Category Archives: military

Emancipation Proclamation Blowback

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863.

From Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1796-1812:

On January 12, 1863, the [Confederate] president [Davis] issued a proclamation stipulating that captured officers and men of black Union regiments would be turned over to states to be tried for inciting or participating in slave insurrections. Congress enacted legislation endorsing this policy but substituting military courts for state courts. This change would have made no difference in the likely punishment—execution. But carrying out this policy proved to be impracticable. Union secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton ordered all exchanges of Confederate officers stopped so they could be held as hostages for retaliation if the Confederacy executed Northern officers. The Davis administration decided to restore captured ex-slave soldiers to bondage instead of putting them to death—though in fact many were killed by enraged Southern soldiers rather than allowed to surrender. “Captured slaves should be returned to their masters” if they could be found, Davis informed one Confederate general. “Until such time, they might be usefully employed on public works.”

On July 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued an “Order of Retaliation” stating that for every Union captive executed, a Confederate prisoner should be treated likewise; for every captive reenslaved, a Confederate prisoner would be placed at hard labor on public works. This order was effective in preventing the official (but not unofficial) killing of black prisoners and their officers. But it did not completely stop reenslavement, because few Southern prisoners were remanded to hard labor in retaliation. The Confederates refused to exchange black soldiers under the exchange cartel negotiated in 1862. This refusal caused exchanges to cease, and the prisons of both sides began the descent toward overcrowding and tragic mortality that debased the last eighteen months of the war.

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Assessing Prospects for Negotiated Peace, 1864

From Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2125-42:

The apparent stalemate in front of Atlanta compounded the sense of futility and failure that spread through the North in the summer of 1864. Grant had bogged down before Petersburg and Richmond after the Army of the Potomac suffered sixty thousand casualties in two months with little to show for all the carnage. “Who shall revive the withered hopes that bloomed at the beginning of Grant’s campaign?” asked a New York newspaper on July 12.

Northern war weariness revived the prospects of Copperhead Democrats, who hoped to nominate a peace candidate for president and defeat Lincoln’s reelection. A clamor for negotiations with the Confederacy became insistent. Lincoln had no faith in such a parley. He was running for reelection on a platform calling for “unconditional surrender” by the Confederacy and an amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery in a restored Union. But the United States president could not ignore the pressure for peace. When Confederate agents in Canada convinced New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley that they were empowered to open negotiations, Greeley in turn pressed Lincoln to respond. He did so, specifying Union and emancipation as preconditions for any such negotiations. This proviso gave Confederates a propaganda victory by enabling them to accuse Lincoln of sabotaging the chance for peace by laying down conditions he knew were unacceptable to the Confederacy. So long as the war seemed to be going badly for the North—as it did in July and August 1864—this impression dimmed the prospects for Lincoln’s reelection.

Jefferson Davis had no more faith that negotiations could achieve peace with independence for the Confederacy than Lincoln believed they could achieve peace with reunion. But while Davis did not have to face a reelection campaign, he too was subject to pressure from Southerners who longed for peace. Vice President Alexander Stephens led an informal coalition that urged Davis to cultivate Northern Peace Democrats by agreeing to negotiations without insisting on Confederate independence as a precondition. Davis rejected this approach. Since independence would be an ultimate goal of negotiations, he maintained, it would be dishonest and useless to pretend otherwise.

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Assessing Confederate Military Options

From Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson (Penguin, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2566-2603:

Where could we get a better or a wiser man” than Jefferson Davis for commander in chief? wondered Josiah Gorgas in 1865. There was of course no right or wrong answer to that question. Nobody can say whether Robert Toombs, Howell Cobb, or any other potential Confederate president would have been more successful. What we do know about those gentlemen elicits skepticism. Most delegates to the Montgomery convention in 1861 believed Davis to be the best man for the job, and no clear evidence exists that they were wrong. The fact that the Confederacy lost the war does not prove that it could have been won with a different commander in chief. And under Davis’s leadership, the South appeared to be on the cusp of success on at least three occasions when Confederate victories had caused deep demoralization in the North: the summer of 1862, the winter and spring of 1863, and the summer of 1864. But Union victories at Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Atlanta blunted Southern momentum and revived Northern determination to fight through to ultimate triumph.

