RealClearHistory Articles

10 Things You Didn't Know About 30 Years' War

Brandon Christensen - December 12, 2017

Huh? The 30 Years’ War? This is a pretty random war to highlight, I admit, but it’s one that deserves a bit more scrutiny, if only to add some color to your week and small talk at your next cocktail party. Fought between numerous polities from 1618-1648, the 30 Years’ War is infamous for its high rate of civilian casualties and the devastation it wrought on the area that is now known as Germany.

Here are 10 facts about the 30 Years’ War you probably didn’t know:

1. Let’s get the big one out of the way: The 30 Years’ War was not a religious war. Most history textbooks, if they mention the 30 Years’ War at all, lump it in the category of one of the many “religious wars” to plague Europe in the early modern era. Conservatives, at least in the Anglo-American sphere, are okay with this narrative because it can play to a distinct and almost subtle anti-Catholic narrative. And Leftists like it because of their continued confusion between “secular government” and “secular society.” But make no mistake: the 30 Years’ War was all about power and money.

2. Take France for example. A Catholic state, Louis XIII and his foreign minister, Cardinal Richelieu, found themselves sandwiched between two major Catholic rivals - Spain and Austria - which also happened to be governed by the Hapsburg family (a hated rival of the French state). Paris ended up allying itself with the so-called Protestant factions in order to even its own playing field, even as it slaughtered thousands of French Protestants (Huguenots) in the name of Catholicism.

Top 10 Battles in African History

Brandon Christensen - December 5, 2017

Africa is often depicted in the Western and Eastern press as a continent that is isolated, exotic, mysterious, and tragic. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Africa has a long and storied tradition when it comes to globalization. Africa has played a part in all of the world’s major trade routes, in all of the modern world’s major exchanges (from agricultural crops to forms of art), and in all of the modern world’s major wars.

Below are 10 battles that prove it.

1. Battle of Zama - 202 BC: Let’s start off with an old school battle, Carthage vs. Rome during the Second Punic War. The Battle of Zama was fought on North African soil after Hannibal’s successful victories in Europe prompted Rome’s strategists to adopt a new strategy: take the fight to Carthage itself. The Romans were outnumbered and the Carthaginians were led by Hannibal himself, yet the Romans managed to win the war and force Carthage to beg for peace. The battle is widely credited for ending the Second Punic War.

2. Battle of Adwa - March 1, 1896: This is the famous battle where a modern European military, representing Italy, lost to an African kingdom, Ethiopia. The myth surrounding this battle suggests Africans beat Italians with spears and swords and courage, but the historical reality is much more interesting. Italy had just been formed, so was very new to whole imperial game being played by European countries at the time, and the Ethiopians were well armed by Russia, who shared an Orthodox faith with the monarch of Ethiopia.

Top 10 Successful Secessions

Brandon Christensen - November 28, 2017

Catalonia. Brexit. Kurdistan. Tibet. Scotland. Luhansk and Donetsk. Quebec. These places have significant minorities that want to leave the country they are currently in and set up their own. They want to secede.

The reasons for secession are varied, as are the methods of seceding. There are arguments for and against secession, and you can find secessionist sentiments in all of the major and minor political ideologies out there.

Here are 10 of the most successful secessions of the past 250 years or so:

1. The 13 American colonies leaving the United Kingdom: Was the American Revolution an act of secession or an act of patriots defeating a foreign imperial power? Contemporary thinkers and policymakers at the time (1775-1783) very much viewed the American Revolution as an act of secession rather than a country fighting its way out of foreign bondage. Everybody from Adam Smith to Edmund Burke to King George III to the rebels in British North America believed that the war between the two sides was a civil war between two different factions of the same polity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

10 World War II Battles Not Involving U.S.

Brandon Christensen - November 21, 2017

How long did World War II last? For the United States, it started in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. For Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, it started in 1939 when they all declared war on each other over a treaty the latter two had with Poland. For the Soviet Union, it started in 1941 when Germany launched a sneak attack on the Bolshevik republic.

For Japan and China, though, the timeline for participation in World War II is muddled. The two countries started fighting each other in 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, long before hostilities between the UK and France began with Germany. This war, which is known as the Second Sino-Japanese War, bled into World War II as the Japanese Empire began expanding into the colonial empires of France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and, of course, the United States.

