Agency of the Month: US Army Center of Military History

May 14, 2013

CMH_AgencyoftheMonth_Slide

We are starting a new series to feature various Federal agencies of note as Agency of the Month. With it being National Military Appreciation Month in May, Armed Forces Day this Friday and Memorial Day coming up in under two weeks, it is appropriate that we highlight one of our most distinguished and prolific agency publishers: the United States Army Center of Military History.

The Center’s Mission

What is the CMH’s mission? The Center of Military History (or CMH to military history buffs and cognoscenti) reports to the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army and is the primary historical branch for the Army. According to its website on its Origins, the Center is responsible for the appropriate use of history throughout the United States Army which encompasses these tasks:

  • Recording the official history of the Army in both peace and war, including written and oral history;
  • Advising the Army Staff on historical matters;
  • Providing historical support to the Army Secretariat and Staff, contributing essential background information for decision making, staff actions, command information programs, and public statements by Army officials;
  • Expanding its role in the vital areas of military history education, including working with Army schools to ensure that the study of history is a significant part of the training of officers and noncommissioned officers;
  • Managing the Army’s museum system and historical artifacts (See photo below);
  • Introducing automated data-retrieval systems and maintaining an Army history archive and publications list;
  • Maintaining the organizational history of Army units, allowing the Center to provide units of the Regular Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve with certificates of their lineage and honors and other historical material concerning their organizations.

Westphal-views-CMH-Museum

Image: (Fort Belvoir, Virginia, May 30, 2012)–Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal visited the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s Museum Support Center Facility to view the impressive collection of over 16,000 pieces of American history housed in the state-of-the-art facility. Image Source: United States Army

Today, the Center is made up of a team of distinguished military historians, translators, editors, archivists, and even cartographers to accurately record, analyze and publish the Army’s history in all its forms.  These dedicated professionals live by early 20th century philosopher George Santayana’s motto, who wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Research Focus Areas

Under the direction of the Chief of Military History and his principal adviser, the Army’s Chief Historian, CMH’s staff is involved in dozens of major writing projects at any one time. Topics can range from those that involve new research such as traditional studies in operational and administrative history (from the present on back) or the examination of such areas as procurement, peacekeeping, and the global war on terror, to name a few.

The Center serves as a clearing-house for all oral history programs in the Army, as well as conducting and preserving its own oral history collections, including those from the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and the many recent operations.  Its famous end-of-tour interviews of officials within the Army Secretariat and Staff are critical for providing a basis for its annual histories of the Department of the Army.

“Famous and Favorite” CMH Publications

With hundreds of top-quality publications available from the Center of Military History, and many of these award-winning books, it’s hard to choose just a few, so I’ll highlight some currently available titles that are not only my personal favorites, but that also just happen to be customer favorites and best-sellers as well.

Civil War Sesquicentennial Series

The Center traces its lineage back to those historians under the Secretary of War who compiled the Official Records of the Rebellion, a monumental history of the Civil War begun in 1874. Today with America honoring the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Center returns to those roots by producing a series of commemorative campaign brochures for the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

The Civil-War-Begins: Opening Clashes 1861 a Center of Military History publication 75-2The first title in this series, The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861, is already out and describes those confusing and bloody early battles. (Read our earlier review of this title on this blog, entitled First Blood: Year One of the War Between the States.)

How to obtain The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861?  Order it from the U.S. Government Bookstore website:

Additional brochures covering Chancellorsville, Vicksburg and Gettysburg are due out after Memorial Day.

Army History Bulletin

One of the Center’s most popular publications for the public and military alike is its best-selling quarterly journal entitled “ Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History.”

Army History: Professional Bulletin of U.S. Army History Spring-2013_AH87This full-color magazine has articles spanning the gamut of Army history topics by a myriad of knowledgeable authors. For example, the Spring 2013 issue features these guest articles:  “The Doughboys Make Good: American Victories at St. Mihiel and Blanc Mont Ridge“, by Mark E. Grotelueschen and “The Indomitable Dr. Augusta: The First Black Physician in the U.S. Army“, by Gerald S. Henig.

Regular columns in Army History include: News Notes, U.S. Army Artifact Spotlight, Book Reviews and Chief Historian’s Footnote.

How can I obtain the Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History?

World War II Collected Works

Perhaps my personal favorite is The U.S. Army and World War II: Collected Works (DVD). It is a comprehensive DVD compilation of PDFs of every book on World War II that the Center of Military History every published, which encompasses an astonishing 156 volumes!

The U.S. Army and World War II: Collected Works (DVD)For fans of World War 2 history, it doesn’t get any better—or more comprehensive—than this, as battles, tactics, and outcomes are sourced straight from those who were in the thick of things and analyzed by top historical experts.

How can I obtain “The U.S. Army and World War II: Collected Works (DVD)”?

Thus, as we honor our members of the Armed Forces this week and remember our lost servicemen and women on Memorial Day, we can be comforted by the fact that the dedicated team at the Center of Military History is there to ensure that their sacrifice, wisdom and experiences are not forgotten.

About the author: Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


First Blood: Year One of the War Between the States

November 22, 2012

On another Thanksgiving Day 150 years ago, America was embroiled in a bitter Civil War. A year later, expressing gratitude for the key Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln would proclaim that the nation will celebrate an official annual Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. But in 1862, 25 states and three territories were already celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thus it is fitting that we have this wonderful guest post about the newest book from the Army’s Center of Military History series about the U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War. Those who had survived these clashes had much to give thanks for that Thanksgiving Day- as do we all, particularly members of our military and diplomatic services and their families who have served in harm’s way. Enjoy the post and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,  Michele Bartram


Guest blogger Sonya Kunkle was a writer and editor for more than 15 years before she joined GPO’s Proof & Copy Markup section. Here she reviews a U.S. Government Bookstore booklet on a topic that caught her interest fairly recently—the American Civil War.

As a child growing up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, I once walked through the grassy fields of Antietam Battlefield (near Sharpsburg, MD) oblivious to the historical struggle waged under my feet. American history wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but as an adult my interest in the Civil War was sparked when I read “The Killer Angels,” a novel by Michael Shaara. “The Killer Angels,” a work of historical fiction, details the Battle of Gettysburg.

This is a good time to be a Civil War history enthusiast, with 2012 being part of the sesquicentennial (150-year anniversary) of America’s bloodiest war. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Government Bookstore has for sale a 64-page booklet, The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 published by the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History.

Image: (Cover of the booklet,. Detail from Capture of Ricketts’ Battery by Sidney E. King, courtesy of William V. Fleitz, Manassas Battlefield Park.

 In this booklet you can read about the reasons for going to war and why key players made many of the decisions they did during the first year of the conflict. The author, Dr. Jennifer M. Murray, also provides a lot of information in text and graphics on the troop movements of both the Federals and the Confederates during each of the key battles of 1861.

Strategic Setting

In his inaugural address, on March 4, President Lincoln declared that he didn’t intend to abolish slavery in states where it existed. Stating that he would not initiate a war, Lincoln informed Southerners, “In your hands … is the momentous issue of civil war …You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.

If you look at the numbers, perhaps the Confederates were doomed from the start. The 1860 Census shows that the Union could call on 4 million military-age white males to build their army, whereas the Confederacy could assemble 1 million at most.

The Union also had 10 times the industrial capacity, not to mention better transportation capabilities. In spite of these disadvantages, the South started the Civil War with its first big move—firing on Federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Operations—Fort Sumter

Charleston, South Carolina, was well fortified with Fort Sumter and other defenses. Sumter was built to guard against an enemy fleet, and the walls facing the city were much weaker than those facing the water, leaving the fort vulnerable to attack on land.

On April 11, the Southern Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard demanded that the Union forces evacuate Fort Sumter. The North’s ranking officer at Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, declined.

At 3 a.m. (or 0300; the author uses military time) on April 12, the Confederates notified Major Anderson that General Beauregard and company would open fire on Fort Sumter in one hour. Twenty minutes after the deadline, a single shell from nearby Fort Johnson, which the North had abandoned, exploded over Sumter. War had begun.

Into Virginia—Bull Run

Image: First Battle of Bull Run. 1889 chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison. Source: Library of Congress. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In May the Confederates moved their capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond became a strategic target for the North, both for its industrial capability and its political importance. The two capitals, separated by only 100 miles, now figured prominently in both sides’ strategies.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 explains why the Union was determined to control Manassas Junction and why in May 10,600 Confederates defended the northern entrance to the Shenandoah Valley.

The author notes an interesting moment caused by the differing (and lack of) uniforms:

Viewing the Virginians, who were wearing civilian clothes, the Federal troops were unsure of their allegiance. To complicate matters further … Federal units were not uniformly dressed in blue; soldiers in the 11th New York, for instance, were dressed in colorful Zouave uniforms, which were also worn by some Confederate units. The Virginians clarified the matter by opening a deadly volley on the New Yorkers.”

Image: Brandy Station, VA, Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry (Zouaves). Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B8171-7611 DLC. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The Confederates won the fight, protecting their capital. The first battle of the Civil War resulted in the death of nearly 5,000 men.

The Fight for Missouri

While emotions roiled to the east, the majority of delegates attending a special Missouri secession convention voted to remain in the Union. This decision ran counter to Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s personal preferences, and he mustered forces in favor of the Confederates.

This part of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 provides details about how the Civil War reached into Missouri, with one of the key players being Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.

While directing his men on the front line, Lyon got hit in the calf by a bullet, so he left the field for medical treatment. When Lyon got back on the field, a bullet grazed his head.

Determined to continue the fight, and apparently not taking the hint, Lyon returned to the field. Moments later, a bullet hit him in the chest. He was the first Union general officer to die in the Civil War.

From Belmont to Port Royal

In The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 you can read about the Union Navy’s entry into the Civil War.

It’s an interesting read, with a little information about Southern pirates (pirates!) lurking inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina, pouncing on merchant vessels before Union warships could react. To thwart these outlaws, the Federal Navy designated the Outer Banks as its first target. Union forces prepared for the war’s first joint Army-Navy operation.

You learn something about the battle for Fort Hatteras and the naval tactic (and the Confederates’ faulty ammunition) that helped the Union win the day.

The North’s capture of Fort Hatteras and nearby Fort Clark improved the Union’s outlook soon after their defeat at Bull Run. Offering a “Congratulatory Order,” one Federal officer commented, “This gallant affair will not fail to stimulate the regulars and volunteers to greater exertions to prepare themselves for future and greater achievements.

The Union’s euphoria didn’t last long.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 describes what happened between the North and South about 35 miles north of Washington at Ball’s Bluff. Perhaps the statistics are most noteworthy—there were an evenly matched number of men fighting on both sides, but the outcome was lopsided in terms of soldiers wounded and captured. The battle’s uneven results favored the South.

This section also addresses the Union’s win at Port Royal, South Carolina. Here you also can read about what Brigadier General (and future U.S. President) Ulysses S. Grant did in the area of Belmont, MO, that earned him President Lincoln’s favor.

The chronological coverage of the war ends with Union Major General George B. McClellan’s training the Army of the Potomac outside of Manassas. McClellan said he believed that he controlled the “destinies of this great country.”  There was no further action along the Potomac as the curtain closed on 1861.

Analysis

Dr. Murray offers incisive analysis at the end of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861. She describes the early missteps of the secessionists, as well as what the South got right. She also notes the Union army’s mixed results.

Dr. Murray concludes, “As Federal forces grew more experienced and competent, they would gain key victories in 1862 that helped to shape the outcome of the Civil War.”

The last page of the booklet provides a short list of texts for further reading about the first year of the war.

Conclusion

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 helps me to appreciate the history in my own backyard. Although I find all of the information about the armies’ positions and movements a bit overwhelming, the booklet tempts me to take the 70-mile trip from Baltimore, where I live now, to explore the fields of Bull Run at Manassas. Taking the booklet with me, I’ll have a better understanding of the history I’m walking through.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Other Federal Titles about the Civil War

You may also be interested in these titles about the Civil War available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:


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