Category Archives: Military History

Wheeler’s ‘Jacob L. Devers’ Honored by Army Historical Foundation

Jacob L Devers WheelerThe Army Historical Foundation recently recognized outstanding contributions to U.S. Army history that were published in 2015. Among those select works honored by the Foundation was Jacob L. Devers: A General’s Life by James Scott Wheeler which won in the category of biography.

General Jacob L. “Jake” Devers (1897–1979) was one of only two officers—the other was Omar C. Bradley—to command an army group during the decisive campaigns of 1944–1945 that liberated Europe and ended the war with Nazi Germany. After the war, Devers led the Army Ground Forces in the United States and eventually retired in 1949 after forty years of service. Despite incredible successes on the battlefield, General George C. Marshall’s “dependable man” remains one of the most underrated and overlooked figures of his generation.

In this definitive biography, Wheeler delivers a groundbreaking reassessment of the American commander whose contributions to victory in Europe are topped only by those of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Wheeler’s exhaustively researched chronicle of Devers’s life and career reveals a leader who demonstrated an extraordinary ability to cut through red tape and solve complex problems. Nevertheless, Eisenhower disliked Devers—a fact laid bare when he ordered Devers’s Sixth Army Group to halt at the Rhine. After the war, Eisenhower’s and Bradley’s accounts of the generals’ disagreements over strategy and tactics became received wisdom, to the detriment of Devers’s reputation.

Bacevich Read Wheeler'seditorial on theV-E Day thatMight Have BeenThis exceptional work of military history was recognized at an annual awards program on June 16, at the Nineteenth Annual Members’ Meeting at the AUSA Building in Arlington, VA. The finalists were judged by a select awards committee of distinguished military historians and writers against a set of criteria, including significance to U.S. Army history, historical accuracy, and quality of writing. The win marks the ninth time a University Press of Kentucky title has won an award from the AHF. UPK’s previous winners in the category of biography are Beetle: The Life of Walter Bedell Smith by D. K. R. Crosswell, Exposing the Third Reich: Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler’s Germany by Henry G. Gole, and Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano.

The Army Historical Foundation is a member-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American soldier. Established in 1983, the Foundation funds projects such as educational programs, research, publication of relevant historical materials, and the acquisition and preservation of Army artifacts.

The Battle of Jutland 100 Years Later: Two Commanders

100 years ago on May 31, 1916,  the German and British fleets clashed in the North Sea in the only major naval engagement of World War I: The Battle of Jutland. A British loss would have been disastrous—the Royal Navy had long been a point of pride, and with almost twice the number of ships (Britain’s twenty-eight dreadnoughts against Germany’s sixteen), total victory should have been assured. But, on June 2, 1916, as the remaining ships returned to their bases, both sides claimed victory.

Britain lost more than twice the number of men and more than twice the amount of ships’ tonnage than Germany did, but retained control over the seas (though Germany’s blockade continued). What should have been a decisive battle, ended with a whimper, as both fleets took a few, last desultory shots around 3:30 am the morning of June 1.

Today, we’ll take a look at the two commanders who sought victory on the high seas: Admiral Sir John R. Jellicoe of the British Grand Fleet and Admiral Reinhard Scheer of the  German Kaiserliche Marine.

Sir John R. Jellicoe, 1859-1935


Jellicoe was, in the words of Winston Churchill, the only man on either side of the conflict who could have lost the war in an afternoon. He commanded the British Grand Fleet for the first two years of the war. He was aboard his flagship, Iron Duke, at the Battle of Jutland when the two great dreadnought fleets met in their only engagement, and a British loss would have spelled disaster. Jellicoe was born of a seafaring family in Southampton and joined the Royal Navy at a typically early age: thirteen. His career was in the Mediterranean and in the Far East (he was badly wounded during the Boxer Rebellion). However, he was most talented as a planner and builder of the navy. He became a protege of Sir John Fisher, serving in the admiralty as director of naval ordnance and successively as third and second sea lord. Jellicoe had much of the responsibility for developing the new class of super battleships—including the original dreadnought—that came to dominate the balance of naval power before World War I. By August 1914, he was a vice admiral and commander in chief of the Grand Fleet. Jellicoe was therefore in control of a huge naval force that was in theory counterbalanced by a weaker but still potent German High Seas Fleet.

