Sunday, May 19, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Years after the Fateful Battle

               The concussion of artillery, the stammering of hooves, the rebel cries, the thunderous roar of musketry and the screams of the wounded have subsided from the now tranquil undulating hills of the Gettysburg battlefield. Gettysburg now stammers with the footsteps of visitors from the world over, its military significance not only for American citizenry but for those abroad.
                With the upcoming festivities of Gettysburg 150th anniversary drawing close, the town will bustle and overflow with visitors seeking to relive in their minds the epic battle which occurred there. To some they will take guided tours, to others that have studied the battle, the monuments and their research will be their guide. The heights of Little Round Top will ignite the agony of the Confederate soldiers who descended it and the rippling field that Pickett charged across brings many questions to mind.  
                To start, visitors traversing Gettysburg this summer and fall should, before they step foot on the battlefield, pick up a book on the battle and read it cover to cover. Amazon, your local bookstore or even a local flea market will have a book on the battle of Gettysburg. Look at the maps provided in the book and absorb the author’s narrative… highlight features in the book you want to see on the battlefield, then bring the book with you on your trip. You will get a fuller experience of the battle and pick pieces that peak your interest… not the tour guide or others.
                On the battlefield take time to sit and visualize the battle from your reading, view some of the monuments to get your bearings. Maybe pick a specific unit that a relative fought with or one that you find interesting, for this author it is Berdan’s sharpshooters. If your trip occurs in July, realize that soldiers fought in the stinging, exhausting heat of a Pennsylvania summer with wool kepi, tunic and trousers.       
The reader may ask… “What does Gettysburg provide in amenities and diversions?”
One of the most enjoyable diversions on the battlefield has to be horseback riding on the battlefield. Hickory Hollow Farms ( provides horseback riding for visitors to the battlefield. This author suggests a two hour or more ride because you will be able to see more of the battlefield, also for an extra $5 dollars a licensed guide will ride along. At $40 an hour (or $45 w/ guide) it is money well spent traversing parallel with West Confederate Avenue then entering onto the field where Pickett’s charge occurred then onward… as many hours as you are willing to spend. Hickory Hollow Farms treats their horses very well, looking healthy and well maintained.
For the military collector, that is seeking a new piece for his collection… from Gettysburg. The Antique Center of Gettysburg ( is an excellent place to stop in. It has displays from sellers all over the country… numerous military items from Civil War onward, also military miniature soldiers. If you read military history books, they have a fine collection of books for very reasonable prices. For Civil War collectibles visit The Horse Soldier (, even if finances do not permit you to purchase an item, it allows you the opportunity to view original weapons, accoutrements and clothing of the period. Finally, Battlefield Military Museum on 900 Baltimore Pike, take a gander at what World War Two items are for sale and see a very fine collection of militaria (rates for the museum are not listed online but this author thought they weren’t more than $10). The owner has been collecting for decades… and can answer numerous questions on militaria.  
This was just a short list of some great spots in Gettysburg and a singularly exciting excursion on horseback. Take time to poke around the town of Gettysburg, the out of the way coffee shops that cater to students of Gettysburg College, restaurants and the other multiple antique stores. For the week of July commemorating the battle, Gettysburg will be filled to the brim with visitors. Reenactments, living history camps and numerous other activities will be taking place. Have an enjoyable trip to such an important piece of American history (and may its history not be forgotten). See you on the battlefield.   

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Battle Analysis: Battle of the Monongahela, Braddock’s Defeat