The battles between Japan and the United States are, for various reasons, usually more well-known than the battles between Japan and other regional players. Here are 10 battles fought in World War II’s Pacific Theatre not involving America:

ONE. Battle of Taiyuan - Sept. 1, 1937-Nov. 9, 1937: This was a major battle fought between Japan and mostly Chinese nationalist forces (remember: China was in the midst of a civil war between communists and nationalists before Japan decided to crash the party). The Japanese Army routed the undertrained Chinese forces and the battle helped lay the groundwork for Japan’s invasion and eventual conquest of all of northern China.

10 Longest-Ruling Monarchs

Brandon Christensen - November 14, 2017

On November 17, 1558, Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England and Ireland at the age of 25 and went on to become one of the world’s most famous monarchs. She reigned until she was 69 years old, marking 44 years of rule under her guidance.

 In that time, her domain defeated the mighty Spanish Armada, kept England out of any serious wars on the continent, raised the profile and status of England as a regional (and burgeoning global) power, and kept persecution of Catholics in England to a relative minimum. During her reign, a flowering of literature - including the plays of William Shakespeare - enhanced the now-immense cultural impact of England on the world.

 But Elizabeth I’s reign wasn’t anywhere near the longest in history. Britain’s current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who will celebrate 70 years of marriage this week, has reigned for 65 years. And she’s still not among the Top 10 longest-tenured rulers in history.

 The list below is not comprehensive, and of course the tenure of monarchs grows more and more suspect the further you move away from the present, but it’s an instructive list that can hopefully help us to glean something useful from the past.

America's Complicated Relationship With the 'Hot Dog' Dog

Greg Bailey - October 2, 2017

The name Dachshund is German for badger dog which both shows its heritage and the reason the breed was developed to go after badgers in their holes and face down one of the fiercest wild animals. The dogs came to North America as part of the wave of Germans in the mid 1800’s.

The early history of "hot dogs" is lost in time, but early on the Frankfurters were called Dachshund sausages. The exact origin of the term "hot dogs" is unknown, but the most common story is that it started on college campuses where the joke was that the pushcarts selling the sausage were made out of real dogs. Somehow the name "hot dog" stuck. At the turn of the last century, German-Americans had a strong influence in America. German was the first language for many and German beer, the first kindergartens, the cultural institutions and the popular Dachshunds swept the continent.

That changed almost overnight as America dropped its neutrality and declared war on Germany in 1917. Everything German was the enemy. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage just as generations later during the second Iraq war French fries disappeared and were replaced by freedom fries. German Shepherds became Alsatians and Dachshunds became liberty hounds. But the association with the German enemy and the evil Kaiser Wilhelm II who had two Dachshunds could not be cured with a new name.

Across the country there were reports of Dachshund owners taking their dogs for a walk being verbally or physically attacked. Dachshunds were stomped to death by angry crowds.

Trump Has Opened Door to Rewriting History

Ted McAllister - September 21, 2017

The 2016 election forced on us a new past, a hidden past, a past for which we don’t have a good history.  The institutions most responsible for supplying us with historical accounts have failed, mostly because they wrote stories that justified their political commitments. But the past is not as dead as we assume and when we write the stories about our past that justify what we already believe, we eventually confront a deeper reality, forged by people, events, and circumstances largely invisible in our sanctioned histories.  When confronted with a serious challenge to our narrative, most of us double down on the history we know.


Consider some examples from the historical profession.  Taking American Conservatism seriously did not come easily to the profession, but the political rise of American conservatism required some rethinking of the past.  Over the last four decades historians have done serious, empirical, work on what they often call “the right” in America.  Studying subjects as varied as the social history of the Republican Party, the influence of evangelical Christians, the conservative intellectual movement, has led to professional success for many and a maturing body of historical literature.  The key institutions of the profession now regularly try to sort out this literature and assess how they are dealing with what to them is an alien part of our nation. 


Aircraft Carriers: Players on the World Stage

Barrett Tillman - February 22, 2017

Excerpted from "On Wave and Wing: The 100 Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier".

In December 1941, the aircraft carrier burst upon the world stage in a twentieth century version of Shock and Awe. Literally overnight the flattop leapt into the global spotlight with the stunning Pearl Harbor attack. Thus, the carrier resembled the proverbial country-western musician who worked twenty years to become an overnight sensation.

The U.S. and Japanese navies had commissioned their first carriers in 1922, beginning two decades of perfecting ships, aircraft, and operating doctrine. But the global leader was the British Royal Navy, which initiated the carrier to combat in World War I. In 1917 the battle cruiser HMS Furious was converted to operate Sopwith biplanes, and the next year she launched what a future generation would call a “power projection” mission against a German Zeppelin base.

