Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Friday Music

Another quick one this week, as March winds down. No - May - just feels like March. I still see people wearing gloves sometimes... what fun... Anyway - onwards! enjoy your weekend!

1. Beatles - Eleanor Rigby
2. Mogwai - Blues Hour
3. Replacements - Take Me Down to the Hospital
4. Ric Ocasek - People We Know
5. Melt-Banana - Scrubber
6. Butthole Surfers - Tornadoes
7. John Zorn - Inside Straight
8. The Warlocks - Inside Outside (live)
9. Conway Twitty - Lonely Blue Boy
10. The Ramones - Oh Oh I Love Her So

Video - start with Conway Twitty, pop star:

Here is a Beatle, singing Eleanor Rigby:

And I think I need at least one mutiguitar drone here - Warlocks, live works:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Musical Interlude

Another Friday - another list - nothing fancy: have a happy Memorial day weekend, everyone!

1. George Harrison - Ballad of Sir Francis Crisp
2. Naked City - Erotico
3. Brian Jonestown Massacre - THeir Satanic Majesty's Second Request (Enrique's Dream)
4. The Who - Road Runner
5. Human League - Fascination
6. Frank Zappa & The Mothers - Mon & Dad
7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Spread Your Love
8. Charlie Parker - Dark Shadows
9. Jeffrey Lewis - Octopus' Garden
10. Ghost - Sun is Tangging

What have we got for video today? BRMC seems right:

And how about the Human League? miming on Top of the Pops... good advice of friends unheeded...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Harris Farm

The Battle of Spotsylvania is just about done in 1864, but this morning, 150 years ago, there was one last fight. Lee sent Richard Ewell's corps (which had been chopped to pieces at the Battle of the Bloody Angle) on a kind of reconnaissance in force - march around the right flank of the Union army, see if they could find out what Grant was up to (Grant was up to something), and maybe cut them off and force them to change their plans. Ewell did so - and found the right rear of the Union army fairly open. His men ran into a brigade of Heavy Artillery regiments - men who had enlisted as artillerymen, had spent most of the war posted in the Washington defenses, but were converted to infantry in 1864 and sent off to die with Grant in Virginia. There were, as it happened, more men in this brigade's 5 regiments than in all of Ewell's corps - but when the rebels found them, they didn't think about that. They were confident, and they were fighting rookies, and they expected to win, so they attacked - which turned into a hard little battle. The raw artillerymen fought, not always well - but they held - and eventually reinforcements arrived, and the rebels did well to get away.

One of the regiments there, seeing action for the first time, was the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. I mentioned them last year - my great-great-grandfather was there. This was their first battle - like the other heavies, they stood up to the attack - unfortunately, like the other heavies, they stood up a bit too literally. By 1864, infantrymen had pretty much learned not to fight in the open unless they had no choice - even in a battle line, veterans would do all they could to find cover, at least kneel, make themselves small - anything except stand in well dressed 18th century style battle lines and blast it out with men who'd been at this for 3 years. But that is what the heavies did. Stood and fought - and eventually chased the rebels off - but took a beating doing it. The 1st Maine brought 1800 men into the fight (more than some of Ewell's divisions, the one at the point of the mule shoe on May 12, anyway) - they lost 523. (Per Gordon Rhea.) That would prove to be just a warm up for what would happen to them at Petersburg - but it's staggering.

My great great grandfather came out unscathed - he would't be so lucky in a month, though he would survive... Not so John P. Higgins, ae 17 yrs. 2 mos.

Meanwhile, though this delayed Grant's plans, it didn't stop them - he was done with Spotsylvania, and soon would be heading south, looking to lure Lee out of his trenches, make him fight in the open. And while he never managed to get him in the open, he did, increasingly, manage to control where the fighting would take place, until he had backed Lee into a corner at Petersburg. Though a lot of men would die on the way...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Random Ten

Another Friday, another 10 songs, tossed up by iTunes. Been a grimly busy week, with more to come; been warm and humid too, without quite turning pleasant... we'll see. Spring is here at least, though it takes a while to get used to it - especially the humidity. Last weekend, I set out to put my CDs in some order - most of them are in crates, but when I put them there, I didn't make any effort to organize them - so I set out now to at least alphabetize. Ugh. I have too many CDs for that sort of thing - and doing it one of the first warmish days made it an increasingly unfortunate chose. Still... So this week we'll be keeping it simple - your basic shuffle... have a good weekend!

