Saturday, August 29, 2009

“Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea” by Noah Andre Trudeau

“Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea” by Noah Andre Trudeau provides a skilled account of one of the US Civil War’s most notorious campaigns. Mr. Trudeau chronicles the daily grind of a 60,000 man Union army harvesting a three hundred mile path of scavenging, fire, and devastation from Atlanta to Savannah. Every day of the campaign is different and uniquely described without repetition. The story is told for the most part from the side of the Union army. I wondered how Mr. Trudeau would avoid boredom in a story that has no major battles. He did brilliant job of avoiding dullness and monotony.

The author makes it clear that Sherman worked hard avoiding major confrontation with the Confederate forces. Sherman divided his force into two parts to terrorize the greatest number of objectives and to avoid encountering concentrated Southern defenses. The General was hugely successful in this area, not only because of his own efforts, but with a great deal of help from the South and its failure to form a unified command structure to oppose him.

Noah Andre Trudeau does a good job explaining how Hood took his sizeable forces and went north to threaten northern supply lines. Hood’s motivation was in all probability to force Sherman to divert his offensive to follow him. This failed miserably with Hood ultimately having his army destroyed by General Thomas near Nashville.

The south’s lack of coordination caused by their strong individualism is seen when the remaining Confederate generals and their forces couldn't decide on what to defend or what actions were needed to bring Sherman’s campaign to a halt. The southern leaders and especially Jefferson Davis fail to comprehend the importance of Sherman's offensive.

Noah Andre Trudeau enlightens the reader on what was on the minds of both sides. This is a book which is compelling because of its painstaking attention to detail and the evenhandedness and writing skill of the author. Unless you had family in the path of Sherman’s march, you probably won’t find the book getting you too emotional stirred. The book's story stops at Savannah, while Sherman's Army goes on to South Carolina and North Carolina. It leaves you wondering what came next. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Honor Untarnished by Gen. Donald V. Bennett (Ret), William R. Fortschen


The book is well written and was hard to put down. It tells Gen. Donald V. Bennett's story of the struggle to get in and through West Point. It next moves to initial artillery training. Here he learns how to ride a horse while pulling his artillery piece. In addition, he learned how to place his foot where it would not be crushed while riding the horse. His stories of North Africa included the sights, smells, running a bordello (to get the disease rate down), and fighting Rommell. His insights and experiences in Sicily were preparations for his Normandy experience. His spell binding account of Normandy is the best chapter in the book and as good as any ever written. He gives a fresh point of view on the Battle of the Bulge pointing out the signs and intelligence higher up overlooked. His conclusion with experiences and insights about the Russians are eye opening. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler. This review was originally written for the Military History Book Club.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara

The Last Full Measure opens with Gettysburg in the past. The U.S. Civil War moves into its third and most savage year. On the Union side there is a need for a strong, decisive leader. President Abraham Lincoln places U.S. Grant in command in the newly created position of Lieutenant General. This is the decision that turns the war.

Gettysburg had been a terrible disaster for the southern soldiers and Robert E. Lee. Lee knows the south cannot survive a war of attrition. Lee is duty bound to his generals and has an immovable faith in God. He is committed to fight to the very end. He sees this as his duty for his country and Virginia.

Here too is Joshua Chamberlain, the college professor who emerged as the Union hero of Gettysburg -- and who will rise to become one of the greatest figures of the U.S. Civil War, winning the Medal of Honor and is one of the greatest citizen soldiers ever produced.

Shaara does an excellent job on balancing the strategy of the battles with the horrible cost in human terms. He does a great job of painting vivid scenes and adding the drama and action that makes them come alive.

The Last Full Measure is the third book the Shaara father-son team has written on the U.S. Civil War. Son Jeff wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. His late father, and Pulitzer Prize winning father wrote The Killer Angels concerning the battle of Gettysburg. The Last Full Measure is the fitting finale to a magnificent literary trilogy. Jimmie A. Kepler

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski's book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army's Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. He includes the invasion's diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach. It has: the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, unit organization of a 30man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach. This book included several appendixes with great information about the battle at Omaha Beach.