We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

2019-2020 Military Classics Seminar Schedule

While my own schedule has changed to preclude much attendance, I’m still a big supporter….

Place: Athena Pallas Greek Restaurant

556 22nd Street, South, Arlington, VA 22202

Menu: Order from the regular menu

Schedule: 5:30 Gathering

6:30 Dinner

7:30 Discussion

Cost: $35

September 17, 2019
Hone, Trent. Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898-1945. 2018.

Speaker: Keith W. Bird, Chancellor-Emeritus, Kentucky Community and Technical College System

October 15, 2019
Appleman, Roy E. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu. Washington, D.C., 1962.

Speaker: William M. Donnelly, U.S. Army Center of Military History

November 19, 2019
Hosler, John D. The Siege of Acre, 1189–1191: Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Battle That Decided the Third Crusade. 2018.

Speaker: Kelly DeVries, Professor of History, Loyola University Maryland

January 21, 2020
Gaddis, John Lewis. On Grand Strategy. 2018.

Speaker: Tom Keaney, senior fellow, Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins Univ, SAIS

February 18, 2020
Grant, Ulysses S. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. The Complete Annotated Edition. Ed. John F. Marszalek et al. 2017.

Speaker: Christopher Hamner, Associate Professor, Dept. of History and Art History, George Mason University March 17, 2020

March 17, 2020
Ibrahim, Raymond. Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West. 2018.

Speaker: Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

April 21, 2020
du Picq, Charles Jean Jacques Joseph Ardant. Battle Studies. Translated and edited by Roger J. Spiller. 2017.

Speaker: Jennie Kiesling, Professor of History and Head Novice Rowing Coach, United States Military Academy

May 19, 2020
Bourque, Stephen Alan. Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France. 2018.

Speaker: Conrad Crane, Chief of Historical Services, US Army Heritage and Education Center

June 16, 2020
Julius Caesar, The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and the Spanish War. Kurt A. Raaflaub and Robert B. Strassler, eds. 2017.

Speaker: Joseph Frechette, Staff historian, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command

How to fail at seizing a weapons cache, 1775 edition, Part III: The Battle of Concord

Over the holidays, I was able to visit Boston again. Since I’ve been working on this series, this time, Melissa and I ventured to Concord. We started with a nice lunch and then went over to the Old North Bridge.


To borrow from Julius Ceasar, Concord est omnes divisa in tres partes. Though Concord was a small farming village, the Concord River and the Assabet River that flows into it, divide the town into three separate parts. To get from the main part of town to either north or western parts of Concord, you need to cross the Concord River using either the Old North Bridge or the South Bridge. Thus, if you wish to occupy the entire town, your troops will have great difficulty supporting each other. On the other hand, if you only want to occupy the center of town, you could post small contingents at each bridge and be able to send your main force to reinforce whichever gets threatened.

The west end of the Old North Bridge is on a flood plain and is dominated by a ridgeline directly north of the bridge. A battery on that ridge, supported by infantry would easily prevent any passage over the bridge. The range of the smooth bore musket would not cover the bridge, but with the flat and perhaps marshy ground leading up to a steep slope, no sensible officer would launch an attack over the bridge and at such a battery. That open ground was reportedly flooded at the time, keeping any advance to only the road. Without any artillery, it would still be a formidable position.

The Goal

As noted previously, this expedition was intended to seize weapon caches that colonist had gathered. Within Boston itself, General Gage had negotiated with town leaders to collect all personal firearms in lieu of some kind of forced confiscation. Out in the countryside, it wouldn’t be so simple. Not only had the colonists brought existing weapons to Concord (including cannons stolen from the Boston garrison!), but they had also started manufacturing firearms there as well. The British were aware of these preparations due to both loyalists and spies. They even had lists of what ought to be found where.

Interestingly, down in Virginia, the colonial Governor was able to quickly and quietly secure the weapons gathered in Williamsburg and blame it on concerns about a fictional slave revolt being planned.