The long history of British naval power led to the expectation that the nation’s sailors would once again triumph at the first opportunity. However, the opportunity was long denied since the Germans (particularly the kaiser) so feared losing their hideously expensive dreadnought fleet that they refused to leave port.

Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet settled into a position of distant blockade, guarding the approaches to the North Sea from bases at Scapa Flow, Rosyth, and Cromarty. Only the respective battle-cruiser squadrons roamed the waters for the first year and a half of the war. At the end of May 1916, the German command finally decided to bring its fleet out, and Admiral Hipper was sent ahead with the battle cruisers to bait a trap for the British light squadron. Ironically, Jellicoe had the same plan, and the Grand Fleet was on the water with Admiral Beatty sent on to draw the Germans into the maw of the British dreadnoughts. The two fleets met off Jutland on 31 May. Jellicoe had a greater weight of firepower and ships, but he lacked the Germans’ better fire control systems and their speed of maneuver and communication. Despite twice approaching the line of German ships in an advantageous position, Jellicoe could not deliver a heavy enough blow, for the most part frustrated by swift German maneuvers. At the end of the day, the High Seas Fleet had escaped, leaving several British ships sunk or disabled—an inconclusive result from the British point of view, although one Jellicoe could d scarcely have prevented given the German unwillingness to fight it out. Six months later, Jellicoe was removed from fleet command and made first lord of the admiralty (Fisher had resigned over the Dardanelles debacle). In his new position, 1ellicoe ran into trouble over the issue of convoys—he was slow to accept this solution to the German U-boat menace—and he was turned out of office at the end of 1917. He was elevated to the peerage and in 1919 went to New Zealand where he became governor general the following year.

excerpted from Almanac of World War I by David F. Burg and L. Edward Purcell

Reinhard Scheer, 1863-1928


Admiral Reinhard Scheer, 1910/1916 ca. (Bundesarchiv. Bild 134-B2752)

On 18 January 1916, Vice Adm. Reinhard Scheer replaced [Admiral Hugo von] Pohl as commander of the High Seas Fleet. Pohl had fallen seriously ill and would die only a short time afterward, on 22 February 1916. Prior to replacing Pohl as commander in chief, Scheer had commanded the Third Squadron, a unit consisting of the eight most modern battleships in the navy. During that time, Scheer had not taken a stand against Pohl in any disputes concerning the deployment of the fleet and had not been inclined to pressure for a quick victory. But when Scheer took command of the fleet, two other personnel changes also took place: there was a new chief of staff, Capt. Adolf von Trotha (previously commander of the battleship Kaiser), and a new chief of the Operations Division, Capt. Magnus von Levetzow (previously commander of the battlecruiser Moltke). Thus two naval officers who had belonged to the sharpest critics of Pohl’s conduct of the war at sea gained a great amount of influence upon naval warfare. Their aim was to deploy the fleet in a more vigorous naval battle in the North Sea. By the end of January, the first draft of the new Leitgedanken für die Seekriegführung in der Nordsee (Guidelines for the Conduct of Naval War in the North Sea) was published, which was based on the assumption that the existing strength ratio precluded seeking ‘the decisive battle against the assembled English fleet.” The High Seas Fleet, it held, would have to put constant pressure upon the enemy until the latter was compelled to come “out of its present waiting stance” and advance “certain forces of theirs against us, which will present us with opportunities to attack.” The enemy must be prevented from having “such a sense of superiority . . . that he is no longer afraid to engage us in combat as he wishes.” In terms of “practical approaches” to this more offensive conduct of the naval war, the first choice was a commerce war with U-boats, followed by a mine war, a commerce war in the north, and an air war. With their airships, the navy not only had the means for an extensive reconnaissance (with radio contact to the home support bases), but also an offensive weapon that could reach the British homeland with its bombs, as was proven by the airship attacks that had begun in early 1915. In last place on this list stood “the vigorous actions by the High Seas Fleet.”

After the Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland contributed to the fateful decision in favor of an unlimited U-boat war. After that, the High Seas Fleet functioned only as an assistance weapon for the conducting of the U-boat war. Its activity was limited primarily to the monotonous task of securing minesweepers on the entrance and exit paths of U-boats. On the balance, it must be stated that the operations of the High Seas Fleet reached their high point in the Battle of Jutland, yet the battle itself brought no change in the conduct of naval battles.

