What's going on with Valley Thunder?

Here is where you can stay most up-to-date with the publication of Charles Knight's Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market, including the latest info on its release, up-coming appearances by the author, latest reviews, more in-depth looks at various aspects of the battle and anything else that comes to mind.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Local WWII veteran

It's always depressing to me to see the number of World War II and Korean War veterans in the obituaries of our local paper. Occasionally, I recognize one of them as a contributor to my museum (MacArthur Memorial). Such was the case this week with one, I won't mention him by name, but since he was a Navy doctor and a physician after the war, shall refer to him here as "Doc."

I never met Doc in person, but spoke to him on the phone after his son brought to the museum two very unique things his father had brought home after the end of World War II. These two items were Japanese Navy surgical kits - one an amputation kit, the other an autopsy kit. Doc had gotten these on the island of Chichi Jima after the Japanese surrender. Doc was part of a detachment of Marines sent to disarm the Japanese garrison of Chichi Jima and to inquire as to whether they had any American prisoners there. One of the Japanese officers let it slip to the Marine CO that they had had prisoners on the island - this confession opened up a months-long investigation, which turned into a war crimes trial. The story is told in great detail in Chester Hearn's book Sorties into Hell, and Doc figures prominently therein. I won't go into the gory details, for gory they are as the tale involves cannibalism and torture, not in that order, but many American airmen who were shot down were held on Chichi Jima. Suffice to say they never came home, nor was much recovered of some of them - you can probably fill in the blanks by now.

Talking with Doc on the phone about a year ago and hearing him recount this story and how it still haunted him, 60+ years later was truly touching. I was only vaguely familiar with what had happened there before I had the chance to talk to him, and I didn't read the book until afterward. I never got a chance to talk to him again after reading it. And that maybe a good thing - for after reading in Hearn's book about one of the island surgeons using his surgical kit to dismember American prisoners, I really just don't want to contemplate that that may well be the surgical kits he donated.

If you really want to learn about war atrocities, read Hearn's book.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review - Confederate Alamo

Recently I had the opportunity to join John Fox of Angle Valley Press for a book signing. John is the author of Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment and more recently The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Ft Gregg, April 2, 1865. I had never met John before and I'm ashamed to admit that although I had it on my shelf, I had yet to read Confederate Alamo before our signing.

Finished reading Alamo about a week ago, and am very impressed. I'm not stretching things when I say that it is one of the finest battle studies I've ever read. I grew up in Richmond and some of my earliest memories are of my Dad taking me to the battlefields around Richmond and Petersburg, including Fort Gregg, and several of my friends were historical interpreters at Pamplin Park, just up the road a mile or so from Gregg, so the Ft Gregg story was not unknown to me. And of course the fact that about half of the Federal infantry from New Market participated in the attack on Gregg also interested me. However, what was unknown to me was the magnitude of the slaughter that occurred there. The word "bloodbath" in the subtitle of the book is very appropriate. It is almost inconceivable to read some of the first-hand accounts in Alamo and translate them and the slaughter they describe to the relatively small area that is Ft Gregg. How could a slaughter of this magnitude have been so overlooked for so long? Well, Lee's surrender had a lot to do with that.

In Confederate Alamo, John Fox has unearthed a wealth of previously untapped sources - evenly balanced between North and South - and places the reader at the fort amidst the crisis that was the morning of April 2, 1865, for Lee and A.P. Hill. With only 334 defenders of the fort, the number of recollections by Confederate defenders is impressive. Numerous illustrations of the ground and the officers and men involved appear throughout the book, as do about a half-dozen excellent maps by George Skoch (who also did the maps for Valley Thunder.)

This is definitely a must-read.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review - Men of Color to Arms

Time to catch up on backlog of book reviews...We begin with Elizabeth Leonard's Men of Color to Arms: Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality. But first an important disclaimer: I know very little regarding the post-Civil War United States Army, and even less concerning the black units serving in it. That said, covering the role of black soldiers from 1863 until the turn of the century is a pretty big undertaking, to say the least, so I was somewhat surprised at the book's size, with fewer than 250 pages of narrative text.

Professor Leonard begins with the Civil War career of Sgt Maj Christian Fleetwood of the 4th USCT, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions at New Market Heights on Sept. 29, 1864, and other black units of the Army of the James. Her subsequent examination of the debate over the composition of the post-war Army is of particular interest, as is the discussion of the use of black troops for occupation duty in the former Confederate states. Although I would have preferred more military detail rather than social commentary (in parts, this reads more like social history disguised as military history), Leonard recounts how the experience for the individual black soldier on the frontier varied depending on the attitudes of their company officers. In some of the instances she cites, some white officers treated their men cruelly - even one example of murder is presented - while others recognized and appreciated their fighting abilities, finding no reason to treat them any differently from white troops, and pushed for blacks to be eligible to serve as commissioned officers. Despite the lack of military detail, Men of Color to Arms is an interesting read.

Elizabeth D. Leonard
Men of Color to Arms!
ISBN 978-0-393-06039-3
W. W. Norton, 2010
315 pages, photographs, hard cover, dust jacket