Thursday, May 14, 2015

And speaking of mortars... baggage followed me to Antietam battlefield last week.

The Monday after my father died I drove from the rural town in southeastern Pennsylvania where my parents have lived for the past decade south and west to the hilly border of south-central Maryland, to the old Civil War battlefield of Sharpsburg (as the rebels called it) along the Antietam Creek.

I needed a day away from the room where I'd spent the past three days watching my old man die, and although I wrote about the fight back in 2008 I'd never been to the actual field. Given the park-like setting of these old battlegrounds it seemed like a good place to find peace.

And the park is, as all these parks memorializing the battles long ago in this most brutal of America's industrial wars seem to be, very pretty and pastoral. The stone soldiers and green-barreled cannon always seem to be a little sheepish, as if silently apologizing for reminding you of the vicious slaughter that they commemorate.

So I spent a pleasant idle day driving and wandering around the old battlefield, marveling at the suicidal bravery of those men on both sides who walked upright into a storm of rifle-musket and cannon fire. I stood by the narrow stone bridge now named after one of the U.S. Army's least competent general officers and tried to figure out how I as a sergeant of 1862 would have convinced my platoon to advance over that beaten zone and couldn't imagine it. Christ, what an awful nightmare.

But the place where my backstory caught up with me was near what had been the center of the fight, what has become known as Bloody Lane.
Here's what the Park Service says about this place:
"The Sunken Road, as it was known to area residents prior to the Battle of Antietam, was a dirt farm lane which was used primarily by farmers to bypass Sharpsburg and been worn down over the years by rain and wagon traffic. On September 17, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill placed his division of approximately 2,600 men along the road, piled fence rails on the embankment to further strengthen the position and waited for the advance of the Union army. As Federal troops moved to reinforce the fighting in the West Woods, Union Maj. Gen. William H. French and his 5,500 men veered south, towards Hill's position along the Sunken Road. As French's men approached the Sunken Road, the Confederate troops staggered them with a powerful volley delivered at a range of less than one hundred yards.

Union and Confederate troops dug in. For nearly four hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., bitter fighting raged along this road as French, supported by Gen. Israel B. Richardson`s division, sought to drive the Southerners back. Outnumbered but with a well-defended position, the Confederates in the road stood their ground for most of the morning. Finally, the Federals were able to overwhelm Hill's men, successfully driving them from this strong position and piercing the center of the Confederacy's line. However, the Federals did not follow up this success with additional attacks, and confusion and sheer exhaustion ended the fighting in this part of the battlefield. In three hours of combat, 5,500 soldiers were killed or wounded and neither side gained a decisive advantage. The Sunken Road was now Bloody Lane."
The stroll through the fields down to Bloody Lane was quick and pleasant, the sun warm on my shoulders and the shade of hedgerows noisy with the chipping of the sparrows. But the Lane itself came as something of a surprise.

I had imagined the feature as a sort of natural field fortification; deep, narrow, and with a long slope down to the east in front of it. This would have satisfied the conventional image of the Lane as a fearsome barrier and perfect killzone. The actual topography of the Lane and the ground imediately to the east is very different.

For one thing, the Lane runs along a natural swale with high ground to both east and west. A D.H. Hill private with an Enfield rifle-musket standing in the bottom waiting for French's guys to come at him would have seen this:

The field of fire from the Lane to the crest of the high ground to the northeast is maybe 30 meters, and nowhere more than 50. Hill's troopers' fire commanded a distance that a guy with a strong arm could have hucked a rock.

Now that surprised me.

I had imagined that the Union attack had to push across hundreds of yards of beaten zone, a sort of American St. Privat, and that bloody slog was what had given Bloody Lane its name. But, no. The Yanks had a perfectly good piece of dead ground close enough to have had the whole dang brigade dug into shallow foxholes covering the Reb positions whilst the battalion mortars dropped baseplates in defilade 200 meters to the rear and just fucking pasted the living shit out of every sonofabitch in that sunken road.

But...that was the problem. French and Richardson's people didn't have mortars.

Or, at least, not the sort of mortars I expect to have providing me with indirect fire support and blowing hell out of enemy revetments like this. Somewhere they had what were called "coehorn" mortars, but those things were probably stuck somewhere in the field trains miles away. Their supporting field artillery might have had a couple of howitzers stuck in somewhere, but their arc of fire was probably little more than a shallow rainbow that would have - assuming that the grunts could have worked out some way of running back to the battery to adjust the fall of shot - like as not either missed long or buried their shells in the front slope of the Lane.

The Bloody Lane Problem is just another occasion of the problem that American Civil War infantry had throughout the war; they just flat out didn't have any means or methods of quickly throwing effective quantities of high explosive into a hastily dug-in enemy. That problem was solved by the "trench mortar" forty years later...and the defenders responded by digging narrower and deeper trenches and roofing them over. No military technology is decisive for very long; human ingenuity is simply too ingenious. But in 1862 the rifled musket was the King of Battle, and the only way to winkle some bastards with Springfields or Enfields out from behind a wall or a fence, or out of a sunken lane, was with human muscle behind another Springfield, or Enfield backed up with direct-firing cannon artillery.

So the poor sods died in their thousands and tens of thousands assaulting Bloody Lane and the Mule Shoe and the stone bridge just a couple of miles away.

We Americans love our military technology. If anything, we tend to think that there's a technical solution to damn near any military problem. Bloody Lane, though, is a good reminder that sometimes the problem is that the technological solution won't work, or can't be applied, or just isn't there, and that the price of "politics by other means" will then be paid in full, and in blood.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mortar Maggots

It has been easily ten years since I hung 'em up, but there is something about seeing pictures like this... the news feed that jolts me upright in my chair like an electric shock and fills me with the hot, strong rage to stride roaring across the sand:
"What the fucking kind of oiled-up sodomistic cathouse romper room group-grope do you call this fucketty-fucking clusterfuck? Have you fucking people ever heard of goddamn sandbags, or did you use them all up for camel condoms, you spastic, grabastic dripping strings of rabid fennec drool? Have you ever fired a mortar before? Do you know which end of the fucking cannon the fucking round goes in or did that intelligence roll down your momma's leg with the rest of your attractive qualities? Well, I want to see some sand flying and some guns dug in and some ammo tarped and that all better happen in about three-tenths of a fucking picosecond or by Allah if there's a fucking farm and home store within this pestilential grid square a bunch of people whose seat of consciousness resides in their goddamn fourth point of contact are looking at a painfully intimate encounter with a cattle prod."
I mean, sure; I know that the average Saudi troop unit is as worthless as a tampon in a typhoon. But there's knowing things and knowing them, and this sort of rank incompetence trip-wires the slave-chains of some old habits and instincts that, while deeply buried, still remain.

Fuckin' worthless Saudis.

Filius est pars patris

Well, my father died in...well, it'd be wrong to call it "his sleep"; it was the "sleep" of the hinterlands of life, that gray taiga where the living world meets the dead. He was alive only in the sense that his heart still beat and his lungs still drew breath.

Early on the morning of Sunday May 3, 2015, however, that ended.

He died hard, my father, his body refusing to cease its function days after his mind had ceased to direct it. It watch. As a living man he was inordinately proud of his intellect. He was an engineer, a Cornell Chem-E from the postwar crop, and if there ever was a term that described him "engineer" was a good one. He was convinced that there was no problem that he couldn't out-think or solution that he couldn't design, whether to physical or personal matters.

He was in several ways a difficult man, but for all his cussedness he was also a decent, honorable man in a fashion that made his stubborn irreconcilability as much a quirk as a curse.

So to see his husk a mindless, twitching thing lying helpless in a bed was very hard. My mother and sister both told him that they were content with him, that he had finished his time here and they were willing to release him. I sat with him, talked to him, told him that he had done his job, raised his family and cared for his wife, and now that great work was ended.

But in his contrary fashion he refused to die until he was ready. And then, in the half-light of predawn, he was gone.

I don't want to be maudlin about his death. In many, many ways it was a great mercy. His mind was failing, the intellectual acuity that defined him in life leaving him apace. I believe that the part of him that was still lucid hated and raged against that decerebration, that loss of self, and both hated and feared what he was becoming, the gormless vacancy of mindless existence, the parody of his life that would have been not life but un-death. The death of his body spared him that, at least.

But that mercy is only for the dead. As his living remainder I still feel as if I'm floating, weightlessly untethered, beside him. As if our conversation simply halted, forever unfinished, as he stood up and left without a word. He is no longer and yet will always be my father, the man who raised me, whose manhood was my measure as I grew to manhood myself. I find myself turning to talk of some daily commonplace with him only to find emptiness there, and the understanding that the emptiness will be there until I find myself where he has gone.

I am in several senses my father's son. One of those is that I, too, am vain of my intelligence. As such I understand that it is the nature of life and death that sons are born to bury their fathers, that a man who dies before his children is in that way a blessed man and that the child who buries his father will find nepenthe for the grief and loss of that parting.

But that does not make me feel particularly blessed or peaceful today.

The son is a part of the father, and now that part of me is dust and ashes.

John L. "Jack" Lawes Jr. 1927-2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Master Chief says good-night

My father - the "Master Chief" for those of you longtime readers - is in his late eighties and has been slowly fading into the sort of twilight lands that we often wander into late in our lives. Forgetful, querulous, diffused...all the early signs of a mind that is dwindling towards that last goodnight.
But he was, as he has always been, physically sound. So it was a bit of a shock to get a phone call from my sister - who of the two of us is the geographically close one - last week informing me that my father was in the local hospital have suffered some sort of brain trauma, and the medical tests had revealed that the insult was bleeding inside his head, a sort of stroke, if you will.

He had lost much of his coherence and almost all of his intellectual function. Over the past weekend into Monday he appeared weak but physically healthier than mentally; the medical opinion was that whatever had happened inside his head had suddenly moved him into the "late stage" of Alzheimer's Syndrome. Monday he was moved into the Alzheimer/hospice care wing of the place where he and my mother now live out the ends of their lives. I and my sister were preparing for a part of our lives that now included the body but not the mind or soul of the man who was our father.

But Nature or my father, who was ever a masterful man, intended otherwise. My sister called again last evening to tell me that my father had fallen yet further into the wilderlands of brain death. He was lingering now like a cat in a doorway, motionless, at the very furthest borderlands of death. My sister called this morning to inform me that our father is still sleeping if you consider the consciousless twilight at the edge of life "sleep".

But the blades of the scissors are very near his thread. The hospice nurse told her "Hours. Days. But not weeks."

So I'm taking the wretched day-long cross country flight this afternoon not knowing whether I will arrive before he departs.

But in a very real sense he has already gone on ahead of me. The shell that breathes in the bed in the anonymous room in the industrial warehouse for the old is not my father, not the man who raised me or stood beside me through my childhood and young adulthood and manhood, who helped me become who I am and what I am.

That man is already gone. What remains for me is to honor the bargain that we all make, parent and child, father and son, mother and daughter, from the moment we begin our lives together; that we as parents will bring our children into the world and we as children will see our parents out of it.

Catullus said it better than I ever can, and so I will depart and leave him speak for me:

"Traveling through many lands and over many seas I have come, brother, for these wretched funeral rites, to give you the last dues of the dead and to speak, though in vain, to your silent ashes."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Jukebox: Stillin' the Water Edition

The Don Shirley Trio performing Waterboy, 1961:

This tune is supposed have made the Top 40 the year it was released, but I have no idea "which" chart this song is supposed to have been on. It's not the pop chart, or listed as one of the best selling singles of 1961 in any category. Whatever.

The really fascinating part of this tune - to me, anyway - is that the melody from this piece is very clearly the same tune that was released in the early Seventies as the "folk gospel" tune Put Your Hand in the Handand credited to someone named Gene McLellan...but so far as I know Shirley never got credit for the writing. Was this an adaptation of an older song, a spiritual, or an earlier gospel tune? Is that why it wasn't considered an original song?

I have no idea. But the abrupt string bass part that bookends the piece just emphasizes Shirley's gorgeous piano work. Just a little something for a rainy Friday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 670, Verse 1

The genesis of this post is another one, a general discussion of a variety of topics over at Nancy Nall's place. One of the topics that came up was the uniform regulations of the Roman troops posted to Jerusalem circa 30-something A.D. Nancy - having watched some sort of television Bible series called A.D. The Bible Continues - observed that:
"...I never come away from these things unimpressed with the Roman soldiers. The ones in “A.D.,” etc. had breast plates with nipple rings on them. Yes, little rings dangling from the nipple part of the armor. I guess it’s so you can tie a rabbit’s foot there, or your keys. I know Rome was wealthy, but is it possible every Roman soldier had identical fighting gear? The production of all those leather minis and brush helmets must have been a logistical nightmare. I just figured out why the centurions wore those brush helmets. So their men could pick them out on the field of battle, right? Plan for retirement, should it ever come: Read up on that stuff."
...which given my magpie mind, my recent peculiar interest in religious incunabula, and my penchant for military history, got me thinking about the whole place of the "Roman soldiers" in the Bible stories, films, and television.

For one thing, I never really thought about it, but we just kinda assume "Oh, sure, Roman soldiers" in the Passion play. We know they'll be there, and, sure enough, there they are all in their little "Roman soldier" kit - red jumpers, hoop armor, beavertail helmet, shield-and-spear.

But their purpose isn't really to be soldiers, right? They're there to be plot devices, to be the Bad Guy's henchmen, to get our hero to his appointment with destiny.

For all that I've soldiered and been interested in soldering all my life I never really thought much about them; they're just...always there in the Bible stories, types rather than individuals, not really that much different from the freaking sheep in the freaking manger scene.

But this discussion made me actually stop and think. I was one of those spear-carrying "Roman soldier" extras and as such I can tell you; there was nothing generic to me about who I was and what I did, and those guys were soldiers just like me.

If you're the one with the sword you're not just a "Roman soldier". You're Private So-and-so of the First Contubernia, Second Centuria, Cohors I Something-or-other. Your unit, your assignment, your experience and background have a hell of a lot to do with how you look, how you act, and how you effect everyone and everything around you.

So I got to wondering; first, who would have been posted to Jerusalem that particular Passover, and, second, what would they have looked like? How would they have turned out to handle the crowds and take care of all that imperial business as it involved some troublemaking street preacher?

Here's how the makers of this Bible series (called A.D. The Bible Continues, by the way) think that they should have looked.

You'll note that its your basic Level 1 Hollywood-Roman; senior officers in the fancy breastplate (called a lorica musculata, by the way, and I don't see any nipple rings but maybe that's just me...) and the grunts in the bog-standard helmet, shield, spears, and the this-is-so-Roman hoop armor
(By the way, that sort of armor is typically called a lorica segmentata these days, but its worth noting that the term never appears in Latin documents of the period - if anything, that particular type of armor was probably just called a "lorica", although I'd pay money to know what the Roman GI's slang term for it was; the Latin equivalent of "full battle-rattle"..)
Think of every Bible epic you've ever seen from Ben Hur all the way to whatever the fuck the Veggie Tales lunacy did for Easter and that's what the "Roman soldiers" look like, right?

Okay. So. One thing we can discount right off; none of these guys would have had those movie-Roman cylindrical-rectangular shields like the guy on the left is carrying and the guys in the TV scene above are equipped with.

The rectangular scutum was a purely legionary piece of equipment, and so far as we know there were no legionary troops in the province of Judea that year. I poked around a bit and what I came up with from various Internet sources was that - given that Judea was pretty minor province and not one on or near a threatening frontier enemy like Sarmatia, Dacia, or the German tribes – the closest actual legions were in Syria. As far as I can tell the Roman infantry troops in Judea in the time of the events of this television series were not legionaries but auxilia.

The auxilia were not, as you might think, light troops or irregulars. They were armed and organized as the legions, and their primary distinction was that they were typically recruited from non-citizen volunteers; the legionary troops had to be Roman-Romans, citizens. By the 1st Century AD the auxiliaries were typically recruited either from Italians (who would have been Roman citizens by then, too, though) or non-citizen non-Latins from Roman provinces. Few would have been actual barbari, the wild men from outside the Empire

That's them above. Notice how much the guys look like legionaries? Only the round shield (clipeus) gives them away. Anyway, it appears that the Judea garrison was the equivalent of a brigade - three cohors, the equivalent of a modern infantry battalion - two in Jerusalem and the third in Caesarea, the Roman capital.

Among the units I read are known to have been posted to Judea are Cohors I Sebastenorum (supposedly recruited from Samaria, the hilly region of modern northeastern Israel - "good Samaritans", remember?), Cohors Prima Italica Civium Romanorum, Cohors Secunda Italica Civium Romanorum and Cohors Prima Augusta. The first two would have been originally non-Romans but Roman allies or vassals - what were called socii or "allies" - recruited from the Italian peninsula. After the Social Wars some of these units were given Roman citizenship, hence the coveted "civium Romanorum" designation. An ala (battalion) of cavalry was also reported to have been stationed in Judea, Ala I Sebastenorum that was also said to have been recruited in Samaria.

So...basically these guys weren’t ash-and-trash, but they also weren’t legion infantry. So they would have probably gotten older, non-spec equipment that the guys from Legio X Fretensis handed down to them, or procured their own from local contractors.

Because the 1st Century Roman Army was similar to the modern U.S. Army in that its equipment was produced by civilian contractors; not until the 3rd Century AD did actual government manufactories appear to supply the forces. The legion would have had a number of local armorers making their kit, and apparently repairing what they had – archaeological finds have included armor that showed signs of alterations or repairs made some time after the original construction – who were probably given some sort of pattern or guidance that showed what the “issue” arms and armor were supposed to look like. So there was SOME uniformity. But the armor finds typically show small differences related to the local guy making it. And armor in particular was expensive and hard to make, so it tended to be kept around and re-issued even after newer models were introduced.

In particular, you'll note that in the picture from the TV show that the Roman EMs are ALL shown wearing that hoop armor - which is another Hollywoodism. Archaeology and most historians I've read suggest that eastern Roman soldiers probably wore some version of scale or lamellar armor (lorica squamata) or the chainmail (lorica hamata) that the auxiliaries are wearing in the picture just above. Everybody in the The Bible Continues-version of the Roman Army is uniformed exactly alike, and alike in the hoop-armor way.

But how likely was that? Combining the local-manufacture issue with the Eastern-style-scale-armor likelihood and the armor-is-spendy-so-older-models-tend-to-hang-around-the-supply-room thing my guess is that in a typical Roman auxiliary squad in Jerusalem circa 30AD you’d probably have found a couple of guys with mail, another maybe one or two with the hoop-armor, and a bunch more with scale armor.

Similar? Yes? Identical, like modern troops? No.

But making your TV Romans look like that is hard on the prop person and not the Hollywood image of "Roman soldier", so instead we get the Hollywood version on the electronic teevee.
So we already know that the TV Romans are dressed as legionaries and not as the auxiliaries they should be, and they all look waayyyy more uniform than an actual Roman auxiliary outfit would have. What else might have looked different from the Hollywood version?

I should add that to make matters more difficult for us to figure this out our actual understanding of Roman dress and equipment is far from complete. A big part of the problem is that we have such little actual physical evidence of daily life in the Roman Army.

Statuary depictions were usually carved by sculptors who had only the local troopers to go by, if that (my understanding is that most military historians are of the opinion that many of the depictions on Trajan’s Column, for example, were done by Roman artisans who hadn’t seen many of the soldiers they depicted and guessed or inferred the uniforms and equipment from the ones that HAD, such as the guard units stationed in the capital that would have looked very little like frontline troopers).

The written documentation is often incomplete and sometimes contradictory. Because of the perishability of metal archaeological finds are typically sparse – the Kalkriese excavations I wrote about in the Teutoburg engagement back in 2008 have produced some tremendous revelations about legionary kit in the 1st Century AD simply because of the concentration and association of legionary metal artifacts.

So with what little physical evidence we have I'm left with trying to infer what might have been the “inherent military probability” of a detachment commander tasked with sending a couple of companies (centuria) on personal security detail with the local military governor. What would I have done, in his caligae?

Well, my guess is that, given the relative quiet of Jerusalem at the moment I’d have had the boys kitted out in their “Number 2″ or “Class B” uniform; not the fanciest parade outfits – that would have been too likely to get mussed tussling with unruly crowds or, worse, sold in the marketplace by Private Marcus whose thirst for wine, carelessness with issue equipment, and tendency to manage to exchange the latter for the former was notorious – but with their best field gear and sidearms only. I'd want them to look good, but not so fancy that if riot control was required that they'd be hampered by expensive and delicate parade geegaws that, if lost or damaged, would have to be replaced or repaired or worse - come out of my unit's fucking budget. The Hades with that for a game of soldiers.

The pila spear would be more of a nuisance than a benefit in an urban operation-other-than-war environment, so they’d likely get left in the barracks. Aid-to-the-civil-power-order, then: helmet without the fancy parade plumes (but officers with their sidewise helmet-brush, though, to look the smarter), lorica, clipeus and gladius-only would be my bet. So these guys fumbling with shield and spear? Not really.
I'll bet that at least one of the centuria would have been tasked as a reaction force in full combat kit – shield and pilum and all – somewhere close by in case real trouble started. Since what we know from the scriptural sources suggests that didn’t happen, however, my guess is that any sort of depiction of the Romans in the bible stories that shows them with shield-and-spear is pure Hollywood.

Does this really matter a lick? Of course not; the people who made this Bible-epic aren't telling history, they're telling a Bible story. Expecting them to fuss about accuracy is like expecting logic from an animated cartoon; pleasant when encountered but not really required.
Or, as a certain famous Bible-guy is supposed to have said: "Truth? Dude, like, WTF is that..?"

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Only Post I Will Ever Write About the 2016 Election

Because...ugh. The thought of the next year and a half makes me want to drink a case of Natty Light and binge-watch reruns of Charmed.

It's going to be epically awful watching and listening to the "news" media try to pretend that there's an actual choice between a bunch of right-centerist corporatist candidates...and a monkeyhouse full of shit-flinging Gilded Age neoimperial theocratic nutbars.

Look. I absolutely hate the fucking idea of voting for Hillary Clinton and the wholly-owned-subsidiary wing of the Democratic Party.

But what's the alternative?

Seriously. Not the "look what an upstanding liberal Ralph Nader is!" alternative, but a real alternative to letting the Imperial legion of lunatic Tenthers, guns-and-God-bothering Womb Raiders get their mitts on the levers of power.

Will Clinton pretend that we're not heating up the planet with our exhaust fumes? Look for imaginary booga-booga terrorists under the bed (well, she might in Libya, but, still...)? Hand over the national checkbook to Goldman Sachs? Gut unions, attempt to destroy Medicaid and Social Security, fellate Bible-bangers, toss minorities of all flavors under the white, male, Christopath bus?


Would I love to see another FDR in the White House, another Congress like the one that rammed through the New Deal on Capitol Hill?

Sure. But that ain't gonna happen.

So there's really only one hope; pull that Democratic lever and work inside the Party to push it leftwards. And there's nothing other than that to say.

Because outside the walls there is only fire, and madness in the dark.

Thursday, April 09, 2015


One hundred and fifty years ago today the longest sustained episode of treason against the United States came to an end.
I'm gonna go all out here; I think it's high time to actually win that battle.
As an aside, my mother taught elementary school in Virginia in the nineteen fifties. It was just her luck that she - a native Floridian but a national traveler in a time when very few people moved from their birthplace and someone who really thought of herself as a Yankee from New York State - had to teach the War of the Rebellion to her sixth grade class. Her memory is that it was eight weeks of Southern leaders, Southern heroes, and Southern victories with a couple of days at the end where the unpleasant defeat and occupation were breezed through. She says she completely understood her students who were shocked to find out that their state had lost.
Now I'm not going to go all Brian Beutner on you and suggest that this day be designated a national holiday. That seems a trifle past-the-sell-by-date and unlikely to succeed given the current GOP tongue-bathing of the ideals of the old Confederacy and the Articles of Confederation theory of governance.


I'm all in with him about the idea of renaming the goddamn military posts named after people who fought and killed American soldiers.

And there's a pantsload of 'em. Bobby Lee? Braxton Bragg? John Bell Hood? George Pickett? George Gordon? All those treasonous sonsofbitches have an Army post named after them.

The argument you'd probably hear is that "They were fighting for what they believed in!" to which I'd say; "The fuck. So were fucking Erich von fucking Manstein and Isoroku fucking Yamamoto and you aren't suggesting we name an Army post or a Navy base after them, are you?"
After which you'd probably hear "But they were great leaders!" To which I'd say "A. P. Fucking Hill."
Historical Note: A.P. Hill, one of Bobby Lee's sorriest corps commanders, was an overpromoted cockup who couldn't figure out how to work battlefield tactics if he had been handed a goddamn large-print field manual and a copy of his enemy's situation maps. He did well arriving to help prevent disaster at Antietam but screwed the pooch at Fredricksburg and at the first day at Gettysburg, again at Bristoe Station and again in the Wilderness. Later in the war he was usually too sick to command but still managed to step on his poncho from time to time. He also got the clap at West Point, which I'm not sure to credit him with as some sort of bizarre achievement or add to his long string of fuckups. He was such an ardent traitor that he committed the Civil War version of "suicide-by-cop" on the first day of April, 1865, riding into the Union lines so as to ensure a picket blew him away and thus ensuring that he couldn't screw up anything in the remaining nine days of war. Anyway, if anyone tells you that the Southern forts are named for "great leaders"...there he is.
So let's clean the slavery traitors out of the Army's house; let's rename Fort Bragg after the Rock of Chickamauga and Fort Gordon after Bill Sherman (since the one in Panama is now called Coco Quako or something...).
And why the hell don't we have an Army post named after George Marshall?

Anyway, Happy Victory over Treason In Defense of Slavery Day!

Killer Queens

Although when I tend to think of myself as a soldier I think of myself as a redleg for much of my time in the service I was in some form of infantry outfit or another, whether as a line medic, evac driver, or as an infantryman of some sort (and yes, earthpigs, mortars do SO count...)
So it was with interest I read Gerry Long's article in this month's Journal of Military Operations about "organizing infantry." Long provides a concise history of the U.S. Army's fiddling with the infantry squad between 1946 and today and then comes up with three recommendations of his own. They are:
1. "The squad/section weaponry should be based around one LMG and one grenade launcher.
2. (E)liminate the fire-team structure. Organise the squad (or in the British case, section) around a squad leader (section commander) & 2ic. The 2ic could still command an ad-hoc fire-team if the tactical situation required.
3. (S)implify the light infantryman’s tactical employment. The squad (or section) would either fire or manoeuvre, not both. Battle drill along with fire-teams should be seen for what they were designed for: a vehicle to train the squad, not a basis for offensive doctrine. This would simplify the low level commander’s tactical duties and training."
Now I'll be the first to admit that I don't have strong feelings about this one way or the other. The issue seems to be, in Long's words, that "...although a fire-team squad might be useful when at full strength, in combat it would remain to brittle. The four man fire-team could not stand casualties and remain effective. After a few losses, the squad would either reorganise into fewer fire-teams or else stop using its fire-team organisational structure. Either way this to-fro with squad organisation in combat would needlessly complicate an already confusing situation, adding to the friction of war."Hmmm.

I think one factor in this question that Long doesn't take into account is the one that (in my opinion) has been a big, if unexamined, problem that currently afflicts and will continue to afflict my Army; the impact of rebellion-suppression guerrilla wars, both on unit organization and skills.

The 1946 conference that Long cites in his article as having come up with the gold standard for infantry small-unit organizations had just come away from the "high-intensity" fighting of WW2. The U.S. Army has not since then faced a peer foe equivalent to the German military of the Forties or even the Japanese Army of the 1942-43 period except for the CPVA in Korea (where the post-WW2 reorganization seems to have worked effectively) and, in isolated engagements, the NVA between about 1965-1972.

Since then the U.S. Army's opponents have been exclusively either local guerrillas or the sort of half-assed Third World "armies" typified by the Saddam-era Iraqi military. Much of the fighting the U.S. infantry has done has been against lightly-armed, poorly-organized, and badly-led rebels like the Sunni muj in Iraq and the Talib irregulars in Afghanistan. Frankly, there is very little that sort of enemy can do that will expose a flawed organization...assuming that the organization is flawed. One of the lessons from WW1 was that imperial policing of the sort that the British Army had trained on for most of the 99 years prior to 1914 was not a good way to train a modern army for a mechanized First World War. I suspect that if - Moloch forfend! - the U.S. Army gets into a similar sort of war that we will find that fighting a bunch of raggedy-assed Third World mooks will have done us very little good.

But...let's be real. Mechanized warfare is a bloody business for infantrymen. Something like, what, 90% of the combat casualties from WW2 were infantry. For a low birthrate, danger-averse society like the 21st Century United States to get involved in a WW2-level of infantry fighting would take...well, it'd take another Korea, and I don't see where that could happen (except maybe...Korea...)

So perhaps there's nothing to be concerned about, this question of fire teams and squads and what they can and can't do...

Or perhaps there should be.

But I am hopeful we will never have to find out.