Actually, the aircraft carrier’s origins predated the Great War. In November 1910, pioneer flyer Eugene Ely of the Glenn Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor company demonstrated the potential of ship-based aircraft by taking off from a platform rigged on a U.S. Navy cruiser. Two months later he plunked his pusher down on the improvised deck of another warship, dragged to a stop by hooks that snagged ropes stretched across the platform. The captain of USS Birmingham declared Ely’s feat the most important landing since the dove returned to Noah’s ark.

Churchill and the 'Unknown War'

Francis P. Sempa - February 8, 2017

Winston Churchill’s history of the First World War, The World Crisis, consists of four original volumes that focused mostly on the fighting on the Western Front and the Dardanelles campaign, and two additional volumes that covered the aftermath of the war up to 1928 (The Aftermath) and the fighting on the Eastern Front. The latter volume, titled The Unknown War: The Eastern Front, is probably one of Churchill’s least known books.

The Unknown War was published in 1931, when the future British Prime Minister and war leader was in the early period of his years in the political wilderness. Churchill had suffered financially as a result of the stock market crash, and wrote articles and books to make a decent living. At the time he undertook to write The Unknown War he was already under contract to write My Early Life and his multi-volume biography of Marlborough.

“Churchill’s mind,” writes John Lukacs, “was steeped in history.” J.H. Plumb noted that “[h]istory was the heart of [Churchill’s] faith; it permeated everything which he touched, and it was the mainspring of his politics and the secret of his immense mastery.” As a writer of history, Churchill was influenced by Gibbon and Macaulay. “Stunning passages and phrases,” notes Lukacs, “are abundant in everyone of his books.”

Churchill had written two articles in Colliers Weekly about the war on the Eastern Front, and in early January 1930, he proposed to expand them into a sixth volume on the Great War. He wrote to his publisher: “While I have not made up my mind whether I can fit this in with all my other work, I am at present quite favourably disposed to the idea.” He suggested that he might be able to complete the work by January 1931. Scribner’s accepted his proposal and Churchill received an advance of 2,500 pounds.

7 Things You Might Not Know After Pearl Harbor

Bill Yenne - December 6, 2016

The [Japanese] could have landed anywhere on the coast, and after our handful of ammunition was gone, they could have shot us like pigs in a pen.

— Major General Joseph Warren Stilwell

Commander, Western Defense Command Southern Sector

(December 11, 1941)

Twisted Relations Between Nazis and Occult

Richard Weikart - November 29, 2016

Judging from youtube videos and TV documentaries, as well as books, there seems to be a fixation on Nazism and the occult. Since Nazism is the epitome of evil, many people seem to think that it just must be connected with the occult. After all, Hitler’s rise to power and dictatorial sway over the German population defies reason. The atrocities his regime perpetrated were of demonic proportions.

However, the Nazi involvement with the occult is more complicated and bizarre than many people realize. Even before Hitler’s right-hand man, Rudolf Hess, flew his foolish and naïve mission to Britain to try to negotiate with the British, Hitler had expressed disapproval of Hess’s interest in the occult. Upon learning about Hess’s escapade, Hitler exploded in rage and blamed Hess’s lunacy on his occultism. After fulminating against Hess’s “astrological clique,” Hitler stated, “It is thus time radically to clear away this astrological nonsense.”

Hitler was not just blowing hot air. Hess’s replacement, Martin Bormann, informed Reinhard Heydrich, the leading figure in the SS behind Himmler, that Hitler “wishes that the strongest measures be directed against occultists, astrologists, medical quacks, and the like, who lead the people astray into stupidity and superstition.”

In early June Heydrich organized a police sweep and threw astrologers, spiritists, theosophists, and other occultists into prison or concentration camps. German police simultaneously shut down presses publishing occult literature. Goebbels, who agreed with Hitler’s anti-occultist mentality, joyfully recorded in his diary: “All astrologers, hypnotists, Anthroposophists, etc., arrested and their entire activity crippled. Thus finally this swindle has ended. Peculiarly not a single clairvoyant foresaw that he would be arrested. A bad professional sign!”