The High Seas Fleet remained what it had been since the outbreak of war—“a fleet in being”—which had a strategic effect just because of its very existence. Its strong presence tied up the British Grand Fleet and, along with it, the light warships that were needed in the Atlantic for security escort tasks. The fleet provided security for its own coastal area, blockaded the Baltic Sea from relief shipments to Russia, and offered the U-boat war a certain amount of support in the securing of entrance and exit routes. Thus, contrary to popular opinion of historians, who deny that it had any strategic significance, the fleet did have its military value for the German conduct of the war. Still, a sober cost-effectiveness analysis inevitably leads to the conclusion that ultimately it did not accomplish what was expected of it, or could have been expected.

In later years, the Battle of Jutland had a long-term influence on the building of tradition of the German navy that followed. It was interpreted as the defining battle experience of the years 1914–1918 and was cited as proof of validity for the German naval buildup. In the early postwar years, the official historical writing by the navy concentrated on the depiction of the battle. The semiofficial work Der Krieg zur See 1914–1918 (The Naval War 1914–1918) came to the conclusion “that the German right to claim victory in the Battle of Jutland also stands up under the most rigorous historical research.” As proof for this thesis, the German side repeatedly quoted the greater number of losses on the enemy side, without taking into account the fact that on 1 June 1916 the Germans had declined further participation in the battle with good reason. In this respect, the strategic analysis of the leadership of the North Sea battle fell short. Even after the negative war experience, leading officers of the Reichsmarine and Kriegsmarine tended to hold the opinion that one fully fought naval battle in the North Sea could have brought a strategic, decisive victory. Within the closed circle of the naval officer corps, it was considered to be a given that not even the slightest criticism was permitted against either Tirpitz or the successful fleet commanders, Scheer and [Vice Admiral] Hipper.

excerpted from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battleedited by Michael Epkenhans, Jörg Hillmann, and Frank Nägler


9780813190877 untitled

World War I 100 Years Later: Reassessing the Battle of Jutland

With commemorations of the World War I centennial in full-swing, names of historic battles like Verdun, Ypres, and the Somme have been recognized and remembered along with the soldiers who fought there. Images of men in the trenches dominate our memories of World War I, but of equal importance are the naval skirmishes that were waged in the European seas. No naval engagement was more important or had such an impact as the Battle of Jutland 100 years ago today, in which the German navy—under Admiral  Reinhard Scheer—attempted to break the British blockade of German shipping lines. Outnumbered against the renowned and dominant Royal navy—commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe—sixteen German dreadnoughts engaged twenty-eight British warships in World War I’s largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships.

untitledThe Battle of Jutland marks a significant turning point in modern warfare—when new technology such as the submarine, the torpedo, and mines made major fleet combat between battleships irrelevant. Outdated strategies of war limited the leadership and tactics of both commanders. Traditional surface battles were quickly becoming a thing of the past as new, smaller battle cruisers could outmaneuver and outrun larger ships of the fleet, and the increasing use of submarines to disrupt and attack merchant vessels was seen as a more effective strategy.

After two days of bloody combat, both sides claimed victory. Britain retained control of the North Sea and forced the Germans to withdraw their fleet, but the British lost more ships and many more men than the German dreadnoughts.

The following excerpt comes from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battle. Editors Michael Epkenhans, Jörg Hillmann, and Frank Nägler have collected an international group of scholars to investigate the iconic battle from both the British and German perspectives and reassess the leadership, strategies, and tactics of what would become the most formidable battle in modern Royal Navy history.

Reflections on the Battle of Jutland

by Michael Salewski [Excerpted from Jutland: World War I’s Greatest Naval Battle]

Somewhere a steamship idles in the waters. It is wartime, and steamships have to be inspected—as the Admiralty Staff book expressed it, a “minor event.” Thus the small cruiser Elbing and the torpedo boats B-109 and B-110 set off. The English have sighted the steamship as well, and so they send Galathea and Phaeton out in order to ensure fairness. N. J. Fjord is a harmless Danish commercial ship. But behind the German and British inspectors, at a proper distance, the High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet were on the move, their battlecruisers out front in operational positions. “Smoke possibly from fleet,” radioed Elbing and at 1532h set off the first shot of the battle.

The steamship functioned as a semaphore point. Before the development of radio telegraphy, flags were mounted on church towers. With the speed of light and vision, this kind of signal could be sent and received from beyond the horizon. But the two fleets now approaching one another are modern ones, even though they include one or more less modern squadron. No, as Scheer will argue, out of solicitude toward the crews, it would have been impossible to justify leaving the Second Squadron in Wilhelmshaven. It came back rather disheveled, and the Pommern was missing, along with its 844 men—the entire crew.

Only Franz Hipper and Sir David Beatty confronted one another at eye level, with commensurate weapons—this very thing brought forth the mystique of the cruiser battle. “It was a powerful moment,” reads the work by the Admiralty Staff, “and no one who experienced it could withdraw, when, after the breathtaking haste of the deployment, the German and British battlecruisers, the most beautiful and powerful ships of each fleet, swung into the battle line in majestic confidence, as if they were ‘fate itself,’ and the seconds of the utmost calm and marshaling of all strength gave way to the first thundering of the guns.” It was the ultimate duel, an industrial-scientific heroic deed worthy of the beginning of the heroic and brutal twentieth century.
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The Civil War Origins of Memorial Day

Three years after the Civil War ended, the head of an organization of Union veterans—the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)—established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It is believed that the last Monday in May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

However, springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places as early as 1866. On April 25 of that year, a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the battle of Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed by the sight of these bare graves, the women placed flowers on them as well.

MacEnany.inddIn 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.

150 years later, in honor of the Civil War origins of Memorial Day, we present an illuminating conversation with Brian McEnany, author of For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862:

Why did you feel particularly drawn to the West Point Class of 1862?
I was initially drawn to this class because it graduated 100 years before my own. While researching old musty cadet records and books at the archives at West Point for a reunion project, I became interested in Civil War politics and the cadet life of this class. I found stories and records of an extraordinary group of young men. Not finding much written about West Point classes after the start of the Civil War, I decided to write a book to fill that gap in history.

What was the most surprising thing you uncovered about this unique group of soldiers?
That is a hard question to answer. Regular army promotions were very slow during the war. There were questions raised in my mind about why this class did not have more transfers into volunteers to increase their chances for promotion. Secondly, the reputation of the Military Academy suffered greatly because of the large number of resignations of southern cadets—not a lot of people know that.

Can you talk a bit about why so many cadets from this class felt they had to resign from West Point before graduation?
Lincoln’s election followed by multiple changes in the superintendent and the commandant, resignations of officer instructors, as well as cadets led half this class to resign by the end of the summer of 1861. Their reasons were rooted in very strong state allegiances, colored mostly by friends, family, and politicians who appointed them as well as other cadets from the same state. It left little room for independent thought on the matter. Their letters were particularly poignant. One cadet from another class wrote to his mother that he resigned because he couldn’t sign his name to the oath of allegiance to the Union—he felt no one from the South could.

How did resignation like that affect the remaining cadets?
While they continued to focus on academics in preparation for graduation, their class motto, “Joined in a Common Cause,” shows they were strongly committed to the restoration of the Union.

Do you think the confusion and desolation of war may have led to their stories being overlooked?
I’ve found that most books and articles about the Civil War at West Point only focus on members of the May and June classes of 1861. Books about the other classes (1862–65) have not been written. My book is the first one published about another class that graduated during the war.

Can you talk a bit about the service records of the various cadets throughout the war?
The hardest task was to track the actual units they were assigned to—something that is not carried in their personnel records. I researched microfilm files of old newspaper articles and unit muster reports and found cadet, mid-career, and obituary pictures before I could write a biography for each member of the class. Promotions were very slow. Only the engineers and ordnance officers made captain during the war. The rest remained first lieutenants with the exception of four that went into volunteer service. One rose to Major General (Ranald Mackenzie), one was awarded the Medal of Honor (George Gillespie) many years later, one ex-member (Henry Farley) fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, and one classmate (William Bartlett) at the end of the war took the surrender of the last Confederate units in the eastern theater.

Who do you think was the standout from the class and why?
Ranald Mackenzie for sure. He graduated first in the class and rose to the rank of Major General US Volunteers during the war. He was in the right place at the right time; picked to lead an infantry regiment, he made a name for himself. Even Grant called him “a most promising officer.” Stern disciplinarian, an able tactical leader, brave to the point of recklessness; he was wounded six times during the war. He became a brigade commander, then commander of a cavalry division in the Army of the James. That division became part of Sheridan’s command during the Shenandoah Campaign and Lee’s Retreat. Mackenzie became more renowned after the Civil War. This was the Mackenzie that chased the Apaches into Mexico, and a 1950s TV show called Mackenzie’s Raiders even touted his exploits. He likely would have outshone Custer in history if he had lived long enough, but he died early. Others in the class were equally brave; 24 of the 28 were brevetted for gallantry, and one was awarded the Medal of Honor.

From these accounts, were you able to tell if any of these classmates felt remorse for attacking their fellow cadets during the war? Or was their dedication to their cause more important?
There were several incidents where classmates faced classmates on the battlefield. Sometimes, they were unaware of the other’s presence. At other times, they knew. Virginian James Dearing, an artillery man who commanded the guns in Pickett’s division, fired at Tully McCrea and John Egan at Gettysburg. At the end of the war, Mackenzie found Dearing lying, mortally wounded, in a hospital in Lynchburg just after Lee surrendered and made sure he was well taken care of. Morris Schaff ran into others after the war and wrote that there was no animosity shown. The bottom line is that I do not think they carried any bad feelings with them—the brotherhood endured.

What is the biggest thing you hope people take away from For Brotherhood and Duty?
For Brotherhood and Duty is all about memories, personal relationships and experiences.  What I hope is that people will remember those stories so that the next time they visit a battlefield they recall a real person and his story about that particular campaign or battle.

It’s Military History Week!

In honor of military history week at the University Press of Kentucky, here are some of our favorite books commemorating America’s  past.

In Lincoln’s Final Hours, author Kathryn Canavan takes a magnifying glass to the last moments of the president’s life and to the impact his assassination had on a country still reeling from a bloody civil war. With vivid, thoroughly researched prose and a reporter’s eye for detail, this fast-paced account not only furnishes a glimpse into John Wilkes Booth’s personal and political motivations but also illuminates the stories of ordinary people whose lives were changed forever by the assassination.


In For Slavery and Union, Patrick A. Lewis uses Benjamin Buckner’s story to illuminate the origins and perspectives of Kentucky’s conservative proslavery Unionists, and explain why this group eventually became a key force in repressing social and political change during the Reconstruction era and beyond. Free from the constraints and restrictions imposed on the former Confederate states, men like Buckner joined with other proslavery forces to work in the interest of the New South’s brand of economic growth and racial control.

9780813165639In Committed to Victory: The Kentucky Home Front During World War II, author Richard Holl offers the first comprehensive examination of the Commonwealth’s civilian sector during this pivotal era in the state’s history. National mobilization efforts rapidly created centers of war production and activity in Louisville, Paducah, and Richmond, producing new economic prosperity in the struggling region. The war effort also spurred significant societal changes, including the emergence of female and minority workforces in the state. In the Bluegrass, this trend found its face in Pulaski County native Rose Will Monroe, who was discovered as she assembled B-24 and B-29 bombers and was cast as Rosie the Riveter in films supporting the war effort.

Th9780813146928e first dedicated study of this key region, Kentucky Confederates provides valuable insights into a misunderstood and understudied part of Civil War history. Author Berry Craig begins by exploring the development of the Purchase from 1818, when Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby acquired it from the Chickasaw tribe. Geographically isolated from the rest of the Bluegrass State, the area’s early settlers came from the South, and rail and river trade linked the region to Memphis and western Tennessee rather than to points north and east.

9780813133843On October 8, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed near Perryville, Kentucky, in what would be the largest battle ever fought on Kentucky soil. The climax of a campaign that began two months before in northern Mississippi, Perryville came to be recognized as the high water mark of the western Confederacy. Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle is the definitive account of this important conflict. While providing all the parry and thrust one might expect from an excellent battle narrative, the book also reflects the new trends in Civil War history in its concern for ordinary soldiers and civilians caught in the slaughterhouse. The last chapter, unique among Civil War battle narratives, even discusses the battle’s veterans, their families, efforts to preserve the battlefield, and the many ways Americans have remembered and commemorated Perryville.

