Thursday, December 13, 2018


Some battles, like Fredericksburg, fought on this date in 1862, seem too depressing to contemplate. Major General Ambrose Burnside's Union army far outnumbered Robert E. Lee's Confederates, but lost 1,180 killed, 9,028 wounded and 2,145 captured or missing, compared to 608, 4,116 and 653 on the southern side, according to the Encyclopedia Virginia.
Lee himself would make similar failed frontal attacks at Malvern Hill, and on the third day at Gettysburg. So would Grant at Vicksburg (despite the brilliance of the preceding campaign) and Cold Harbor.
Burnside did have better days, at Roanoke Island and Knoxville. But he was, as everyone, including at some level himself, recognized, not up to the task of command, to the awful responsibility which he was permitted to carry for far too long. Few would be up to it -- none of us armchair generals. Yet Lee and Grant, whatever their blunders, were. (Burnside was finally taken out of active service in the summer of 1864, after the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg.)
The gospel hymn says we're gonna lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside, and ain't gonna study war no more. World War I makes me feel like doing that. The top British general Douglas Haig, like Burnside on the winning side, repeatedly sent many thousands of his men to die in useless assaults. I am not interested in his defense.

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