Could Jefferson Davis have done anything different on those three occasions or at any other time during the war to produce Confederate victory? That question too is ultimately unanswerable, but this has not stopped historians from speculating. Such speculation focuses mainly on two subjects: military strategy and military commanders. Would a different strategy have brought Confederate success? The political necessity to defend all frontiers of the Confederacy produced a strategy of dispersed defense in 1861. Davis would have preferred a strategy of concentration for an offensive-defensive campaign (as he termed it), but demands from state governors and other officials required dispersion. The initial poverty of weapons and logistical capacity precluded large offensives.

Union success in breaking through the thin gray lines of dispersed defenses in 1862 forced a revision of Confederate strategy. With new commanders of the two principal Southern armies, Robert E. Lee and Braxton Bragg, the Confederates embarked on their most ambitious offensive-defensive campaigns in the late summer of 1862, with a reprise in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863. After experiencing initial success, these campaigns ultimately failed. Subsequent Union offensives compelled the Confederacy to fall back to an essentially defensive strategy for the rest of the war.

The two principal exceptions to that defensive strategy were Jubal Early’s raid to the outskirts of Washington in July 1864 and John Bell Hood’s invasion of Tennessee in November. They resulted in the virtual destruction of these two Southern armies in the Shenandoah Valley in October and at Nashville in December. These two campaigns were clearly beyond the Confederates’ capacity to execute by that stage of the war. Lee’s prosecution of offensive-defensive operations in 1862 and 1863 may have represented the Confederacy’s best chance for victory, but Hood’s effort to repeat that strategy in 1864 was wrongheaded, and Davis’s approval of that invasion may have been his worst strategic mistake.

Two other options were available to the Confederacy. The first was a “Fabian” strategy of yielding territory to the enemy until the moment came to strike at his most vulnerable tentacles. Like the Roman general Quintus Fabius in the Second Punic War, or George Washington in the American Revolution, or the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov in 1812, Confederate commanders could have traded space for time, kept the army concentrated and ready to strike enemy detachments dangling deep in Southern territory, and above all avoided destruction of their armies. Such a Fabian defensive strategy, so the argument goes, might have worn out the will or capacity of the Union to continue fighting, as the Americans and Russians had done to the British and French in 1781 and 1812–13. To a considerable degree, this was Joseph Johnston’s apparent strategy in Virginia in 1862 and especially in Georgia in 1864. But Johnston seemed prepared to yield Richmond and Atlanta rather than risk his army—and he did stand by while Vicksburg fell. To Davis this was a strategy of surrender that would have had fatal consequences for the Confederacy. He was probably right. In the end the strategy of the offensive-defensive did not work either, but as practiced by Robert E. Lee it probably came closest to success.

Another strategic alternative was guerrilla war. Confederate partisans were active behind Union lines in several theaters, and quasi-guerrilla cavalry commanders like Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan also carried out many successful raids. Although Davis approved of these activities, he showed relatively little interest in guerrilla warfare as a primary strategy. In this lack of interest his instincts were probably sound. The Confederacy was an established polity with the institutions of a nation-state and an organized army with professional commanders. Conventional warfare supplemented by auxiliary guerrilla operations or cavalry raids behind enemy lines represented its best strategic mix. Guerrilla actions as the main strategy are most appropriate for a rebel force trying to capture the institutions of government, not to defend them. And a slave society that practices guerrilla warfare is playing with fire, for it opens up opportunities for the slaves to carry out their own guerrilla actions against the regime.

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Japan Occupation Priorities, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4800-4812, 4856-78:

The Eighth Army had many occupation jobs, but its first and most urgent one was the succoring and speedy release of Allied war prisoners in Japanese stockades. We arrived prepared for the task. Back on Okinawa “mercy teams” had been organized. They came in with our advance airborne echelons. As a result, American planes swooped over prison camps that very same day to drop food and supplies. Some of our teams rushed inland immediately to seize, before they could be destroyed, the records of the more notorious camps. This was to provide evidence for the future war-crimes trials.

Day after day. Allied prisoners poured into Yokohama on special trains that we had commandeered for rescue missions. They were sick, emaciated, verminous; their clothing was in tatters. We were ready for them with band music, baths, facilities for medical examination, vitamin injections, hot food, and hospital beds. Some would go home by plane; others by hospital ship when strong enough to travel. Perhaps the stolid Japanese themselves had their first lesson in democracy in the Yokohama railroad station. The Japanese have only contempt for a prisoner of war. They stared in amazement when we greeted our wasted comrades in arms with cheers and embraces.