General John R. Galvin Fighting the Cold War

General John R. Galvin, 1929–2015

We were saddened to learn this week that General John R. Galvin, USA (Ret.), former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and winner of the Legion of Merit and Army Distinguished Service Medals, passed away at his home in Jonesboro, Georgia.

General Galvin’s recently released memoir, Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir, is a record of not only his uncommon leadership on the battlefield and in affairs of state, but also his service as an historian, mentor, and teacher.

As the Washington Post noted in an obituary posted today, “his leadership ability and scholarship earned him friends in high places, which aided in his rise. He contributed to writing the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s secret multi-volume history of the Vietnam War, and played roles in reshaping the Army after the post-Vietnam era.

“Thinking beyond large-scale, conventional warfare with the Soviet Union and other nation-states, he wrote influential reports and articles on counterinsurgency strategy and guerrilla warfare that would define conflicts in the Middle East after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

The New York Times also praised his contributions to US military historiography and the major role he played in bringing about the end of the Cold War as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe.

In Fighting the Cold War, General Galvin recounts fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes about his interactions with world leaders, describing encounters such as his experience of watching President José Napoleón Duarte argue eloquently against US intervention in El Salvador; a private conversation with Pope John Paul II in which the pontiff spoke to him about what it means to be a man of peace; and his discussion with General William Westmoreland about soldiers’ conduct in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia. He also recalls his complex negotiations with a number of often difficult foreign heads of state, including Manuel Noriega, Augusto Pinochet, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Ratko Mladić.

General Galvin was also the author of The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American RevolutionAir Assault: The Development of Airmobile Warfare, and Three Men of Boston: Leadership and Conflict at the Start of the American Revolution.

Today, We Remember

Memorial Day

As we take this Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives to protect and defend our country, we wanted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the holiday that takes the time to reflect upon and appreciate the contributions of our armed forces.

The History:

Today, Memorial Day honors all veterans, but the holiday was originally called Decoration Day, and was created in reverence to those who lost their lives in the Civil War. General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s group born out of the Cvil War, first declared the holiday in 1868, proclaiming:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or Memorial Day Propagandaotherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. . . .

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

Memorial Day Propaganda5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day in 1868. After World War I, Decoration Day was re-designated to honor the fallen American soldiers who died fighting in any U.S. wars. Memorial Day, as it came to be known, was only officially recognized as a national holiday in 1971, and is now observed on the last Monday of May each year.

The Traditions:

  • When raising the American flag on Memorial Day, it is to be raised quickly to full-mast, and then lowered slowly and solemnly to half-mast. At noon, the flag is to be raised to full staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country, and the full-staff position represents the raising of their memory, and a commitment to not to let their sacrifice be in vain.

American Flag Memorial Day A young boy holds a Poppy in Montreal, Wednesday, November 7, 2012.  THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes.

  • Many American’s think of the British people wearing red poppies on Armistice Day (November 11, which coincides with our American Veteran’s Day), but the memorial red poppy originated in the U.S. and are a traditional decoration for Memorial Day. Inspired by the famous World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael wrote a poem of her own:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Moina was the first to wear a poppy in remembrance, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. A Frenchwoman traveling to the U.S., heard of the custom, and began selling artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. The tradition soon spread to other European countries, and in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies.

  • Many cities and towns across the U.S. hold Memorial Day parades. Ironton, Ohio, puts on the nation’s oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. The first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since.
  • In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act,” for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or commemorating as they choose at 3 pm on Memorial Day.

As some families gather to remember a relative’s service, or others gather for Memorial Day parades, cookouts, or picnics, please take a moment today to remember those who lost their lives in service to all of us, and those who continue to sacrifice for our country every day.

Remembering the RMS Lusitania and its impact on America during World War I

Lusitania 100 years University Press of Kentucky

100 years ago today, at 2:10 pm, the RMS Lusitania was about fifteen miles off the coast of Kinsale, Ireland, when the second officer called out to Captain William Turner: “There is a torpedo coming, sir.”

Two torpedoes struck the Lusitania on her starboard side, the second hitting the boiler room. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew who were aboard, 1,198 lost their lives, including 128 American passengers.

Lusitania in port, 1907

Lusitania in port, 1907.