1. Grant Hart - I Am Death
2. Shonen Knife - Burning Farm
3. Melt Banana - Giggle on the Stretcher
4. AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long
5. Quicksilver Messenger Service - Dino's Song
6. Merle Haggard - Swinging Doors
7. Bob Dylan - Maggie's Farm
8. Andrew W.K. - Party Hard
9. Spiral Stairs - Maltese T
10. Sleater Kinney - Modern Girl

Video? We hit some big names this week - no harm in enjoying them. Merle Haggard:

And the Bob:

And the brothers Young and company, doing what they do:

And that'll do it...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spotsylvania Courthouse

Today, May 12, 186, the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse reached its climax.

My last couple Civil War posts have had a bit more to them - I've been thinking about the future, about how war will develop in the next 50 years after this, dropping hints about WWI and the trenches. Well - you can probably say that Spotsylvania is where the previews of coming attractions really started. It's there in the widespread and permanent use of fieldworks; it's there in the murderous, and hopeless attacks on trenches; and it's there in the sustained combat. I mentioned it after the Wilderness - that Grant changed the nature of the war, by not stopping after a battle - and when the armies get to Spotsylvania, that gets ratcheted up another notch. The armies arrived, fought - the Confederates dug in and the Yankees attacked; both sides dug in, and the Federals kept on attacking, over and over, day after day, attack after attack. And when Grant finally had enough of it - he started trying to move to a new position to attack again - not after a week or a month, but the next day. And on and on it went.

To sketch the events, broadly: Grant marched around the Wilderness, angling for the crossroads at Spotsylvania. Lee figured out where he was headed and got there first - the two armies ran into one another, fought, dug in, fought some more. Grant brought up his army - I already said this, didn't I? attacked. But by now the rebels were dug in, and were able to demolish any attacks. Grant tried going around their left, but Lee attacked there as well, and that fell apart. Grant sent Burnside against the rebel right, and might have been able to achieve something there, but Burnside was about as incompetent an officer as either side left in positions of authority for most of the war, so nothing happened. So Grant tried more head on attacks, without much success - he kept trying to get the whole army to attack at once, figuring they had huge numerical advantages and they should be able to find a weak point, but it never worked that way. Though things did happen - more later, but on May 10, Emery Upton, a Bright Young Man, launched an attack that broke the confederate line, but failed, due to lack of support; so Grant organized another attack on the same principals for the 12th - which also broke the line, and then bogged down, for lack of support... (Read Bob Bateman's post on Upton here.)

It was an ugly battle, Spotsylvania. (I've been reading Gordon Rhea's books on the 1864 campaign - depressing, but fascinating reading.) It's not Grant's finest hour, nor the Army of the Potomac's. Grant's decision to go south lifted the army's spirits - but it didn't solve the problems that had emerged in the Wilderness. Grant was increasingly making decisions and giving orders - but he still left things to Meade and the corps commanders, and they did not generally share Grant's aggression. Maybe because Grant was trying not to take over the army, maybe for other reasons, his planning was slipshod and careless - orders were vague or impossible and often got crossed up - with the result that the Federals were constantly losing the race to whatever spot they aimed for, were constantly attacking without preparation, without coordination, never coming close to getting their numbers into play at once. And since Grant was determined to try - it meant they kept attacking trenches, and kept getting shot to hell with no hope. They never quite shook that sort of thing - though later in the campaign, as Grant got his bearings, it seemed, the effect grew even more stark - at Cold Harbor and Petersburg, Grant stole a march on Lee - got his men to their objectives ahead of Lee - and then frittered the advantages away, and ended in bloodbaths. But that's still to come.

