Fine Summer Reading

Some twenty years ago, I discovered MHQ and thought all my birthdays had come at once: a great variety of historical stories on a wide range of subjects, with the hallmark of the magazine being its learned articles on war, and the people and politics of war.

I have just read the summer edition in the depths of our winter, and what a good read it was. Muhammad, Caesar, Pearl Harbor, Davout, Sherman, the Spanish Civil War, and, especially, “The Cruise of the Emden,” all written without fear or favor, and with attention to historical fact.

As a young boy, and an Australian boy at that, during the Second World War, I remember reading an account of this cruise and its eventual destruction by HMAS Sydney, which was, of course, at that time His Majesty’s Australian Ship Sydney, with which I identified.

The joy of studying or reading history, to which I was led by my dear old mother, who died at 97 still reading, is that you will never know it all, and it is your MHQ, the best in its field, and the other similar magazines which help us move a little closer to that ultimate unachievable goal.

Now, the sting in the tail and one that is the joy of so many history lovers. In the best possible humor, we like to point out an error to our historical and military betters. In the article on Baron Gros on p. 79, it was said that “under the Restoration, Louis XVII appointed Gros as his official painter.”

I expect that I am the 400th to point out that Louis XVII died in prison in 1795 after his father, Louis XVI, and his mother, Marie Antoinette, were executed. It was the brother of Louis XVI who became king in 1814 as Louis XVIII.

Peter J. Coburn

McKinnon, Australia

Capable Corps of Engineers

Thomas Fleming criticizes the Corps of Engineers at West Point (“The Father of West Point,” Autumn, 2007) before the advent of Thayer in 1817 because, instead of running the school, they were “busy elsewhere, mapping…America’s coastline and building forts.” But see Henry Adams (referring to the War of 1812): “Another significant result of the war was the sudden development of scientific engineering in the United States. This branch of the military service owed its efficiency and almost its existence to the military school at West Point.”

Among the Corps of Engineers, “Major William McRee, of North Carolina, became chief engineer to General Brown, and constructed the fortifications at Fort Erie, which cost the British General Gordon Drummond the loss of half his army….Captain Eleazer Derby Wood, of New York, constructed Fort Meigs, which enabled Harrison to defeat the attack of Proctor in May 1813. Captain Joseph Gilbert Totten, of New York, was chief engineer to General Izard at Plattsburg, where he directed the fortifications that stopped the advance of Prevost’s great army.

“None of the works constructed by a graduate of West Point was captured by the enemy; and had an engineer been employed at Washington by Armstrong and Winder, the city would have been easily saved. Perhaps without exaggeration the West Point Academy might be said to have decided, next to the navy, the result of the war.”

Alan Towson

Lynbrook, N.Y.


Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here