Target JFK: The Spy Who Killed Kennedy

Robert K. Wilcox - November 20, 2016

(Excerpted from "Target: JFK, The Spy Who Killed Kennedy?" by Robert K. Wilcox)

In a diary written in 1970—only seven years after JFK’s assassination— Bazata begins, “This is a history of the liaison of 2 men across 50 years of clandestiny ... It culminated in the death of John F. Kennedy [although, he adds, Kennedy wasn’t the first president targeted.] It is not a belated ‘confession’ or spate of ‘remorse’ or spiteful tale. It is not told for money ... It is revealed because this ‘telling’ is part of the gigantic [assassination] plan [bringing it] to a ‘near’ finish. It remains for [America to change and thus] finish it.”

Dussaq, writes Bazata, hatched his plot ultimately to make America aware of its leaders’ manipulation of smaller countries, and the price he believed would have to be paid because of that waywardness. Further, he delegated Bazata, when the time was right—after the assassination’s shock had dissipated—to tell the public the truth about what had happened in hopes America’s leaders would change and allow sovereign nations like Cuba to decide their own fate rather than have America decide it for them.

Throughout the diaries, Bazata, to protect his friend, calls Dussaq “Peter” or “Paul,” mostly “Paul.” It’s a play on the Biblical transformation of Saul to Paul, which occurs soon in their relationship. But there is no doubt in my mind who Bazata means. Occasionally he slips, naming Dussaq outright. Regardless, there are so many indicators in the story pointing directly to Dussaq that “Peter” or “Paul” could be no other.

The Republicans' Andrew Johnson Moment

Timothy S. Huebner - November 7, 2016

One hundred fifty years ago, in the fall of 1866, President Andrew Johnson forced members of his party to make a choice. They could either accept his vision for the country or abandon him. Facing a similarly stark dilemma, today’s Republicans should consider the cautionary tale of the 17th president.

A year and a half earlier, Johnson had enjoyed the full backing of his party. Elevated to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson had come into office intending to carry on the work of his predecessor. Although a lifelong Democrat from the South, Johnson had run with the Republican Lincoln on the National Union ticket in 1864—the wartime embodiment of the pro-Union and anti-slavery Republican Party. After Lincoln’s death, every one of his Cabinet members stayed on to serve under Johnson, and Republican congressional leaders expressed strong support for the new president. Even a potential political rival, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the great hero of the Civil War, rallied around the country’s new leader.

Like Lincoln, Johnson favored a policy of Reconstruction for white Southerners that was relatively generous. His two presidential proclamations announced in May 1865, just a month after the end of the war, looked to a speedy reunion. Johnson called for a general amnesty for former Confederates (with some exceptions), thus avoiding long and bitter treason trials. He also called for the formation of new loyal governments in the formerly seceded states, provided that they agree to end slavery, repudiate secession, and cancel the debts owed to Confederate bondholders.

But on another major issue of Reconstruction—the rights of formerly enslaved African-Americans—Johnson gradually staked out a narrow, backward-looking position. Johnson fully supported the 13th Amendment ending slavery, which Lincoln had helped get through Congress. But in contrast to Lincoln’s expressed desire to extend gradually the franchise to African-Americans, Johnson ended up taking a hard line against granting civil or political rights to the former slaves.

Journalists as Witnesses at Hungarian Revolution

Jefferson Flanders - November 3, 2016

Sixty years ago the striking photograph of a teenage girl dressed in a cotton-wool jacket and clutching a Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun became an iconic image of the Hungarian Revolution.

A Danish photojournalist, Vagn Hansen, had snapped the photo as Hungarian insurgents battled Soviet troops in the streets of Budapest in late October and early November of 1956. First published in the Danish magazine Billed Bladet, the photograph quickly was reproduced in newspapers and other publications around the world.

Hansen was one of a talented and brave group of foreign correspondents and journalists who covered the Hungarian uprising. Historian János Molnár has estimated that some 150 newsmen and women, most from the West, found their way to Budapest during the uprising.

The mass media coverage of the Hungarian Revolution offered an object lesson in the value of a free press. As the faltering Communist regime lost control of the borders, foreign correspondents were able to enter the country. Once there, the absence of government “minders” and censors allowed journalists to report what they saw, “without fear or favor of friend or foe.” The result: a balanced, independent, and accurate account of what was happening on the ground in Hungary.

America's First (Secret) Female President

William Hazelgrove - October 27, 2016

President Woodrow Wilson lay with his mouth drooping, unconscious, having suffered a thrombosis on October 2, 1919, that left him paralyzed on his left side and barely able to speak. The doctors believed the president’s best chance for survival was in the only known remedy for a stroke at the time: a rest cure consisting of total isolation from the world.