“Inside the ruined fort the English troops came upon a row of stakes on which were fastened the heads of Highland troops who had been taken in the earlier engagement, each with a Scottish kilt tied beneath it.”- Robert Utley and Wilcomb Washburn, Indian Wars (1)
            “Braddock’s Expedition,” named for the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, in the early parts of the French and Indian War was launched to secure the French fort, Duquesne, being a vital hub of trade and navigation, later called the Battle of the Monongahela. “That it should be named [Fort Duquesne] for the recent governor general of New France was further proof that the French intended it to be a powerful and permanent fixture,” writes Walter R. Borneman in The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. (2)  The movement of British forces into French territory was designed to inhibit the French from encroaching unto British colonial land and secure the border lands.  The battle occurred to the surprise of both the French-Indian and British forces… an ambush, a violent lopsided encounter. Utley and Washburn, “No matter which side the Indians chose, their true interests lay in a continued stalemate between the English and the French.” (3)  The Native Americans played a pivotal role in the Battle on the Monongahela but as pawns in a larger conflict that extended over the Atlantic Ocean.  
            “[Edward] Braddock… confessed, ‘I cannot say as yet they [colonials] have shown the regard… that might have been expected,” opines Borneman, giving an insightful look at the Commander-in-Chief of British forces. (3) For the French, majority of the battle would fall into the hands of the second in command of Fort Duquesne Lieutenant Jean-Daniel Dumas, after Captain Lienard de Beaujeu. “…While his [Dumas] Indian allies advanced largely on their own accord to form a U around both sides of the British column,” informs Borneman. (4) The Ottawas and Potawatomis took the initiative to flank the disorganized British force. Individual initiative of the Indians, trumped the leadership on the battlefield.
            As can be seen, Native American mercenaries played a major part in the battle for the French contingent and were the bulk of the French force. Borneman informs, “…The French commandant at Fort Duquesne… was not hampered by a lack of Indian support… they [Potawatomi and Ottawa] did so more to curry favor with the French in those western lands than through any great notion of restoring Indian sovereignty east of the Ohio.” (6) In stark contrast, the British could not secure the help of Indian forces like that of the French. Utley and Washburn write, “[George] Washington… wrote in disgust, ‘The Indians are mercenary; every service of theirs must be purchased; and they are easily offended, being thoroughly sensible of their own importance. “(7) The force brought from Europe with Braddock contained regular British troops prepared for a European style fight but not that of the frontier colonial style which the Indians where well versed in.  The tremendous advantage lied with the French, even though outnumbered, due to the Ottawas and Potawatomi force that understood forest, guerrilla fighting. 
            The use of muskets and artillery were the primary weapons of this battle. But it was the inherent use of terrain that won out the battle that day not superior weapons. Utley and Washburn write, “Posting themselves [Indians] behind trees, they raked the milling, panicked British with a murderous fire.” (8) The use of terrain provided for superior defense and offense against a linear enemy. Using aimed fire, instead of mass volleys, the Indians decimated the British forces.  Weaponry played an insignificant role. The asymmetrical use of terrain gave the victory to the French… whereas the British fought with a European mentality.
            “In historical shorthand, the battle that followed is frequently called an ambush… actually… both sides were surprised,” states Borneman. (9)  Braddock had split his force into two entities, when the spearhead was surprised by the French-Indian force it began to fall back as Braddock ordered the second force forward. Havoc ensued. The Indian force enveloped the jumbled British force, picking off ranking officers and moving through the thick foliage shooting into the flanks. “Braddock and his aides-de-camp, Washington and Orme, were in the thick of things, rallying the troops and directing courageous if somewhat ineffective volley fire into the woods on three sides,” describes Borneman. (10)  When Braddock was struck by a musket ball, discipline broke amongst the regulars. The European tactics of the British and lack of Indian allies destroyed any semblance of a successful siege of Duquesne.
            The outcome of the Battle of the Monongahela was a complete route of the British forces after Gen. Braddock fell in battle. Regular British troops broke in battle, against a numerically less significant force, comprised of a large Indian force (637 Indians, 146 Canadian militia, 72 French regulars against 1,500 British regulars and militia forces). The French and Indians beat the British, and sent them fleeing. Through this victory the protection of Fort Duquesne was secured and that of the Ohio River. The route of a regular British force by “inferior” Indian and French forces would have a demoralizing effect on colonial and Indian thought. (11)
“… Captured by the French that day was the general’s trunk, complete with the war plans of the other three roads of attack… the other campaign plans sparked both military maneuvering and political indignation... When these documents reached Paris, they were a diplomatic bombshell [authors emphasis],” writes Borneman. (12) Through this one action, full out war with France would ensue in Europe. The diplomatic upheaval this event had would pave the way for larger conflicts across the world; Indian tactics had a hand in it. The inability to secure Indian allies would continue for the British throughout the French and Indian war. Washington would write, “…the French grow more and more formidable by their alliances, while our Friendly Indians are deserting Our Interest.” (13)  Indian tactics would be the catalyst for the victory against the regular British force and ignite full blown war throughout Europe.
            “The debacle threw Virginia into a panic and left the frontier of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania open to French and Indians raid,” opines Utley and Washburn. (14) If the French were prepared to press the victory that occurred at Duquesne, the makeup of the United States may have been totally different. But the British were able to stymie the French victory. It provided the catalyst for the British government to take the colonial war serious and put the French on the offensive in Europe. “Upwards of 500 men from Braddock’s command had died… five years later, their bleached bones would still be visible to a passerby, ‘so thick that one lies on top of another for about  a half mile in length, and about one hundred yards in breadth,’” writes Borneman. (15)    

1.      Robert M. Utley and Wilcomb E. Washburn, Indian Wars (New York: Mariner, 2002), 87.
2.      Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: Harpers Collins, 2006), 47.
3.       Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 87.
4.      Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 47.
5.      Ibid., 53.
6.      Ibid., 53.
7.      Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 84-85.
8.      Ibid., 81.
9.      Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 53.
10.  Ibid., 54.
11.  Ibid., 53-59.
12.  Ibid., 56.
13.  Utley and Wilcomb, Indian Wars, 83.
14.  Ibid., 81.
15.  Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, 55.

Borneman, Walter R. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
Doughty, Robert A. and Ira D. Gruber. Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations from 1600 to 1871. Lexington: D.C. Heath Company, 1996.
Milliet, Allen R. and Peter Maslowski. For Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. New York: Free Press, 1994.
Starkey, Armstrong. European and Native American Warfare, 1675-1815. London: UCL Press, 1998.
Utley, Robert M, and Wilcomb E. Washburn. Indian Wars. New York: Mariner Books, 2002.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Troops in Afghanistan till 2024, Surprised? Why?

From the recent news that the U.S. will have troops in Afghanistan till 2024, people seemed surprised. Why?

It comes from a misunderstanding of the war we face in Afghanistan.

The type of warfare that the United States military is fighting in Afghanistan is what is considered an unconventional war. Unconventional, guerrilla, “low-intensity,” whichever name one would like to adhere to is correct, the fight is similar to that in Vietnam but with some twists.

The first area is that “unconventional” warfare can last for decades… DECADES. The unconventional fighter has numerous options that a conventional fighter does not. The unconventional fighter can completely stop fighting and leave an area without hurting his intentions. In some circumstances it may strengthen their fighting ability, resting and recuperation. A strategy of the unconventional force that needs to be examined is that of retreat. In the West, retreat is belittled but military history shows that it can be a potent strategy, extending the duration of a conflict. Every minute spent by a conventional force in a conflict means precious finances spent, pushing a nation deeper into debt.

Second, we are not facing a “nation” as in Vietnam... we are faced with a war similar to the medieval period of warfare based on religious ideology that extends to multiple people and lands. As has been seen in news articles, fighters in Afghanistan have been coming from differing parts of the world. Fighters can come and go from their home back to the battlefield. They are not tied down in a certain area similar to conventional forces. Nibbling at conventional forces then leaving.  

Third, operations can be conducted from other countries that boundaries buttress the nation. As seen in Vietnam with Laos and Cambodia. Pakistan is one such nation which the United States cannot conduct conventional operations into. How can you destroy an enemy that cannot be attacked?
For the Taliban to be victorious in Afghanistan the unconventional war would have to transition into a conventional war, Mao Tse-Tung, being a guerrilla leader, felt that warfare had transitional forms. But at this junction the war is still in its unconventional form. If US forces leave, one could see the transition into a conventional war.

 Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armee force was depleted in effectiveness by the Spanish guerilla war that tied down over 250,000 soldiers.   

Questions arise. For an unconventional force to survive they need support from somewhere i.e. civilians or outside nations. Who is supporting the Taliban? Have we made tremendous gains in Afghanistan or is it deception? Is the government strong enough to defend itself against a conventional attack, similar to what happened at the final days in Vietnam?

Honest assessment of the war effort in Afghanistan needs to be taken into consideration. How long could it possibly last? How long are we willing to fight?

The waiting game in this (and majority of guerrilla wars) case is not in our favor. The waiting game favors the unconventional force.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Qadhafi Regime Crumbles, How?

“The government no longer gives any signs of life… Someone, somewhere, something, is giving orders… It’s like some gigantic corpse is suffocating. And that’s all. A strange sensation.” – a poet from Petrograd during the Bolshevik Revolution, (source: Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War by W. Bruce Lincoln, Pg.34)

As the regime in Libya crumbles, and Muammar Qadhafi’s final pleas for fighters to come to Tripoli, sputtering forcefully from his lips, to defend it at all cost against the rebellion, an understanding of revolutionary movements needs to be examined. 

How do they come about and how do they flourish? And as can be seen in Libya, how do they succeed?

Numerous revolutionary movements have been seen in history, the American Revolution and the revolutions in France. More recently the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which would shape the history of the world for majority of the 20th century. Others in China, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua dot historical manuscripts, many being very violent in nature. Few truly understand how revolutionary movements explode into the mainstream completely changing the nature of countries seemingly overnight. The identifiers for a revolutionary movement can be seen if one knows what to look for. The success of the movement can also be ascertained with key factors assessed (majority of the information that follows is from James DeFronzo’s Revolutions & Revolutionary Movements). 

First, mass frustration of the culture, as a whole, wherein expectations are not met by the regime in power, the resulting factor is mass disapproval. Mass frustration can come from innumerable directions. In many circumstances it occurs due to the inability of the people to achieve its expectations of living within a nation. Defronzo would write, “A wide breach opens between the way people expect they should be able to live and their expectations, not because of a change in expectations, but because of a decline in capabilities of attaining them (pg. 11).” As Western lifestyles pervade other cultures around the globe, dissatisfaction will erupt due to unmet expectations. 

Second, an elite element needs to splinter away and provide support and encouragement for the “masses.” These “elites” provide, so to speak, “the brains of the operation.” “The direct participation of elite elements in the leadership and organizational structure of the dissident political movement is critical for the successful development of a leftist revolutionary movement,” writes Defronzo (pg. 14).  

Third, the unifying factor for the revolutionary movement, what could it be? Different classes of society need to be unified… a single class can do little. The unifying factor has to affect more than one class in a society, from bottom to top, top to bottom. In many cases this unifying factor comes from a brutal suppression of the populace by the ruling regime, or what is perceived. Unifying factors can also entail nationalism, religion, and other forms of ideology.

Fourth, “a severe state crisis,” Defronzo begins, “A revolutionary movement may come into being and yet have no reasonable chance for success so long as the government maintains strong administrative capabilities and armed forces to coerce the submission of the dissident elements within its population (pg.16).”   A state crisis can be anything that weakens the government and its ability to handle that crisis (terrorist attack, natural disaster, economic problems, protracted war, etc). Few people realize that majority of military forces in the world are not for necessarily protection of the people but are in place to protect the governing body from the people. In the case of Qadhafi, it looks as if the majority of the people of the country, from all classes, lost any trust for the dictator due to his brutal rule and placing into key political positions people from his familiar tribe. He also deliberately weakened the military of Libya due to fears of a coup. 

Fifth and final, the intervention from powers across the globe supporting the revolutionary movement is required for success. It is seen throughout history larger countries aiding smaller revolutionary movements to shift governments into a positive sphere of influence for the larger nations. Revolutionary movements may have limited means to survive, with the aid of logistical needs of weapons, food, medical supplies, and recognition can bolster the possibilities of success. In Libya the rebels have to be supported by a credible outside “helping hand” due to their success but as of yet it is difficult to ascertain due to the multiple sub-factions within a rebellion.

Qadhafi’s regime will be finished soon… and all the five factors above have played an important role in the success of the revolution in Libya.  Now what needs to be watched for is which revolutionary faction will take power within Libya? Will it be pro-West, pro-East, or neither? Will it be democratic in nature or will it degenerate into another dictatorship? From these different questions one can assert who helped in the fifth category pertaining to intervention. Will it be a breeding ground for Islamic extremist? How will this affect the Middle East?

If one wants to better understand revolutionary movements please see James Defronzo’s book Revolutions & Revolutionary Movements. Also see Jeremy Weinstein’s Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence.