I recently picked up quite a few, Second Series, Horrors of War cards for $15.00 at a flea market. They are all reprints from 1984.
I had never heard of the set but a little research shows that the set was originally produced in 1938 by Gum, INC. Apparently, the original cards are much sought after and demand high prices especially as a set.
For most Americans, World War Two began on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in a surprise attack. In reality the war started when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, but that ignores the wars of the 1930’s that led up to the world wide conflict that began in 1939.
The Horrors of War collection documents with beautiful and sometimes gruesome artwork, The Spanish Civil War, The Japanese Chinese War, The Ethiopian War (Italy invaded Ethiopia), The Russian Japanese War of 1939 as well as Nazi Germany’s conquest of the Sudetenland (1936).
According to the Card Board Connection the complete set includes 288 cards. Forty-eight cards of the 288 were added as a supplement. I have the entire 48 card reprint supplement. The supplement includes all of the wars mentioned above with the exception of the Ethiopian War.
Few Americans today remember that Russia and Japan fought an undeclared war in Manchuria in 1939. The Soviets would win that conflict at the Battles around Khalkin Gol under the the leadership of future Marshal Zhukov who would go on to defeat the Nazi’s after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941.
My card set features 13 cards (card numbers #241-#254 of the undeclared war between the Soviet Union and Japan..
The cards are copyrighted in 1938 but the incidents documented in this subset occurred in 1939. Card #254 documents the armistice that occurred after the Battles of Khalkin Gol in August 1939.
The stories on the back of the cards are interesting, sometimes hard to believe and reflect a bit of the racism of the times especially regarding the Japanese and Koreans.
Nevertheless, the cards are a fascinating snapshot of pre-WW2 conflict. According to the Card Board Connection then President Roosevelt endorsed the card set. He wanted to show a reluctant America that WW1 did not settle anything and that the world was still a very dangerous place. Documenting the activities of dictators was a good way to show that eventually the United States may have to get more involved despite the isolationism of the time.
If you look closely toward the bottom left of the picture you will see at least two Confederate soldiers looking up toward the camera.
The picture is said to be dated to around September, 1862 during Lee’s first invasion of the North. The picture features a column of Confederate soldiers marching somewhere in Maryland, presumably on their way to the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg).
The Battle of Antietam represented the highest casualty rate for any single day’s engagement in the Civil War. It was fought on September 17, 1862. Approximately 12,000 Union soldiers were casualties as well as 10,000 Confederates.
The two Confederate soldiers looking up at the camera remain unknown. I’ve always wondered as to their fate.
The war in Ukraine is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun ( Ecc. 1:9). This is because warfare in the region of Ukraine has been nearly constant for centuries.
Few people know, for example, that the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered the Kievan Rus (now Ukraine) in the 13th Century and seriously threatened Muscovy (Russia) to the point that Muscovy was a client state of the Golden Horde. The Golden Horde (sometimes called Tartars) was an off shoot of the Mongol armies that eventually established a huge empire ranging from China and Korea in the east, to the plains of Hungary in the West. The below map shows the Mongol Empire after it splintered into four individual Khanates.
Alexander Nevsky is a famous Russian\Ukrainian hero who fended off Swedish and Teutonic invaders but also paid tribute to the Golden Horde. That made Muscovy a client state of the Golden Horde for a long time.
This does not mean that the Russians and Ukrainians are one and the same people, but to show that for centuries these Slavic peoples had much in common and were no strangers to warring against foreign invaders and among themselves.
All that to say, knowing a little about Russian\Ukrainian history does help to put the current conflict into a bit of a historical perspective.
The Golden Horde background was the setting for our latest wargame. My friend (JZ) and I have an interest in the history of what we portray in a game; although the game is for fun and in no way glorifies the actual horrors of war. For us, painting and researching the model soldiers, building a terrain board, playing a game with easy to follow rules is a past-time that involves far more than an electronic wargame or PC simulation.