His wife of four years, Edith Bolling Wilson, asked how a country could function with no chief executive. Dr. Dercum, the attending physician, leaned over and gave Edith her charge: “Madam, it is a grave situation, but I think you can solve it. Have everything come to you; weigh the importance of each matter, and see if it is possible by consultations with the respective heads of the Departments to solve them without the guidance of your husband.”

From there, Edith Wilson would act as the president’s proxy and run the White House and, by extension, the country, by controlling access to the president, signing documents, pushing bills through Congress, issuing vetoes, isolating advisors, crafting State of the Union addresses, disposing of or censoring correspondence, and filling positions. She would analyze every problem and decide which ones to bring to the president’s attention and which to solve on her own through her own devices. All the while she had to keep the fact that the country was no longer being run by President Woodrow Wilson a guarded secret.

A few guessed at the real situation. A frustrated Senator Albert Fall from New Mexico pounded the senatorial table when he demanded a response from the White House: “We have a petticoat government! Wilson is not acting! Mrs. Wilson is President!”

George Washington's Secret Spy War

John A. Nagy - September 22, 2016

Washington was always concerned about spies. They were a constant problem except when the armies were on the move. He knew he could not stop all of them, so feeding them false information was his next best defense. With that in mind on December 12, 1776, he told Colonel John Cadwalader1 of the Philadelphia Associators of the Pennsylvania militia, “Keep a good look out for spies; endeavor to magnify your numbers as much as possible.” It was a ploy he would use over and over again in creating false troop information, inflating the size and giving the wrong location of his forces for spies to discover and take back to enemy headquarters.

Washington in December of 1776 was desperate to know what the British were doing. Spare no pains or expense to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions, Washington told Cadwalader. He had also told General James Ewing, “Spare no pains nor cost to gain information of the enemy’s movements and designs. Whatever sums you pay to obtain this end I will cheerfully refund. “He also advised Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson to spare no pains or expense to obtain intelligence, and all promises he made or monies advanced would be acknowledged and paid. Three days later Washington was still desperate for information and again was encouraging Cadwalader to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions.

Dickinson, who was at Yardley’s farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, advised Washington on the 21st of the information he was able to collect from two people who had come out of New Jersey on what was going on in New Brunswick, and from a person from Crosswicks regarding boats at Lewis’s Mill. A slave from Trenton told of boats being built a mile from town. Dickinson told Washington he was going to increase the amount he was offering to $15 or $20 for someone to go as a spy to Trenton and return. “People here are fearful of the inhabitants betraying them.” On the 24th he was able to secure someone to take the risks and he got him across the river into New Jersey. He was due back the next morning, at which time he was going to be provided with a horse to get to Washington.

On the morning of December 31, 1776, while at Crosswicks, one of Cadwalader’s spies, who was identified only as “a very intelligent young gentleman,” had just returned from the British camp at Princeton some sixteen miles distant. He identified the number and locations of British and Hessian forces in the town. He said “there were about five thousand men, consisting of Hessians and British troops—about the same number of each. . . . He conversed with some of the officers, and lodged last night with them.” As part of a disinformation campaign, Washington had previously instructed that the numbers of American troops were to be magnified. The spy complied with these instructions by saying that Washington had 16,000 men. However, they would not believe that Washington had more than 5,000 or 6,000. The spy reported, “They parade every morning an hour before day [break]—and some nights lie on their arms—An attack has been expected for several nights past—the men are much fatigued, and until last night [were] in want of provisions—when a very considerable number of wagons arrived with provisions from [New] Brunswick.” He provided a crucial piece of information: the enemy was not expecting an attack from the east, as there were “no sentries on the back or east side of the town” facing the water, thus leaving the town unguarded. The spy also provided enough detailed information for a map, which was made by Cadwalader, showing the enemy’s positions at Princeton.

How U.S. Prepared for Japanese Invasion

Bill Yenne - September 15, 2016

Japan’s Pearl Harbor Cover-Up

In San Francisco, author and radio personality Upton Close, who was described by NBC as their “expert on the Far East,” opened his radio commentary Sunday afternoon by saying “there’s more behind this than meets the eye.”

