Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski’s book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army’s Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after-action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. He includes the invasion’s diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach. It has the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, a unit organization of a 30man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach.

Dignity of Duty: A Personal Odyssey of Service from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War

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From June, 1861—when he was instrumental in the raising and organization of the 20th Indiana Volunteer Regiment out of his hometown of Valparaiso—until August, 1898—when he died of an apparent stroke while serving in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War—Major Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath kept detailed journals of his life and service in the United States Army. A self-taught student of history who once aspired to a career in law, Gilbreath’s intelligence and natural curiosity are on full display in his writings, resulting in a collection that is as fascinating as it is enlightening to read.

Featuring an introduction by renowned historian and biographer Carlo D’Este, Dignity of Dutycomprises three original documents assembled and edited by Gilbreath’s great-granddaughter, Susan Gilbreath Lane, who discovered the papers by chance at the Detroit Public Library in the late 1970s.

The Civil War Journal

As a young field officer during the American Civil War, Gilbreath chronicles his regiment’s involvement in many of its major battles, capturing the point of view of the average Union soldier rather than the perspective of high command from which the war has so often been written. Although badly wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Gilbreath was among the lucky few to survive what has been called the largest human catastrophe in American history.

“Through his eyes, we learn firsthand of the true horror of the Civil War: of the boredom, the fatigue, the death of so many on the battlefields, of the crude nature of caring for the wounded in the 1860s, of the blood and the amputations in the aid stations and primitive field hospitals.” — Lt. Col. Carlo D’Este, USA (Ret.), Introduction

The Post-Civil War Journal

Gilbreath remained in the Army following the war and throughout the Reconstruction period when his duties resulted in extensive travel throughout the war-torn South and the untamed West. A witness to the lawlessness and disorder that defined rural America during The Indian Wars of the late 19th Century, here Gilbreath documents his marriage to his wife, the birth of their three children, and the family’s amazing journeys to places like Mississippi, Texas, Chicago, The Montana Territory, Philadelphia, and New York.

“My father also had stories to tell about his father’s adventures in the West: going down a river and being attacked by Indians who were shooting at the family using bows and arrows. To a city kid it all sounded very exotic…it was the Post–Civil War Journal that confirmed the reality of what I had once thought was hyperbole.” — Susan Gilbreath Lane, Foreword

The Journal of the War with Spain

Ordered with the 11th U.S. Infantry to the South to prepare for travel to Cuba or Puerto Rico, Gilbreath captures in his later journals a second major American conflict from the soldier’s perspective. Unknowingly nearing the end of his life and a 37-year military career, he records his thoughts and experiences until just days before his passing.

Adapted from the Pritzker Miltary Library. The source information is HERE.

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill is the first volume of Churchill’s Noble Prize winning six-part chronicle of World War II. This six book series is Churchill’s personal memoirs.

The Gathering Storm depicts the rise of Hitler and the indifference of the leaders of the European democracies to the clouds of the gathering storm. Churchill incorporates contemporary documentation and his reminiscence in this opening memoir. Churchill’s mastery of English is reason enough to read this book.

I like what was said in a review on Amazon.com, “Winston Churchill was not only a statesman and leader of historic proportions, he also possessed substantial literary talents. These two factors combine to make The Gathering Storm a unique work.”

The book tells the story of the events between World War One and World War Two. Churchill shows how key events were ignored or the people simply hoped they would go away without dealing with them. The resulting inaction allowed many of the later events to occur, thus escalating the size and difficulty of the task.

Sir Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for this book and the other five books in the series.

Fights on the Little Horn: Unveiling the Myths of Custer’s Last Stand by Gordon Harper

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The late Gordon Harper passed away before finishing this comprehensive volume. The writers of both the book’s forward and the chapters regarding “the last stand” make it very clear Mr. Harper’s notes are the source if their writing.

It is very apparent that Mr. Harper spent hundreds of hours on the battlefield knowing it intimately. Significant efforts have been to be made to recreate in detail the actions on June 25-26, 1876. The author did an outstanding job.

The book’s eight maps show the positions of all the soldiers and warriors as well non-combatants. Two maps show the locations of the bodies of the dead.

Each chapter is well documented with numerous footnotes. The references and quotes are from primary sources. Sworn testimony from the Reno Commission and the newspapers of the time are the primary sources.

The conclusions drawn by the author may give cause for debate. Mr. Harper’s deductions are:

  • Colonel Custer was just following orders.
  • He used the standard cavalry tactics of the day when attacking an Indian encampment.
  • The tactics failure were they were not designed for the scale of the adversary – the largest gathering of Plains Indians in one place.
  • This Indians didn’t run as was expected.
  • They fought the U.S. Cavalry to a standstill.
  • The Indians wiped out all riding with Custer.
  • Harper’s research shared quotes from the Native Americans.
  • The Indians indicate that the majority of the 7th Cavalry stood their ground as long as possible.
  • The cavalry troopers concentrated fire was deadly on the charging warriors.

It is a different, even controversial view of the battle. It is also a controversial view of the General Custer.

The hardcover copy is 386 pages. It is an excellent resource and a must for any Custer historian, amateur or professional.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara

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Gods and Generals is a 1996 novel which serves as a prequel to his father Michael Shaara’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. The book relates events from 1858 through 1863 during the American Civil War, ending just as the two armies march toward Gettysburg.

Copying his father’s approach of focusing on a few of the prominent officers of the two armies, Shaara depicted the emotional drama of soldiers fighting old friends while accurately detailing historical details including troop movements, strategies, and tactical combat situations. General Hancock, for instance, spends much of the novel dreading the day he will have to fire on his friend in the Confederate Army, Lewis “Lo” Armistead. The story also deals with General Lee’s disillusionment with the Confederate bureaucracy and General Jackson’s religious fervor.

In addition to covering events leading up to the war, the book includes the battles of First Bull Run (mentioned only), Williamsburg, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

In 1997, it received the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association.

A film based on the novel was released in 2003. The film version provides only cursory coverage of immediate pre-war events, focusing primarily on Jackson and the secession of Virginia, and omits the Battle of Antietam (included in the Director’s Cut). My recommendation is read the book and skip the film.

Note: I am a Jeff Shaara fan. He is the author of 14 military historical fiction books. I met him on November 11, 2009, at The University of Texas at Arlington where he was the speaker at their An Evening With the Author Series. I met him in a small group of about a dozen private meet and greet sponsored by the UTA history department.

The below photo is Author Jeff Shaara and Amy J. Schultz, Associate Vice President, Communications and Community Relations, The University of Texas at Arlington.

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The last photo is Author Jeff Shaara. What he was explaining his historical research methodology.

1048312_545255378872387_537356674_oPhotos were taken by Jimmie Aaron Kepler on November 11, 2009, at Davis Hall, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas.

Battle for the City of the Dead: In the Shadow of the Golden Dome, Najaf, August 2004 by Dick Camp

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The year was 2004. During the spring and summer, the Iraqi nation was overwhelmed with violence. The nation’s Shiites and Sunnis headlined the sectarian fighting. The Army of Iraq had been disbanded by the United States Proconsul.

The results of his actions were infusing a large number of angry young men into the streets of the population centers in Iraq. These men had no jobs skills, no jobs, and no prospects for employment.

These men were literally angry in the streets. The clergy fueled their anger which developed into a rage and campaign for jihad against the United States and all “occupation forces”.

By August 2004, Muqtada Al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric, called upon thousands of Mahdi Militia, his armed followers and de facto private army, to resist the occupation. Fighting would break out in several locations. The holy city of Najaf, the site of the largest Moslem cemetery in the world, and the Imam Ali Mosque were major sites of fighting. U.S. forces found themselves fighting in 120-degree heat. The battleground was through a tangle of crypts, mausoleums, and crumbling graves. The fight was rough. It had the religious zealots against the motivated and disciplined United States Army and Marine Corps troopers. It makes for a spellbinding account of Americans in battle.

The book itself is excellent. Dick Camp tells an excellent story. The quality of the book is remarkable. I am referring to everything from the writing, the large amount of high quality color pictures, and even quality of the paper the book on which the book is printed.

“Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia” by Jessica James

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Let me start with a confession. I am a man. I read Jessica James’ “Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia”. I found the book interesting and engaging. I liked it!

The story is about Andrea (Sinclair) and Hunter. She is a southerner who works as a Union scout while hiding under a floppy hat impersonating a young man. Hunter is the confederate Cavalry commander. The beginning and end of the book were excellent and deserve five stars.

The middle part of the book slowed down a little for me. A lack of action and repetitiveness had the middle lacking the magic found at the book’s beginning and end. I pressed on in my reading because of all the great reviews and awards “Shades of Gray” had received. I was wondering what I was missing. I am glad I continued reading and finished the book. The last third had me turning the pages and unable to put the book down.

The story line is Andrea is the Union scout with world-class horseman skills that gives Hunter fits. Andrea saves Hunter’s life. Their fates become intertwined. She goes to Richmond as a spy posing as a Southern woman. She is captured and reveals her true identity as a Unionist. She spends time in a dreadful prison. Eventually, she ends up near death under house arrest in Hunter’s home as he makes good on a promise (read the book to find out!).

Andrea and Hunter are inflexible to an obsession. Andre has a volatile temper. She and Hunter have a clash of wills and wits. Their attraction for each other builds throughout the novel. They finally admit their feelings, and nothing but difficulties come their way. About this point, the book grabbed me with their fighting and the plot twists where I just read the book straight through to the end.

Jessica James’ novel is very good. I am a Civil War buff, holder of a B.A. degree in history, former U.S. Army officer and reader of over a hundred books about the Civil War. That said, the book is up there with the best I’ve read on the Civil War. I am glad I continued through the middle and finished the book. Even guys will like the book!

“Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia” hit number one on Amazon.com in the romance/ historical category, beating “Gone with the Wind”.

Awards and Honors for “Shades of Gray”: 2008 IPPY Award, 2008 Indie Award, 2008 Book Of The Year Finalist (ForeWord Magazine), 2009 Top Five Best Southern Theme (Virginia Romance Writers), and 2008 Favorite Book by The Book Connection and Bookworm’s Dinner.