Our latest game involved my Muscovite\Kievan (Ukrainian-take your pick, medieval army versus an early Golden Horde army that consisted primarily of Mongol allies or subject peoples that included Koreans and Chinese. The game was remarkably colorful.
The armies of the time (post the original Mongol Invasion under Genghis) mostly consisted of cavalry of various types. For both sides, heavy cavalry were common, as well as horse archers, although the Mongols favored light horse archers more so than the Russians. Infantry were often present in the battles but took a secondary role. The Russians who were usually defending were more apt to field infantry drawn from their city militias.
As an added twist that says something about the politics of the time, you could find Russians on the Mongol side and Mongols on the Russian side, as each pursued their own interests at the expense of any kind of national unity, since little of that really existed. Loyalty had more to do with the local warlord than it did with princes, kings or khans. A rare leader could unify contingents in a loose alliance but once that battle was over it would be back to petty squabbling among themselves.
Our game was a bit of a hodgepodge in that regard as Russian units were present on both sides; although my force was exclusively Russian.
The general idea of the game was the Russians were constructing a watch post on a small fort with a watch tower in order to protect the the village that was part of a larger Russian city, not too far distant from the village. The garrison of city militia has managed to construct some light fortifications but have yet to erect the watch tower, although their scouts have been active patrolling the fluid border.
A Mongol led army consisting mostly of allied or coerced troops have been spotted. Their intent is to knock down the outpost and pillage the near-by village for loot and slaves. The Russians send for reinforcements that consist of the mustered levy of cavalry led by the local Dvor (nobles). The pictures below will tell some of the story. The rules we use are Lion Rampant (Osprey Publications) by Dan Mersey.
The Russian City Militia in the fort managed to hold out against the horse archers that nearly surrounded them. They finally broke having taken 2\3 casualties. The Russian right two units of Dvor and one of lesser Boyar) drove back the Russians on the Mongol left and nearly managed a breakthrough only to lose their leader causing an army morale check. Four of six units lost morale had to fall back and although rallied the pause was fatal. By then the fort at fallen and the center of the Russian line breached. The remaining Russian City Militia would be helpless from the horse archers. The Russian commander (me) who took over after the real leader was killed. I ordered the Dvor and remaining cavalry to abandon the infantry and village and retire to the walls of the city. It was a harsh decision but it was better than Dvor being captured and tortured by the Mongols and their allies!
The figures used in the game were 1\72 plastic. The manufacturer’s were Strelets, a Ukrainian company, Zvezda, a Russian company, Red Box (Ukrainian) and a few Italeri (Italy based but absorbing smaller companies of various origins).
I grew up in West Allis Wisconsin-a suburb of Milwaukee.
There was parkway and a well-to-do neighborhood (well-to-do in those days) near my school. Sometimes, rather than go right home after school, my friends and I would walk over to the parkway and imagine “playing army” or otherwise adventure around-all the things young boys would do in the early to mid 1960’s.
To get to the parkway we would travel through the well-to-do neighborhood and it was there that I first learned of General Billy Mitchell.
Mitchell was born in France, the son of John Mitchell, a US Senator from Wisconsin. John Mitchell was a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. He served alongside another resident of Wisconsin-Arthur MacArthur, the father of General Douglas MacArthur of World War Two and Korea fame.
John Mitchell owned an estate in Wisconsin, in the neighborhood we kids traveled through to get to the parkway. By the 1960’s it was not an estate and I think the only thing that was left was the mansion in the middle of the well-to-do neighborhood.
If memory serves me, there is plaque to Mitchell (at least there was) at the intersection of two roads in what was probably the midst of John Mitchell’s estate. Wisconsin clearly wanted to recognize Mitchell for his accomplishments. If you are familiar with Milwaukee you will recognize that the airport is named after Mitchell as well as least one park.
There is an excellent article about Mitchell on Wikipedia. The article will detail Mitchell’s remarkable record and the huge controversy that got Mitchell court-martialed.
Mitchell was an outspoken critic of the “Battleship clique” in the US Navy. During World War One, the battleship was still queen of the seas, whereas air power was in its infancy. As early as 1924 Mitchell began to argue that Japan could attack Hawaii with land based bomber aircraft. That was thought to be ridiculous given the distance, but also because air craft carriers were just being experimented with in 1924. Although some, like Mitchell, recognized the potential, few among the generals and admirals did.
Eventually, Mitchell went beyond being merely out spoken and became increasingly insubordinate-similar to an Old Testament prophet no one listens to. Mitchell was courtmartialed which at the time did not necessarily mean discharged. Mitchell did resign however and dedicated the rest of his life advocating for air power.
It’s interesting to note that later military tribunals said Mitchell’s views were vindicated but it did not matter since he violated the military code. This reminds me a little of Marine Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller who resigned after publicly criticizing Biden’s unconscionable, bumbling withdrawal from Afghanistan which cost the lives of thirteen American service men and women. You have to wonder how many high ranking officers in the US Military agreed with Scheller but kept their mouths shut?
Mitchell died in 1936 and almost immediately his posthumous rehab began. Two battles in the early stages of WW2 vindicated Mitchell beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The first occurred in 1940 in the Mediterraen when British bi-plane torpedoe bombers flew from the HMS Illustrious (aircraft carrier) and torpedoed the Italian Fleet in Taranto Harbor. The British planes (obsolete Fairey Fulmars) did considerable damage to two Italian Battleships thus taking them out of the war for a considerable amount of time. If you see some similarities to Pearl Harbor you would be spot on.
At that point many realized that the days of the battleship were numbered because the Battle of Taranto did not involve any ship-to-ship action as all the damage was done by obsolete torpedo bombers.
The second “proof” occurred in early 1942 during the Fall of Singapore, which at the time was a British Colony and major base in the Pacific.
Following Pearl Harbor in late 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines as well as British possessions in the Pacific. The Battle for Singapore proved to be a disaster for the British as they were ill prepared like we were at Pearl Harbor.
The battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse (and four destroyers) were on station near Singapore. All were sunk by Japanese land based bombers, the British having little air power in Singapore to counter the bombers. What did they have were second rate fighters easily out classed by the Japanese Zero.
The sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse was the final nail in the coffin of the battleship. Aircraft Carriers would become queen of the seas and land based bombers with long ranges would eventually devastate Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
Billy Mitchell would be promoted posthumously to Brigadier General for being right. Today, outside of Billy Mitchell Airport there is a B-25 Mitchell Bomber.
So, Billy Mitchell was right but he continues to be right.
I was never a particular fan of Donald Trump but I did recognize the soundness of some of his policies. Compare Trump to the current occupant of the White House and Trump looks like a genius.
Trump sought to establish Space Force probably a take off on President’s Reagan “Star Wars” initiative in the 1980’s that was so widely mocked. Space Force was established in 2019 and became the eighth uniformed service of the United States. I think Billy Mitchell would be at the forefront recognizing the potential.
(Footnote: The biggest threat to our national security is not Putin’s Russia although he is ambitious. The biggest threat to the United States is the CCP-Communist China. The CCP will eclipse the US economy and their technology is not far behind, if at all. Their plans are world domination. Any honest analyst gets that. Someone once said that generals and admirals tend to fight the last war during the current war. What that usually means is the military is slow to plan for the next war. Billy Mitchell was a prophet as he planned for the next war. I hope we learned something, but at present, I doubt it.)
I recently did a solo ACW game. You can find the details at the link below. The scenario is earlier in the war and the battle occurred in what is now West Virginia.
A Union army led by Brigadier Robert Milroy attempted to drive a Confederate Army led by Colonel Edward Johnson (later nicknamed Allegheny Johnson) out of the area. The attack was badly botched and the Rebs held on to that portion of Virginia for the time being.
