Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Battle of Brandywine Gallery

In honor of the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine today, I have compiled a gallery of artistic depictions of it.  These are 19th and 20th century illustrations, and usually suffer from  anachronisms.  Please use caution if using them for historical/costume/wargame reference.  However, they are wonderful in capturing a "moment" in time, even if the fine details do not hold up under scrutiny.  Enjoy!

Jacques Onfray de Breville illustrates the attack of the British and Hessian grenadiers.  These two are pieces of the same painting, but as it was an illustration, about 1/4" of the middle was lost in scanning.

F. C. Yohn shows a hastily-constructed line of American troops attempting to stem the tide of the British outflanking attack.

Arthur Becher shows the moment when Washington and his staff received news that the British attack had crumpled the American lines.

As the British surged onward towards victory, a young major general named the Marquis de Lafayette attempted to rally the Americans to halt the British.


In this painting by E. Percy Moran, Lafayette looks like he has single-handedly changed the tide of the battle.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.















Frank E. Schoovener shows Lafayette and a rag-tag group of Americans advancing into the fog of war.  The flag is based both on the 11th Virginia Regiment and two other Virginia regimental flags captured by Banastre Tarleton.


Victor A. Searles' illustration is a bizarre hodge-podge of 18th Century costume, but does capture the impression of a close-quarters melee.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Review of The War for America 1775-83 by Piers Mackesy


I will begin with the end summary first: this is one of the best books about the American Revolution that I have read in a long time.  It provides a very nice counterpoint to Matthew Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only.  While Spring’s work focused on the nitty-gritty of British tactics and soldiers’ experiences, Mackesy gives a global perspective on the American rebellion.

What is known today as the American Revolution was truly a world war.  Fighting began on Lexington Green in Massachusetts in 1775.  But by the time peace was signed, the war had been waged in Africa, India, the Caribbean, and the seas of Europe.  Though many of these operations are mostly forgotten today, Mackesy fits all of them into the grand strategic plans formed by the leaders in London.  However, events rarely conformed to their plans, and the decisions taken by commanders on the spot (both on land and sea) are also examined.

But this book is not just a sweeping campaign narrative.  It is also the personal story of men tasked with leading their country through a difficult war.  The decisions and personalities of Lord North, Lord Sandwich, and Lord George Germain (not to mention King George III) are just as important to the story as the movements of fleets and armies.  How they each influenced the war is a major part of the book.

The Royal Navy forms a large part of Mackesy's book





To create a book with any kind of biographical content (or even history in general) usually requires digging deep into primary sources, and Mackesy has done so.  Page after page contains footnotes to letters or reports from the War Office, or the Foreign Office, or a host of other sources.  It is impressively researched.  The only minor criticism is that his sources are overwhelmingly British ones.  Few rebel or French, or even Loyalist sources for that matter, are used.  However, his story is that of Great Britain fighting to save her empire, and so probably does not require as many sources from other perspectives.
  
To anyone with an interest in the American Revolution, I would highly recommend this book.  It is a detailed look at the British strategy during the war, so it can be a little slower than other books at some parts.  However, this book’s wealth of information well repays any effort put into it.

5/5 stars.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Yorktown Gallery by Howard Pyle

On this day, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his post at Yorktown to General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau.  These illustrations are Howard Pyle's imagining of the events on this climactic battle of the American Revolution.


The first illustration shows George Washington firing the first cannon against the fortifications of Yorktown.

American and French artillerymen continued to bombard the British in Yorktown.  In the second illustration, Washington and his ally Rochambeau inspect Yorktown and plan their next move.

That next move would be an infantry assault against two small fortifications known as redoubts.  The attack was well-planned and succeeded in capturing these two posts in less than thirty minutes.  During these attacks, there was fierce hand-to-hand combat.  Unlike many battles of the 18th Century, officers could cross swords with each other.





On October 19, Cornwallis surrendered to the combined French-American force.  This would be the last major action in the American Revolution.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Christianity and History


George Marsden.  Still from video by Regent University.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZkGVBOdg9Q
How does a strong Christian faith influence the work of a historian?  First of all, Christians who study history acknowledge God’s sovereignty and guidance over all the universe, including the affairs of men.  It may be objected that this approach forces historical facts into an ideological viewpoint.  However, everyone who studies history comes with a certain frame of reference.  “The best way to deal with these universal phenomena,” writes George Marsden, a leading Christian historian, “is to acknowledge one’s point of view rather than posing as a neutral observer.  That way readers can take an author’s viewpoint into account, discount it if they wish, and learn from it to the extent they can.” [1]


The weather at Dunkirk is as providential as the arrangement
of Saturn's rings. (Public Domain)

