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Letters from Readers - July 2008 Military History

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: May 29, 2008 
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In Defense of 'Cottonclad' Warfare
John C. McManus' article ["The Spirit of New Orleans," May/June] on Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson's often-downplayed 1815 victory was excellent.

The one point on which I respectfully take issue with McManus is his dismissal of the origin of 7th Regiment's "colorful and unique nickname: 'The Cottonbalers'" as not being true because "cotton bales would have been a hazard during battle, with so much shell and shot in the air." While deferring to McManus' knowledge of the battle itself and the 7th's history, such excellent protective cover in any gunfight is more important than the possible ignition of tightly compressed cotton bales.

In support, I refer to the Battle of Galveston, where on Jan. 1, 1863, Southerners under Maj. Gen. John Bankhead "Prince John" Magruder and Major Leon Smith lined the gunwales of Bayou City and Neptune with cotton bales, behind which were many sharpshooters. Just before the first dawn of that New Year, those two craft bore down upon the Union warship Harriet Lane, skippered by my great-great-uncle, Commander J.M. Wainwright. Well-protected soldiers on these "cottonclads" fired upon Harriet Lane's deck, killing Wainwright and mortally wounding his exec, Edward Lea.

Peter S. Wainwright
Flagstaff, Ariz.

Restless Leg
With regard to the May/June story ["Santa Anna Rides Again…and Again," by Stephen
L. Hardin] about the general and serial president of Mexico: The leg he lost to French grapeshot was replaced by a wooden leg. That leg was "liberated" during the April 18, 1847, Battle of Cerro Gordo by soldiers of the 4th Regiment Illinois Volunteers. The leg is now on display at the Illinois State Military Museum [www.il.ngb.army.mil] in Springfield.

Jim Graff
Middletown, Ill.

Editor responds: Jim, at first we thought you were pulling our leg, but a curator of the museum at Camp Lincoln confirms your account. Santa Anna was forced to abandon his carriage on the field at Cerro Gordo, leaving behind a baked chicken, $18,000 in gold coins and his replacement leg (actually made of cork, not wood). As the story goes, the guardsmen ate the chicken, turned over the gold to the Army and kept the leg as a war trophy.

All-Purpose Flier
[Re. "What We Learned from the Battle of Britain," by Stephan Wilkinson, May/June:] I disagree with Wilkinson's suggested lesson to "avoid multipurpose aircraft" because of the Germans' experience with the Messerschmitt Bf-110. All sides to the conflict continued to use multipurpose twin-engine fighter-bombers, including the British Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter and de Havilland Mosquito; the U.S. Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Northrop P-61 Black Widow; the Soviet Petlyakov Pe-2 Peshka; the Japanese Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu; and the German Messerschmitt Me-210 and Heinkel He-219 Uhu.

James L. Jacobson
Santa Monica, Calif.

Stephan Wilkinson responds: Air combat today is vastly different than it was in 1940. Not in the foreseeable future will a U.S. aircraft have to attack a ground target and then, minutes later, fight a superbly flown, world-class air-superiority fighter.

Mongol Country
Richard A. Gabriel's "The Right Hand of Khan" [May/June] brought back fond memories. I grew up 10 miles or so south of Wahlstatt and vividly remember the 1727 baroque abbey that later became a Prussian cadet training center. Notables who studied there included future Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

The Battle of Liegnitz, locally called the Battle of Wahlstatt, was remembered in folklore variously. Folklore ignored the fact that Ögedai Khan had died and that all royal offspring had to return to Karakorum. According to local lore, when the Mongols paraded Henry II the Pious' head on a lance before the city gates, the citizens of Liegnitz became so enraged, they joined Henry's wife in a counterattack that led to the defeat of the Mongols and freed Silesia.

Gabriel is correct: The Soviets used Genghis Khan's tactics most successfully when they launched their great offensive in January 1945. They bypassed fortresses such as Posen and Breslau in their quest to destabilize the entire German Eastern Front, but did not attempt to penetrate the Sudeten Mountains, which was not "tank country." The 100th Jäger Division defended that terrain, and I served there as a boy soldier.

Gerhardt B. Thamm
SFC, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Fernandina Beach, Fla.

Off Target
[Re. "Sniper," by Geoffrey Norman, March/April:] While I found the piece very interesting, a number of errors concerning John George detracted from the article.

First, George was a soldier, not a Marine, serving on Guadalcanal with the 132nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, and later with Merrill's Marauders, the 5307th Composite Unit.

Second, George landed on Guadalcanal Dec. 8, 1942, not 1943.

Third, he did not land on Guadalcanal with his much-cherished personal Winchester Model 70. He'd left that back on New Caledonia with a friend who wanted it for boar hunting. George chose to land with a government-issued Springfield to which he'd fitted a Lyman Alaskan scope; this was the weapon he used for sniping throughout the Guadalcanal campaign.

As to his "aiming for the teeth," Lt. Col. George's autobiography, Shots Fired in Anger, plainly contradicts this. George's descriptions are uniform and clear; he always went for a shot to the center of the upper torso.

Charles Herrick
Woodbridge, Calif.

Geoffrey Norman responds: I sincerely regret the errors. My research was necessarily broad but—not so necessarily—shallow. The history of snipers in the American military experience is extensive, and I read many texts but relied on only one for the information on John George. While I accurately synopsized the account of George's experiences contained in that volume, the author had it wrong, and I compounded his mistakes by repeating them. I apologize for my carelessness.

Corrections
In the May/June Power Tool department ("Charleville Musket," by Jon Guttman), we incorrectly refer to the musket's cock as a hammer, and the striking surface of the frizzen would have been iron or steel, not brass.



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