Having engaged in that brief exchange of fire that was the Battle of Lexington, British troops marched west to their goal. Colonial minutemen had been gathering at Concord for hours, due to the rapid spread of the alarm. Initially, they began to march on Lexington, but turned back once they learned that the British column outnumbered them.  The 250 militiamen turned and marched back to Concord, about 500 yards ahead of the 700 regulars. I was almost like leading a parade back into the village, drums rolling. The militia retired to the highest point in town, 289-foot high Punkatasset Hill, from which you might even see all the way to Boston.

LTC Smith divided his troops in order to seize the various weapons caches. He sent CPT Mundy Pole to the South Bridge with the grenadier company from the 10th Regiment. CPT Lawrence Parsons of the 10th Regiment was sent with 7 light infantry companies (about 100 men, reportedly) to both secure the Old North Bridge and raid colonial Colonel Barrett’s farm to seize cannon there. Parsons left half his force under the command of CPT Walter Laurie to guard that bridge and took 4 companies the 2 miles to the weapons cache.

Anyone in these regiments with less than 13 years of service would have likely never seen combat, since their last action would have been in the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in the colonies), so Laurie may have been an inexperienced officer. He may even have allowed his troops at the bridge to seek food and drink at nearby houses. Nonetheless, he did post two of his companies on the high ground that directly overlooked the bridge.

Meanwhile, the grenadiers in the main force began searching in the main part of town for the hidden weapons, munitions and food. This included digging up 3 large cannons (24-pounders) and smashing their trunnions, rendering them unusable. When setting fire to a few gun carriages, they ended up setting the town’s meeting house on fire. Fortunately for the people of Concord, the troops did assist in putting out the fire.

CPT Laurie sent back for reinforcements as the militia swelled, perhaps over 400 men for his 3 small companies of light infantry. The militia was overlooking the Old North Bridge from that commanding height we noted above. Before any help could arrive, Colonel Barrett’s men began to advance on the bridge. The two companies posted on the hill fell back to the bridge, then Laurie pulled his entire command back beyond the bridge. One of his officers began pulling up planks from the bridge to prevent the militia from following them. The militiamen advanced in column up the road toward the bridge, with Major John Buttrick shouting for the regulars to stop destroying the bridge.

CPT Laurie ordered his men into a curious formation – forming for “street firing” – of basically matching the militia’s column with his own column. The wisdom of which was questioned by at least one officer,a Lieutenant Sutherland, who ordered flankers out from the rear of the formation. Like most officers assigned that day, he was unknown to most of the men, and only a couple of men followed his counter-order.

A shot rang out, and this time there is certainty from depositions taken from men on both sides afterwards that it came from the Army’s ranks. It was likely a warning shot fired by a panicked, exhausted British soldier from the 43rd, according to Laurie’s letter to his commander after the fight. Two other regulars then fired immediately after that, shots splashing in the river, and then the narrow group up front, possibly thinking the order to fire had been given, fired a ragged volley before Laurie could stop them. – from Wikipedia on the North Bridge

The exchange of fire that followed left a few men dead and wounded on each side, but lead to the rapid retreat of Laurie’s command. In their retreat, they were met by the reinforcing grenadier company Smith had sent, but all of them fell back on the main force together.

The British command did not take this incident as a sign to depart from Concord rapidly. CPT Parsons and his troops marched back to the bridge when they heard the firing, marching through the battlefield and past the militia, which had crossed the bridge but not advanced much beyond that.


As this is mainly a review of the failure of the British command in the seizure of a weapons cache, we will analyze their performance.

Underestimating the enemy

I think that in each encounter during this mission, the British command underestimated the enemy. At Lexington, they had underestimated the defiance of the colonists, but at Concord, they grossly underestimated the numbers that might turn out to oppose them. As the numbers swelled, CPT Laurie seems to be the only one who recognized a problem, but even his response didn’t particularly help.

LTC Smith gathered his men, but then spent hours before setting out on his return trip. He did not take the fight at the Old North Bridge as a signal that the militia would attack the regulars. I cannot puzzle out why, given that fight, that he didn’t send a strong force to the bridge to ensure the safe return of CPT Parsons and his other four companies. Perhaps the fact that these companies passed the ‘scene of the crime’ without harassment fed Smith’s confidence that no serious fight could be expected. He and his men would pay the price for this miscalculation over the next several hours.