War had broken out in Europe only a year prior to the fateful voyage, and Germany had announced a strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters around Great Britain in February 1915, deploying U-boats around the British Isles.

Two months later, adjacent to an advertisement promoting the Lusitania’s impending voyage from New York to Liverpool, the German embassy in the U.S. placed a notice in 50 American newspapers:


Lusitania Notice WWI

via the Robert Hunt Picture Library

TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
Washington, D.C., April 22, 1915.

These warnings, coupled with the sinking of several merchant ships off the coast of Ireland, prompted the British Admiralty to warn the Lusitania to either avoid dangerous waters or take evasive action on the crossing. But warnings were ignored.

Woodrow Wilson had pledged U.S. neutrality from the outset of World War I in 1914, and most American’s agreed—Europe should handle European affairs. But the sinking of the Lusitania, and the deaths of 128 Americans, including Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, incited public outcry across America.

In Nothing Less than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I, Justus Doenecke outlines President Wilson’s diplomatic options. First, accept Germany’s “deepest sympathy at the loss of American lives,” though the message from Berlin also attempted  to excuse German actions, arguing that Americans were inclined to trust English promises rather than heed German warnings. The attempted apology was not well received by either the media or the public. Second, Wilson could protest to London that their blockade of Germany—the original inciting action for Germany’s deployment of the U-boats around Britain—led to the attack. This was an attractive option to American exporters and businessmen who objected to Britain’s blockade. Had Wilson exercised this option, however, it would have put America at odds with both sides of the war. Or Wilson could have pressed Germany to make monetary compensation for the loss of American life and property, thought it would have meant ignoring his belief that the incident constituted a breach of international law.

Woodrow WilsonUltimately, Wilson issued the first Lusitania note on May 13, 1915, declaring that Germany acted “absolutely contrary to the rules, the practices, and the spirit of modern warfare,” and demanded the immediate abandonment of U-boat warfare against American and belligerent liners and merchantmen. He called for Berlin to disown the sinking of the Lusitania and make reparation for the loss of American lives, while endorsing the right of citizens from neutral countries to travel on belligerent ships.

By early 1916, Germany still would not concede that the Lusitania’s sinking was illegal. As the 1916 president campaign for Wilson’s reelection ramped up, the president’s challenger Charles E. Hughes promised to “protect and enforce American rights on land and sea without fear and unflinchingly with respect to American rights, American property, and American commerce.” Wilson’s campaign slogan? “He kept us out of war.” Wilson narrowly won reelection by 23 electoral votes and by less than 600,000 popular votes.

Soon after the election, despite all of his efforts to maintain peace and the neutrality of the United States, Wilson conceded that “we must inevitably drift into war with Germany upon the submarine issue.”

The sinking of the Lusitania had been merely the first, largest instance of American deaths as a result of Germany’s U-boat strategy and belligerence. When, in 1917, Germany’s U-boats began to attack and sink American merchant ships, owned by American corporations, and flying American colors, former president Theodore Roosevelt scorned Wilson’s policies, stating “Germany is already at war with us. The only question for us is ether we shall make war nobly or ignobly.”

Woodrow Wilson Declaration of World War I

Woodrow Wilson’s Address to Congress Leading to a Declaration of War against Germany, delivered to a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson delivered his war message to a joint session of Congress.

After the Lusitania sinking, Wilson wanted to remain at peace and protect America’s rights. “I wish with all my heart I saw a way to carry out the double wish of our people,” he stated, “to maintain a firm front in respect of what we demand of Germany and yet do nothing that might by any possibility involve us in the war.”

As Doenecke concludes in Nothing Less than War:

In the end, it was Germany that forced the administration’s hand. . . When U-boats began sinking American vessels without rescuing their crews, Wilson had run out of options. He could only hope that the conflict would justify the required sacrifice.



Excerpt from Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir

Whether you are a history buff, or a lover of all things book related, this autobiography is something that everyone can sink their teeth into. Written by Jack Galvin, Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir depicts the story of Galvin’s sixty year involvement in shaping American and International history from the start of World War II all the way to the post-Cold War Era.

To get you excited for the release of UPK’s upcoming book, here is a prepared excerpt, which discusses the procedures Galvin was taught, while in Puerto Rico, to deal with nuclear detonation and fallout by simulating a nuclear explosion with exploding gasoline barrels.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After Ranger School, I drove to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, turned in my car for shipment to Puerto Rico, and on the last day of March 1955 found myself looking up in awe as our troopship eased into the narrow channel between Isla de Cabras and the looming walls of the fortress San Felipe del Morro. The ever-pounding waves out of the north pushed us along through the slot and into San Juan Harbor, where we docked at Fort Buchanan.

My orders sent me to the 65th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. I arrived at Ponce as a platoon leader just in time to go on a field maneuver. I scrambled into my fatigues and boots, then dashed for the line of trucks. The lead vehicles were already on the move, and by the time I ran down to the truck bearing the I Company guidon I was barely able to find the platoon and jump for the tailgate before we moved out. My platoon sergeant gave me a hand and pulled me in. I told him that I was the new platoon leader and said, “You’ve probably heard about that.” He replied, rather mournfully, “Yes.”

As we bounced along under the canvas with the dust pouring in over the tailgate, I went down the line of seats and shook hands with the squad leaders and troops. It was awkward: stepping over packs and weapons and ration boxes; trying to talk over the noise of the truck’s engine and the flip-flap of loose canvas. Sergeant First Class Vidro had been the acting platoon leader for quite a while, and he was still the platoon leader as far as he was concerned. He made room for me, though, and we shook hands, and amid quizzical looks I squeezed in between him and the tailgate. As we drove along, first through the cane fields and then up into the hills of the National Forest, I quizzed him on what we could anticipate on arrival, and on how we could expect the day to go.

Sergeant Vidro was taciturn, his responses hesitant. He looked off into the dust behind us and said something close to, “It will be just like always. An order from the captain and we move out.” It was hard to extract much more detail. After we got out to the forest, Vidro and I had our first of several talks about how we would work this out: what his job was now as platoon sergeant once again and what mine was as platoon leader. It was the first big challenge that I faced in my professional life: to keep him motivated and happy, to keep the platoon itself feeling that the right thing had been done, and to insert myself into the proper leadership position. All this took place over several weeks.

Our field maneuvers in Puerto Rico with the 65th followed a certain pattern, in accordance with the colonel’s goal, which was to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war. We would move out to some area that we had rented, seize the best ground, dig our foxholes deep, and await the aggressors. Our plan was to defend as long as we could, then pull back quickly (at night), leaving a small covering force and falling back ten kilometers. Before first light, we would fire a nuclear weapon equivalent to thousands of tons of conventional explosives, which the umpires out in front of us would simulate by detonating a barrel of a gasoline mix. Then—watching carefully in order to avoid our own fallout pattern—we would charge forward and mop up, attacking and defeating the remaining enemy. On a warm, gentle, breezy night in Puerto Rico, with our hill position surrounded by distant fires as the harvested sugar cane fields were burnt off, the sweet smell drifting over us—along with the smell, as in a library, of oxidizing paper—and the sudden flash of fire on the top of a hill gave me a sense of vertigo. One time I said to the company commander, “We’re only backing up a mile or so. The radius from ground zero would be far more than that.” With a pained look he explained, “If we back up any more we’ll be outside the training area that we rented.”

To find out more on Fighting the Cold War and other historic UPK books, go check out our website.

Don’t Miss Our Great #SHAFR Titles

If you’re at the SHAFR 2014 Annual Meeting this weekend, stop by our booth across from the Thoroughbred I meeting room behind the registration desk to check out and take home some of our great titles.

We have new books from our Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace series, edited by George C. Herring, Andrew L. Johns, and Kathryn C. Statler. The series focuses on key moments of conflict, diplomacy, and peace from the eighteenth century to the present to explore their wider significance in the development of U.S. foreign relations. A primary goal of the series is to examine the United States’ engagement with the world, its evolving role in the international arena, and the ways in which the state, non-state actors, individuals, and ideas have shaped and continue to influence history, both at home and abroad.

If you’re headed to the George C. Herring panel at 3:30, stop by and see the series books on your way!

Books in the series include: Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force by Robert M. Farley

The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East by Michael F. Cairo

So Much to Lose: John F. Kennedy and American Policy in Laos by William J. Rust

The Currents of War: A New History of American-Japanese Relations, 1899-1941 by Sidney Pash

Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I by Justus D. Doenecke

Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations Since 1945 by Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns