising contained therein rather shallow.

#12 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:37 AM:

legionseagle @9: Thank you for the quote. It's even wronger than you say.

First, any discussion of Gladstone's Southern sympathies should first consider the distress that the war caused the cotton trade in Liverpool, Gladstone's home town. That's so obvious that "inexplicable" is an inexplicable way to describe Gladstone's attitude.

I suspect the cotton trade loomed far larger in his mind than lingering sympathies for the slave trade or the sugar plantations, especially considering Gladstone's proto-Wilsonian attitudes towards world affairs in later life.

What's inexplicable is why Gladstone would go out publicly and stick his foot in his mouth on the subject when his colleagues the PM and Foreign Secretary, whose department this was, were keeping a studied neutrality with Northern leanings.

Second, British noble titles again. "Lord John Russell" is the correct way to refer to the guy only up to 1861. After that he was "Lord Russell" or "John, Lord Russell" or "Earl Russell" (any of these is correct, but "Lord John" no longer was). He is one of the few individuals in British history to be both Lord Firstname and Lord Lastname [actually Lord Title], but you can't be both at the same time.

#13 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:50 AM:

Columbina @ 6: I don't know that I would ever buy a Civil War history written by a non-American. Sometimes home terrain DOES matter.

I think that it's good to have perspectives from insiders and outsiders. Sure, the outsiders don't necessarily know all the little historical and cultural things that insiders take for granted, but on the other hand they don't take all those things for granted and can see things that insiders are completely blind to. That said, in this case it doesn't necessarily look like this is the book for that.

#14 ::: L. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:53 AM:

is getting geography 100% right *necessary* for valuable history? i doubt it.

Having my state's place as a border state totally usurped by Tennessee with this error, (and with considerable pride in my own family Civil War history and with Civil War historians in my immediate family), I would have to say that geography is pretty damn important, even incidental geography. Saying it doesn't matter as much because it's not relevant geography is like saying you shouldn't bother to use proper grammar because you're just writing a work email. It's the sort of accuracy that's important all the time.

Geography was desperately important to the people fighting the war. It helped to shape the ideals and the causes of the people fighting the war. It should be at least as important to the people writing about it. If you don't walk the fields over and over again, if you don't know each creek and sunken road, then you're talking through your hat, as far as I'm concerned.

But that could also be my bruised pride as a (typographically omitted) Kentuckian.

#15 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:54 AM:

kid bitzer, I think getting the geography as correct as possible is important in many areas of history writing; in military historiography, the terrain is such a significant issue in both tactical and strategic planning that screwing the facts up is calamaitous.

But hey, Tennessee and Kentucky (the state that does border on Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio) are both states in the southeastern US which produce maize-based whiskey and are much longer on the east-west axis than they are on the north-south one. So it's all good, right? Never mind that Tennessee has surveyed (and so mostly straight) borders and that Kentucky's northern border is shaped by the line of that strategically and tactically-important Ohio River. Never mind that Tennessee officially seceeded from the Union (despite considerable dissent in the eastern regions, and scattered dissent elsewhere in the state) and that Kentucky's pro-secession factions did not succeed in taking the state out of the Union, despite an invasion by Braxton Bragg intended to facilitate this. Because which state stayed in the Union and which left couldn't possibly be important either, from a military point of view.

What the hell is Keegan smoking, or should we be looking forward to a distressing announcement about his health in the near future?

#16 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:59 AM:

The title of this post sent me to Flashback City, so I thought I'd send y'all a postcard:

"Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not 'Every man for himself.' And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."

#17 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Also, VDH's writings about ancient military history always give me the uncomfortable impression that he's worried about his penis shrinking.

#18 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:03 PM:

I would like to add that Andrew Willett has just won himself an internet, with all the rights and privileges attendant thereto.

#19 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:11 PM:

Could it have been ghost-written? Maybe Keegan gave his notes to somebody, or left the fact-finding to others and only wrote the final draft to give his style to it.

It seems rather strange to go from "esteemed historian" to "can't check on a map what states Tennessee shares a border with". Especially since I'm pretty sure there are lots of USians that would need to check on an atlas before they commit the list to paper.

(This is not, of course, to excuse Keegan: quite the opposite. But it would explain things.)

#20 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:13 PM:

kid bitzer @5

I think that the importance of the geographical details is partly dependent on the nature of the war being described. The Napoleonic wars (and to a large extent the eastern theater of the US Civil War) were Clausewitzian wars of annihilation. The goal wasn't the occupation of any geographical feature or landmark, but the destruction of the enemy army. The Western theater of the USCW, by contrast, was all about rivers and mountain ranges, with Federal forces trying to cut off the rivers and valleys that allowed communication between the eastern and western halves of the Confederacy. (It's worth noting that the western theater is where most of the errors seem to be focused.)

The other point worth making is that geography is more important to the USCW because the U.S. has got more of it. The Napoleonic Wars took place largely on the plains of Northern Europe. There just wasn't any geographic feature that loomed as large in Napoleon's campaigns as the Mississippi or the Blue Ridge Mountains did in the campaigns of the USCW.

That's not to say this stuff is easy. I've read my share of Civil War histories, and I wouldn't be able to keep the narratives of any of the campaigns straight without a good map in front of me. But that's all the more reason to get this stuff right. A military historian who can't be bothered to make constant reference to a map of the terrain involved seems a little bit like an accountant who can't be bothered to refresh his memory of the tax code before preparing your return.

#21 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:18 PM:

I don't want to defend Keegan, but isn't he nearly eighty? His editors should have been backstopping him more to prevent senior moments from going into print.

#22 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:19 PM:

Wow. Does make you wonder if anyone was in charge anywhere, or just rubber-stamped it because, after all, it was Keegan. Didn't they at least send it to a qualified outside reader first? I've read manuscripts for several smaller publishers and caught errors -- if you can't afford to keep someone in-house, having an outside reader is surely an affordable alternative. I mean, this is Knopf -- surely they can afford a couple of thousand dollars for a referee?

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Did he get the Red River campaign in Louisiana, or move it somewhere else?

(Like L Baird, I'm boggled by him losing KY. Um, Paducah, mr Keegan: not in TN.)

#24 ::: legionseagle ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:22 PM:

David Bratman@12 I'm extremely reluctant to attribute to Gladstone any genuine concern for the Lancashire cotton workers*, though I'm quite sure that he might have had a very great concern for the Lancashire mill owners, calico printers and cotton finishers as well as the Liverpool shipping businesses, all of which were suffering from the Cotton Famine and most of whom were solidly Liberal supporters (and funders). However, the fact that his own family fortune was heavily dependent on slave wealth is, and remains, a relevant factor to consider when wondering why he chose to make his Confederate sympathies so obvious in the autumn of 1862 ("What is more, they have made a nation")to the embarrassment of his Cabinet colleagues.

* In any event, on 23 December 1862 the cotton workers made a point of sending a address to Lincoln assuring him of their support, which rather scuppered any pretence by Gladstone of acting in their support.

#25 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:23 PM:

Anna FDD--Per Wikipedia, Keegan is now 75 years of age, and it is possible he left too much to assistants and didn't bother to check their work closely. Given how easy it should have been to catch some of these errors, one really has to wonder just what was going on.

#26 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:26 PM:

Fidelio @17:

Also, VDH's writings about ancient military history always give me the uncomfortable impression that he's worried about his penis shrinking.

I stopped paying attention to anything Hanson wrote (except to mock it) when I realized that he thought that the problem with the Athenian's Sicilian campaign (which Thucydides persuasively argues constituted the largest long distance naval invasion ever mounted at that time) was that the Athenians just didn't have the resolve to really commit to it.

Hanson has long been one of the leading lights of what Matthew Yglesias termed the Green Lantern School of Geopolitics.

#27 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Could it have been ghost-written? Maybe Keegan gave his notes to somebody, or left the fact-finding to others and only wrote the final draft to give his style to it.

Like Stephen Ambrose? I read one of his recent books and was brought up short by a sentence that made it perfectly obvious that the author had used as his source the film "The Great Escape" - a reference to the recaptured escapees being rounded up, herded together into a field and machinegunned, which is one of the final scenes of the film but never happened in reality. (Actually, they were killed a few at a time in various different places, which is much less cinematic.)

#28 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:35 PM:

maybe i'm just sensitive because of that time in high school history class when i said that alaska was acquired in the louisiana purchase.

i mean, come on! it could have been, right?
and think of the similarities--large land purchase from a cash-strapped european empire. both states with an 'l' in their names. also, seafood.

#29 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:35 PM:

Atlanta Nights, vol II?

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:42 PM:

ajay @ 27... one of the final scenes of the film

Did you ever notice that the recaptured escapee who was dressed as a German soldier was played by Lawrence Montaigne, aka Stonn on Star Trek's "Amok Time". Yes, I am a geek, why do you ask?

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:43 PM:

I don't know shit about history, especially Civil War history, but even I know that the GA was about the Union dead giving their lives to keep the Union together.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Not that far north from here is the farthest West that the Secession War was fought.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass, fought from March 26 – 28, 1862 in northern New Mexico Territory, was the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign during the American Civil War. Dubbed the "Gettysburg of the West" by some historians, it was intended as the killer blow by Confederate forces to break the Union possession of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains. It was fought at Glorieta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in what is now New Mexico, and was an important event in the history of the New Mexico Territory in the American Civil War.
#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 01:08 PM:

Serge @ #32, Arizonans would quibble about your characterization of Glorietta Pass as "farthest West." The Battle of Picacho Pass, you New Mexico-centric fink!

(Okay, twelve Union cavalry members v. ten Confederate pickets do not a major engagement make.)

#34 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 01:16 PM:

legionseagle @24: I didn't say that Gladstone's concern was for the cotton workers, but the cotton trade. However, it turns out that Gladstone was concerned about the cotton workers:

"Throughout the summer of 1862 Gladstone and his wife did their best to provide relief work on the Hawarden estate for cotton operatives who had been thrown out of employment. Gladstone's mind was full of their sufferings when he visited Newcastle-on-Tyne on 7 October, 1862, at the start of a triumphant political tour of the industrial North-East. He found himself hailed for the first time as the Parliamentary hero of the masses." - Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (Murray, 1954), p. 153.

As for Gladstone's motivations, another distinguished biographer discusses them thus:

"He was not in fact particularly pro-South. He was much more akin to a man of Massachusetts than to one of South Carolina. ... Gladstone at this stage had some anti-American prejudices of a type prevalent in England ... He regarded them as a crude and braggart people." - Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: A Biography (Random House, 1997), p. 238.

Jenkins goes on to note Gladstone's later apology, in which he claimed that he had been trying to be purely descriptive rather than advocatory: "Many who wished well to the Northern cause despaired of its success," quoth Gladstone. But Jenkins is skeptical of this as a retcon, and quotes John Bright at the time, as saying that Gladstone "is as unstable as water in some things; he is for union and freedom in Italy and for dissention and bondage in America." (ibid, p. 238-9)

Neither Magnus nor Jenkins, both immensely respected biographers of Gladstone, say much about the influence on Gladstone's thought of his family's financial history, either in this context or in discussing Gladstone's background. It is certainly possible that it had a place; I do not deny it though you respond as if I had; but if it was more than minimal I would appreciate reference to some equally distinguished scholars saying so, rather than taking the word of Some Pseudonymous Guy On The Internet.

#35 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 01:23 PM:

Serge @30

Did you ever notice that the recaptured escapee who was dressed as a German soldier was played by Lawrence Montaigne, aka Stonn on Star Trek's "Amok Time". Yes, I am a geek, why do you ask?

That's funny, I could have sworn it was that other guy, the one who played Decius in "Balance of Terror."

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Mary Dell @ 35... I knew that, but I thought I'd come across as even geekier if I revealed the vast extent of my knowwledge.

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 01:49 PM:

linkmeister @ 33... A fink, moi? Monsieur, zis eez a great offense.

#38 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:02 PM:

I'd be interested in the way the contracts were structured. Was Keegan under contract to Hutchinson, who in turn contracted with Knopf? If so, it would have been a Hutchinson editor who accepted Keegan's manuscript. I would not expect a reasonably well-educated Englishman (or woman) to catch the items which serve as red flags to Americans brought up, as it were, on the American Civil War. We don't learn the Gettysburg Address by heart in the fourth grade. Keegan confuses rivers which are just names to Englishmen; he confuses Tenntucky and Kenessee, an easy enough error to make. It’s equally amazing that nobody at UK publisher Hutchinson remembered that Disraeli wasn’t actually Prime Minister yet in the years 1861-1865. No, it's not. I left school with the distinct impression that there had only been two Victorian Prime Ministers, Gladstone and Disraeli, who alternated.

If Knopf's contract was with Hutchinson, rather than directly with Keegan, they may have had only limited options with respect to the MS, once Hutchinson had accepted it.

#39 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:11 PM:

Serge @36: Your knowwledge is so vast it has an extra W!

#40 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:25 PM:

@27 ajay Stephen Ambrose is a novelist, though. I have never taken his history seriously.

#41 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:29 PM:

@38 I know the Gettysburg Address, not by heart but well enough to know how long it is, what it addresses, and why it's silly to say that it ignored Union soldiers. And I'm Italian.
Also, the Gettysburg Address, correct me if I'm wrong, is carved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial. Now, if you are a historian, and you've ever been in Washington DC, don't tell me that you haven't been to the Lincoln Memorial. And if you are an historian, writing about the Civil War, and you haven't been to Washington DC, what kind of an historian are you?

#42 ::: Liz W ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:41 PM:

I was rather predictably assigned Keegan's "Face of Battle" as a text for a course on the history of modern warfare. The professor recommended we check out any of Keegan's earlier titles, but warned us that his later books descended more and more into pop-history and were much less academically rigorous. I can't speak to this myself, having not read any others, but that seems to be the general opinion among my military history profs.

#43 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 02:47 PM:

AnnaFDD: In line with your observation, I would think that Lincoln's writings (both speeches and other pieces) would be an essential for reading by a historian working on any general piece about the USCW--for the simple reason that he was president of the US, and his writings while in office would have a direct bearing on the war he was in charge of conducting. Granted the Gettysburg Address is a short and fairly minor piece in comparison with the carload lot of other writings*, but ignorance of the context in which it was delivered is not promising for the remainder of the book.

*Compared to, say, the Emancipation Proclamation and associated writings, his addresses to Congress, and the Second Inaugural Address, plus all the strictly military correspondence. It doesn't say much about strategy or tactics, or about his war policies, which is in keeping with the circumstances of its delivery.

#44 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:04 PM:

For those interested, here, thanks to Wikimedia Commons, is the text of the Bliss copy (the only one with Lincoln's signature) of the Gettysburg Address:

Address delivered at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln.
November 19, 1863,

That took me all of 30 seconds to find, including opening a new browser window.

Not only are Lincoln's writings fairly accessible online, a research library with anything like adequate coverage of American History (the sort of library where you'd do research, on, say, the USCW) would be likely to have a set. They have also been fairly thoroughly dissected and discussed in the last 145 or so years, with careful consideration of what he said, might have intended to say, and might be saying in between the lines.

I can see how someone who did not know anything about the circumstances in which the address was delivered (dedication of graveyard for Union dead) might take the words "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here," as including both sides, but you have to ignore most of the rest of the text (and know noting of the context) to get there.

Keegan's UK publisher gets a fail for trusting that a distinguished historian would make no errors that would need to be checked; Keegan and his staff get a Great Big Fail.

#45 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:15 PM:

fidelio @15: I note that Keegan was born in 1934, and so is presumably 75. This sounds to me like a combination of little or no research assistants, a failing memory (Alzheimer's, anyone?) and editors who didn't bother editing because they were overworked and knew Keegan was a star who could be trusted to hand in a clean manuscript.

Ouch.

#46 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:22 PM:

Charlie--Quite likely, or instead of no assistants, try assistants who were in over their heads on this topic, but who were trusted a little too well by a boss who was not in any shape (and physical health could as limiting a factor as any mental problem) to follow up and check on them.

#47 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:29 PM:

A reviewer at History News Network noting geographical errors in an earlier work of Keegan's about North American military history. This review dates from 2003; the book reviewed was published in 1999.

#48 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:38 PM:

Christopher Bassford takes on Keeegan's anti-Clausewitz issues here; Keegan's Clausewitz problem is a longstanding issue, as noted in the Wikipedia piece on Keegan.

#49 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 03:42 PM:

Yikes!

I think this case also highlights the ongoing need for academic publishers. I rant all the time about scholarly presses that take years to grind a manuscript through their peer review process and charge $150 for a trade paperback, but there are some kinds of books that popular publishers just aren't equipped to edit properly.

As a grad student in history, I've witnessed the drama and gnashing of teeth that occurs when a publisher rejects an historian's book manuscript because an anonymous peer reviewer trashed it, but at least that process usually prevents the kind of public train wreck we see here.

#50 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:03 PM:

I recently "edited" a Hawaiian history book intended for the popular market: lots of pictures, text by a journalist. The text was a trainwreck, and the press wasn't paying me to completely rewrite it. I still ended up rewriting a few sections (which is why I wrote "edited") because there were some mistakes that were too gross to ignore.

Academic press has to be better? HA! I recently proofread a book on Hawaiian history put out by a university press, in which the author misquoted, screwed up the Hawaiian language passages, and expressed his belief in menehune (mythical little people said to live in remote valleys).

State of publishing. Aarrgh. Rant. Grrr.

#51 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:04 PM:

Good Lord, but that's bad. I like Keegan's work (and the friends I know who studied with/under him rate him highly).

I had hoped that, before he tried another book on US history he (or his publishers) should have learned from the mistakes in "Fields of Battle (which was written in the late '90s) which was decent; in the general ideas, but suffered from some bad geography, and glossing of timelines (the retreat at Shiloh was occaisoned by the confederate commander being killed, not caused by him).

kid bitzer: Face Of Battle would have sufferefd if he put Harfluer ten miles from Agincourt. Given that the example given has those rivers acting as defensive barriers; and then later as lines of attack (which aren't mutually incompatable; if the Union needed time to figure out how to deal with the rivers they can have slowed them before they enabled them), it most decidedly matters where they were.

Since the premise of the book seems to be the effect of geography on strategy, it can't be written off without some justification for why the errrors aren't part and parcel of the theory.

If he needs concrete examples to support the claims, those examples have to be accurate to the theses.

Columbina: Do you extend that same parochialism to histories of British, or French conflicts?

Sometimes home terrain is blinding.


Chris W. Not all the Eastern War was that way. First Bull Run is a classic example of outdated thinking (the South held the field, and so thought the issue decided. In a strange way they were suffering from the idea the lessons of the US Revolution, and the campaigns of Napoleon (both before and after he supplanted the Revolution).

McClellans attempt to flank the Confederacy by invading them (in the same way MacArthur later succeeded at Inchon) was an attempt to win by strategic action, not brute force.

It's also worth noting the generals who used the brute force approach in the East were the same one's who used the geograhic warfare of the West. It's an interesting question as to whether the terrain in the East dictated some of the WW1 presaging behaviors in the Eastern Theater.

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:12 PM:

fidelio, #43: "the Gettysburg Address is a short and fairly minor piece"

Short, certainly. Minor: you'll get some argument on that point. Garry Wills, one of my favorite public intellectuals, won a Pulitzer Prize for Lincoln at Gettysburg, an book that argues that the Gettysburg Address was the spearpoint of Lincoln's campaign to establish that the republic's founding document was the Declaration of Independence, with its self-evident truths about equality and rights and the laws of nature and nature's God, rather than the slavery-ratifying Constitution, favored tool of sixty years' worth of Southern politicians.

Wills may or may not be right, but Lincoln at Gettysburg is one of those works of compact, exhilarating argument that's pure pleasure to read from beginning to end. And you'll learn the importance of the early-19th-century rural-cemetery movement, epitomized by Mount Auburn in Boston and Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a mere half block from the vast chromium-and-steel headquarters of Nielsen Hayden Enterprises! More to the point, Wills' book is a solid reminder that there were reasons people were so impressed with the Gettysburg Address; it's not just that it features a bunch of quotable lines, or that it's short enough to carve onto public walls.

#53 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:26 PM:

I can see how someone who did not know anything about the circumstances in which the address was delivered (dedication of graveyard for Union dead) might take the words "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here," as including both sides,

Especially if he thought the Civil War was humans vs. zombies.

#54 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:35 PM:

Patrick--The Wills book is everything you say, and a very large bag of chips as well. Maybe even a dip item of your choice into the bargain.

In terms of Lincoln's political writings about the war, the Gettysburg Address is a Great Big Thing; in terms of military- or policy-planning, not so much. It wasn't intended to be, of course, and I've always found it interesting that most people at the time thought of it as a little thing, the sort of piece the Chief Executive was expected to turn out in great numbers at various public appearances where "a few words" from that official were expected.

(AsyouknowBob, the major address at Gettysburg was delivered by Edward Everett, one of the era's great professional public speakers. His remarks are no doubt findable (it was a big whacking long speech; people wanted their money's worth for a speaking engagement in those days) but Lincoln's little piece is the one that endures. Everett himself was impressed by how much Lincoln managed to do in so few words; other reactions were somewhat mixed.)

#55 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:37 PM:

DonBoy--That explains it--this book was written by ZombieJohn Keegan!

#56 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:49 PM:

@6: I don't know that I would ever buy a Civil War history written by a non-American. Sometimes home terrain DOES matter.

And I only read histories of Etruscans written by Etruscans.

#57 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Terry @51

Chris W. Not all the Eastern War was that way. First Bull Run is a classic example of outdated thinking (the South held the field, and so thought the issue decided. In a strange way they were suffering from the idea the lessons of the US Revolution, and the campaigns of Napoleon (both before and after he supplanted the Revolution).

McClellans attempt to flank the Confederacy by invading them (in the same way MacArthur later succeeded at Inchon) was an attempt to win by strategic action, not brute force.

I didn't mean to imply that the eastern theater was always a war of annihilation. And I think that before Grant explicitly adopted the annihilationist logic, Union strategy was somewhat overdetermined. I.e. with Lee committed to the defense of Richmond, it was irrelevant whether Union commanders wanted to destroy Lee's army in order to capture Richmond or they wanted to outflank and attack Richmond because that was where Lee's army was. You can read the peninsular campaign either way, and for the first part of the war I don't think Union commanders distinguished much between the two.

It's also worth noting the generals who used the brute force approach in the East were the same one's who used the geograhic warfare of the West. It's an interesting question as to whether the terrain in the East dictated some of the WW1 presaging behaviors in the Eastern Theater.

I think that redounds to the flexibility and ability of Grant and Sherman as strategists. One point where I agree with Keegan is that while they never showed the tactical flashes of brilliance that characterized Lee, Sherman and Grant were the only two generals who saw the totality of the war clearly and charted a clear, plausible course to victory.

It is an interesting thought. It may just be my natural contrarian, but the more I read about WWI the more I'm convinced that, contra the view that the war and it's horrors were somehow inevitable products of technology and politics, the unique awfulness of the western front was produced by a unique confluence of factors that were hardly inevitable.

I'd also add one other factor which was the force imbalance between East and West. My recollection (based on Weighley, but I can't find the cite right now) is that the Union had roughly equal numbers of men on either side of the Kentucky/Virginia border, while Confederate manpower, partly owing to Lee's influence, was heavily concentrated in Northern Virginia. So, not only were there lots of important rivers and passes for Union troops to occupy, they weren't faced with an imminent threat like the Army of Northern Virginia which would force them to concentrate and not disperse to occupy them.

#58 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 05:08 PM:

Chris Lawson @ 56:
And I only read histories of Etruscans written by Etruscans.

Zombie Etruscan writers, I presume?

#60 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 05:55 PM:

Mary Dell @ 39... I take it that you are in awwwwe of my geeeky knowwwledge?

#61 ::: Jason Aronowitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 06:38 PM:

I wonder what the differences, small at the time of the Civil War, have become in Alternate Keegan's original world? I wager that he seems disoriented, and stares at his daily paper in amazement.

#62 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 07:07 PM:

"Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

"Germans?"

"Forget it, he's rolling."

#63 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 07:17 PM:

I must protest against this abomination of using a W to indicate extra knoledge. Anyone who survived the last eight years knos W is the opposite of knoledge, and putting extra Ws in the word is an oxymoron at best.

#64 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 07:30 PM:

eyelessgame @ 63... In the case of the oxymoron, no 'k' is needed either. He did seem to be proud of his noledge.

#65 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Columbina @6: I don't know that I would ever buy a Civil War history written by a non-American. Sometimes home terrain DOES matter.

One of the more interesting books about the Civil War I recall reading in high school (albeit independent reading) was written by Winston Churchill.

#66 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 08:32 PM:

I've read and enjoyed a number of Keegan's books, but got partway into his last attempt at North American military history, "Fields of Battle" and returned it to the library. The introduction smacked of hagiography; his (professed) pro-American stance was even odder when he was covering the War of 1812 and other British-American conflicts, given he's a Brit himself.

Sounds like this ACW book is a trainwreck of a different colour, though. Basic geography does matter, and is, well, basic.

One Keegan-related book I will recommend is called "The Book of War", it's a selection of other's writing on war, much of it autobiographical, with short introductions for context by Keegan. Lots of good stuff there.

#67 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 08:57 PM:

Chris W., 57: the more I read about WWI the more I'm convinced that, contra the view that the war and it's horrors were somehow inevitable products of technology and politics, the unique awfulness of the western front was produced by a unique confluence of factors that were hardly inevitable.

I'd like to hear you elaborate on this, but you can wait till Teresa posts her usual 11/11 thread if you wish...

Rob Rusick, 65: One of the more interesting books about the Civil War I recall reading in high school...was written by Winston Churchill.

Not that surprising; Churchill's mother was American by birth and he was apparently very attached to her.

#68 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 09:12 PM:

Not to mention Churchill's ability to make things interesting in general.

#69 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:22 PM:

Chris Q:

Briefly, so as not to derail the thread with a wall of text.

a) Kaiser Wilhelm's relentless pursuit of the trappings of English European dominance (A powerful blue water fleet, a large collection of overseas colonies) needlessly antagonised the British, who could have easily coexisted with a Germany content to dominate the Continent. (No High Seas Fleet, no Anglo-French Entente, no British Expeditionary Force.)

b) I think there's a plausible argument that the audacious original version of the Schlieffen plan would have resulted in a much more decisive opening phase of the war, either by allowing the German right to envelop Paris before the main French forces could recover from their assault on Metz or by precipitating the collapse of the weakened German forces around Metz.

c) I think that some sort of conflict was likely in the early 20th century as Great Britain ceased to be the premier industrial power and Germany took its place, but technology, politics and economics were changing so rapidly that a war fought in 1920 or 1910 might have had a dramatically different character than the one fought in 1914. There was always going to be some damn thing in the Balkans, but it's important that it was some damn thing in the late fall of 1914.

d) The unique awfulness of the Western front, and the whole inexorable drive to war in the Fall of 1914 was largely determined by worries about mobilization tables and the conviction that the country who delayed mobilization would suffer the fate of France in 1870. This is premised on a very specific set of "lessons learned" from the European wars of the 19th century and a very specific failure to learn from conflicts like the ACW and the Russo-Japanese war. The lessons drawn by the European military establishment seem, in hindsight, uniquely suited to make the war as horrible, bloody and indecisive as it was.

#70 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:28 PM:

Kid Bitzer @5, you can't understand the Civil War without understanding the geography, and I'll argue that you can't understand American history in general if you don't get the importance of rivers. Keegan's not the first European writer I've seen miss that point.

I'll also argue that we're splitting hairs, because even if we ignore geography, that book's still got enough facts-what-ain't to warrant condemning it. (Disraeli. Jeez. Even *I* knew off the top of my head that it was Palmerston.)

Want to see an awful passage? Jim Macdonald was discussing it with me earlier today. Afterward, when I used Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature and randomly searched on “Brooklyn,” I found myself reading the same passage he'd been describing. The subject here is the Confederate navy:

“Their hope of achieving naval supremacy was invested in a U.S. Navy steam frigate, Merrimack, which had been scuttled on secession but raised and repaired. To transform her, the Confederate Navy Department commandeered the output of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond so as to cover her in iron plate, enough to protect her 172 feet, but that, of course, robbed her of freeboard. She lay so low in the water that she resembled a raft...”
I've read The Face of Battle several times, and will no doubt read it again; but that paragraph I just quoted was painful. Let's review it:
“Their hope of achieving naval supremacy
Was nil. At best, they kept the Union blockade semi-permeable.
was invested in a U.S. Navy steam frigate, Merrimack,
Wrong name. The Merrimack burned to the waterline and sank in the Elizabeth river, from which the remains were subsequently raised. The engines and the lower part of the hull were reused as part of an ironclad vessel, which was commissioned as the CSS Virginia.
which had been scuttled
The Merrimack wasn't scuttled. She caught fire when the ship outboard of her position was burned.
on secession
Nearly a year after secession, when the Gosport Navy Yards were threatened with imminent takeover.
but raised and repaired.
Raised, yes; but it's not "repair" when you recycle salvaged parts to build a new and very different ship.
To transform her, the Confederate Navy Department commandeered the output of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond,
Yaaaaay! He got that right! The Tredegar Iron works are, in fact, in Richmond!
so as to cover her in iron plate, enough to protect her 172 feet,
Uh-oh. The CSS Virginia was 275 feet long, and that's a worse error than you think, because the Monitor was 172 feet long. Can Keegan have mixed up the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor?
but that, of course, robbed her of freeboard.
Yup! He's lost track of which ship was which. The Monitor was the one with the freeboard problem.
She lay so low in the water that she resembled a raft...”
That confirms it. People compared the Virginia to a turtle, or to the peaked roof of a house, but they never called her a raft. That term has always been used to describe the Monitor. The classic line is that she looked like a cheesebox on a raft.

That's bad. It's like mixing up Albert Sidney Johnston and Joseph Johnston, or Cemetery and Seminary Ridge, or J.E.B. Stuart and Jeb Stuart Magruder. A Civil War history that can't tell the Monitor from the Virginia ought not go into print.

#71 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:46 PM:

Chris W., 69: Thank you, but if I may nitpick, the damn thing in the Balkans was June 28, 1914, with ramifications throughout July; hence, the guns of August. (I'm fascinated with the House of Habsburg.)

#72 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 11:05 PM:

Chris Quinones:

Of course, my error. (I had 11/11 on the brain after you mentioned it. I suspect the main reason I keep making that particular error is because this is the time of year I tend to think about The War To End All Wars, and years of reading Theresa's 11/11 post probably has something to do with that.)

#73 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 12:39 AM:

Coincidentally, an exchange of fangirl mail with Elizabeth Pisani, whose book "The Wisdom of Whores" is excellent and full of sense, good writing and good cheer (not easy given the subject matter) brought on this link on the subject of, among other things, staff cutbacks in publishing:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/10/19/091019sh_shouts_weiner

I feel I have to share.

#74 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 12:40 AM:

Sorry: I meant to link this

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 01:41 AM:

KeithS, #13: If there were a Nobel Prize in Understatement, I would nominate that post for it.

#76 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 05:25 AM:

The professor recommended we check out any of Keegan's earlier titles, but warned us that his later books descended more and more into pop-history and were much less academically rigorous.

I think that would hit it. A History of Warfare is good but it's already showing Toryish sweeping statements about hordes of stalwart riders etc in places.

He wrote an instant book about Iraq in 2003 that basically sucked up to the US Department of Defense quite embarrassingly. If it hadn't, it couldn't have been written at the time without the access. I remember reading bits of it and thinking "Oh God, there goes Keegan".

About the rivers thing, this is not necessarily stupid. There's a levels of analysis issue here.

In the context of the Civil War, where you're beginning to see the combination of pretty good operational and strategic level transport - railways and steamships - and nothing but shanks' pony at the tactical level that dominated the First World War, a river is a barrier at the tactical level but a highway at the operational and, at least for the Mississippi, at the strategic level.

If you're standing on one side of the river wondering how you'll get across to get at Johnny Reb, or wondering how long it'll keep the feds on the other side, it's a barrier; if you're wondering how to supply the advance into Virginia, or wherever, it's an opportunity.

#77 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 05:54 AM:

As a fellow countryman of Keegan, I confess to having thought the Gettysburg Address was 10, Main Street, Gettysburg. But if I was planning to write about it in a book, I'd familiarise myself with it. I can only assume that in this case Keegan was relying on memory across 50 years or so, but even then, you'd think that once you'd read the thing the gist of it would stay with you. It's not complex.

Teresa's point about rivers in American history can be generalised to any other land mass, and is surprisingly little understood. Generally, when I come across a historian who understands rivers I come away impressed, even if they're weak in other respects. You'd think that Keegan, who must understand rivers as battlefield features (about #7 in the list of what's important about them in history), might get it. Shame he doesn't.

#78 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 08:52 AM:

TNH @ 70: The Merrimack wasn't scuttled. She caught fire when the ship outboard of her position was burned.

Is this true? The NY Times has a pair of eyewitness accounts (click through for pdf) of the Merrimack and the other ships at Gosport being scuttled and burned in two distinct operations1 over the weekend of 19th-20th April 1861 (ie within days of Virginia's secession). That said, the freeboard problems, the 172 feet and the "raft" comment definitely sound like Keegan's confusing her with the Monitor. (Shelby Foote has the men of the Virginia actually mistaking the Monitor for a raft carrying a ship's boiler, until she opens fire on them.) Add that to the geographical errors and the Disraeli business, and it's all pretty damning.

It's such a pity. I thought Face of Battle was excellent and I loved Six Armies in Normandy, but then I guess the 1970s/80s were a long time ago.


1. Admittedly the chronology is a bit confused: the first account seems to have Merrimack already scuttled when the Pawnee arrives on the evening of the 19th, where the other has her ready to fire on the Pawnee at that point. Both seem clear that she was already flooded before being set afire, though.

#79 ::: Jeffrey Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 09:10 AM:

he confuses Tenntucky and Kenessee, an easy enough error to make.

Like confusing Scotland and Northumberland.

#80 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 09:31 AM:

Teresa @70:

I have "Monitor and Merrimack" permanently paired in my head, much like "Lewis and Clark" or "Rome and Carthage." I am almost certain that pairing comes from elementary school history books which referred to the Monitor dueling the Merrimack.. Is it (or was it) common for the CSS Virginia to be referred to as the Merrimack? I note that googling "Monitor and Merrimack" brings up lots of web pages.

If so, I'd be willing to forgive that lapse on Keegan's part, particularly since the sentence in question is somewhat ambiguous: he refers both to the original ship and the rebuilt confederate ship.

Confusing it with the Monitor, though, is a big boo-boo. They were so very, very different in general appearance.

#81 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 09:56 AM:

Nick at 80, I get a competence-ping whenever I hear of the Monitor and the Virginia. Most of the time, it's the Merrimack. I don't know if it's the alliteration or that I grew up in the north.

#82 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 09:57 AM:

Coming back late -

May I plead to a lesser offense? I am willing to cop to tunnel vision in this particular case, but I mistakenly gave the impression that I would extend that to other histories, etc. It's not a general stance. I have this peculiarity with the Civil War only.

This is because I was burned twice by non-Americans writing about the Civil War from a tone of distant condescension, e.g. "These strange Americans did these strange things and we don't understand it, we just present it as proof of their hopelessness."

(No, alas, I don't remember titles or authors. I read these books years ago.)

I don't mind reading a skewed history if I know where the biases lie in advance so that I can compensate for them. If I read the memoirs of Robert E. Lee (I don't actually know if he wrote any), I know where to adjust the measurements. But I do tend to get gun-shy whenever I encounter something written from a tone which dismisses the whole event or conflict entirely - which, I suppose, is probably what my comment sounded like and why I got the reactions I did to it! I apologize.

One thing about reading World War II histories is that this is a comparatively recent thing for me, starting about five years ago, and my bias detector is not very well tuned. This is one reason I try to read a wide variety of them; eventually I will learn who has what oddities - like John Keegan's Clausewitz thing, which was news to me until I read this thread.

#83 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 10:36 AM:

One thing about the transportation system during the Late Great Unpleasantness: the Union troops were getting things sent from home that included cakes and preserves, along with more basic supplies.(I'm at work, or I'd be giving you guotes from letters.)

#85 ::: martyn ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 01:45 PM:

Jeffrey Davis @ 79. No. Scotland is a country, with its own parliament in Edinburgh. Northumberland, where I live, is a county in England. They abut, but neither are states as Kentucky and Tennessee are.

In a supposedly definitive history written by a professional historian any of the factual defects mentioned should have been enough to prevent the book's publication. They are, frankly, both arrogant and insulting.

#86 ::: bph ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Delurking briefly,

What is odd about this is that Keegan wrote about Grant's career in the Mask of Command (a book that wonderfully savages Alexander the Great, btw). In that book, he talked glowingly about Grant's use of rivers in both operational and strategic terms, highlighting the importance of those rivers in penetrating (There is that Word again) the American West. Apparently, he has forgotten what he wrote in the mid-80s. This is really sad.

#87 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2009, 02:49 PM:

To give another "how did this get published?" headscratcher, Language Log reports on a HarperCollins writing guide that shows repeated cluelessness about what the subject of a sentence is.

#88 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 04:29 AM:

Concerning historians writing about the history of other countries than their own, I read with great interest a book about the campaign in Norway in 1940, by the French historian François Kersaudy (one of the interesting things about this book is that he was able to read primary sources in all the languages of the countries involved (that is, having troops in the field), including Polish).

#89 ::: Richard Cownie ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 07:20 AM:

"Face of Battle" is a terrific book, insightful,
and as far as I could tell, accurate. But "Mask of
Command" is nowhere near as good. And it sounds as
though he's gone a long way downhill.

As for why WW1 was so terrible, I don't think it
was inevitable: the Germans nearly won it quickly.
But the combination of technical factors was new:
railways to supply millions of men and thousands
of heavy guns, machine guns to make large zones
totally lethal, and barbed wire (first patented in
1867) to allow hundreds of miles of effective
fortification.

#90 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 10:11 AM:

Alex, #76: Language-geek question here. I'm familiar with the term "shanks' mare" for being on foot, but this is the first time I've encountered "shanks' pony". Where did you pick that up, IYDMMA?

#91 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 10:17 AM:

Linkmeister @ #33: The Battle of Picacho Pass ... twelve Union cavalry members v. ten Confederate pickets

And which side was the yellow rabbity thing on?

#92 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 10:36 AM:

yeah, the failures in this book pretty clearly go beyond incidental geo-trivia, to central issues of analysis.

that monitor/merrimack debacle is just astounding--how could you write a paragraph like that?

nope.
i still think that robust historical analysis can survive the occasional error of fact.

but this is just catastrophic failure--i don't know what larger point could reliably emerge from this pervasive matrix of wrong.

#93 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:00 AM:

The first thing I thought on reading this story was "is the book part of a textbook series?", because it's similar to what has happened there when a prominent author puts a name on what has been actually written by inexperienced and unsupervised staffers (I've personally seen that). Thinking that is actually IMO a bit more charitable than the other hypothesis, that the author doesn't know enough about the topic to be competent. But a sad thing all around. McPherson's review appeared to me to be quite restrained and that (again IMO) he didn't want to have to write it.

#94 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Lee @ 90: I'm guessing this is a UK/US thing, or something similarly geographic. The Shorter OED lists four variants - Shanks's Mare, Shanks' Mare, Shanks's Pony, Shanks' Pony - but as a native of SW England, the only one of these I've ever heard in conversation is "Shanks's Pony". My question for Alex would be, when you say it, do you actually say shanks or shankses?

#95 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:28 AM:

Paul A. @ 91: And which side was the yellow rabbity thing on?

I've always understood him to be a mousy thing (albeit a really long-eared one).

#96 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:34 AM:

Jon Meltzer, just because we don't know that John Keegan has a "history" book factory in the manner of Stephen Ambrose doesn't mean that something similar isn't happening.

Per Google, this is going to be a selection by more than one of the (commercial, not reading group) book clubs here in the US.

Because it's Keegan, don't you know.

#97 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:58 AM:

well, if there's a *market* for radically misleading histories of the civil war, i imagine we have talent to cook one up right here! and profit!

"...as the civil war dragged into its seventh year, mexican forces under general santa ana were defeated at the battle of rorke's drift by the indomitable long-bows of the stout english yeomanry. northern hopes for a swift victory were dashed when a massive explosion destroyed the state of maine, sending it to the bottom of a harbor in cuba. senator william jennings bryan argued that north and south should divorce for ever, with his rallying cry of "remember the alimony!"
but cardinal richelieu had other plans."

okay--when do we sign a contract with the book clubs? what's our take?

#98 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:16 PM:

But then, a shot rang out...suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon...

All we need is a famous name to publish it under.

#99 ::: pedantic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:30 PM:

fidelio @ 98... a shot rang out

Based on my limited experience with firearms, shots do not ring out. My ears certainly do ring afterward though.

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:34 PM:

It was a dark and stormy night at Fort Sumter. Suddenly, a shot rang out!

Is that what you meant, fidelio?

I like kid bitzer's beginning too.

The Union side had, of course, great superiority in numbers, due to their ability to mass-produce azi. The rebel alliance knew this, but advisers to Princess Leia put their hopes on the destruction of the Monitor (known to the rebels as the Death Star). A small group of intrepid commandos led by an insane dwarf attempted this, mounting a secret expedition into the harbor at Cetaganda, Mississipi (just across the Missouri River from Komarr, Maine).
#101 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:40 PM:

I'm familiar with the term "shanks' mare" for being on foot, but this is the first time I've encountered "shanks' pony". Where did you pick that up, IYDMMA?

I think "shank's pony" is the standard version in Britain. Certainly I've used it for 50 years and only recently encountered "shank's mare".

#102 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:53 PM:

On shanks' equines: Interesting. The New Oxford American dictionary lists "shanks' mare" and "shanks' pony", and says that it was first recorded as shanks-nag in R. Fergusson's Poems (1785).

#103 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 12:56 PM:

I think mine was the start of a chapter on the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, Xopher, with a teaser-switch from the commerce raider Alabama.

kid bitzer's paragraph appears to be a lead-in to the seige of Vicksburg (known for its strategic cough-medicine wells and Vapo-Rub seeps).

#104 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:00 PM:

I wonder if "shank's mare" is the older version. I'm more familiar with that one than with "shank's pony," and my knowledge of it comes entirely from literary sources.

#105 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:02 PM:

pedantic Serge--Don't tell Snoopy! (See the third example in the list, and no, I wasn't planning on ruining your work day; it's just that TVTropes was convenient when I needed a citation.)

#106 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:09 PM:

Wasn't the Alabama the one that was stolen by its crew so they could found a colony in the South Seas? Didn't William Boid write an opera about that?

#107 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:16 PM:

correct, fidelio; the siege of vixburg happened after the battle of drambuie.
it was during that same siege that gerald ford, noted impresario, staged the first high-stepping revue of palmerston's folies at ford's theater. oil billionaire and reclusive airplane designer j. paul getty arrived for the opening in a fabulous designer gown he had purchased a bergdorf goodman's, leading ford to quip that the world would little note nor long remember what happened on stage that night, but they sure got an eyeful of getty's bergdorf dress!

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:21 PM:

fidelio @ 105... There was an episode of ST-TN where I think Data was trapped inside a casino within the malfunctioning holodeck. The key to getting him out was in the text of a novel. Picard opens the book, and the first line is "It was a dark and stormy night..." He makes a this-is-not-going-to-be-easy comment but still he bravely throws himself into the task.

#109 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:25 PM:

No, the Alabama was built in the UK and sunk outside Cherbourg (I think) harbor, having never been in an American (Union- or Confederate-held) port. The Shenandoah, another commerce raider, continued taking ships until August 1865, and then surrenered to a British naval vessel, in the hope of avoiding piracy charges. I'd never heard of a South Seas colony attempt involving a Confederate ship.

#110 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Please note: When the battle of Drambuie took place, Grant was on tour with Henry Halleck and His Excavating Band, and so could not have appeared drunk on that battlefield, as he was playing keyboards in front of a large crowd at Yankee Stadium. Reports that after the show he was seen cavorting with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony appear to be unfounded.

#111 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 01:41 PM:

ChrisY @101, Andy Wilton @94 et al.

FWIW, I learned "shanks' mare" from my father, who grew up in Belfast, and I'm fairly sure I knew the phrase before we moved to the U.S. I had definitely never heard of Shanks' pony before today.

This website suggests that shanks' mare is an Irish variant, so perhaps it spread to the U.S. from there.

http://www.irelandlogue.com/about-ireland/irish-slang-shanks-mare.html

#112 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 02:29 PM:

Serge @ 108 -- That episode was "The Royale", with the action taking place on a planet notable for its surface temperature of -291C.

"'It was a dark and stormy night'... not a promising beginning..."

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 02:32 PM:

-291C? Now waitaminnit...

#114 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 02:41 PM:

I learned "shank's mare" from my father, who was born in Leicester, England (but spent time in Canada, Germany, and the USA before I was born, so who knows where he got it from?). I'd never heard the "pony" variant before. And it definitely was NOT "shankses".

#115 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 02:45 PM:

Patrick: That is a great book. It gave a wealth of context to the piece. Even if the argument about what Lincoln intended is wrong, the rest of the book more than makes up for it in how it gives perspective to the speech, and lifts it from the, "afterthought" position it gets sort of relegated to (being so short, after an prologue so long).


re WW1: There were a lot of things going on (the most noteworthy being that, had Austria been willing to bite the bullet and just storm Serbia in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, nothing much would probably have come of it. A bunch of diplomatic wrangling to resolve the fait accompli but her waiting allowed for the mobilisation; when she finally did cross the border it was kitty bar the door).

The rest of the theory of structural inevitability has been gone over a lot. The Schlieffen plan wasn't doable as designed (either wait for all the troops/supplies, and let the Allies get set, or leave now, with not enough). When BEF spent itself stopping the Germans at the Battle of Mons, and the gap opened on the German Right to allow the Battle of the Marne; the Machine Gun did the rest.

Then we get to the idea of the offensive. The Germans were content to sit in place and counterattack (mostly), so they had good bunkers, and "comfortable" trenches. The French and British had squalid slices in the raw earth.

Want to know how Germany ends the war in 1916? They don't stop unrestricted submarine warfare. Odds are they are sinking half a million tons of shipping a month by June 1916, (they were quickly up to about 800,000 when the)y resumed). No one had the means to stop them, and the US didn't have the ability to pour troops into the field (it took almost a year from our declaration to our arrival on the Western Front).

So England gets starved out (and maybe the US troopships get sunk), and then France sues for peace.

re the "Merrimack" It's damned near conventional to call it by the Union name; my texts all said something to the effect of, "the USS Merrimack, which the Confederates called "Virginia" as if the long naval traditions of taking siezed/captured vessels into service never existed.

I have a friend, who is a fiend for the US Civil War, and praises all sorts of southern generals, who refuses to call it anything but the USS Merrimack. I don't understand it.

#116 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 02:47 PM:

#113: Are you sure they didn't mean -291K?

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 03:46 PM:

Joel Polowin @ 112... That's the one. Say, it was set on a planet instead of their resorting for the nth time to the holodeck being on the fritz again?

#118 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 04:46 PM:

I wrote about this mess in my LJ blog last week as well.

The most significant thing about this major error about rivers and terrain in the U.S. Civil War is this book of Keegan's was organized around the theory that geography was the significant factor of the U.S. Civil War. And he got the geography all wrong.

That said, that Keegan would claim that the rivers protected the confederacy like a moat, remains even more inexplicable. Particularly since the early conquest of New Orleans by the Federal forces was possible because, um, well, it was on a river -- and that Vicksburg was on a river and the key to the success of the Wilderness Campaign.

If it is age that has cause Keegan to become so careless, I feel very badly about it. If it is merely carelessness, that is something else, but I, for one, will likely never know what that is.

Still and all somebody should have questioned him about that river stuff.

Love, C.

#119 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 05:49 PM:

[ "Reports that after the show he was seen cavorting with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony appear to be unfounded." ]

As well, it's notorious what uxorious spouse is Grant, completely devoted still, in public and private, to Mrs. Grant.

There are enormous numbers of works out there that get the lead up to, the War of Southern Aggression itself, and the aftermath, wrong, committed by very well known names. One of the most profoundly influential is D.W. Griffith.

Sadly, for history, and for mythology.

Love, C.

#120 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 10:44 PM:

I grew up near Forts Donelson and Henry and wrote a paper about them in high school. Even to me as a teenager it was obvious that the rivers were highways.

Well, I suppose it does help to be there and be familiar with the terrain first-hand. I saw the barges carrying bulk commodities up the Tennessee River, such as potash for fertilizer.

And now it appears that an author who did not visit the area has tried to be there in spirit, because he too has delivered a bargeload of, um, fertilizer.

#121 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2009, 11:38 PM:

Teresa @ 70: I laughed out loud at "J.E.B. Stuart and Jeb Stuart Magruder."

#122 ::: P.M.Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 12:46 AM:

Chris W. wrote "The Napoleonic Wars took place largely on the plains of Northern Europe. There just wasn't any geographic feature that loomed as large in Napoleon's campaigns as the Mississippi or the Blue Ridge Mountains did in the campaigns of the USCW."

What, have you forgotten Italy and Napoleon's pushing through the Alps? The Peninsular War?

For what it's worth, a few years ago I myself proofread and fact-checked a few chapters of an eminent historian's world history, picking up such things as calling Utah a state before it was. And I still think he was selective in using Trollope to assert that the war made little difference to ordinary life, when Trollope noted the agricultural distress in western (now midwestern) states and gave a vivid description of the occupation of Baltimore (Trollope understood water transport, too). The historian also bowdlerised a quoted poem, putting rooster for cock.

David Bratman quoted "Gladstone at this stage had some anti-American prejudices of a type prevalent in England ... He regarded them as a crude and braggart people."

How is that a prejudice, given the amount of contemporary information provided first hand by the likes of Trollope and his mother before him? Though whether it was a sound judgment is quite another question.

Chris W. wrote "One point where I agree with Keegan is that while they never showed the tactical flashes of brilliance that characterized Lee, Sherman and Grant were the only two generals who saw the totality of the war clearly and charted a clear, plausible course to victory".

That completely omits the insights of Winfield Scott at the very beginning of the war.

"...technology, politics and economics were changing so rapidly that a war fought in 1920 or 1910 might have had a dramatically different character than the one fought in 1914".

In particular, it's uncertain if the Haber-Bosch process - the precursor for nitrates - was well enough in place to sustain a blockaded war effort in 1910. It certainly wasn't in 1905, the most recent conflict comparable enough to learn from in 1914.

Per Chr. J. wrote "...I read with great interest a book about the campaign in Norway in 1940, by the French historian François Kersaudy (one of the interesting things about this book is that he was able to read primary sources in all the languages of the countries involved (that is, having troops in the field), including Polish)".

What, even Gaelic? (He could probably manage Welsh, with a Breton name like that.)

Terry Karney wrote "Want to know how Germany ends the war in 1916? They don't stop unrestricted submarine warfare. Odds are they are sinking half a million tons of shipping a month by June 1916, (they were quickly up to about 800,000 when the)y resumed). No one had the means to stop them, and the US didn't have the ability to pour troops into the field (it took almost a year from our declaration to our arrival on the Western Front)."

The convoy system worked well enough against submarines; the problem was that dispersion was necessary against surface warships. After Jutland, it was practical to focus against submarines. The USA did have "the ability to pour troops into the field", it just chose not to do so as that would have involved sending them into French units. It was forming and deploying a distinct AEF that took the added time.

#123 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 10:28 AM:

fidelio @ #105:

Rumour has it that somebody once adapted Snoopy's magnum opus into a Batman comic: his text appeared as captions, without addition or alteration, and the images carried the burden of tying everything together and making sense of it; there was no dialogue.

(It is my fond hope that one day I shall get to see this wonder for myself.)

#124 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 10:58 AM:

Today, while researching something else entirely (as usual), I was reminded that back in fall, 2001, I quoted a howler that John Keegan wrote three days after 9/11:

The World Trade Centre outrage was co-ordinated on the internet, without question. If Washington is serious in its determination to eliminate terrorism, it will have to forbid internet providers to allow the transmission of encrypted messages - now encoded by public key ciphers that are unbreakable even by the National Security Agency’s computers - and close down any provider that refuses to comply.

Uncompliant providers on foreign territory should expect their buildings to be destroyed by cruise missiles. Once the internet is implicated in the killing of Americans, its high-rolling days may be reckoned to be over.

Using cruise missiles to take down ISPs in countries with which we weren't at war would certainly have been colorful, but ... really, not a good idea.

Allan @121, I'm glad to have amused you. I've actually seen that done, though not in professionally published work.

#125 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 11:46 AM:

@123: Detective Comics 500, by Len Wein and Walt Simonson. (I don't know if it's been reprinted)

#126 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 12:03 PM:

Xopher @106, Wow. I wonder if this is what you're remembering? One of a whole series of raiding voyages I never heard of – South Pacific Expeditionary Raid took 'CSS Alabama' right across our top coast. Who'da thunk it?

Somehow mixed with mutiny on the 'Bounty'?

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Epacris, no, I was referring to this short story by Allen Steele. Later in the series of stories they encounter giant predators they dub Boids from their birdlike appearance. I was punning on the name of William Byrd.

Not a serious USCW comment, in other words. Part of the "bad history books" subthread.

#128 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 01:07 PM:

#127--you see, *i* knew it was cod history, and *you* knew it was cod history. but since it was not surrounded by a protective quarantine of smiley-faces vel sim., it's inevitable that someone else will read it as straight (if mistaken).

then it's only one step from there to its being treated as a reliable source in some undergrad's term paper.

"but--but--i read it on a web-site! it's gotta be true!"

sure, pal--now keep reading and we'll write your wwii term paper for you, too.
lemme tell you about teddy roosevelt's lend-leash program for restraining german shepherds in wolf packs.

#129 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 02:13 PM:

Strangely, I associate 'dark and and stormy night' with the three men who sat in a cave. ('It was a dark and stormy night. Three men sat in a cave. And one said to another, "Bill, tell us a story". And Bill began: "It was a dark and stormy night...."') I am sure I first heard the sentence as part of this story; it was some time later that I discovered Snoopy, and long after that that I heard of Bulwer-Lytton.

#130 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 03:12 PM:

P M Lawrence: Terry Karney wrote "Want to know how Germany ends the war in 1916? They don't stop unrestricted submarine warfare. Odds are they are sinking half a million tons of shipping a month by June 1916, (they were quickly up to about 800,000 when the)y resumed). No one had the means to stop them, and the US didn't have the ability to pour troops into the field (it took almost a year from our declaration to our arrival on the Western Front)."

The convoy system worked well enough against submarines; the problem was that dispersion was necessary against surface warships. After Jutland, it was practical to focus against submarines. The USA did have "the ability to pour troops into the field", it just chose not to do so as that would have involved sending them into French units. It was forming and deploying a distinct AEF that took the added time.

The Convoy System worked well enough once it was forced on the Navy; and once the British had invented the Depth Charge. No small part of the change the US entry to the war made was our insistence on not sending capital ships, but on sending destroyers. Since Germany was sinking more tonnage than the British were able to replace...

And no, we weren't able to send troops. It took us almost a year (and that with some ramping up in advance on the part of Wilson) to field the Army. The intrangience about who was to command them (and it was as much not willing to put htem under Haig as it was Foch: one thing [which the Austrialians understood,and the Canadians didn't, was to refuse the right to discipline to the British; which is why no Australians were shot for cowardice, and Canadians were, but I digress] added time to that, but the actual ability to field an army wasn't there. We had to draft, supply, and train, a huge increase in manpower. (we had to do the same thing again in WW2, and was with an even more decided ramping up under Roosesevelt).

Given how poorly we actually fought (being more a case of mass than technique), I don't know that having an army in the field two years earlier; when the Germans were still fresh) was going to be much of a real change.

My grandfather's recollections (such as he was willing to share) don't put things in a very good light, and pretty much all Pershing did was engage in mass attacks; gaining the advantage of being the only player left who had men willing to engage in them with such vigor.

The Battle of Jutland, as understood by the British, was a ceding of the field to the torpedo (Jellicoe did exactly what he said he would, refused to press the High Seas Fleet for fear of mines and torpedoes. When they saw torpedoes, the turned about).

Paul A. I have seen it, it was glorious. You do know the lines of Snoopy's book are all lifted from a Bulwer-Lytton novel, yes?

#131 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 04:08 PM:

P.M. Lawrence @122:

Good catch. I should have written dominant languages, government languages or something like that.

#132 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 08:29 PM:

Jon Meltzer @ 116:

All the atoms start vibrating backwards?

kid bitzer, Xopher, fidelio, et al:

This thread is beginning to read like one of those papers Fragano has to grade at the end of the term.

#133 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 08:40 PM:

kid bitzer @128; Xopher @106, 127; fidelio @109, It sounded like cod-history, pun'n'all, but
      a) forgot to add that question;
      b) didn't trust my searching.
Excuse: At eyeball-scorching, dropping-off-keyboard-asleep stage after
      a) exhausting evening;
      b) waiting after calling cops ~3:30AM when awoken by unusual noises.

"one thing … which the Australians understood … was to refuse the right to discipline to the British" – Terry Karney @130
Boer War experience (Breaker Morant, &c)?  Remember disputes.  Too groggy today to find.  Sleep so tempting, bills to pay …

#134 ::: P.M.Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 10:01 PM:

Terry Karney, you're missing the point I was trying to make. Of course the ability to field an army that quickly wasn't there. I pointed out that forming a distinct AEF was what added the time. But there was no such practical problem with just putting the recruits into existing training structures and units, taking only the added time for conscripting, training and transport (some of which could have been folded together, so it is not wholly additive). When I referred to a reluctance to put them into French units, that is just precisely what I meant - not the reluctance to put US units under overall French command. The USA could indeed have poured troops in quicker - but not as an army of its own.

#135 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 10:29 PM:

Bruce, #132: Perhaps we should compile it into a Your Homework Done for Free page.

#136 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2009, 10:42 PM:

"It was a dark and stormy night." is also the opening line of A Wrinkle in Time.

#137 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 12:55 AM:

Terry Karney@130: Cite on the Bulwer-Lytton? Paul Clifford starts off "It was a dark and stormy night" but immediately and totally diverges from Snoopy's writings. Is the stuff about "a shot rang out" and so forth from other Bulwer-Lytton novels? If so, which ones?

#138 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 01:10 AM:

Paul A @ #91: "Linkmeister @ #33: The Battle of Picacho Pass ... twelve Union cavalry members v. ten Confederate pickets

And which side was the yellow rabbity thing on?"

Er, I don't get the allusion. Please explain.

#139 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 05:33 AM:

Linkmeister @138:

Picacho (as in Battle of Pass) is suspiciously close to Pikachu, as (as in Battle of Little Critters that come out of red and white balls).

Suspiciously close. Black helicopter-shaped Pokémon territory.

#140 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 05:55 AM:

@132: Reverse the polarity!

#141 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 08:05 AM:

Terry @130

Some of what my Grandfather did in that war was to train them not to be stupid in the trenches.

In 1916, the Somme, the British Army in the field was mostly pretty poorly trained. Some units could manage to carry out the fire-and-movement tactics that were in the pre-war doctrine, rather than the tactics most units used. Grandfather was a 1914 volunteer who first saw action in the later stages of that battle.

Even in 1916 the German Army was being worn down. They were the attackers in the Verdun battle.

I don't think anyone else could match the standards of the pre-war professional British soldier. It was the cooks and clerks of ordinary British regiments who ended up holding the line against the Prussian Guard at First Ypres.

#142 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 08:22 AM:

Bruce Cohen StM @132--Wiktory!

#143 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Jon (#140): Don't cross the beams!



Epacris (#133), Sounds dire. Hope rest of your day wasn't too bad. I've no spare energy to send, but there's always that clinging ineradicable greasy film of hope you can smell on your fingers when you've been scraping around the bottom [_] of That Box.

#144 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2009, 01:40 PM:

abi @ #139, Ah! I am sadly (happily?) deficient in my knowledge of Pokemon; your reference clears it up.

Thank you.

#145 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 02:41 AM:

P.M. Lawrence: I did not miss the point. I disagreed with it. You said the US could field an army.

You didn't say, of course the ability to field an army that quickly wasn't there. You said quite the opposite "The USA did have "the ability to pour troops into the field", it just chose not to do so as that would have involved sending them into French units. It was forming and deploying a distinct AEF that took the added time. (emphasis in original @122).

Well it didn't. The arguments over who was going to command didn't arise until the actual presence of US troops was feasible,and added about 6 weeks to the equation (and yes, while some of the question was about using them as plain replacements, a large part of it was about making the US an indpendent command, with its own portion of the line to hold, and its own objectives in attack).

The problems you don't see are legion. One can't just, "put troops into existing training structures and units" when there aren't any. The army before the war had a total strength of 210,000 troops (of which a number were actvated Guard on duty in the Philipines).

The army was expanded to 4,100,000 by war's end, there is no way to just "fold in" 20 times the listed Order of Battle into units. Even if that was the way the US army did its training (and it isn't) that would swamp the cadre. The result would be an ill trained mob (at best). Which says nothig of the troubles of feeding, clothing, housing, and arming them. Just look at "The Blue Puttees" of Newfoundland for an example of the problems; in a nation already on a war footing.

Which is why it took a year to get the army to the numbers needed to deploy them.

Dave Bell: I don't there there has been a gunpowder army which was better trained then the Long Service Army of 1914.

#146 ::: P.M.Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 06:24 AM:

Terry Karney, you are missing the point. I never said the USA could field an army (that quickly) - I pointed out that, had it so chosen, it could have "pour[ed] troops into the field" much quicker than it did, if only it had bypassed forming an army of its own and gone through existing allied structures. "You said the US could field an army" is not true, because I didn't say that and it is indeed a thoroughly ridiculous claim to make - but that's not the same as what I was getting at all. It couldn't have poured US troops into the field in US structures - but it could have poured them into existing structures (e.g. the ones the British and French had - and those did indeed exist). Now, when you first wrote what I quoted, you may only have had an army in mind, or US units - but I was pointing out that there was a different option, one not taken, of just sending US recruits into other countries' war machines.

So, for instance you are quite mistaken about 'The problems you don't see are legion. One can't just, "put troops into existing training structures and units" when there aren't any.' There were just such things, and they had been in use since 1914.

I entirely agree that the USA didn't have them, and all the barriers you describe prevented the AEF from happening any quicker - no disagreement there. But there were plenty of British and French ones! It is not an issue of "The arguments over who was going to command didn't arise until the actual presence of US troops was feasible" - we are not talking about who would have got to command US troops so much as whose army US conscripts were going to go in. They actually wouldn't have been US troops at all, just so many Tommies and French Foreign Legionnaires or whatever who just happened to come from the USA.

By folding in, I was referring to the possibility of doing some limited portions of the training on transport ships, folding some of the training time into the transport time - nothing as nonsensical as folding recruits into existing units.

You appear to be constantly only hearing what I'm not saying, replacing what I tell you (which is sensible) with its nearest equivalent within US structures - and then, since that is a nonsense, wrongly concluding that I'm talking nonsense. Well, I'm not.

#147 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 06:51 AM:

PM Lawrence @146:
You appear to be constantly only hearing what I'm not saying, replacing what I tell you (which is sensible) with its nearest equivalent within US structures - and then, since that is a nonsense, wrongly concluding that I'm talking nonsense. Well, I'm not.

Constantly? An interaction of two comments is a very short time to make such a sweeping summary.

When Terry @145 says:

The problems you don't see are legion. One can't just, "put troops into existing training structures and units" when there aren't any.

...I read that "any" as referring to "troops" rather than "structures and units". Terry has military experience, and military training experience; he knows some of the logistical challenges of getting groups of people from the street to the battlefield first-hand.

I could be wrong, but I'm not sure that he's the (only) one not quite hearing what the other person is saying. Dial back the personal antagonism, please.

#148 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 07:50 AM:

Terry and P.M. Lawrence: You're talking straight past each other. I think P.M. Lawrence is saying that the US government, until the AEF structures were in place, could have aided and encouraged civilians to enlist in the British and French armed forces. A very different proposition from the logistical nightmare of twenty-fold expansion of existing US army infrastructure, as Terry points out.

I will leave it to other, more diligent students of the era to further elucidate, but a policy such as P.M. Lawrence suggests strikes me as profoundly out of place.

#149 ::: Chris W, ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 09:52 AM:

P.M. Lawrence:

I can see where Terry is misinterpreting you, but I'm not sure his misinterpretation makes much less sense than what you're actually proposing.

You seem to be assuming that the French and English could have trained 4 million American civilians into cohesive fighting units faster than the Americans did, which seems a dubious proposition at best.

Who would equip them? The French and English didn't exactly have 4 million full infantry kits lying around, let alone artillery, logistical support etc etc. They could have been supplied from American industrial output, but that means that you need Americans who are familiar with the equipment to do the training, and we're back to square one.

Who would train them? You seem to assume that there was a large, well-staffed training operation in both the French and British armies, but with three years of war thinning the ranks, I find it hard to imagine that the British and French hadn't made several passes through their training corps, plucking out the best and most able-bodied men to go command at the front. When the combat branches of the service were so desperate for manpower, I doubt that the training branches would be able to hold onto good trainers.

Who would lead them? Remember, junior officers actually suffer attrition at higher rates than any other rank, so the officer corps of the French and British armies was already looking mighty thin below the rank of Captain by 1917. Where are you going to find a couple hundred thousand second lieutenants to lead those 4 million men?

Why would Americans allow this? The war was not terribly popular in America. Wilson had been reelected only a year before on the platform of "He kept us out." Drafting men to send them to Europe as part of an AEF was unpopular enough, imagine if Wilson had proposed sending our boys to die under foreign commanders.

As for your idea of training soldiers en route, I don't doubt that some of this went on. In fact assuming that this was completely lost time seems to be assuming incompetence on the part of the organizers of the AEF. But there are two big constraints that I think you're missing. The first is simply that it's awfully hard to do much of the important training involved in turning a civilian into an infantryman on board a ship. But even more importantly, there's the problem of trainers. A trainer who's on board a ship from New York to Liverpool for two weeks training the first class of recruits is a trainer who has to spend two weeks twiddling his thumbs on a ship from Liverpool to New York before he can train the second class of recruits. The training time is not just constrained by the time the trainees have, but also by the time of the qualified trainers.

#150 ::: Chris W, ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 09:52 AM:

P.M. Lawrence:

I can see where Terry is misinterpreting you, but I'm not sure his misinterpretation makes much less sense than what you're actually proposing.

You seem to be assuming that the French and English could have trained 4 million American civilians into cohesive fighting units faster than the Americans did, which seems a dubious proposition at best.

Who would equip them? The French and English didn't exactly have 4 million full infantry kits lying around, let alone artillery, logistical support etc etc. They could have been supplied from American industrial output, but that means that you need Americans who are familiar with the equipment to do the training, and we're back to square one.

Who would train them? You seem to assume that there was a large, well-staffed training operation in both the French and British armies, but with three years of war thinning the ranks, I find it hard to imagine that the British and French hadn't made several passes through their training corps, plucking out the best and most able-bodied men to go command at the front. When the combat branches of the service were so desperate for manpower, I doubt that the training branches would be able to hold onto good trainers.

Who would lead them? Remember, junior officers actually suffer attrition at higher rates than any other rank, so the officer corps of the French and British armies was already looking mighty thin below the rank of Captain by 1917. Where are you going to find a couple hundred thousand second lieutenants to lead those 4 million men?

Why would Americans allow this? The war was not terribly popular in America. Wilson had been reelected only a year before on the platform of "He kept us out." Drafting men to send them to Europe as part of an AEF was unpopular enough, imagine if Wilson had proposed sending our boys to die under foreign commanders.

As for your idea of training soldiers en route, I don't doubt that some of this went on. In fact assuming that this was completely lost time seems to be assuming incompetence on the part of the organizers of the AEF. But there are two big constraints that I think you're missing. The first is simply that it's awfully hard to do much of the important training involved in turning a civilian into an infantryman on board a ship. But even more importantly, there's the problem of trainers. A trainer who's on board a ship from New York to Liverpool for two weeks training the first class of recruits is a trainer who has to spend two weeks twiddling his thumbs on a ship from Liverpool to New York before he can train the second class of recruits. The training time is not just constrained by the time the trainees have, but also by the time of the qualified trainers.

#151 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 10:44 AM:

In fact, at least some of the Americans who were sent to France had already been in the military - one of my grandfathers was part of a Kansas state regiment that had been under Pershing in New Mexico, chasing Villa. (I think he was a sergeant when the war ended.)

#152 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2009, 03:17 PM:

P.M. Lawrence: I think I see the disconnect, and I don't think I am wrong.

The point I made was if the Germans don't accede to Wilson's complaints in 1915, and continue with unrestricted Submarine warfare, the blockade would force England out of the war; in part because the threat of US intervention was, in practical terms, nil.

You said I was wrong. The US could have put enough troops into the field before the effects of the tonnage loss could have forced the British out.

Primus: I will cop to some narrowness of thinking when you say I misunderstood you, but I don't think it "sensible" for me to take your quoting my words back at me to mean something different to what I said. I further don't think it sensible to expect the US to have just given its citizenry over to the whim of a foreign power, with the authority of life or death. As I pointed out the Australians, members of the Commonwealth; and moderately subject to the Crown refused to do that.

Secondus: The issues of training so many men wasn't trivial. The British didn't have the cadre for it. They were hard presssed to keep up with requirements to train the men they did have.

Tertius: To "encourage" people to enlist in a foriegn Army would have been a hard sell; even in 1915 when anger over the Lusitania was at its peak. Wilson didn't move for a declaration of war because it would have failed. His warning to Germany that continued blockade by sinking was likely to lead to the US entering the fray was about half bluff.

When you consider that it was, in fact, a crime (though more honored in the breach) for an American to take such an elistment unless done abroad it becomes more problematic (this is why the various groups who did enlist had get to the country in question first, in person, to do it; othewise they violated US Code §958-960, which was decided as it not constituting a crime for someone to enlist in a foreign army, but a breach of law if such contract was entered on US soil (Wiborg v US 163 U.S. 632 [1896]). For the Gov't to say, Yes, ship out from NY, and fight in Flanders would almost certainly have been successfully challeneged under that ruling.

On a personal note, if you are actually trying discuss things with me, the condescening tone of your last reply isn't likely to help. Telling me I am not paying attention to your reply, which is sensisble and accusing me of refusing to read what you write (when I am reading it closely, and quoting directly the replies you are making to me, in which you are imposing your interpretation of my words, and demanding I take them in your meaning, is not only poor practice (since I know what I meant, and you presumed to impose your reading of it on me) but it isn't likely to garner much in the way of the good will required to gain the more charitable readings you desire.

Since this thread is the only place in which you have any findable record (here: I did go and look at your other writings from the page linked to your name; and that at first contact. I allow you may have changed e-mail address, but even with that you are have not posted enough for me to place you by name, or tone of typer),and none of your writings show experience, or competence in matters military; about which I am both informed, and experienced, it's not unreasonable for me to assume that your confusion is the result of not being clear on just what it is the proposals you say would have done 'X' actually meant on the ground.

It's also not unreasonable for me to hope that the level of detail I entered in reply might be food for thought and further investigation, esp. as I was kind enough do some for you (such as confirming the rates of tonnage loss, and the specific makeup and size of the army at the outbreak of the war. Sadly I was unable to find the numbers for 1915, and didn't get the numbers for the first flush of enlistement/draft. Nor was I able to confirm my grandmother's recollection that the US had to institute the draft in 1917, not to collect men, but to manage them; because the sheer numbers were overwhelming the ability to process, feed and clothe them. That was with the problems of training and equipment, but; as is my wont, I digress).

Words have meaning. Connotation matters. Clarity of terms is important. If what you meant was mere manpower, you needed to be more clear; because in this case contextually "troops" refers to one's own soldiers, not merely men being sent to some other place.

If you meant something else, and you wished to avoid confusion (which is only sensible) it's incumbent on you to make sure the distinction is made.

#153 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 12:29 AM:

abi: I was saying the units/structures didn't exist. The US Army increased itself twenty-fold in the course of the war, creating more than a dozen new divisions which hadn't previously existed. The means to train them, the tactics to be learned (many of which were taught by British cadre sent to the states to do the training) the equipment to supply them, and all the other infrastructure, weren't there.

Even accepting the explanation of what he meant to say, I don't think the addig of Americans to British units (much less French) would be any more possible. First, the shipping of that many new people to Britain would be a problem. They would need to be housed, trained, equipped. The training, in particular, would be a problem because the British used a regimental system of training. The soldier is added to a recruit battalion, and trained. Well adding an entire corps worth of non-British to the system, and it will break down.

I've trained with the British Army, and even as one already a soldier the oddities of difference took some adjusting. I, at least, already shared one culture (that of soldiering) and there was common ground to start from. In 1916, the cultural differences were greater than they are now, and the odds of successfully integrating that many people, of so different an understanding would have been, I think, insurrmountable.

None of which addresses that, until almost 1917 the Allies had no counter to submarines, and were losing tonnage faster than they could build it; which is where we came in.

#154 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 03:31 AM:

Terry @153:
In 1916, the cultural differences were greater than they are now, and the odds of successfully integrating that many people, of so different an understanding would have been, I think, insurrmountable.

I think that's one of the reasons my mind keeps shying away from taking the proposition of putting American soldiers straight into foreign armies seriously. I really do not think they would "take", even now, even with the British. With the French, who are even more profoundly culturally different and have a different language, no, even worse.

(The other reason I can't believe the proposition is that I know what the American sentiment would be toward sending soldiers to fight abroad under foreign command. Even now. And 1918 was not a pinnacle of the American globalist mindset.)

#155 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 06:03 AM:

Abi@154: indeed, and this rather throws into sharp relief just how outré was Churchill's idea of spring 1940 (as the German tanks rolled into France!) of permanently merging the British and French empires and governments to help maintain the struggle. I first read about this in the John Colville diaries and didn't quite believe it until I cross-checked it against Churchill's own history of WWII. This bilingual super-empire would have been an... interesting... ad hoc development.

(The 2 minute silence from the Cenotaph is on the radio as I type).

ISTRT it was actually the French who scuttled the idea; the King might have had something to say about it too but it seems that Churchill never bothered to ask him.

#156 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 08:15 AM:

Germany, in 1914-18, also had a much bigger problem getting their submarines into the Atlantic. While they had some bases in occupied Belgium, such as Zeebrugge, they still had to either get rhough the English Channel.

By the end of the war the Allies had escort aircraft, airships and flying boats, had a chance of detecting submerged submarines, and could attack them with depth charges. ASDIC and hunter-killer subs were in the development queue, though the R-class boats struggled to recharge batteries on their own engines.

Dieselpunk territory, like the Plan 1919 blitzkrieg.

And what's remarkable about WW2 is that the Allies never realised how vulnerable German battery production was. We know how stubborn "Bomber" Harris was about diverting long range aircraft from bombing German cities. That battery factory would at least have been a target of value.

#157 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 09:40 AM:

Abi @ 154... With the French, who are even more profoundly culturally different and have a different language, no, even worse.

We do?
("Knock it off, Serge. You're a special case.")
Special, eh?

#158 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 09:44 AM:

Terry Karney @ 153... I, at least, already shared one culture (that of soldiering) and there was common ground to start from.

Turner Classic Movies ran a bit of an interview with Sidney Lumet. When Lumet directed 1965's The Hill, Sean Connery expressed some concern about an American directing a story about a British military prison in the middle of the desert. Lumet pointed out that, sure, they may salute differently, but it's still about a military structure.

#159 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 11:29 AM:

Dave Bell #156: Dieselpunk territory, like the Plan 1919 blitzkrieg.

Is there anything that can't be -punked?

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 11:41 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 159... No.

#161 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 11:57 AM:

Earl, 159: Last night, Rikibeth and I invented Baroquepunk. So probably not. (I'm quite looking forward to Hellenopunk as well.)

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 12:02 PM:

TexAnne @ 161... Let's not forget BustlePunk, which I apparently was instrumental in... ah... founding. I later suggested that a variant could be called CrinolinePunk, after someone suggested MannerPunk.

#163 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 12:41 PM:

Dave Bell: The problems with getting subs out wasn't, because of the limits of ASW, all that big a deal. The British hadn't figured out ASDIC (which was semi-reliable, at best; right to the end of the war) Weren't using convoys (what the movement to convoys [finally] did was limit the affect one sub, submerged) could do. Since the Germans didn't try pack tactics that alone made a huge difference), and had ceded the oceans (the pullback to Scapa Flow was because the Admiralty was terrified of subs taking out ships).

The problem, for England, was the sea lanes have to converge on a few ports. Short time on station isn't a big problem in so target rich an environment.

#164 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 12:58 PM:

The Dover Patrol, and especially the Dover Barrage, was not all that successful in terms of U-boats sunk, but the Germans held back from trying to pass through for a year. It was somewhere where the RN had a chance of finding and attacking submarines.

#165 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 12:58 PM:

The Dover Patrol, and especially the Dover Barrage, was not all that successful in terms of U-boats sunk, but the Germans held back from trying to pass through for a year. It was somewhere where the RN had a chance of finding and attacking submarines.

#166 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 04:48 PM:

Coming soon: a revival of a 1970s English cultural movement.

PunkPunk.

#167 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 05:02 PM:

Jon Meltzer @ #166 And its geological corollary: RockPunk.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 05:05 PM:

DoYouFeelLuckyPunk

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 05:27 PM:

Sleazy goings-on behind the scenes at a table-tennis championship: PingPongPunk.

#170 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 05:45 PM:

Grammar Pedant... PunktuationPunk.

#171 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 06:12 PM:

Serge, #162, and the bustled steampunk outfit that discussion prompted.

#172 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Marilee @ 171... Ooooh, AJ is going to make you pay for this.

#173 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 07:45 PM:

Having grown up east of the Mason-Dixon line, my reaction to any discussion of the conflict in North America in the 1860s is affected by what term you use for it, which tends to indicate what side you're on, or at least whether you've thought about which side you're on...


So DonBoy@53, a war between humans and zombies really shouldn't be called a Civil War - it's a War Between The States...


#174 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 08:47 PM:

[checking map and compass]
East of the Mason-Dixon line?

#175 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 09:15 PM:

P J Evans (174): Europe?

#176 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 09:40 PM:

Atlantis?

#177 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 10:18 PM:

PJ, Mary Aileen: it's Delaware. The Mason-Dixon Line doesn't start at the coast.

#178 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 10:19 PM:

Technically, Delaware is east of the Mason-Dixon line, since Mason and Dixon were hired to survey both the northern and eastern borders of Maryland.

(And the Delaware portion was by far the trickiest, being composed of 4 different segments, only one of which was a simple longitude line. In fact, inexactness in the charters of the then-colonies led to a wedge of land being officially disputed up until 1921)

#179 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 10:21 PM:

Ginger, I know that. (New Jersey should also count as east of it, I think). It was the bit about being east of a line that generally runs east and west ....

#180 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 11:08 PM:

Jon @ 166: There was a bit of a punk revival in the late 1990's. If anyone gets nostalgic for that will we see the rise of PunkPunkPunk?

Will radical piercers start writing Puncturepunk?

At the very least, we should be ready for Dead Horse Punk. I'm sure we could flog that for a few bucks.

#181 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2009, 11:37 PM:

Spampunk: "Punk Punk Punk Punk. Lovely Punk! Wonderful Punk! Punk pu-u-u-u-u-unk Punk pu-u-u-u-u-unk Punk. Lovely Punk! Lovely Punk! Lovely Punk! Lovely Punk! Lovely Punk! Punk Punk Punk Punk!" singeth the Vikings of yore...

#182 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 12:43 AM:

Which leads inevitably to lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce served in a Provençale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and punk.

Now I wish I was doing NaNoWriMo. Some kind of foodie mystery with attitude... or is it edge, I can never remember...

For those who don't like punk, there's always punk egg sausage and punk. That's not got much punk in it.

#183 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 12:58 AM:

Paul Duncanson @180:
At the very least, we should be ready for Dead Horse Punk. I'm sure we could flog that for a few bucks.

Someone isn't keeping up on his sidelights.

(OK, yeah, mule != horse, but it's close enough for punk.)

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 01:53 AM:

KW Jeter has a lot to answer for. Thought he was being clever, eh, when he made a joke a the expense of cyberpunk by calling things like "Anubis Gate" steampunk? Oh, and wish me luck with that steampunk-movie talk I'll be giving to the local SF club on Friday 13th. Go ahead, tell me to break a leg.

#185 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 07:18 AM:

"InfernoCrusherNanoLaserPiratePunk to Bambi Punk, a Survey of the Literature"

#186 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 07:24 AM:

Serge #184: Go ahead, tell me to break a leg.

How about "break a fully articulated hydraulic trans-femoral prosthesis"? That's kind of steampunky, but I imagine the repair bill for the aforementioned luck enhancement procedure would be fairly steep in terms of gold sovereigns.

#187 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 10:04 AM:

Earl Cooley @ 186... Well, it'd have seemed like a lot of money back when it was built by Doctor Lovelès. Today, not so much. Of course, the problem nowadays is to find the spare parts, and that may be expensive.

#188 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 10:14 AM:

Was Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" a steamerpunk novel?

#189 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Paul Duncanson @180, abi @183--Dead Mule Punk is clearly the southern US version. Possible settings include cotton gins, tobacco barns, and those small-crew saw mills you see set up here and there, as well as (for more urban stories) the Sloss Furnaces and the warehosue areas on the Mississippi in Memphis and New Orleans. Riverboats are also a possibility.

#190 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 02:23 PM:

PJ, Ginger, Chris @174-179, yes, Delaware. I suppose it's also north of the line, since part of the line is at the bottom of the state, but it's more fun being east of it.

#191 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 04:35 PM:

re 189: I'm kind of dubious about dead mule punk. I suppose you could have one in the Birmingham steel mills or at Spencer Shops, but somehow the mule being hit by a truck or a train (or maybe dying of heat prostration by the blast furnaces) doesn't have the same magnolia-scented je ne sais quoi.

My lame theory is that the presence of a mule (as opposed to some other beast of burden) is some warped reference to the mythology of southern inbreeding.

#192 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 05:12 PM:

I don't know, it wasn't all that long ago that mules were pretty ubiquitous in the southern US--my father learned to plow with one, as did a co-worker who retired not all that long ago.

They still celebrate Mule day in Columbia, TN, and have no difficulty finding specimens--and the mule would die out if people weren't consciously working to continue their existence. Furthermore, sentimental revisionist fantasies aside, there is no reason why mules and Magnolia grandiflora can't co-exist in literature; they had no trouble doing so in real life.

#193 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 05:24 PM:

It's the plowing that's the problem: Yoknapatawpha County could contain Ole Miss, but if there there was ever much interaction between SR 1401 and dead mules it was most likely at grade crossings. Maybe dead mule punk involves mechanical mules with exploded boilers.

#194 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Dead mule punk

Forty acres and a punk.

#195 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 08:36 PM:

Speaking of the Mason-Dixon Line, I just finished a really good book where the Line is critical.

#196 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 09:02 PM:

I guess you could plow with a mule, if you used to at least two oxen to pull him. [Image of mule with all four hooves dug in being inexorably dragged along by the oxen]

#197 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Wasn't the title of Gone with the Wind originally Mules in Horses Harness?

#198 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 09:34 PM:

Serge #187: Of course, the problem nowadays is to find the spare parts, and that may be expensive.

I do so hope that you are not referring to the meticulously cataloged stockpile of individual, lovingly handcrafted sub-assemblies and components. None of them are "spare". They cannot, in good conscience, be "spared" at all, as they each represent possible futures fulfilled with triumphant and Herculean defiance against a cruel, intractable, uncaring natural cosmos; each, in its own way, indisputable evidence of the ascendancy of the crushing hand of science; each, in its own way, a jubilant celebration of the sovereignty of humanity; each, in its own way, mocking the futility of the pessimistic ramblings of those who would oppose the inevitable march of progress toward a better day.

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2009, 09:35 PM:

Punkass?

#200 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 11:13 AM:

Stubborn mules are when things are going wrong with the relationship between man and beast. Mules were an effective working animal, ridden, carrying cargo, and for haulage.

I've even seen it suggested that, with the easy availability of man-packed anit-aircraft missiles, mules might still have a place in warfare, replacing the helicopters and aircraft which had supplanted them in the 1960s.

#201 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 11:16 AM:

There;s a trap in the idea of "Forty Acres and a mule."

You can't farm without the mule, so your small-scale farmer depends on the people who can provide mules. In the American South, just who do you expect the farmers would be? And who has the horses needed to produce the mules?

#202 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2009, 06:53 AM:

mules might still have a place in warfare, replacing the helicopters and aircraft which had supplanted them in the 1960s.

"The updated remake of Apocalypse Now lacks some of the original's pace."

#203 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2009, 08:00 AM:

Dave, Bell, #200: I've even seen it suggested that, with the easy availability of man-packed anit-aircraft missiles, mules might still have a place in warfare, replacing the helicopters and aircraft which had supplanted them in the 1960s.

The difficult part is teaching the mules to hover.

#204 ::: lorax sees Turkish spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 09:45 AM:

#204. Google Translate says it's about marble dust.

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