Dividing his forces

Since Smith knew that the weapons were dispersed, he divided his command to secure them. I would say that he did so in the interest of time, but his failure to depart quickly after being blooded acts as counter-point to that concept. Sending companies to secure each bridge seems prudent, but his underestimation of opposition numbers meant that he didn’t send sufficient force to hold those bridges. His main party proved too far away to support CPT Laurie and, when he did send reinforcements, he only sent a single company anyway.

Worse yet, CPT Parsons’ command was nearly cut off with the retreat of troops from the Old North Bridge. Imagine, Smith’s command was a fraction of the forces in Boston; the Old North Bridge force was a small fraction of that; Parsons’ companies were the isolated tip of the spear. Later in the day, let alone later in the war, all of his men would have been killed or captured due to Smith’s command decisions.

Control of troops

At Concord, as at Lexington, the ad hoc nature of the officer selection (and the inclusion of a variety of supernumerary officers along for the excitement) meant that neither the officers nor the men were familiar with each other. At the Old North Bridge, the contradiction of orders issued by a Captain and a Lieutenant was especially confusing to the men, as the officers were unfamiliar to them. It surely helped create the disarray that led to the accidental or, at least, undisciplined shot and the ragged volley that followed. The responding fire from the militiamen resulted in the fatal wounding of an officer, wounding of some sergeants and compounded the confusion. It would be interesting to find out how the retreat unfolded and what effect the reinforcing column had on the cohesion of those troops.

Rules of engagement

The final point to bring up in regards to Concord is one that concerns our troops in afield today. What are the rules of engagement?

It becomes apparent in reviewing this escapade that no rules of engagement had been formally discussed among the officers, let alone written down. Assuredly, no one communicated any rules that had been formulated to the troops.

The action at the Old North Bridge is symptomatic of this problem. CPT Laurie didn’t know how to handle the advancing armed militia, and one of his officers actually followed the orders of the militia’s Major – stopping the destruction of the bridge to protect their position. Then, CPT Parsons’ troops marched right past a few dead regulars, with everyone apparently uncertain what should be done.


From the instant I started looking at the Battles of Lexington and Concord from the British perspective, I was struck by the number of mistakes made. I do wonder how much of my compounding analysis is due to a preconceived notion, but I think the preponderance of evidence is that the failure was a failure of command. I will continue to investigate, as I am still a novice in this arena.

Of note on our visit

During our visit, we stopped in Reverend Emerson’s house, now known as the Old Manse. Concord’s minister, William Emerson, preached in favor of resistance to Parliament’s oppression of the colonists and remained faithful to the revolution until his war-time death from dysentery. On April the 19th, Reverend Emerson encouraged the gathering militia to attack once the British column entered Concord, remaining nearby to witness the fight. His grandson is the Emerson most of us think of, author Ralph Waldo Emerson. The important part of that visit was that I got a recommendation on a book about the fight at Concord. While I’m not sure there is a book that deals specifically with the tactics of the short fight (and the effect of terrain on those tactics!), but Robert Gross’ The Minutemen and Their World does a marvelous job of introducing all the Concord-based participants. It details their pasts, their motivations, their financial and social positions, as well as the eventual fate of each.

On Green Beach

In our recent trip to southern France, I did manage to squeeze in some time down at Green Beach, where most of the 36th Infantry Division came ashore. Since our stay in France was focused on two weeks in Avignon, Green Beach was quite a long drive – over two hours from our lodgings. The short trip up to the Montelimar battle square was far shorter.

36th BeachWe drove into the area Frejus, having used the A8 highway to come east from Avignon. Having spent a lot of time in rural France, enjoying the quaint and quiet villages, Frejus itself is something of a shock. We kept saying to each other how much it reminded us of going to Ocean City or the Outer Banks of North Carolina, since it was so Americanized. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say Americanized, just commercialized. The long plage in front of St. Raphael is a marvelous sandy beach and bikini-clad ladies parade past statues to the Senegalese troops, to General de Lattre de Tassigny and to Charles DeGaulle. It’s hard to argue with the people enjoying the beaches that were used in the liberation of France, since the soldiers fought exactly so that the beaches could be used this way. It’s still a little jarring to see a band playing for a crowd next to the statues of 5 soldiers who landed here.

Nonetheless, seeing Frejus Bay, you can understand how this soft sandy beach could have been a nightmare to assault. With the curve of the coastline and the rough terrain on anything that is not a sandy beach, you’d be landing troops into a kill zone. As they’d attack into Saint Raphael, they’d be exposing their backs to gun positions directly to their west. Since the remote-controlled explosive boats sent in to attempt early destruction of the obstacles were unsuccessful (radio interference likely helped scramble the signals and lead to some of these “drone” boats heading back at the fleet instead of into the beach), the Navy wisely decide to divert the planned landing of the 142nd Infantry Regiment from Red Beach and land them on Green Beach, secured hours earlier with the landings of the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 141st Infantry Regiment.

Green BeachBecause the 142nd diverted to Green Beach, where the 143rd Infantry Regiment had followed the landings of the 141st, all of the troops of the Division, other than the 1st Battalion of the 141st, ended up landing on Green Beach. So, it comes as no surprise that when it came time to commemorate the landing of the Division in France, that the monument went up on Green Beach. Of course, when we go to the parking area, I had to race to the beach first (and not just because there was a restroom down there, but that did spur me forward).

The shocker: it’s not a sandy beach. The entire landing area is covered with gallets, stones from the size of your hand to the size of your head. Needless to say, on the day that all the other beaches were swarmed with sun-worshippers, this beach had only a few dozen families. Melissa and I took off our shoes and gingerly approached the water, standing to allow the waters of the Mediterranean to wash over our feet. I raised my hands and shouted, “Lafayette, nous sommes ici!”

The map above does not at all convey what the terrain in the area is like. It’s rocky and hilly, imposing and difficult terrain, even with modern roads in place. Looking at the arrows on that map, you get no sense whatsover of how challenging the route along the coast eastward to Cannes really is. Some the materials I’ve read point out the challenge facing the 141st heading along that road. If you drive it, you can certainly understand how a few determined soldiers with machineguns and some explosives could halt a battalion-sized advance. The Germans, having been at war for half of a decade were experts at such actions. Thus, in this terrain, and later in the war in the Vosges Mountains, during the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, small groups in an army which some thought was already beaten, could inflict devastating casualties. This may help explain why, when General Truscott visited General Dahlquist’s headquarters during the battle of Montelimar, saw the terrain and the condition of the 36th Infantry Division troops and refrained from relieving Dahlquist on the spot.

As I find so often, when you walk the ground, you gain an understanding that is simply impossible to acquire from books and maps. I wish we’d had more time at Green Beach and been able to visit the drop zones, but mostly, I wish we’d been able to do so with a guide. I could relate some of what I’d read to the places, but it really takes significant study of the history and the terrain to be able to do more than scratch the surface.

Visiting the battle box at Montelimar

As I’ve said many times, there is no substitute for walking the ground. Looking at maps, reading unit/battle/campaign histories, or even using my new favorite tool, my tablet, never give you the same understanding as actually being on the ground where the fight took place.

We’re over in France and this time we’ve come to the south. This has given me an opportunity to walk the ground at Montelimar. Before we arrived, I’d contacted retired French Army Colonel Pierre Balliot to see if he could recommend a guide. He volunteered himself, driving 200+ kilometers to show us the ‘battle box’. The Colonel has written a marvelous book, of which I now possess a signed copy, entitled La Drome dans la Guerre: La bataille de Montelimar, which details the battle. So, my wife, our friend Tom and I got a half-day tour of the 20 km by 20 km ‘battle box’ in which Task Force Butler, the 36th Infantry Division and French partisans attempted to block the escape of 130,000 men of the German Army from southern France.