But there is a common theme, and it's a theme that also hints at what happens in 1914: it was possible to break trenches - the Union did it twice at Spotsylvania. It was possible to maneuver, get around the enemy - but almost impossible to stay there. The Army of the Potomac never really solved the problem of command, at the broader, operational level - and no one really solved the problem of how to move men through a battlefield to take advantage of the advantages they could get. Not in 1864, not in 1914.

So how could you break a strong trench line? Well - let's go to Emory Upton: what did he do? He proposed taking a force in as fast as possible, on as narrow a front as possible, pile-driving through the line. Basically, a form of attacking in column, instead of line - make a narrow front, move fast, break through and exploit the break. It worked - partly because Upton prepared the force for the attack: they deliberately chose the ground, they prepared the men making the attack, his superiors gave him a large enough force to do what he planned to do. And it worked, perfectly - they broke through - they started rolling up the rebel lines on either side of the breach - but it came to nothing. No one came to support them - the attacks that were supposed to happen after hue attacked either had already happened (and gone to nothing) or didn't happen... so back he went. But Grant was paying attention, and on the 12th he tried it again, this time with an entire army corps.

And - again - it worked. There was some luck in play this time. The attack was launched against a salient in Lee's lines; and Lee had guessed wrong about Grant's intentions, and pulled his artillery out of the salient, thinking he would need a head start on pursuing Grant. That made a big difference - artillery plays holy hell with columns of men (a big reason you saw so little fighting in columns in the Civil War). In any case - the II corps attacked at dawn, May 12 - again, in deep stacked masses of men, coming straight on to the tip of the rebel salient, following as much of Upton's pattern as possible, moving fast, moving as silently as possible - and they broke straight through and rolled it up with ease. And then? They piled in, broke the line, routed the front line of the rebel army - but were so broken up by the attack, that they could not keep going. I think this problem was somewhat inherent in Civil War era tactics - you had to attack in formation to be effective. You had to attack in a line to bring enough firepower to bear - since the rate of fire was too slow to sustain a really killing fire from a skirmish line. The problem is, a line is an easy target for another line of men - the line behind a pile of dirt is going to win that fight. So you could attack in column, mass formations like Upton's and Hancock's (II corps) - they broke the lines, but they lost all formation when they did. They needed to transform the spearhead into a firing line - they had to do it under fire in a killing zone. Suffice it to say, they did not succeed.

There were reasons. Certainly the Confederate response was one - they rushed men in and fought desperately to seal the breach. And of course, the attack had disordered the attackers. This was made worse by the attack's success - the whole II corps went in, all of them - and they were all caught in the confusion. What it added up to was an inability to shift men from the assault to exploitation of the break. Maybe they didn't expect a breakthrough - at least not the kind they got. No one thought about how to how to get another line of men into the battle after the breakthrough, in a position to attack the next line. But here again - while it's easy, and justified, to look at the shortcomings of the Union high command, I think you can ask yourself - how, exactly, could they have gotten another line in there? Grant tried to get his whole army to attack at the same time - to pin down the rebel army to allow any breakthrough to lead to a large one - but the army didn't do this, and it's doubtful it would have done any good if they did. Men in trenches were going to execute men attacking them in all but the most extraordinary cases. Maybe if they had planned some kind of attack in echelon, like Longstreet planned to do the second day of Gettysburg - when one unit started to waver, they were hit on the flank by another attack. Some of that happened at the Angle - but didn't extend beyond it. What was needed was a way to get troops through the Angle in good order - they needed to be able to move troops through the battlefield to the front, still intact, to attack Gordon (the Confederate general leading the counterattack), and then onwards, breaking Lee in half. But even with a plan - could they have done it?

They hadn't figured it out by WWI. It took a while to figure out how to break a line there - they tried frontal attacks, suppression fire (artillery and gas), all kinds of things. The front waves tended to get massacred - but even when they figured out how to take a line of trenches, they did not figure out how to get beyond it. There was no way to move fast enough to get at then before they built a new line. When breakthroughs occurred - they foundered for exactly this reason: that by the time you were through the first line, the second line was forming. It was impossible to get troops forward fast enough to stop this. Impossible - it wasn't quite a matter of tactics: it was physically impossible to get men across the battlefield before a new line, and a counterattack formed. And while Spotsylvania didn't quite pose the physical barriers to movement that the aftermath of a WWI battlefield did, it came close - especially given that it poured rain all day on the 12th of May. None of this changed, then, until tanks appeared, airplanes, ways to get past lines, or break up defensive lines before they could form. When you read about battles like Spotsylvania, or some of the fighting in WWI, you start to realize - there was nothing else they could do, except not fight. Once the armies dug in, they weren't going anywhere, until someone invented a better machine, or someone's economy collapsed. Or - as Grant eventually did: pin the enemy's best army in place, and let your vast resource advantages chew up the rest of the country.

And so: May 12, 1864 - Hancock's men broke through the rebel lines, but their attack bogged down. The rebels counterattacked, but only so far. The two sides basically hunkered down, in some places on opposite sides of the original trench lines, and proceeded to spend the rest of the day and night killing one another in the rain. a full day of face to face, almost hand to hand combat, neither side moving, or capable of moving the other guy, Grant feeding in fresh troops - Lee hanging on with what he had, while his reserved dug a new line in the rear. And that was the battle of the Bloody Angle.

And then? they kept at it - Grant trying to move around to find some weak spot, though much hindered by bad weather and a week of bloodletting. Lee trying to anticipate Grant's moves, avoid being caught out. And onward, until Grant decided to move south again. And another stage in the campaign was underway...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Yellow Tavern

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Yellow Tavern - where Phil Sheridan and the Union cavalry beat the Confederate cavalry, and JEB Stuart was killed. It was an ambiguous victory - Sheridan's raid was big and splashy, but probably did the Army of the Potomac more harm than good, taking away their cavalry, their intelligence, in much the way Stuart's raid during the Gettysburg campaign took away Lee's intelligence, and handicapped him. Sheridan's men got Stuart, but didn't really break the rebel cavalry, who continued to perform their main function (scouting and the like), without the temptation to go riding off on romantic adventures, like this one.

But - but. First - the raid did establish the union cavalry as a military force to be reckoned with. At the beginning of the war, they had been at a terrible disadvantage vs. the south - by 1863, things were starting to come around (Joe Hooker did a lot to turn them into a real force); they fought a number of successful battles in 63, and played a significant part at Gettysburg (holding off the initial advances for a couple hours until the infantry came up, and later driving Stuart off the union rear). And this, in 1864, more or less confirmed the point: they were a force to be reckoned with on the battle field.

But that also indicates something about how Sheridan thought about his cavalry, and something about the changes in the nature of the war. He was an infantry general in the west - and the truth is, he treated his cavalry corps as something very close to a mounted infantry unit. He expected to fight with them - attack; use their mobility to get into positions to cause serious problems to the enemy; and to be able to hold their own in any situation. And they did it, for a number of reasons - some of them technological. Union cavalry were increasingly armed with Spencer rifles - 7 shot repeaters that used metal cartridges - that meant they could put out a massive firepower - and could do it with guns that didn't foul because of wet. The Spencers and other carbines didn't have the range that rifled muskets had - and cavalry had a hard time mustering the mass firepower that usually made the difference in the Ciil War - but they could put out so much lead, they could hold their own.

The power of repeaters was shown in the west - Wilder's Brigade had Spencers, which they used to great effect; at Chickamauga, the 21st Ohio regiment was armed with Colt repeaters, that allowed them to do immense damage. Sheridan was a fighter - he used the cavalry corps almost like one of those mounted infantry units - fast, mobile, and able to outshoot anything they ran into. It didn't really bear fruit in early 1864 - but it became more and more effective as the year went along, and by the spring of 65, Sheridan would be able to use his troopers, and indeed, much of the union infantry, in that kind of mobile, high firepower way. It didn't quite unbalance the Civil war - there weren't enough of the repeaters around, and the tactics weren't there yet. But it is another of the things that hint at the future. Movement and firepower - well - a future that didn't quite come into being until the internal combustion engine replaced the horse. But the idea was there...

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Songs Pour Down Like Silver

This month's Band of the Month post has a good deal less autobiography than most of them. Richard Thompson appeared somewhere in the background, on the radio in the mid-80s, but I didn't really start paying attention until the end of the 80s, when I started listening to Fairport Convention. (Probably by way of the Waterboys, who I was very big on in those days.) Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf mainly, and I listened to them a lot, especially Liege and Leaf. That happened just before I stopped listening to rock and started listening to jazz - though during the jazz years, I kept breaking those records out now and then. I mentioned last month that I came out of my jazz obsession by way of jazz guitarists - Sonny Sharrock and Bill Frisell and James "Blood" Ullmer and John McLaughlin - a guitar obsession that led me to Richard Thompson. I picked up the Watching the Dark box set and listened to it obsessively for a year or so. Then started buying all his back catalogue, solo, Fairport, etc. And of course buying all his subsequent releases - which though underrepresented on my lists, remain satisfying pieces of music, with occasional moments of transcendence.

Those no real mystery why he's one of my favorites - he's one of the best guitar players rock music has produced (my favorite by a country mile.) He's also one of the most consistent and intelligent song writers in the business. And a unique and powerful singer - though there's no denying that his material sounded even better when he had Linda or Sandy Denny to sing it. It's impressive - based on his songs, his records, he would deserve to rank very high - especially considering the music, the accompaniment, the arrangements... But when you factor in his soloing - he's in the elite.

There are obviously other guitarists with a claim - Hendrix anyway - but basically, he's a finalist for the best rock guitarist of them all. And he's absolutely my favorite. You can start by being surprised by his versatility - he can rock; he is a master of lyrical, folk and jazz inflected extended solos; and he is capable of moving into avant grade territory. He can surprise, even shock, with his solos, as well as playing the most beautiful and perfect pieces. He's inexhaustible. His most characteristic style, I suppose - those long, beautiful, lyrical, tonally precise solos, like Calvary Cross, Night Comes In, When the Spell is Broken - define his greatest strengths - his melodic, harmonic and rhythmic sense; his patience, the ability to build long, slow pieces with mounting tension and drama; the tonal command, the drones and overtones and fingerpicked multiple parts. And he can ratchet it up - those wild folk rock excursions in the Full House/House Full era - Matty Groves and the like - sped up and pushed out, seemingly with no limits on what he can play. Though it's when he really cuts loose - the songs that shift away from the pretty solos, that get strange, biting - like on A Sailor's Life, Shoot Out the Lights (especially the later versions), Can't Win - that he moves from greatness to something jaw-dropping.

There were a lot of guitar players in the 60s, sometimes after, trying to imitate jazz saxophonists - Roger McGuinn, Tom Verlaine (or their fans) name drop Coltrane and company often enough. Thompson earns it. He uses the guitar like they played - full of overtones, slurs, the notes played on top of drones, the incorporation of Asian or celtic musical influences. Much of his career was spent in the folk-rock, singer-songwriter universe - but at the beginning he was playing with Hendrix; by the 80s he was playing with David Thomas (and a host of avant grade musicians), with John French, Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser - he kept a connection to that side of rock... And it turns up in some of the solos - and was there in the early ones.

In the end - I think he is something of a model for guitarists like Tom Verlaine, Glenn Mercer, the Velvet Underground fans who wanted to solo. Thompson is a pretty strong influence on their style. Songs like Marquee Moon, 1880 or So, Slipping (Into Something), Find a Way are all built on something like a template of Thompson's songs. And other guitarists (I mean, who are heroes of mine) covered him directly - Peter Laughner covering Calvary Cross; Bob Mould doing Shoot Out the Lights. I never get tired of any of them...