Milroy would eventually be re-assigned to the Shenandoah Valley where he fell victim to General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson during Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign in 1862.
Johnson would go on to greater things (sort of). Johnson was highly thought of by Robert E. Lee and was made a divisional commander. He was assigned to Ewell’s Corps for the invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg was the culmination of the invasion.
On the first day of the battle Johnson had the opportunity to take Culp’s Hill-a vital position, that could have had a major impact on the course of the battle. Johnson had discretionary orders from Corps Commander Dick Ewell and so he opted not to attack what was a weak Union position on that first day.
Johnson did attempt to take the position on the second and third day but by then the Union army had entrenched both efforts failed. After the war both Johnson and Ewell came under fire in the south and were blamed for the Confederate failure at Gettysburg.
For the Battle of Allegheny Mountain though Johnson would be a bit of a hero.
At the blog link you can again view the images, see the Order of the Battle and read the action reports if you so desire. I found it is impossible to cut and paste from one blog to another.
The Great White Fleet was the nickname given to 16 American Battleships that sailed around the world from 1907 to 1909. President Teddy Rooselvelt order the cruise to demonstrate that America was a world player in Naval power he reviewed the fleet as it passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. For more go to Naval History and Heritage Command.
I was fortunate to get the postcard of the USS Wisconsin named for my home state. The Wisconsin was a predecessor of the more famous USS Wisconsin of World War 2 fame.
I was also fortunate to obtain a card of the USS Rhode Island.
The cards for the Wisconsin and Rhode Island were part of a series published by Britton and Rey. The next two cards also feature Great White Fleet Battleships but from different publishers and so do not have the facts about the ship on the back of the cards.
The Missouri was also a predecessor or the more famous USS Missouri of World War 2 fame. The new Missouri was the ship the Japanese signed their surrender on (Sept. 1945) thus ending WW2.
The back of this card reads: Welcome to the Lone Star Post Card Club. It’s signed Zetta Ulfirst(sp?) #207, 1916 Chester Drive, Bakersfield Calif. It’s addressed to Mrs. F.O. Holt, 3304 Mt. Vernon Ave., Fort Worth, Texas 76203
I looked up the Bakersfield addressed the Fort Worth address. The Bakersfield address is now a hair stylist shop. The Fort Worth address still appears to be residential.
This unusual card was the odd man out so-to-speak. The ships are clearly German. The flag on the ship in the foreground apears to be of World War One vintage. The card itself is dated February 21, 1938. The post mark is mostly obliterated and stamp removed. It was sent to Frau ? Poppetz(?). There is a lot of writing on the card but it’s in German cursive. My German is poor and cursive makes it worse. I think I’ll have a friend translate if they can.
The German High Seas Fleet was scuttled at the end of the WW1. I can’t tell is the post card is a commemorative of sorts or if it’s meant to signify the resurgent Kriegsmarine of 1938. When Hitler took power he immediately began to rearm.
Watch the surrender of a I-400 class Supersubmarine.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto called for the construction of 18 of the massive submarines carrying a total of 36 attack planes. The name of the special submarine class was abbreviated to Sen-toku.
The attack planes had to be designed from scratch. The need for speed, range and a decent sized bomb payload required tradeoffs. The wings had to be foldable to fit inside the tube, or hangar, atop the submarine. The design work, testing, and building of the plane was outsourced to the Aichi Aircraft Company.
The I-400 program did have its detractors in the heavily bureaucratic Imperial Japanese Navy. After the defeat at Midway in early June 1942, Japan became more focused on defending the homeland and far less on possible attacks on the U.S. mainland using the large submarines. The death of Yamamoto in mid-April 1943, played further into the hands…
Lieutenant Commander Stephen L. Johnson had a problem on his hands; a very large problem. His Balao-class submarine, the Segundo, had just picked up a large radar contact on the surface about 100 miles off Honshu, one of Japan’s home islands, heading south toward Tokyo. World War II in the Pacific had just ended, and the ensuing cease fire was in its 14th day. The official peace documents would not be signed for several more days.
