I thoroughly enjoyed John Currier’s piece about the conversion of Clovis (“Personality,” October 2005), but the article suffered from two errors concerning the status of the Roman Empire. First, his reference to “the western Roman Emperor Zeno” should be the eastern Roman Emperor Zeno. Soon after, Mr. Currier asserts that Clovis’ popular acclamation under the consular title of Augustus in AD 507 was “a slap in the face to the western Roman emperor.” That would be impossible, since the last official emperor in the west, Romulus, was deposed in 476 (his immediate predecessor, Julius Nepos, continued to claim the title from exile in Dalmatia until his death in 480) and there would not be another until Charlemagne’s coronation in 800.
FAR FROM DEFINITIVE
I take issue with Michael Oppenheim’s remarks in his November 2005 review of the book 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, that the conflict “accomplished little” and was “not terribly significant.” The United States no longer feared an invasion from the north, while British fears of an invasion of Canada grew. The British stopped arming and agitating the Great Lakes Indians, whose defeat opened up the western region to settlement. The movement to evict Britain from North America and to gain Canadian independence began, mostly based in Michigan. The Spanish gave up on what was left of their Florida holdings, and their Central and South American colonies were about to erupt in revolt. By extension, the United States began to take an interest in Cuba. The need for alternative means of transportation, a forgotten lesson of the Revolutionary War, was revived, and a major road, canal and later railroad building campaign started. If you think about it, the War of 1812 was a watershed event for the United States.
Kansas City, Mo.
First, I would like to state that I absolutely love Military History. I thoroughly disagree, however, with the November 2005 review’s statement that Walter R. Borneman’s book 1812: The War That Forged a Nation “…may be the best modern single-volume history on the subject.” Having read it, along with several other books on the same subject, as well as studying the War of 1812 through family heritage, I must say that the book was utter tripe, pickled with bias and relying far too often on onesided or poorly recorded accounts. It also omits important events, such as the Siege of Fort Erie, a horrible six-week slugfest that saw many brave men, American, British, Canadian and Indian, die.
I also disliked how the review regarded the War of 1812 as justified. The excuse of the British naval blockade is hardly waterproof in that the British stopped the practice in 1810. The claim that the British still occupied forts on the United States side of the border was another falsehood, and their trade with the Indians took place legally, in British territories. The third and final cause that the article omitted is the acquiring of the Canadas as additional land for the United States.
The final point that angered me was the allegedly equal incompetence of British and American leadership. If one looks at the military standings before the war, the U.S. Army had a commanding lead in numbers, materiel and equipment, yet after two years of conflict, 11 invading American armies were eventually forced to withdraw from Canada. I don’t know military strategy as well as some, but I would classify that as a failure.
I truly believe that I am presenting an accurate history from what I have read and studied. I have ancestors who fought in that war, and I would feel ashamed for their sake, and for the sake of the dead, to portray the war with any sort of bias.
Daryl R. Learn
Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada
RANK AND RATE
Ed McCaul’s interview with John Thomas in the December 2005 issue was a very interesting and informative piece, but isn’t the photo of Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Thomas reversed? I thought the Navy had its grade insignia on the left sleeve, not the right. Besides, the eagle is looking to the wrong side.
Second, I believe Mr. McCaul’s comment concerning rating and rank on P. 53 is inaccurate. Sailors, officer and enlisted, both had “rank.” I’m not sure about the word “rate,” but as a retired Marine I suggest “grade” is more appropriate. When I was on active duty we defined the seniority structure by three separate and very distinct categories. (My reference would be The Marine Corps Manual, which was based on U.S. Navy Regulations.) Those three categories were grade, rank and pay grade. Grade (maybe Navy rate for Navy enlisted) would be private or lance corporal or captain or colonel. Rank was defined as one’s seniority or lineal standing. Pay grade, E1/E3/O3/O6, dealt with the compensation based on grade and how many years one had on active duty. The old saying “Rank has its privileges” or “I outrank you” only pertained if the two persons talking were of the same grade, that is, who was senior, usually defined as who had the earlier promotion or date of rank.
LIBERTY WITH THE ROYAL MARINES
I am writing about two articles in the December 2005 issue—the interview with the crewman from the troopship President Jackson and the story on the Royal Marines—as they are connected. The latter article says the Royal Marines arrived at Hungnam on November 15, 1950. President Jackson’s log shows them embarking at Yokosuka on November 16, between 0800 and 1200. I was on the port side watching them board at about 1000 hours.
That night four shipmates and I went on liberty with five of them. It was a memorable evening that included eviction from the enlisted men’s club, a wild race with two horse-drawn carriages, a huge Commando trying to ride a tiny tricycle through the main gate and marching through the main gate at midnight with about 200 Commandos singing, “Roll a ball a penny a pitch.”
We left for Hungnam on November 17. En route I spent time with those same five Royal Marines. I believe one of them was responsible for the North Korean tunnel guard’s death during the October 5-6 raid. I was told he knocked him out, dragged him into the tunnel, put the charge on his chest and detonated it. They left the ship at Hungnam between 2000 and 2400 hours on November 20.
A few years ago I met a former U.S. Marine who had been at Chosin. I mentioned my encounter with the Royal Marines. He got a faraway look in his eyes and said, “It was a privilege to know them.” Coming from one of the “Chosin Few,” this was the ultimate accolade.
I enjoy stories about the forgotten moments in history such as the two-man Muslim uprising in Broken Hill, Australia (“Intrigue,” December 2005). But the story contained a glaring inaccuracy about Gool Mahomed, reportedly armed with a Martini-Henry rifle, and Mullah Abdullah with a Snider, described as “working the bolts of their .303-inch rifles as fast as they could.” Very exciting, but while some Mark IV variants of the Martini-Henry military rifle did come in .303—designed for the new Lee-Enfield series as a stopgap measure in 1888— most were chambered for the original .577/.450-inch Martini-Henry cartridge. The Snider was never chambered for anything other than .577-inch rounds, and neither rifle was a bolt-action weapon. The Martini-Henry used a falling block based on the American Peabody action, but with an internal rather than an external striker. The Snider had a “trapdoor” action similar to that of the U.S. Army’s Springfield of 1865 to 1890.
Kenneth W. Willis
The correct title for Keith Rocco’s cover painting for the December 2005 issue is Austerlitz: A Chasseur’s Fate.
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.