miércoles, 4 de noviembre de 2009

Un terreno Brutal.La guerra civil Americana.

El Nuevo libro del profesor Keegan está dedicado a la Guerra Secesión, lo primero que me extraño cuando lo vi anunciado en algunas páginas de historia fue lo corto que era 365 páginas, un conflicto de la misma magnitud que el país donde se produjo, por lo menos debería de pasar las 500pg, claro no hay que prejuzgar un libro por el mero hecho de no tener tamaño de adoquín y necesitar unos buenos bíceps para manejarlo, solo que me pareció raro y demasiado condensado, la guerra civil americana tiene mucha caña que moler, desde los encontronazos con las antiguas teorías militares de cargas de infantería, el uso de artillería de manera extensiva, las nuevas armas que definirían el siglo XX(armas de fuego más rápido y de mas fácil manejo), la esclavitud y las huellas que todavía perdura en algunos estados de la antigua confederación, son temas que valen la pena abordar y escudriñar. Leyendo la reseña por el historiador JAMES M. McPHERSON, otra bestia de la historia militar de la guerra civil, es una lástima que un buen historiador británico como Keegan cometiera varios errores con respecto a la geografía y la política americana, los británicos son muy buenos historiadores, desde hace algunos años hay una nueva camada de escritores que se han centrado en la historia militar para todo público(o como les gusta llamarlo a nuestros amigos en España libros de divulgación). No creo que llegue a leer el libro de Keegan pero la reseña me intereso por ser un historiado de la guerra civil criticando a otro historiado de la altura de Sir John Keegan (fundador de la divulgación de la historia militar).



November 1, 2009
Brutal Terrain By JAMES M. McPHERSON

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
A Military History
By John Keegan
Illustrated. 396 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $35
.

John Keegan is our generation’s foremost military historian. His 1976 book “The Face of Battle” helped start what is still called “the new military history,” with its emphasis on the cultural context of war and the actual experience of men in battle. In more than a dozen additional books, Keegan has demonstrated his narrative and analytical skills in the traditional genre of military history, concentrating on questions of command, strategy, tactics and the changing technologies of warfare. With great expectancy, therefore, one turns to his first book-length study of the Civil War.

In some respects “The American Civil War: A Military History” fulfills such high expectations. With deft turns of phrase, Keegan portrays the weaknesses and strengths of the war’s principal commanders. The Union general George B. McClellan suffered from a “disabling defect as a commander: readiness to take counsel of his fears.” He was “psychologically deterred from pushing action to the point of result. Fearing failure, he did not try to win.”

In contrast, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, of whom little was expected at the beginning, turned out to be “both an absolutely clear-sighted strategist and a ruthless battle-­winner.” He displayed “all the qualities that Lincoln hoped to find in McClellan but failed to.” Grant had an extraordinary ability “to visualize terrain in his mind’s eye”; he “quickly grasped how modern methods of communication, particularly the telegraph and the railroads, had endowed the commander with the power to collect information more quickly and the means to disseminate appropriate orders in response.”

Robert E. Lee’s “greatest gifts of generalship were quick and correct decision-making in the face of the enemy, exploitation of his enemy’s mistakes and economic handling of the force available to him.” But unlike Grant, “Lee was not really a strategist, though he was a brilliant tactician and operational leader.”

As for other generals, Keegan considers Stonewall Jackson “a military genius” whose operational motto, however — “always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy” — sometimes mystified his own subordinates. The Confederate general Braxton Bragg, “though a fighter, was also bad-tempered and alienated most of his subordinates by insulting them,” while William T. Sherman “showed something of Grant’s gifts of communication, quickness of decision and ruthless analysis of the military situation.”

In sum, “Sherman and Grant were the two outstanding generals of the war” because they recognized what Keegan calls the “geostrategic problems” facing Union armies and figured out how to overcome them. Geography, Keegan writes, is “the most important of all factors that impinge on war-making,” especially in North America, where “the vast extent of territory and its varied and dramatic character oblige soldiers to conform to its demands more rigorously than in almost any other region of the world.”

The Confederacy comprised 800,000 square miles, an area about the size of Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Poland combined. The Southern coastline against which the Union navy mounted a blockade was 3,500 miles long. The Appalachian mountain chain constituted a military barrier to Union invasion, while many Southern rivers also provided strong defensive positions. These geostrategic obstacles eventually succumbed to the technology of steam power on rivers and rails, the mobility of armies commanded by Grant and Sherman, and the hard fighting that depleted Confederate manpower by battle, capture and attrition.

The analytical value of Keegan’s geostrategic framework is marred by numerous errors that will leave readers confused and misinformed. I note this with regret, for I have learned a great deal from Keegan’s writings. But he is not at top form in this book. Rivers are one of the most important geostrategic features he discusses. “The Ohio and its big tributaries, the Cumberland and the Tennessee,” he writes, “form a line of moats protecting the central Upper South, while the Mississippi, with which they connect, denies the Union any hope of penetration.” The reality was exactly the contrary. These navigable rivers were highways for Union naval and army task forces that pierced the Confederate heartland, capturing Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and other important cities along with large parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Keegan acknowledges this reality later in the book when he notes that these rivers “offered points of penetration to the Union into Confederate territory.” Precisely.

But Keegan’s grasp of river geography and other terrain features is shaky. He confuses the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, seems to place the Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the wrong rivers, has the Kanawha River join the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River (it is the Allegheny River that joins the Monongahela, while the Kanawha empties into the Ohio 150 miles southwest of Pittsburgh) and shifts the state of Tennessee northward, where he says it “gives on to” Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The Confederates did not abandon their strong point on Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River; Union forces surrounded and captured it with its 5,000 defenders. Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga is not a feature of Lookout Mountain, and the battle of Cedar Mountain did not take place in the Blue Ridge.

There are many other errors in the text, perhaps foreshadowed by wrong dates for a half-dozen battles on the map at the beginning of the book. North Carolina did not escape Union invasion until almost “the end of the war” (it was first invaded in February 1862); the old canard that some Union soldiers were bayoneted in their blankets at Shiloh is simply not true; at least 10 percent of United States soldiers in 1865 were black, not 3 percent; the British government recognized the Confederacy’s belligerent status under international law in May 1861, not 1863; and so on.

These and similar mistakes can perhaps be attributed to carelessness, but others seem inexplicable. Keegan declares that Lincoln “never learnt the importance of visiting armies in the field, from which he might have discovered a great deal,” apparently unaware that Lincoln visited armies in the field 11 times, spending 42 days in their camps. Describing the role of the United States Navy in the Civil War, Keegan makes the astonishing claim that at the outbreak of the conflict “almost all” of its “antiquated” warships were sailing vessels and that “none had been launched later than 1822.” In fact, 57 of the Navy’s ships had been launched since 1822, and 23 of them were steamships, including six screw frigates launched in the 1850s that were as advanced as any ships of their class in the world. And what is one to make of the statement by Keegan, a native Englishman, that the British prime minister during the American Civil War was Benjamin Disraeli? (It was Viscount Henry Palmerston.)

Keegan’s sympathies lie with the Union cause in the war, and he considers Lincoln a better commander in chief than Jefferson Davis. Like Grant and Sherman, Lincoln “abandoned altogether the conventional thought that the capture of the enemy’s capital would bring victory. Instead he now correctly perceived that it was only the destruction of the South’s main army that would defeat the Confederacy.” But Keegan shares a widespread misconception about Lincoln’s most eloquent expression of the war’s meaning. “The genius” of the Gettysburg Address, he writes, “lies less in his magnificent words than in his refusing to differentiate between the sacrifice of the North and the South.” This assertion could not be more wrong. The soldiers who “gave the last full measure of devotion” at Gettysburg so that the “nation might live” were Union soldiers. No Confederates were buried in the cemetery that Lincoln dedicated; they fought to break up the nation that the “brave men” whom Lincoln honored fought to preserve. Far from refusing to differentiate between the sacrifice of the North and the South, Lincoln made the most profound differentiation.

James M. McPherson’s most recent book is “Abraham Lincoln.”

Reseña tomada del New York Times, Sunday book Review, Brutal Terrain.

Las pinturas son del artista norteamericano Don Troiani.