And so - one list won't do, for Thompson, since he is so good in such different aspects of the music. So - 3 might do it. First - the overall best (no matter who wrote it):

1. A Sailor's Life
2. For Shame of Doing Wrong
3. Dimming of the Day
4. Calvary Cross
5. Night Comes In
6. Matty Groves
7. Jenny
8. From Galway to Graceland
9. Sir Patrick Spens
10. Bird in God's Garden

Then his originals:

1. For Shame of Doing Wrong
2. Dimming of the Day
3. Jenny
4. From Galway to Graceland
5. A Heart Needs a Home
6. Hokey Pokey (The Ice Cream Song)
7. Night Comes In
8. Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair
9. Shoot Out the lights
10. Never Again

And finally - the guitar parts. Mostly solos, but a couple are here for the riffs. These are also more specific in the version I mean:

1. A Sailor's Life - version on the Watching the Dark set, without the fiddle - though the fiddle version is a thing of immense power. It's a magnificent ensemble piece - glorious as Thompson's playing is, Lamble's drumming is almost as captivating; Nicol lays down a monster riff behind Thompson - and Denny is almost overwhelming. Swarbrick's fiddle somewhat cuts Thompson's solo, but it creates a thrilling blend - I could list the two versions of that song 1-2 here easily.

2. Shoot Out the Lights (Live from Austin)
3. Calvary Cross (the Watching the Dark version, again)
4. Matty Groves (House Full) - as blood curdling a tune and performance as you will hear.
5. Night Comes in (Guitar, Vocal)
6. For Shame of Doing Wrong (Concert November 1975)
7. Time Will Show the Wiser - here seen live on French TV in 1968!

8. Can't Win (watching the dark)
9. Sloth (House Full)
10. When the Spell is Broken (watching the dark version)

And Video - I found more of this than I expected, especially those really old clips. This post will take an hour to load. Oh well.

Here's another clip from that French TV show - "Reno Nevada" - Thompson playing a Les Paul, and ripping it. Looking younger than his 19 years. It's rather startling to think how young they were - Thompson, Simon Nicol, Martin Lamble and Judy Dyble were all still just teenagers in 68. It's probably part of why the early version of the band seems a bit too derivative, with their American covers and somewhat affected vocals. But Thompson isn't derivative - this solo leaves the rest of the song miles behind. And the same is pretty much true for Lamble as well. (Nicol, too, who is a superb rhythm guitarist, already, here.) I'm not sure Thompson has ever managed to find someone to match Lamble's drumming in his later career (other than collaborating with others, like John French or Chris Cutler on the Thomas records.) Anyway - it is nice to see some cool footage of Lamble here, too...

Here is the House Full era lineup playing a half hour set on French TV - including a fantastic Sloth:

And two gorgeous songs featuring Linda Thompson - Dimming of the Day from 1981:

And A Heart Needs a Home, 75 or so:

And a perfectly thrilling version of Shame of Doing Wrong, Germany 1980:

And of course, Thompson's still going strong. Here he is with the Liege and Leaf era band doing Tam Lin in 2007:

And Calvary Cross, playing with Dawes on a cruise ship, 2013:

And finally, Can't Win, with his Electric trio, 2013, featuring very energetic drumming, and one of his more avant-garde inspired solos:

Monday, May 05, 2014

Battle of the Wilderness

150 years ago, The Battle of the Wilderness began. It was a nasty, bloody contest, though most significant for what happened when it ended - because it changed the shape of the war - maybe of war itself.

The battle itself was a nasty piece of work. It got its name from where it took place, in The Wilderness - the same second growth woodland where the Battle of Chancellorsville happened the previous year. It was a hideous place to fight - dense woodland, full of cuts and streams and swamps, where no one could see anything, generals had the devil's time maintaining control of their men, no one could move through all the woods, and once the shooting started, the whole thing caught fire and turned it into a hellscape. No one really intended to fight there - Grant's idea was to march throughout the wilderness before Lee could get to him, to fight on the open ground to the south. But Lee got wind of the movement and moved to block it, attacking the Army of the Potomac in the woods. And that's how it went.

