Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My Favorite Military Histories.

Everyone comes into this hobby because something inspires them to do so. As a teenager, I began painting 54mm soldiers, and this combined with my interest in history and board games created a very short bridge to playing games with toy soldiers. All it took was a couple of high school friends named Wes Kuwano and Bill Cranor to light the fuse.
I mentioned my love of books in an earlier post, and thought I'd share ten that were particularly inspiring to dive into one period or another. Here they are in no particular order.

I chose books that might not be at the top of everyone else's list, but are good reads, and might inspire readers to investigate a new game period--like we need another one.

1. The Face of Battle by John Keegan

I bought this book when it came out in 1976. It was a new military historiography focusing on the battle as the most important factor in military history. Keegan analyzed Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme as examples. Keegan's style was to examine the underlying social factors that created each army, and then broke the battle down to its component parts. To this day, I still re-read Keegan's chapter on Agincourt. It is chiefly responsible for my interest in the Hundred Years War.

2. Devil of a Whipping by Lawrence F. Babits
Babits examines the AWI Battle of Cowpens in very much a Keeganesque style, breaking down the social characteristics of each army and analyzing the effectiveness of the participants. However it is the breaking down of the battle in its phases and in space and time that make it so interesting. Finally, Babits work is ground-breaking introducing new information about troop strengths to help explain the rebel victory. A great book.

3. First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook
Though I don't game the First World War at the present time, I have a pile of virgin 15mm Peter Pig figures waiting to be painted in my garage. Some day I'll get to them. Middlebrook's story is an oral history culled from veterans of that first disastrous day and it makes compelling reading. I literally could not put this down. I was on vacation in Victoria, deathly ill, nearly a decade ago and picked this up at Munro's on Government Street. I read it in 24 hours.

4. Gettysburg: The Second Day by Harry Pfanz
There are zillions of books on Gettysburg, and I have a lot of them. However, Pfanz's three volumes are certainly among the best. Each is a mini-history focusing on a time or location. Pfanz was the superintendant of the Gettysburg National Historical site, and clearly knew the battlefield inside out. Not only is his narrative unique and insightful, but the maps, my god the maps cannot be matched.

5. Niagara 1814: America Invades Canada by Jay Barbuto
The War of 1812 has gained some popularity in recent years, but the histories tend to be ho-hum and general. However there are some great titles, great writers, and great reads that have cropped up in the last decade or so. This is one of them. Barbuto is an American who provides a highly detailed analysis of the entire 1814 Niagara campaign. He has a balanced view of the campaign and focuses on some of the demanding aspects of prosecuting the war in this difficult theater.

6. The Road to Guilford Courthouse by John Buchanan
I feel just a smidge guilty posting this book because I just finished reading it. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful single volume treatment of the American Revolution in the South up through Guilford Courthouse. Buchanan makes good use of primary and secondary resources to paint an intriguing picture of the war in the Carolinas from the first encounter at Sullivan's Island in 1776 to Cornwallis's fatal victory at Guilford Courthouse. All the major actions are here, as well as many of the smaller partisan affairs. Buchanan takes pains to introduce us to many of the leaders, including the less well known, and doesn't pull punches in his judgement of them. However, the best part of this book is Buchanan's writing. He has a fine narrative style that makes reading the 400 pages easy and effortless.
7. Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warfare by Milton Perry
I have more books on the Civil War at sea than most folks, and most of them are really good. Though a little off the central topic, one of these is Milton Perry's book on Confederate efforts to even the score with the Yankees using unconventional means. It's a well-written, fascinating read about two arms of the Confederate Navy that proved considerably more effective (though less sexy) than ironclad or cruiser building programs.

8. Capital Navy by John Coski
Another great book on the naval aspects of the Civil War. John Coski's look at the life and death of the James River Squadron focuses on a couple areas. The first is the development and effect of the CSS Virginia on Union naval plans. Lots of little known information here. Most of the book, however, deals with what came after the Virginia--the design, building and staffing of the ironclad squadron that was to keep the Union at bay. Coski includes a great account of the Battle of Trent's Reach. Coski is a wonderful writer and tells this story well.

9. Red Coats and Grey Jackets: The Battle of Chippawa by Donald E. Graves
I love this book. It's a brief but complete account of a brief little battle. Graves is a Canadian who has written on a number of Canadian military history topics, and his work is quite good. This little battle on the Niagara frontier in 1814 is the best account of Chippawa. It's well written includes a complete OOB. If you're interested in this battle, you need this book.

10. War Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy Under Edward III, 1327-1360 by Clifford Rogers
Dang this is a great book. Rogers examines Edward III's tactical developments from his first less successful actions in Scotland, to his highly successful battles at Halidon Hill and Neville's Cross, and how he applied these in France during the Hundred Years War. Rogers also has interesting things to say about the chevauchee, or highly destructive raids, the English carried out in France and how they served an important strategic purpose of separating the populace from the French king and forced the French to fight battles against the English system that they had no tactical solution to defeat.

Bonus selection: Agincourt: A New History by Anne Curry
For me, Anne Curry is the face of the coterie of medieval historians that keep the Hundred Years War a living, interesting period. With this book, Anne Curry began a process of recounting the number of English present at this battle, reducing the French, and increasing the number of English present at this historic battle. As I wrote in an earlier post, this has provoked considerable debate among historians.

Super Double bonus: The Western Way of War and Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience by Victor Davis Hanson
Before he became a conservative spear carrier, Victor Davis Hanson, an agricultural historian wrote and edited these two superb histories of hoplite warfare. They were inspiring. Enough so that I painted up two hoplite armies using the old Ral Partha hoplite figures. I wonder where those are?

And One Stinking Turkey: The Myth of the Great War by Robert Mosier
I am a great believer in historical revision, especially when the facts warrant it. I am not a fan of revision because it's fashionable to do so or for multi-cultural purposes. I don't know what led Harper to plow zillions of dollars into promoting this book, but its just bad. Mosier's contention is that because the Germans had more modern artillery, they were defeating the Allies on the western front until the Americans arrived with their more aggressive tactics to save the world from Imperial Germany. Despite the fact that this is simple-minded and wrong, Mosier ignores the fact that the British and French were force on to the offensive to drive the Germans from highly productive regions of France. He also largely ignores that the real breakthrough against the Germans was completed by those same forces before the Americans could arrive in strength. Bad stuff.

I hope there is something here that gets your attention, and let me know if you have further suggestions

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