As Johnson closed on the other vessel, he realized it was a gigantic submarine, so large in fact that it first looked like a surface ship in the darkness. The Americans had nothing that size, so he realized that it had to be a Japanese submarine.
This was the first command for the lanky 29-year-old commander. He and his crew faced the largest and perhaps the most advanced submarine…
Approximately 16 million Americans served in World War Two. All came out of the Depression with many being jobless prior to the war and most being poor. It’s been said that World War Two helped bring America out of the Depression and that is certainly true as industry geared up, not only to supply our own troops but also supply our allies.
The humorous postcard below represents what was the likely transition from Depression era poverty to induction into the military-which meant for most three square meals per day plus a brand new wardrobe.
My parents were Depression era and the postcard would have made them smile. It wasn’t called the Greatest Generation for nothing.
This card was mailed (stamp was removed) to Mr. Con O’Neill who lived at 815 E. South Ave., Houghton, Michigan. Houghton, Michigan is “Yooper” territory located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you made a trip across Lake Superior you would be in Canada. I ran a search for the address and found that the house is still there and occupied. The picture I found shows an older home that needs work.
I also ran a search for Mr. Con O’Neill. O’Neill is a common Irish name and the few “Con’s” I found did not line up with Michigan although their ages seemed about right. Assuming “Johnny” (see below) is also an O’Neill I ran a search and found probable descendants in the Upper Peninsula. If a relative of Johnny O’Neill ever runs a search then perhaps my blog will be found and they confirm the message below.
My wife and I cooperated to decipher the writing. This is what we believe it says.
Dear Uncle Con, Arrived here Sat From San Antonio and I expect to move again-soon-and it may be to the Far East. My new address is 5th Air Depot Supply Sqdr., Herbert Smart Airport, Macon, GA. My regards to all. Best Wishes, Johnny
Hebert Smart Aitport appears to be a road near the Macon, GA airport. Perhaps at one time the airport itself was named Herbert Smart.
Johnny was part of the Army Airforce (the Airforce was part of the Army unit 1948). He was assigned to a supply squadron. He expects to be sent to the Far East.
We could not make out a year on the postmark but the day is clearly December 8th. This is speculative on my part but it’s possible the December 8th postmark is from 1941 with December 8th being the day after the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. Johnny’s reference to the Far East may indicate a hasty deployment to that theater of operations in light of the attack.
It’s also possible that it may be December 8th, 1942 by which time the war in the Pacific was in full swing.
A search for Johnny O’Neill, US Army did not turn up anything that would seem to match. As noted, I speculated a bit assuming that “Johnny” was an O’Neill and also assuming he was from Michigan.
The Army Airforce had 80 Supply and Repair Squadrons during WW2. A search for the 5th Air Depot Supply Squadron turned up an interesting link to the Air Museum in Great Britain. The 5th was attached at one time to the legendary 8th Air Force.
A search for John O’Neill with the 8th Air Force did not turn up the name. The Army Air Force was at 100 different bases in Great Britain during the war. It’s certainly possible that Johnny did not go to the Far East as he predicted but rather ended up with his squadron in Britain. Thank you for your service Johnny.
This past spring and summer’s travels were frutiful as I found some WW2 era postcards in various antique stores.
The most interesting to me are the ones that contain a message to loved ones. I like to record them here in the hopes that maybe some relative will recognize the name and request the card as a family remembrance.
The front of the card features American soldiers with WW1 style campaign hats. The hats would be worn well into WW2. The top line reads, From Camp Wolters Texas–A17–Instructions in use of 60mm machine guns. The postcard does not have a post mark. It appears be have been enclosed in a letter (see below). I have no idea of the year in which it was written. My guess is the early years of WW2 or perhaps a little before.
My guess lines up with what I found on a website fortwolters.com. Camp Wolters was initially Texas National Guard installation until it was turned over to the US Army in March, 1940. Private Aldo (back of card) was most likely there in the early WW2 years given the style of the card. During WW2 the camp served as a replacement training camp as well as a prison camp for German POWs.
The camp later became a training camp for army helicopter crews. The camp closed down and is moldering according to the website. The author of the website intends the website to be a memorial to the 200,000 soldiers that passed through there.
The machine gun is supposed to be a 60mm machine gun but I believe it is mislabeled. As far as I know the US Army did not have a 60mm machine gun until the Vietnam War. I am not sure if the label is intentional or unintentional. It may be intentional as to mislead a potential enemy.
The machine guns appear to me to be standard army issue .50 cal (12.7mm) heavy machine guns. The gun has a long history and are still in service today.
The back of the card reads: Pvt. Aldo Riyoni?, Co.C.5th Bn. Camp Wolters Texas. The spelling may be wrong. I assumed Riyoni was possibly Italian but an INET search turned up a possible Arabic name.
The camp is no longer in operation but the main gate probably looked like this when Private Riyoni arrived. An INET search of Camp Wolters pictures turned up quite a few.
The message reads: Dear Folks, I’m just dropping you a line to tell you be sure _____? wait until you hear from me. I’m also sending you this bond allotment. Keep this paper but do not destroy? it. Love Aldo
Aldo wishes for his parents to either take care of his war bonds or he actually allotted to them. I think that might be the case since the nation was slowly getting out of the Depression in early WW2. Here’s a link to a blog that does an excellent job of telling the story of WW2 War Bonds.
Below is the batch of cards I found that included Private Riyoni’s note to his folks.
The first one on the right features cavalry training. The army was transitioning from horsed cavalry just prior to WW2 to tanks and armored cars. The writing on the back of the card mostly illegible but it appears to be postmarked 1918 in which case the US Army still had horsed cavalry.
The middle card in the first row went to Geo Fisher in Fond du Lac, WI. The message is brief, hard to read, but has something to do with a bill of some sorts. I’m guessing as to the date but the gun appears to me to be a 37mm anti-tank gun which was common in early WW2.
The third card in the top row does not have any writing on the back. It appears to be a card that features aspect of infantry training.
The first card in the middle row is of a M3 Anti-Aircraft gun. The gun is a heavy AA gun of 90mm. The nest two cards are Aldo’s.
The first card in the bottom row features a parade of US troops in London. The style of dress is WW1. The US entered WW1 in April, 1917 but it would take a year before a substantial number of troops reached Great Britain and then on to France. The final card is a memorial to the American Civil War battlefields around Chattanooga, TN.
In a memo from the Undersecretary of the Navy, a project named “Dagwood” was mentioned, but I am unable to locate any details. MacArthur sent out a deceptive message (with slip-shot secrecy) to be intercepted by the Japanese called “Pastel Two.” This showed a detailed “plan” about Allied landings on the China coast. The Panama Canal had a steady stream of ships loaded with men, equipment and supplies. Seven more atomic bombs were on order for “Operation Olympic” British, Canadian and Australian divisions were to be re-equipped with American weapons and logistical support to standardize the entire operation. The Allied planners felt they would ultimately involve 5 million men. (Operation Overlord in Europe totaled 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks.) They expected opposition from 5,000 kamikazes, which proved later to be correct. The main objective for “Olympic” would be to secure Kagoshima Wan; a great landlocked bay for which…
The original idea for the invasion of Japan was approved in July 1944 and received constant, precise detailing up until the actual signing of the surrender. Operation Downfall was broken into two separate plans, Operation Olympic which would be followed by Operation Coronet.
With all the devastation already incurred on Japan, a forceful occupation would still be very costly. The Japanese Army controlled the government and their wish was a fight down to the last man, woman and child. Later on, members of that army stated that it would have been an all out suicide effort of every person in Japan to fight to the death.
Women pose for propaganda poster as “beachfront kamikazes”
Operation Olympic, which included 750,000 troops were to land on Southern Kyushi 1 November 1945. In the first wave, Army, Navy and Marine personnel – 436,486; the second wave…
The Iron Brigade (also known as the Black Hats because they wore the hats of the US Regulars) in the Union Army of the Potomac initially consisted of the 2nd, 6th, 7th Wisconsin Infantry and the 19th Indiana Infantry. Battery B, 4th US Artillery was attached to the brigade. The brigade after severe losses at Antietam was brought up to strength by the 24th Michigan Infantry.
The brigade earned its nickname at Turner’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain where it was said the men stood like iron in a vicious firefight. The name stuck and the brigade re-earned their nickname in each engagement it was involved.
The Iron Brigade was part of the 1st Division of the 1st Corps in the Army of the Potomac during the Battle of Gettysburg which began on July 1st, 1863 and among the first Union Infantry to arrive on the scene.
Michael Eisenhut’s, Brothers of War-The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg (a historical novel) is, as it states on the book cover, an epic Civil War story of individual soldiers, courage, and brotherhood.
I would agree with that assessment. The book features “a Civil War squad” which by the time of Gettysburg consisted of 4 close friends, Hawk, Henry and two brothers by the names of James and Solomon, “Sol” for short. They serve in Company B of the 19th Indiana. The 19th is populated by historical characters as well as “made up” characters to flesh out the story that leads to the devastation that the 19th Indiana and the rest of the Iron Brigade suffered on the first day of Gettysburg.
As an amateur Civil War historian, myself and a Wisconsin resident who has read extensively about the Iron Brigade, I would not hesitate to say that the first day of Gettysburg essentially wrecked the brigade and it was never quite the same after that.
Eisenhut makes that clear from the 19th Indiana’s point-of-view, noting that the regiment brought 308 officers and men to Gettysburg and suffered 210 casualties, a loss over 68 percent. Of the thirty-two men in company B who started on the morning on July 1st, only five remained with the regiment when they reached Culp’s Hill that evening. The Wisconsin and Michigan regiments suffered similar losses at Gettysburg.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Eisenhut in his first novel, makes you care about the main characters of Hawk, Henry, James, and Sol. You witness the camaraderie, the brotherhood of soldiers, the griping about the army (timeless), the joking, the marching, the camping and eventually the utter brutality of war as well as how the main characters react to the carnage. If you’ve studied the Civil War and its armies, I think you would agree that Eisenhut gets it right.
At one point in the battle two of the main characters go for water in the “run” where much of the action took place. At the same time, a young Confederate soldier is also getting water. They look up at each other and simply go about their business in getting water too exhausted to care they are enemies. Musket fire erupts a slight distance away and again they look at each other as if to say, “not our fight, not now.” The rebel soldier fills his canteen and backs away from the stream and one of the Union soldier’s comments on the soldier’s youth and says, they are just like us.
Civil War armies fought at close quarters even though the weaponry of the period could kill at much longer ranges than earlier “musket period” wars. Nevertheless, the soldiers rarely got close enough to recognize that they were indeed, just like themselves, young and amid a terrible war.
Suffice it to say I don’t want to include any spoilers so all I can say is the book is a page turner as you learn to care about the characters and wonder as to their fate at Gettysburg. As someone familiar with the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg I wondered from the start who would survive and who would not.
Eisenhut drew his initial inspiration for the book from visiting the Union Cemetery in Gettysburg and noting a name on a grave. This prompted him (a resident of Indiana) to research the 19th Indiana more deeply and enabled him to write a story of individual soldiers, incredible courage, and the brotherhood of war.
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek (called Oak Hills by the Southerners) was fought ten miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri on August 10, 1861. Named for the stream that crosses the area where the battle took place, it was a bitter struggle between Union and Southern forces for control of Missouri in the first year of the Civil War. https://www.nps.gov/wicr/learn/historyculture/brief-account-of-the-battle.htm
Last September, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Springfield, MO area. The trip included a stop at the Wilson’s Creek Battlefield.
Wilson’s Creek was the first large battle in the Western Theatre of the Civil War. At stake was which way the State of Missouri, (a slave state) would go in the conflict.
Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon was promoted to General and given the task of keeping the state in the Union or at least prevent it from joining the Confederacy. The Missouri State Guard was pro-Confederate and led by General Sterling Price. The guard was numerous but poorly armed.
Lyon gathered what regiments he could. He had some US Regulars, both infantry and cavalry, drawn from points west, some Union Kansas and Iowa regiments as well as St. Louis German Regiments led by General Franz Sigel.
The Confederates on the others hand had Price’s Missouri State Guard, Arkansas State Guard (having crossed the border), Texas\Kansas cavalry and Louisiana Confederates all under General Ben McCulloch.
Lyon hated the Confederates with a vengeance so it tended to cloud his military judgment. When it became apparent that the Confederates vastly outnumbered the Union forces in Missouri Lyon was ordered to fall back to his base by General Fremont, in order to gather more forces.
Lyon, anxious to get at the Confederates disobeyed the order and instead listened to a plan suggested by General Sigel. Sigel suggested taking the Confederates by surprise with a double envelopment. Given all that could go wrong, including the element of surprise (the Confederates had a. lot of cavalry to serve as scouts) Lyon went along with it.
The basic idea was for Sigel to flank march, take the Confederates by surprise and push on until he linked up with Lyon’s main force. Surprisingly, Sigel initially succeeded, driving in much of the Confederate Cavalry and taking their camps. However, due to a sound anomaly, Lyon had no idea that Sigel was successful and Sigel had no idea that Lyon had not yet attacked. To make matters worse, Sigel paused in his pursuit giving the Surprised McCulloch (who commanded all the Confederate forces) time to organize a counter attack against Sigel, which in time, was very successful.
Meanwhile, McCulloch and Price realized that Lyon had taken possession of the high ground that would be forever known as Bloody Hill. Price with the bulk of the Missouri State Guard tried three times to take the hill only to be driven back. General Lyon, who was incredibly brave, was killed in the last assault. His successor realizing that things looked back organized a withdrawal. Except for some of the Missouri State Guard who did pursue the Union forces basically got away after one hec of a fight. Lyon became one of the North’s early heroes.
I did extensive reading on the battle since we visited. My primary source was William Garrett Pston and Richard W. Hatcher’s excellent (very detailed ) Wllson’s Creek, University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
The Wilson’s Creek Battlefield is only ten miles from Springfield, Missouri, but far away enough from the city so that much of the battlefield is as it was in August of 1861.
There is an excellent visitor center run by the park service with interesting displays that tell the story as well as a great book store which of course I spent a nice sum at. Here are a few of the pics I took. Note that we walked the battlefield on a very hot September day and frankly, much of the terrain looks the same. There was a lot of high brush, rocks here and there, scrubby looking trees, a stream and all and all had the “middle of no where” look to it.
Recently, with a friend, I had the opportunity to reproduce the battle as a table top war-game. In our game, the Confederates under my command failed to drive the Union forces from Bloody Hill. In fact, Union counter attacks nearly gave the Union the victory until fairly late in the game when the tide was reversed. Games are judged by how many units are lost and the score stood at 6-5 (Confederates) when it was agreed an outright victory was not possible for either side. I declared a draw with a hat’s off to a vigorous Union defense.
I try to include as many details as I can in our simulations. Like the original battle, the Missouri State Guard was ill-armed and the US Regulars were somewhat of an elite that early in the war. Here’s some pics of the action: