Thursday, July 29, 2010

Battles in July

At a bit of a standstill over the battle for July.

Tons of "decisive" battles in July for the American Civil War: Vicksburg and Gettysburg in 1863, Atlanta in 1864. But I have a hard time seeing the battles as decisive in and of themselves. Perhaps Vicksburg, but then, the entire campaign really led to the fall of the City. There are good arguments that the battle at Champion Hill, fought in May, really broke Pemberton and set up the collapse two months later. Gettysburg is really a replay of Antietam; Lee might have won if he'd let Meade come at him, but he didn't, and the Army of Northern Virgina was never really able to get over its notion of itself as the Shield of the Confederacy. It fought like hell in defense, but always seemed to lose its focus when it crossed the Potomac.

One "decisive" battle I'd hate to do but think that - along with Verdun, which is my choice for next February - is important in history is the first month of The Somme. The decisive nature of the battle wasn't on the ground but in the minds of the English generation of 1916 and generations thereafter. I'd argue that even today, if you try and propose to many English or French the notion of a hard-fought war you have to argue against the memory - however many times removed - of the pointless slaughter of the Somme and Verdun. Of the two, though, I think Verdun was by far the more terrible, and it had an effect on France much graver than the Somme had on England. So perhaps the one can stand for both, and of the two, the Meuse Mill would be my choice.

So...any candidates for the next two days - it's not too late! Vote for your favorite battle in July before the dog days of August commence...


Big Daddy said...

I'll put in a vote for Verdun. I just read "The Price of Glory" recently and other than Horne there aren't many good English language books about it. Also the two I have read both focused heavily on the effect of Verdun on French society and 1940.
The Somme is undeniably a major battle with some excellent history books about it but it's less significant against the war as a whole and I think part of the value of your battle blogs is to cover lesser known but important battles.

basilbeast said...

I've been reading the Gospel according to Tolkien, so I'll vote for the Somme.

Tolkien was then transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France on 4 June 1916.[43] He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."[44]

Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt.

Huh, my secret word is "palin".


Pluto said...

I don't have any great suggestions for August but in March you could do the Mexican-American war.

Not vital for itself, but it set up the careers of a large number of leaders (military and political) for the coming American Civil War.

For September you could do the fall of Quebec at the end of the French and Indian war. The war itself was relatively small but the consequences for North America are almost hard to overstate.

Pluto said...

Okay, I DO have a preference for August. The Somme was a tragedy (or a statistic if you remember Stalin's quote), Verdun was at least semi-intentional so I'd recommend watching the French get whacked than the British.

FDChief said...

Pluto: I'm reading a rather fascinating book on the French and Indian War (Fred Anderson's "Crucible of War") and found the author's take on Quebec, Wolfe, Montcalm and all that rather intriguing. His basic attitude is that Quebec was a disaster, Wolfe's suicide attempt that misfired and forced the British commander to fight a battle he had neither prepared for nor expected and won because the French commander was little better prepared and whose troops were worse disciplined.

He all but says the whole business was two gormless gits fucking up and the one whose army was the better managed to win.

Different from the usual Gray's Elegy sort of treatment, you'll admit...