There were two main roads running throughout he woods, and the battle was fought almost as two separate engagements on and around those roads. On the union right, Warren’s V corps ran into Ewell's corps, entrenched in the jungle - Warren was ordered to attack, and did, but in an uncoordinated and piecemeal fashion that gained no ground and led to great slaughter. On the union left, a separate battle developed between other Union troops (Hancock’s II corps, mainly) and AP Hill’s men - here, strong Union numeric advantages went to nothing because of the mix of bad coordination and the impassable terrain the battle was fought over. Both sides fought until dark and then waiting to do it again in the morning.

They picked up where they left off the second day. The union left (especially) tried to get into position for an early attack, but things bogged down, and dragged out - but they did finally get their numbers to bear, and started to drive Hill's men back. And finally, it went beyond that - they drove Hill back, and broke the lines, and finally came close to a complete breakthrough. But in the best of circumstances, in the Civil War, any battle demolished the formations of the men fighting, the winners as much as the losers. Over and over, you read of attacks that shatter the enemy, but peter out because the victors are as disorganized as the losers. And here, the Union army was driving them, but they were coming apart - and this was far worse than the usual circumstances. Command and control were almost impossible to maintain in the wilderness; combined with the tendency for organization to disintegrate in the face of too much success or failure, the Union attack was ripe for the picking.... And they ran square into Longstreet’s corps, which had spent the previous day slogging around in the woods, far from the battle, only to turn up here and now, just when it counted. They hit the union army when it was disorganized, out of control, and worn out - and blew the line to shreds. They drove them back to where they started, but the Yankees had fieldworks built there - so when the rebels came in the Yankees were waiting. And the same thing happened that usually happened when men attacked entrenchments in the Civil War. They were wrecked.

And that was that. They hung around another day, but neither side had much stomach left for fighting. The battle had a lot in common with Chickamauga, actually, as well as Chancellorsville. Much like Chickamauga, this was a terrible ground for a fight; much of the battle was the same kind of back and forth uncoordinated slog; and once again, it was a Longstreet attack (or counter attack) that caved in the Federal forces; and that led to the same last ditch stand by the Union that wrecked the southerners almost as bad as they were wrecked. HOwever, unlike Chickamauga, where the Army of the Cumberland was wrecked by the battle, The Army of the Potomac was still going strong. They were shot up - but they had a lot of men, and whatever troubles they had at the command level (and they had some pretty serious commend problems in the spring of 1864), they were structurally intact and ready to keep going. In that, this fight looks more like Chancellorsville - hard fighting, a few moments of total disaster, but the army intact and mostly ready for more.

Still, the north had been beaten. Warren’s corps never really got anywhere (getting shot up the first day, then again the second day, then ending the whole thing by getting routed out of their position by a flank attack that only dissolved because of the night time woods.) Hancock on the left had been shot up badly as well. (Sedgwick’s VI corps, and parts of Burnside's IX fought on both sides of the battle, often in the middle between the other two - with no more success than anyone else had.) The Union had been stopped cold, trying to get through the Wilderness, at significant loss. Lee was still waiting with plenty of fight. In the past, when the Yankees invaded the south and lost, they tended to go back home and try again. But this time, everything changed.

The truth is, throughout the war, there were few examples to this point of armies fighting battles and then trying to press their advantage (let alone continuing after a defeat, if they had a choice.) Lee during the Seven Days; Lee after Second Bull Run; Lee after Chancellorsville - Lee, that is. And after victories; not after a defeat. And of course, there was the Vicksburg campaign - a series of coordinated attacks and battles, one after another, with no space given to the confederates to regroup. Which is to say, Grant. And here was Grant again. And while he had been blocked on his first attempt to get into the south, he was not the sort of man who looked at failure as anything forgone. So after a day resting, he got his army up and marching, and turned them south - marching around the Wilderness, headed for Spotsylvania Courthouse.

And that made all the difference. The Army of the Potomac certainly thought so - every account is full of the thrill the men in the ranks felt when they discovered they were heading south, looking to take the battle to the enemy, not go back home and think about what to do next. And this is despite their knowing that this meant blood and death for them. I doubt anyone imagined just how much blood and death would be coming - I don't know how they could, though you might have gotten a notion of it looking at the carnage of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Chickamauga - sustained carnage. But the men in the ranks seem to have understood what Grant understood - that you had to fight until you were beat, really beat - and they weren't beat.

Somewhere in here, probably at Spotsylvania in fact, you can see 20th century warfare being born. Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg prefigure WWI, that is certain: trench warfare; extended warfare - those are all new. But that change started in the Wilderness. Civil War battles tended to be battles - armies marched around to get to a position to fight - they fought - then went where they went to think about what to do next. Other than Lee at the 7 days and Grant at Vicksburg, there aren’t a lot of examples of armies fighting a sustained series of battles, day after day until the issue was decided. Even when one battle led to another, as Second Bull Run led to Antietam, or Chancellorsville to Gettysburg, or Chickamauga led to Chattanooga - there were gaps. Armies separated and began new campaigns. But not so much here. Grant headed off around Lee - Lee moved to cut him off again - they ran into each other and did it again a couple days later. Then Grant moves, Lee moves, they tried again - not quite coming to blows at North Anna, but then moving again - another slaughter at Cold Harbor - move again - Petersburg. And then siege.

It was different. Grant started the battle and kept at it. So did Lee, though he had less choice. But this period of the war, changed the way war was waged. It became steady, endless, relentless. Even before this, it was very difficult to win a battle and win a war, though everyone still seemed to think it was possible. Europe got fooled by Sedan, a big decisive battle that sort of stopped the Franco-Prussian war: only sort of, since the French people repudiated the government that surrendered and kept on fighting... But it did leave Europeans thinking they could win a decisive battle and through it a war. But it didn't work like that anymore, and wouldn't until the Blitzkriegs. In 1864, Grant pressed on, fight by fight, trying to get around Lee, but always ready to fight when they met again. In the end, he settled for a siege, to keep Lee in place while Sherman, later Sheridan, beat the South - but either way, he waged an endless campaign. As did Sherman - who don’t have to fight Johnson for every river crossing as Grant did Lee - but the principals were the same. Move around this line, confront the next line. Sherman was less willing to attack directly, Johnston was less willing to force a fight than Lee was, and both of them had more room to move around in. So there was less bloodshed in the west - but there were no rests, no stops. Sherman would push on until he had won - as Grant did.

Friday, May 02, 2014

A Simple Friday Random Ten

We have sun and warm weather today, and I think I will keep the old Friday randomizer as simple as possible:

1. Neutral Milk Hotel - Avery Island-April 1st
2. Bruce Springsteen - Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
3. Dangerdoom - No Names (Black Debbie)
4. Mars Volta - Ilyena
5. Green Day - American Idiot
6. Husker Du - Celebrated Summer
7. Wire - Bad Worn Thing
8. Donna Summer - I Feel Love
9. Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown
10. Of Montreal - Authentic Phyrrhic Remission

Video? Hope I'm not getting too far ahead of myself, but - I imagine summer is going to be celebrated pretty enthusiastically this year:

Sometimes I think it's a sin when I feel like I'm winning when I'm losing again... take it Gordon:

and - it occurs to me that Wire is always worth a listen- - live on the radio:

Thursday, May 01, 2014

May Day 2014

Then to the maypole haste away for 'tis now a holiday - featuring Maddy Prior:

For those of you of a more diabolical turn of mind, here's a recording of Black Sabbath, when War Pigs was Walpurgis:

And finally, on the political front, Paul Robeson, singing Joe Hill: