Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Such Army

A letter (7/19) in The Times Book Review commenting on the Clouds of Glory biography of Robert E. Lee attributes the following to C.S.A. Gen. Joe Johnson describing the Union force led by Gen. Sherman: there had been "no such army since the days of Julius Caesar."

No doubt Napoleon Bonaparte would object to Johnson's remark.  Bonaparte led an army ten times the size of Sherman's into Russia, fighting titanic battles that inspired Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Winston Churchill would be vexed, too.  His ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, marched an army about the same size as Sherman's with as many artillery guns from Brussels to the Danube, a distance greater than Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savanah.   For his great victory over France at Blenheim on the Danube, Marlborough was awarded the magnificent Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire,  Winston Churchill's birthplace, now a World Heritage Site.

Apparently national pride has a great deal to do with how we remember things, since neither Tolstoy, nor Tchaikovsky, nor Churchill were ever moved to remark on Sherman's campaigns, a slight compounded by the fact that Churchill and Sherman were cousins.  It's a safe bet, though, that Sherman knew about the Duke of Marlborough and Marlborough's great campaigns on behalf of England's Glorious Revolution, William III (aka William of Orange-Nassau) and Queen Anne.

Then there's the small matter of the armies Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade marched hundreds of miles across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1863.

It is fair to say that The Times, its readers and most American historians are quite parochial.