The battle of Montelimar had the same goal as the sealing of the Falaise Pocket in Normandy, trapping an entire Army Group. So, for me, the Battle of Montelimar is the most important action of the campaign.

Walking the ground here, you get a far better sense of why they chose the ground they did, what worked and what did not. The first thing to note is the height of the high ground. While the tablet and Google maps did point out the value of Hill 300, it gave no real sense of the true height or the slope. Somehow, I thought of 300 feet when I read about the Hill. It’s 300 meters or about 1000 feet. The slope is also extreme, making it difficult to dislodge any defenders. The Hill is so tall and long that it completely shields any troops coming up the Rhone valley through that choke point from observation or attack from the east. While there is plenty of high ground north of this, none overlooks such a tight passage as this. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there was tremendous fighting at La Coucourde, where the main road, Route Nationale 7, emerges from behind Hill 300 and where General Truscott had directed General Dahlquist to ‘put the cork in the bottle’, entrapping so many Germans.

Dahlquist and Butler faced many challenges here. The terrain that provided such an opportunity was itself a great challenge. The mountains restricted movement, inhibited communication, and provided endless opportunities for ambush. The narrow roads were difficult for armored vehicles and the slopes a great challenge as well. The vast distance from the landing beaches made resupply slow and the lack of sufficient transport compounded that.

The rivers helped, but not nearly as much as one would think when looking at the map. Walking the ground at the same time of the year, you see how low they are, how much vegetation would conceal movement and how challenging defending along those lines would be. Looking out from Dahlquist’s headquarters you see how broad a front he needed to defend.

Dahlquist himself may have been a part of the problem, never seeming to move fast enough for Truscott’s taste – Truscott flew to his headquarters twice during this campaign to hasten him along.

The few troops that reached the fight first shocked the Germans, but a few hundred men, even at strategic points, can only do so much to stop an Army Group.

Touring Brandy Station on the 150th

Yesterday, I was able to walk parts of the Brandy Station battlefield with Clark “Bud” Hall, Eric Wittenburg, Craig Swain and 150 of my closest friends. The Loudon County Civil Roundtable arranged the tour.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no better way to understand a battle than to walk the ground. Sam Elliot, who played John Buford in “The Movie” (as we called it in the Gettysburg Discussion Group) understood this and knew walking the ground would help him get into character. When we stood on Buford’s Knoll with Bud Hall, he related the story of guiding Sam Elliot on the battlefield. Elliot asked where Buford stood during the battle and so, Bud pointed around them and said that Buford had been on the knoll. Sam wanted something more specific, so, Bud tells us, he picked a spot and Sam went and stood there. For a few minutes, they stood in silence, Sam examined the ground and getting into character as Buford. It was as though he was commanding the battle silently, watching his orders unfold. I need to re-watch Gettysburg to see Sam Elliot talking about the ground and the troops marching. I think he truly felt it, for Bud says he turned to him after standing on that spot and said, simply, “Hot damn.”

The folks from Civil War Trust were there, and, often during the day, we talked about their ongoing efforts for battlefield preservation.

Sadly, I had to head back to Washington early and missed being on Fleetwood Hill and an evening of conversation with my friends and fellow historians. It was a good day, but too short due to my prior commitments.


How to fail at seizing a weapons cache, 1775 edition, Part I: The Battle of Lexington

On the night of 18 April 1775, the British occupying Boston set out to seize a weapon’s cache at Concord, Massachusetts. On my visit to Boston over the weekend, I was reminded of some of the ingredients of this disaster.

General Thomas Gage had been appointed military governor of Massachusetts in 1774, but his 3000 troops affected little outside of their garrison in Boston. As such, when he was ordered to seize the rebellious colonists weapons and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, his troops had to set out from Boston to do so.

In order to retain the element of surprise, no one was told in advance of the expedition. It has been speculated that General Gage’s wife, who reportedly sympathized with the colonists, let word slip that the operation was going to take place. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the mustering of 700 soldiers at 9pm and preparations for marching would certainly have alerted the citizenry. So, the element of surprise was lost immediately and Paul Revere and William Dawes departed by separate routes to warn Adams and Hancock.

The British had sent out mounted patrols in advance to intercept just such couriers. Unfortunately, since such a patrol was so unusual, it served to alarm the locals and prompt rebel leaders to start rallying the militia anyway.

When choosing the composition of the force to march rapidly to seize the weapons and the leaders, Gage chose to draw each regiment’s light infantry company for speed and their grenadier company to serve as the shock troops. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a good strategy. The light infantry companies were made of soldiers used to moving fast, often serving as skirmishers and tended to be among the better trained and motivated troops in a regiment. The grenadier companies were also an elite company within a regiment, being composed of the larger soldiers, who by designation would have carried grenades and been chosen for their physical prowess. Each of the companies deployed with a lieutenant normally assigned to that company, however, the captains assigned were not necessarily familiar with the troops. Similarly, Marine Major John Pitcairn, who would lead the vanguard of the expedition, had never commanded the light infantry companies as a unit. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard would have had the same circumstances with the grenadiers he commanded. Thus, the company-grade leadership was not familiar with the men, nor did they know their officers.

Gage also chose his most senior regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, to lead the expedition. Smith was regarded as cautious and methodical – a cool and courageous leader, but one with little imagination. Smith had not, of course, ever commanded the light infantry and grenadier companies as a separate unit, nor had the particular collection of company officers serving under him. It is entirely possible that in a garrison that included 13 regiments, he might not have even known all of his officers on the march. Perhaps not the best choice for a rapid expedition into a restive countryside.

I’ve been able to read the orders and reports of the British officers, which is critical to understanding what happened. The first thing that strikes me is the woeful inaccuracy in reporting the number of troops opposing the British forces, starting with a grand underestimation of their possible numbers and continuing with exaggeration of the number first encountered. For example, Major Pitcairn received reports from the vanguard of the light infantry companies advancing on Lexington that 500 militiamen were drawn up on the Green to oppose them. When Pitcairn arrived at the front of the column, he remembers some 200 militiamen filing off the Green when fighting erupted. There were approximately 80 men in the Lexington militia.

To return to the mustering of the troops in Boston, we head to Boston Common, where the troops headed when ordered at 9pm. By 10pm, the troops were assembled, but LTC Smith was late in arriving. While long-service professionals are well aware that any army is a “hurry-up-and-wait” operation, this could not have sat well with the men, who had likely been in formation early in the day, conducted their normal duties all day long and expected a normal night of garrison duties with a comfortable night’s sleep when surprised with these orders.

Unlike the extensive plans for loading and unloading that we know of for the amphibious operations in World War II, there was apparently no such plan for this operation. Similarly, they failed to obtain appropriate boats for the transport of the troops and they traveled on barges which were so tightly loaded that the men had to stand for the crossing. Not only that, but when arriving on the opposite shore, they had to debark in waist-deep water. Massachusetts in mid-April does not feature warm evenings or delightfully sunny days. So, troops who’d but awake since first light were cold, wet annoyed and still awake on the banks of the River Charles nearly 20 hours later at 2am.

An hour into the march, Smith dispatched Pitcairn with six of the light infantry companies to move more rapidly than the main column. An hour later, he sent back for reinforcements, realizing that his slow progress had cost him the element of surprise.

As they approached Lexington, Pitcairn was traveling at the rear of his advance party when he received the exaggerated report of 500 militiamen. He moved rapidly to the front to take charge of the situation.

When the British arrived on Lexington Green, Marine Lieutenant Jesse Adair was posted at the front of the column, likely due to Pitcairn’s familiarity with the Marine officer and trust in his judgement. Captain John Parker had his militia in formation off to the right side of the Green, so that they were not blocking the march of the regulars, but could make a show of force. Adair, seeing the militia drawn up off to his right, worried about the flanking position if the column were to continue forward on its march to Concord. The 80 militia men were in perfect position to rake the British column if they attempted simply to march past them to Concord. As such, Adair lead his troops forward, attempting to scare off the militia, his men reportedly shouted “Huzzah” to terrify the armed farmers, merchants and tradesmen.

Pitcairn arrived at the confusing situation, taking half of the companies off to the left along the road to Concord. Amongst great confusion and much shouting, a British officer demanded that the colonials disarm and disperse. The lack of familiarity and trust between officers and men played a role in the continuing confusion. These light infantry had just marched about fifteen miles from Boston, cold, wet and tired on the trail, annoyed at their officers and frustrated that the rabble in front of them did not simply disperse. On each side, officers had implored their men not to fire, but a gun fired and in the ensuing confusion, the angered light infantrymen opened fire on the slowly dispersing but not disarmed militia.

The horror that is battle took place in front of many civilians, including women and children who had gathered to watch the militia mustering. After all, the stand off, even if not involving violence, was sure to provide more excitement than anyone in Lexington had seen in most of their lives. A simple stalemate in which both sides had simply gone their own ways would assuredly have led to tales told in tavern and around town for decades. These civilians likely helped swell Pitcairn’s professional estimate of the number of militia, who may well have already begun to disperse by the time his attention was focused.

The resulting carnage was far worse than a tense stalemate and certainly has been told of for a few centuries now.

The officers struggled to get the men under control, calling for them to cease fire, but the damage had been done. A bayonet charge by the troops led to the death of Captain Parker’s cousin Jonas and six others were killed. Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave serving in the militia, was among those wounded, as was Johnathan Harrington, whose wound was fatal, raising the death toll to eight.

Colonel Smith rode forward to the sound of the guns, ordered a drummer to beat “Assembly” and restored order when the rest of the column arrived.

In Part II, we will meet a few officers, then examine the Battle at Concord in Part III, and continue by examining the commanding General, Thomas Gage in Part IV.

Understanding Battles: Can a tablet replace my books and maps?

As I prepared for my talk on the 36th Infantry Division at our Operation Dragoon seminar, I’ve had an opportunity to use my new tablet (a Motorola Xoom) to the utmost. It really is a “killer app” for a historian.

My friend, Eric Wittenberg, first wrote about his tentative use of his Nook early last year, then replaced it with an iPad in December. Despite being a software developer in my paid work, I was apprehensive. I love books and maps. The look and feel of each has always been special, and I felt no computer would be able replace them for me.

I tried Kindle, first as a PC app, then on my smartphone. Not the same as a ‘real’ book, but quick and easy. With a library of a few hundred books, I never ventured to read history via Kindle. I had too big of a physical book backlog to consider it.

Then, I needed more detail on the 36th in less than a week. So, I used Google books to buy “First to the Rhine”. I kept flipping pages to review maps, then realized that I could use Google maps on my tablet. Zoom, twist, slide zoom out, add the terrain overlay. I’m sold. I just hope I can figure out how to Bluetooth or connect to the projector with my tablet because it makes understanding the fight at Montelimar so much easier. Maybe this or maybe at the Colmar Pocket seminar in December. It is an amazing tool.

Update: I’ve got a 15-foot mini-HDMI to HDMI cable on order from Amazon so that I can hook to the projector we use at these conferences and to my TV at home for Netflix.

Midshipmen in Gettysburg
25 April 2012, 23:08
Filed under: Gettysburg, Marines, Navy, Understanding Battles | Tags:

Spot on. Great to see midshipmen actually on battlefields….

Tour Guide: There’s an app for that
14 July 2011, 18:13
Filed under: Tours, Understanding Battles | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve probably told people hundreds of times, you have to walk the ground to understand a battle. I also tell people, pull some money out of your pocket and pay for a guide. Simply walking the field helps, but nothing helps you understand as well as somebody standing there, pointing things out to you, explaining the tactics, the strategy and the details of what happened. Preferably, that guide has maps, photos and a handful of eyewitness accounts to help explain things to you.

Six months ago, Eric Wittenburg got himself a Barnes & Noble Nook, exposing some of us to the possibilities for electronics helping historians in transit or in the field and now, the Civil War Trust has just released it’s third “Battle App” covering First Manassass (aka First Battle of Bull Run). It gives someone with an iPhone or iPad an electronic guide to the battlefield.

Like its predecessors, which explore the battles of Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, the new Battle App includes video segments from top historians, period and modern imagery, and detailed topographical maps that help bring the battlefield to life. Improved onboard battle animations and customizable troop displays allow one to stand where the two armies stood and to learn how their attacks and counterattacks unfolded.  Featuring both primary source material and the commentary of respected historians, the “Bull Run Battle App” offers the convenience of a self-guided tour and the expertise of an expert-led exploration. 

Unfortunately, it’s only out for Apple products thus far. Of course, that does leave the door open for Android development. When I was last in Normandy, Dale Booth and I discussed adding some kind of tool like this for his tours. I have been toying with the idea of developing applications on tablets and especially with this kind of an application in Normandy. There would be so much more that could be done if Dale, Paul or Allan could hand each client (or even just a couple of them) a tablet that they could use during the tour to look at the various maps and photos that they currently display on laminated sheets. In some cases, we could even add videos of veterans speaking while you stand on the spot where they fought.

Now, in my mind, this is only an additional tool for understanding a battle, just as taking a book or a map into the field will help, it can never take the place of an actual guide. No matter how much information we add to any of the tools, it can never replace what you get from the guide. Try remembering how much you could learn just from your textbooks and how much you learned from your teachers. The guide is a teacher – one who takes you to where the historical events happened and then, through the use of tools, helps you understand.

I think the potential is enormous and it energizes me to continue expanding my technical skills so that I can combine my passion for learning and teaching history with those skills.

Understanding Battles: Multiple Sources
13 March 2011, 16:49
Filed under: Gettysburg, Tours, Understanding Battles

I remember when I was a teenager, going to the library and they would have various activities to keep kids busy. One time, we were sitting, listening to someone give a talk when suddenly someone burst into the room, ran to the front, shot a squirt gun at the speaker and ran out. Then, they had us recount what we thought happened. Of course, everyone saw something slightly different, remembering different details, or even inventing new ones. As more people contributed, people’s stories also changed somewhat, to meet the group consensus. It was a great lesson in understanding perspectives.

History is no different than that crime scene witness exercise. Every witness has a different story and it’s by reviewing all of the perspectives that you have an opportunity to understand what really happened.

When I was last in Normandy, I was thinking about this. Touring with Allan, Dale and Paul, especially when visiting the German cemetery at La Cambe, you definitely realize that the common perspective we have doesn’t usually include anything about the German soldier’s experience.

I had never realized that when studying the American Civil War just how blessed we are to be able to see many perspectives. When you stand on Little Round Top near General Warren’s statue, you can look out and see where the Confederates were spotted advancing toward the high ground. If you’re lucky, Tom Desjardin, who wrote Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign will be around to tell a humorous story that varies marketly from Warren’s account of seeing the sun glint off Confederate bayonets. Reading the accounts of a variety of officers and men who were present, you can weigh what each man wrote, evaluating the accounts based on where the author was at the time, what information he’d have been privy to at the time, when the account was writing, what motives the author had (like Warren wanting to make himself look brilliant instead of stubborn and foolish) and a variety of other factors. Oh, and that’s just the primary sources….

If you read Eric Wittenburg’s or David Powell’s blogs, you get to see a lot of evaluations of sources. Recently, Eric wrote about the four cannons firing at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge at the start of Stuart’s visit to the East Cavalry Field that provides a good example of this kind of evaluation. Dave performs a similar task at Chickamauga in this post.

In much of my reading and touring of the Normandy battlefields, while we sometimes are able to discuss a variety of Allied accounts of the action, the Germans often have no voice. So, I picked up a few new books written from the German perspective. When I’m back in Normandy in the fall, I might see if any of our three intrepid guides has been able to put together a “German Highlights Tour” or maybe I’ll ask if they have a day where we could get together and discuss that, to add it to their separate repertoires.

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