A major part of a Christian historian’s viewpoint is acknowledging the role of providence in historical events.  Question and answer 8 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence as God’s “most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.” [2] Since God directs the universe and the actions of those within it, this means that He has decreed the paths that history will take.  While some people separate providential events (like the weather at Dunkirk that aided a British escape) from ordinary events, the truth is that all events are equally controlled by God.  “The weather we actually had is therefore in the strictest sense providential; it was decreed; and decreed for a purpose, when the world was made—but no more so (though more interestingly to us) than the precise position at this moment of every atom in the ring of Saturn.” [3]


However, acknowledging God’s providential guidance of events does not always mean that we understand why historical events happened in a particular way.  Because we are God’s creatures, not His counsellors, we ultimately cannot know God’s purposes, aside from those that He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Some Christian historians attempt to understand God’s plan as it is revealed in history, and this is a commendable exercise, as long as they realize that they are limited to speculation.  In The Lord of the Rings, the wise wizard Gandalf understands that everyone, including himself, has limitations and cannot know everything.  “For even the very wise,” Gandalf tells Frodo, “cannot see all ends.” [4]
Gandalf and Frodo in grave discussion.  Picture from Time Magazine
http://time.com/4650389/ian-mckellen-gandalf-lord-of-the-rings-memories/



Even though we cannot know everything, we can still apply God’s principles of right and wrong to historical events.  In an effort to avoid using history primarily as a lesson in morality, some people have argued that, when looked at from the position of that person’s era, no action can be classed as right or wrong.  But this position embraces a philosophy that there are no universal principles of good or evil.  Christians, whatever their field of study, have a responsibility to apply the Bible’s ethical standards to history.  This will ensure that they “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, King James Version) and “hate the evil and love the good.” (Amos 5:15, King James Version).


Judging with righteous judgment: Jesus and the woman
taken in adultery.  Engraving by Gustave Dore
(public domain)

Christianity should influence every aspect of one’s life, including a study of history.  A Christian historian can study history more richly, because he or she acknowledges the hand of God where others would only see coincidence.  Christian historians can also emulate the virtues of Jesus Christ like humility (acknowledging that we do not know the mind of God) or justice (judging the events of the past with the Bible’s ethical code).  In short, Christian history is merely an outworking of our internal change: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, King James Version)

References

[1] George M. Marsden.  Jonathan Edwards: A Life.  (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 5.

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Online.  Accessed June 20, 2018. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html. 

[3] C. S. Lewis.  The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics.  (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 457.

[4] J. R. R. Tolkein.  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  (New York: Ballantine Books, 1981), 93.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Courage





Courage.  It is a quality that many admire, but one that can be dangerous for one's well-being or safety.  Too often today we see people buckling under pressure and recanting ideas rather than face opposition.  Two movies offer beautiful examples of characters making the right decision and courageously facing whatever outcome will happen.

The first one comes from the 2005 movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After running from the forces of the evil White Witch, Peter Pevensie is forced to make a crucial decision on his own.  Informed that the Witch's army is at hand, Peter must decide to fight or flee.



Peter is ready to enter battle for a free Narnia
But this fateful decision is not for himself alone.  If he decides to stand and fight, Peter must commit the entire free Narnian army, as well as his brother, to a conflict against the numerically superior enemy.  Peter decides to engage in battle, and he positions himself in the front line.  Even though it may cost him everything, Peter Pevensie has the courage to fight for a free Narnia against immense opposition.



A similar selfless courage is found in (of all places) the 1991 animated movie Beauty and the Beast.  In the movie, a self-centered prince is turned into a beast as punishment.  Unless he can learn to love and be loved in return before his enchanted rose dies, he will remain a beast.  Beast falls in love with a girl he imprisoned named Belle, and she begins to see the change in him from selfish to caring.  But at the same time, she desperately wants to see her father again. 




"I release you...you are no longer my prisoner."
Time is now running out fast for Beast: the rose will die in less than 6 hours.  If she can remain with him just a little longer...perhaps he can return to humanity again.  After an internal struggle, Beast tells Belle, "You must go to him...you are no longer my prisoner" and Belle rides off to be reunited with her father.  After his decade-long experience as a monster inside and out, the Beast has the courage to sacrifice his own wishes and desires--in fact, his one chance at returning to humanity--for someone that he loves deeply.


Stand courageously!



Friday, April 6, 2018

Review of War of Loyalties


Readers of this blog will have noticed a number of different posts related to this recently-published World War I spy novel, including a nice behind-the-scenes look at the real history that shaped the fiction.  But after reading it, what was my impression?


I greatly enjoyed War of Loyalties.  Because of the mystery/spy nature of the book, I cannot really attempt a spoiler-free plot summation.  A review with spoilers would destroy much of the book’s suspense, as the plot revolves around finding which neighbors are German traitors and which are loyal.  Neighbors is used in its exact sense, as almost all of the characters are located in the small town of Folkestone, England.  Spies and counter-spies rub shoulders and there are complex relationships between the characters.  Sometimes all is not as it seems, but that is as far as I dare go when discussing the plot…


Two aspects of this book were especially pleasing to me, and all the more so because they are usually missing in most fiction.  These are the careful attention paid to history, and the loving depictions of the simple pleasures of life.



History

This is a book that is firmly rooted in its early 20th Century setting.  In fact, an appendix includes a bibliography of sources used to recreate the past for this novel.  Important victories or defeats in Flanders are fodder for the newspapers and discussed by the characters as we might discuss the latest policies of the president.  The imminent Russian collapse causes the Allied characters to worry and accelerate their efforts.  One character is distributing an anti-war magazine called The Masses (a fictional magazine, but clearly a Bolshevik publication).   Rather than attempt to categorize all of the history, I will direct your attention to an exclusive interview with the author in which she highlights some of these details.  http://defendingthelegacy.blogspot.com/2017/06/guest-post-historical-details-in-war-of.html



A Webley Revolver
As befits a spy novel, most of its characters are armed.  Their weapon of choice is a Webley revolver, which seemed slightly repetitive until I dug a little deeper.  I found that Webley was a leading producer of British handguns, and supplied official service revolvers to the British Army for decades.  The Illustrated Book of Guns listed 17 separate models which were all produced before 1918, including some (like the Mark III) designed and marketed specifically for civilians. 


Love of the Ordinary 

It is rare for a work of fiction to be so concerned about historical details, but it is even rarer for it to have a love of the ordinary.  What exactly does this mean?  And how can a spy story—by definition beyond the everyday experience of most of us—celebrate the joys of ordinary life?


C. S. Lewis described this love of ordinary experiences in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  “The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such book Arthur taught me to see as their charm.  What I would have called their ‘stodginess’ or ‘ordinariness’ he called ‘homeliness’—a key word in his imagination.  He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it.  He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to all our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighborhood.”  (Surprised by Joy, pg. 146)

Lewis’s books are full of this love of the ordinary, simple pleasures of life, such as the delicious dinner the Pevensies enjoy at the Beavers’ house.  I was pleased that War of Loyalties is full of this love of simple joys as well.   It breathes throughout the entire book in descriptions of tea and wood fires, in the strength and support that Charlotte Dorroll offers to her husband Ben.  But this concept comes into sharpest focus when Benjamin Dorroll is staying at the house of old family friends, the O’Seans.  The description of their familial loyalty and comfortable friendship in the midst of war and spies and tangled loyalties is well done.



If you can obtain this book, I would highly recommend it for any reader.  An interesting, fast-paced story is combined with historical details and a love for domesticity.  This book is highly recommended.


5/5 stars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Red Cloak vs. Purple Cloak: Not a Contradiction at All

Before our Lord was crucified, he was tried by a Jewish religious court, who then bounced him to a Roman civil court headed by Pontius Pilate.  Pilate initially declared Jesus innocent, but caved to pressure and agreed to execute him.  Between the sentence and its execution, the Roman guards mocked Jesus, dressing him up and acclaiming him as the King of the Jews.  However, the two accounts in the Bible initially seem to be at variance.


"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.  And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe." (Matthew 27:27-28)


"And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.  And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head." (Mark 15:16-17)


Strong's Concordance records that the words "scarlet" and "purple" are correctly translated from the Greek, and both words for these colors appear elsewhere in the New Testament.  What then are we to make of this?


The answer lies in the 1st Century Roman culture in which our Lord lived.  Purple was an extremely expensive color, while red was much less costly.  As a result, red was a fairly common color and purple was beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy.  "Nevertheless, the insatiable demand for purple clothing inevitably led to the creation of a number of cheaper alternatives, and a counterfeit industry like that which exploits the modern hunger for designer labels. ...A purple of sorts could be achieved by simply over-dyeing red from madder with blue from indigo or woad." (Graham Sumner, Roman Military Clothing, pg. 116)


But a purplish shade was not confined to purpose-made purple colors.  "Cicero made a derogatory comment that wool taken from sheep reared in Canusium--which was brown with a reddish hue--acted as the poor man's purple." (Graham Sumner, Roman Military Clothing, pg. 115)  With this background of Roman culture, this supposed Biblical contradiction vanishes.  The robe the soldiers clothed Jesus in was a shade of red used as a purple.  Perhaps it had originally been dyed with blue, or perhaps it was the "poor man's purple."


But the most important point to remember about the crucifixion is that none of these events were unexpected for Our Lord.  He stated: "No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:18)  Jesus knew everything that would happen to him, and he accomplished it because of his love for the world.  Because of His sacrifice, he invites us all to know Him.