Campaigns and Commanders Marches On
by Gregory J. W. Urwin
Professor of History and CENFAD Associate Director
Dr. Gregory J. W. Urwin, CENFAD associate director, wears a second hat as general editor for Campaigns and Commanders, the prize-winning book series published by University of Oklahoma Press. Designed to appeal to both scholars and mass audiences, Campaigns and Commanders features books that combine vivid narratives with fresh perspectives gleaned from social, political, or cultural history. During the past year, Campaigns and Commanders has released its seventh, eighth, and ninth titles.
The seventh entry in the series is Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Fate of the British Empire in North America by Professor David Dixon of Slippery Rock University. Dixon’s book is the first complete account of Pontiac’s Uprising to appear in nearly fifty years. When the Seven Years’ War ended in 1760, French forts across the wilderness passed into British possession. Recognizing that they were just exchanging one master for another, the Native peoples of the Ohio Valley seethed with anger. Led by an Ottawa chief named Pontiac, a confederation of tribes, including the Delaware, Seneca, Chippewa, Miami, Potawatomie, and Huron, rose against the British. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the prolonged and widespread rebellion nevertheless took a heavy toll on British forces.
Even more devastating to the British was the rise in revolutionary sentiment among colonists in response to the rebellion. For Dixon, Pontiac’s Uprising was far more than a bloody interlude between Great Britain’s two wars of the eighteenth century. It was the bridge that linked the Seven Years’ War with the American Revolution. Dixon, who has taught at Slippery Rock since 1989, is also the author of the award-winning Hero of Beecher Island: The Life and Military Career of George A. Forsyth.
Campaigns and Commanders turned to another blood-drenched forest with its eighth title, Blood in the Argonne: The “Lost Battalion” of World War I by independent scholar Alan D. Gaff. Gaff uses the ordeal of the celebrated Lost Battalion to tell the story of the U.S. 77th “Liberty” Division from the perspective of the rank and file. This division contained troops representing a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds from New York City and the American West. On October 2, 1918, Major Charles W. Whittlesey led elements of the 77th Division in a successful attack on German defenses in the Argonne Forest in northeastern France, where they were cut off by enemy forces. The trapped Doughboys lost more than half their number killed during the next five days, but they managed to hold out until relieved. Whittlesey’s command was not a battalion nor was it ever “lost,” but once a newspaper editor applied the term “lost battalion” to the episode, it stuck. Gaff draws on many new sources, such as the sworn testimony of Whittlesey’s surviving troops, to set aside myths and legends and reveal what really happened in the gloomy Argonne in early October 1918. Blood in the Argonne also succeeds in exploring the character of the common soldiers who composed the American Expeditionary Forces.
Gaff is best known for his many books on the Iron Brigade in the American Civil War. He turned to the eighteenth century when he penned the fourth Campaigns and Commanders title, Bayonets in the Wilderness: Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest. He has proven himself equally adept at chronicling World War I. As the spring 2006 issue of the Journal of Military History said of Blood in the Argonne: “More of a social and cultural study than a traditional military history, this is a fine contribution to the growing literature on the AEF.”
The ninth volume produced by Campaigns and Commanders offers a change from the series’ usual concentration on military operations. William Harding Carter and the American Army: A Soldier’s Story by Ronald G. Machoian is the first full-length biography of the officer who played a pivotal role in bringing the American military into a new era and transforming a legion of citizen-soldiers into the modern professional force that has had such a impact on the past century of global history.
Machoian follows Carter’s career from his boyhood in Civil War Nashville, where he volunteered to carry Union dispatches, through his involvement in bitter campaigns against Apaches in the Southwest, to his participation in the Indian Wars’ tragic final chapter at Wounded Knee in 1890. Carter’s life and work reflected his times – the Gilded Age and the Progressive era. Machoian depicts Carter as an able intellectual, attuned to contemporary cultural trends and devoted to ensuring that the U.S. Army kept abreast of them. In collaboration with Secretary of War Elihu Root, he created the U.S. Army War College and pushed through Congress the General Staff Act of 1903, which replaced the office of commanding general with a chief of staff and modernized the staff structure. Carter later championed replacing the state militia system with a more capable national reserve and advocated wartime conscription.
Since Carter’s death in 1925, his role in modernizing the U.S. Army has been overlooked. Machoian, an active-duty officer in the U.S. Air Force and an adjunct professor of history at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, redresses this oversight by highlighting Carter’s contributions to the U.S. military’s growth as a professional institution and America’s transition to the twentieth century.