The Eighth Army’s teams covered the whole of Japan on these missions of liberation. Allied prisoners of all nationalities were released and processed for evacuation at a rate of a thousand a day. By clearing the camps on the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku in eighteen days, we far outraced our own most optimistic time schedule. In all, the Eighth Army liberated and evacuated 23,985 persons.

Looking back, I am now impressed by the magnitude of the mission we undertook when American troops landed in Japan. Here, summarized, are some of the things Eighth Army was called upon to do:

1. Establish vast numbers of American soldiers in Japan without provoking combat.

2. Provide housing, clothing, recreation for them.

3. Construct many airfields and thousands of houses for our dependents.

4. Supervise operation of all railroads and ports.

5. Follow through and assure the complete demobilization of the Japanese Army.

6. Crush Japan’s war potential by the destruction of ten thousand airplanes, three thousand tanks, ninety thousand fieldpieces, three million items of small arms, and one million tons of explosives.

These things we did, and there were many more. We took charge of the unloading, warehousing, and proper distribution of relief food sent from the United States to succor the starving. We supervised the repatriation of six million Japanese who arrived at home ports from the Emperors now lost overseas empire. Under our direction, a million displaced Koreans, Ryukyuans, and Chinese, who had served as slave labor, were sent home. And then there were the never-ending and multitudinous duties and responsibilities of our Military Government units, which I shall discuss more fully later.

The Americans found a nation which was on its economic death-bed. Bare chimneys showed where commercial plants had once operated. Not only was a very large percentage of Japan’s industry destroyed, but surrender came at a time when the country was entirely geared for war. As a consequence, a Japanese plant which had escaped serious damage still was not prepared for peacetime operation. The vital textile industry was in collapse. Most of the merchant marine was under the sea, and there was almost no food. Gone with the lost colonies were the oil of Sakhalin, the rice of Korea, the sugar of Formosa.

Gone were the fisheries of the Okhotsk Sea, the soybean and iron ore of Manchuria. There was a shortage of all raw materials. But the most critical shortage was coal. Coal production was held up by lack of equipment and skilled man-power, and lack of food for the miners. Increased food production depended on more fertilizer. Fertilizer, in turn, depended on more coal. Only four hundred and fifty thousand tons monthly were being mined in late 1945. The goal for 1950 is forty million tons, or over three million tons monthly. We’ve made progress there.

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Southwest Pacific Campaigns in 1942

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 609-28, 1153-63:

“Were the Buna and Sanananda campaigns really justified?” an acquaintance asked recently. “Why didn’t you just by-pass the Japanese garrisons and leave them there to starve and rot?”

The question shows a profound ignorance of the situation as it existed in 1942. It is true that later in the war we successfully by-passed many Japanese garrisons, cut across their sea and land supply lines, and, in the words of the callous amateur strategist, left them “to starve and rot.” But that was at a time when we had secure bases from which such operations could be maintained, when we had achieved air superiority and were on the way to supremacy at sea as well.

At this same time, it should be made clear, the Allies were also dealing with another Japanese offensive in the Pacific, the drive down the Solomons. This theater of action was under Navy command with headquarters in Noumea. The area was called “South Pacific” to differentiate it from “Southwest Pacific,” where General MacArthur was Allied chief.

In the Solomons, operating on a shoestring and with heavy losses in fighting ships and planes, Americans were seeking to maintain a precarious foothold on the advanced beachhead at Guadalcanal. I still recall the dismal August day when Admiral Leary told me the results of the Battle of Savo Island. We had five heavy cruisers and a group of destroyers there to protect our Guadalcanal transports. The engagement lasted eight minutes. The Japanese had no losses. We lost four of our cruisers — the Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, and Canberra (Royal Australian Navy). The fifth cruiser, the Chicago, was damaged. It took considerable optimism in those days to believe we were on the winning side of the fight.

It was a poor man’s war in the Pacific, from the Allied point of view, when the Battle of Buna was fought. The miracles of production managed by American factories and American labor were slow to manifest themselves Down Under. We were at the end of the supply line. There were no landing craft for amphibious operations; indeed, because the Japanese had air control in New Guinea waters, no naval fighting ship of any size was permitted to enter the area. The Japanese had gone into the war fully prepared; in 1942 it was they who had the specially designed landing craft for amphibious campaigns, the equipment, the ships, the planes, and the battle experience.

In battle the margin between victory and defeat is often narrow. Under the terrific pressures of combat, officers and men alike tend to forget that the enemy is hard pressed too. Sometimes just plain stubbornness wins the battle that awareness and wisdom might have lost. That’s what happened at Buna. The Japanese morale cracked before ours did. Major Schroeder was one of the brave, stubborn men. He was killed in the very attack that won us the sea.

Several days of hard fighting followed. On January 2 a coordinated attack was made by both the Urbana and Warren Forces. More tanks had come in to spearhead the Warren Force attack, and the Urbana Force had succeeded in surrounding the Mission. Before nightfall we controlled the entire coastline east of the Girua River. I find that I wrote that evening: “At 4:30 p.m. I crossed the bridge (from the Island), after C Company had passed, and I saw American troops with their bellies out of the mud and their eyes in the sun. … It was one of the grandest sights I have ever seen.”

Organized resistance ended on January 3, but for many days thereafter our soldiers were hunting out Japanese stragglers in the jungle and swamps. Almost all resisted capture and had to be killed.

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Australian vs. American Military in New Guinea

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 428-37, 1883-1904:

The attempted integration of Australian and American troops at times produced curious results. Sir John [Lavarack] laughed about the fact that he had an American officer at Toowomba who was supposed to be his operations officer. I had been told before leaving Washington that General MacArthur had asked for key American officers to assist the Australians with their staff work. The Australians didn’t think they needed much help from anyone. Many of the commanders I met had already been in combat with the British in North Africa, and, though they were usually too polite to say so, considered the Americans to be — at best — inexperienced theorists. At Camp Cable I encountered a situation that was little less than fantastic. The 32nd Division was assigned to the American I Corps for offensive training and to the Australian II Corps for defensive training. This was a military conception entirely new to me and, of course, quite impracticable. On a day when I paid a visit to observe artillery firing, Australian staff officers arrived to look over defensive techniques. The 32nd went through its paces for them too. Out of the recollections of a Sunday school boyhood there came to me a cogent bit of Scriptural wisdom: “Man cannot serve two masters.”

In New Guinea the fighting into the autumn was largely an Aussie show. Our Air made it possible, our Amphibs did much of the fetch-and-carry, elements of our 162nd Infantry Regiment handled themselves gallantly, but the main responsibility was borne by the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions. Because of the term “Allied Forces,” which the censors then employed, many Americans still believe erroneously that our own troops carried the burden of that back-busting advance against the Salamaua-Lae-Finschhafen sector. The Aussie advance took off from the inland village of Wau, which is about one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Port Moresby. Around Wau, which is thirty-five hundred feet high, lies one of the richest alluvial gold regions in the world. More important militarily to the Australians was the small, steeply sloping Wau airfield. An interesting and little known chapter of history was written there.

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1st Filipino Regiment & Battalion, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 3745-58:

In the main, these island assaults [“52 D-Days” between Dec. 1944 and Aug. 1945] were made with small units of such divisions as the 24th, the 40th, the Americal. One of the colorful outfits which took part in the enterprise was the 1st Philippine Infantry. This was an American regiment made up of American Filipinos (most of them from California) who had volunteered to fight for the homeland. The regiment was organized as the result of a suggestion by the then President Quezon to President Roosevelt. I used the 1st Philippine Infantry also in the subjugation of Samar, and its record was excellent.

As a matter of fact, by this time I had requested that General Irving be assigned to me as the boss of what we called Eighth Army Area Command. This meant that Fred Irving would command combat activities in Samar as well as supervise military areas behind us. Fred fell heir not only to the 1st Philippine Infantry but to an entirely separate outfit of American Filipinos known as the 1st Philippine Battalion. These troops had sound training. When GHQ requested Spanish-speaking American troops to serve as military police in Manila, Irving recruited them from the 1st Philippine Battalion.

Ten amphibious landings were necessary to wipe out the Japanese positions astride the over-water route south of Luzon. Usually we sent Americans ashore for the quick capture of an island and then moved in native irregulars and guerrillas to serve as garrison troops. In this way we were able to use our combat veterans over and over again. Much of the credit for the speed and efficiency of the enterprise belongs to the motor torpedo squadrons of Seventh Fleet. By day and night raids, by constant surveillance, they disrupted interisland traffic and blocked evacuation of enemy units to Luzon.

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