He had picked up his phone, called the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco and asked to speak with Consul General Yoshio Muto. Instead, he was connected with Kazuyoshi Inagaki, who identified himself as the Consul’s secretary and who told Close that the Pearl Harbor attack came as a “complete surprise” to the consulate staff and that the first he and Muto knew about it came in American radio bulletins.

“That may prove to be true,” Close speculated. “It is very possible that there is a double-double cross in this business. . .. It is possible that this is a coup engineered by a small portion of the Japanese Navy that has gone fanatic. . .. It might be possible for the Japanese government to repudiate this action, to repair the injury to America.”

'A Study of History' Is Still Worth a Read

Francis P. Sempa - August 21, 2016

Historical scholarship has greatly benefitted from specialists who burrow deep into their particular areas or subjects of study to produce remarkably detailed information about specific events, time periods, and major historical figures. Some historians, however, take a broader approach and endeavor to discern general historical trends or patterns throughout human history.

In August 1934, the first three volumes of Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History were published under the auspices of Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs. Over the next 27 years, Toynbee wrote nine more volumes to complete his remarkable “comparative study” of 21 human civilizations. It was Toynbee’s lifelong effort, wrote his biographer William H. McNeill, “restlessly and unremittingly, to make the world make sense.”

Toynbee was born on April 14, 1889, in London. From an early age and under the influence of his mother, Toynbee was drawn to history, especially military history and the clash of nations and empires. At age 13, he entered Winchester public school where he studied the classics and learned “to compose both prose and verse in the ancient languages.” He wrote essays on Venetian and Byzantine history, and even at a young age, according to McNeill, “insisted on approaching the past on a grand scale, bridging time and space as specialists habitually refused to do.”

Later, at Balliol College, he was influenced by Eduard Mayer’s Geschicte des Altertums, described by McNeill as a five-volume synthesis of centuries of European history and scholarship. In one letter, the young Toynbee expressed his desire to become a “great gigantic historian.”

Amphibious Assault on Roanoke Island

Francis P. Sempa - July 11, 2016

In the fall of 1861, Union Gen. George McClellan approved a plan submitted by Gen. Ambrose Burnside to seize Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina.

The island, described by historian James McPherson as “a swampy piece of land ten miles long, two miles wide, and rich in legend,” is situated between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sound, and separated from the North Carolina coast by the Croatan Sound. It was the site of the “Lost Colony” of English settlers who disappeared without a trace in 1590—a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

McClellan understood that seizing Roanoke Island meant Union control of the North Carolina coast and, in McPherson’s judgment, commanding the “key to Richmond’s back door.” Historian Shelby Foote compared Roanoke Island to “a loose-fitting cork plugging the neck of ... Albemarle Sound.” “Nothing that went by water,” explained Foote, “could get in there without going past the cork.”

Burnside with the full cooperation of the Union Navy launched the expedition from Annapolis in early January 1862. Burnside had about 13,000 men divided into three divisions commanded by John G. Parks, J. G. Foster, and Jesse Reno. The naval components of the expedition—more than 80 vessels, including nine warships mounting 64 guns and five floating batteries—were under the command of Adm. Louis Goldsborough.

Sherman's March to Total War

Francis P. Sempa - June 16, 2016

In early May 1864, about 98,000 Union troops under the command of Gen. William T. Sherman opened the Atlanta campaign by seizing control of Tunnel Hill and the critical rail tunnel for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, located a few miles north of Dalton, Ga.

Sherman’s force was divided into three armies: the Army of the Tennessee under Gen. James B. McPherson; the army of the Ohio under Gen. John Schofield; and the main force, the Army of the Cumberland, led by Gen. George H. Thomas, whose heroics the previous year in northern Georgia earned for him the sobriquet “the Rock of Chickamauga.”

Sherman’s task, as outlined by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, was to move against the Confederate Army in northern Georgia, “break it up, and get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” Sherman achieved this goal by repeatedly outflanking the Confederate army of about 60,000 men, led by Gen. Joseph Johnston in a protracted struggle extending more than 100 miles from the Tennessee border to just south of Atlanta, then a major transportation hub and arsenal for the Confederacy. The great Civil War historian Shelby Foote called this campaign a “red clay minuet,” after the color of the soil in northern Georgia caused by iron oxides.

Atlanta was the great prize in this struggle. Jefferson Davis warned that the fall of Atlanta would “open the way for the Federal Army to the Gulf on the one hand, and to Charleston on the other, and close up those rich granaries from which Lee’s armies are supplied. It would give [the Union] control of our network of railways and thus paralyze our efforts.”