Alternate History

Never Bet Against Theodore Roosevelt in a Knife Fight

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From the Deadliest Warrior television series.  I have always enjoyed absurd alternate history speculations a la “What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo?”

By the time Lawrence of Arabia arrived on the scene TR was getting fairly long in the tooth and was in ill health, however, I would not have bet against him.  He used knives for killing fairly frequently.  This letter to his kids in 1901 is typical:

 

Keystone Ranch, Colo., Jan. 14th, 1901 –

Soon we saw the lion in a treetop, with two of the dogs so high up among the branches that he was striking at them. He was more afraid of us than of the dogs, and as soon as he saw us he took a great flying leap and was off, the pack close behind. In a few hundred yards they had him up another tree. This time, after a couple of hundred yards, the dogs caught him, and a great fight followed. They could have killed him by themselves, but he bit or clawed four of them, and for fear he might kill one I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife right into his heart. I have always wished to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife. Continue reading

Was the Victory of the Confederacy Inevitable?

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(I wrote this for April 1, 2011 for the blog Almost Chosen People, and I thought that the various Civil War mavens who read The American Catholic might find this interesting.)

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States there are many historical questions to ponder.  However, one question rises to the fore as it always does when the War Between the States is discussed:  Was Confederate victory inevitable?

Because of the ten following factors, I’d say that it was:

1.  Abraham Lincoln- Few Presidents have ever been elected with no executive experience, but that was precisely the case with Lincoln.    Although he could deliver a magnificent speech and was clearly a master of the English language, Lincoln quickly demonstrated that he was an amateur in running the government.  His frequent sacking of generals led to instability in the Union Army command, the frequently hostile relations with Congress, including members of his own party, that hampered his policies, the corruption that marred the supply of the Army, these and many more features of his administration attested to the fact that Lincoln was an extremely talented man who simply was out of his depth.  Perhaps the task was too large for any man to preserve the Union by force of arms, but certainly it was too great for Mr. Lincoln.

2.  Supremacy of the Defence-General Robert E. Lee quickly realized that the old Napoleonic charges were impossible against fortified positions held by troops armed with rifled muskets.  Although his troops initially meant the title derisively, Lee, the King of Spades, repeatedly used field fortifications, beginning in 1862,  to nullify the Union manpower advantage on the battlefield.

3.  Size of the Confederacy- The sheer size of the Confederacy, three times the size of France, ensured that the attempted Union conquest would be a massive undertaking, too massive as it turned out for the Union.  If British seapower, beginning in 1862, see number 6 below, had not caused the lifting of the Union blockade, prevented the landing of Union troops along the coasts of the Confederacy and contested Union naval control of the Mississippi river, it is conceivable that the Union could have coped with the immensity of the Confederacy, but such was not the case. 

4.  Lee-Jackson partnership-No command team in history proved more effective than the Lee-Jackson combination.  Beginning at Chancellorsville, Lee and Jackson dealt the Union body blows at Gettysburg in 1863, and the Wilderness in 1864, almost a replica of the Chancellorsville victory a year before.  No wonder that Lee was the second president of the Confederacy and Jackson the third.

5.  Enlistment of black soldiers-After the victory at Gettysburg, Lee put his immense prestige behind the cause of enlisting black soldiers under the Confederate battle flag with the promise of freedom for themselves and their families.  Resistance to this move was immense in the Confederacy, but with Lee behind it all resistance was overborne.  The 100,000 black troops who fought for the South in 1864 were essential to the Confederate victory, and paved the way for the passage of the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1870, which President Robert E. Lee, just before his death, claimed to be his greatest victory. Continue reading

Alexander the Great

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Something for the weekend.  The song Macedonia to the tune of Sharona by the Knack, by the endlessly talented folks of History for Music Lovers.  Alexander the Great, living refutation of the idea that history is all grand vast processes and that individuals matter for little.  In his brief 32 years he had a larger impact perhaps on this world than any other one man in secular history.  The spreading of Greek culture in the East led to the vast cultural synthesis of Hellenism, and had a huge impact upon Judaism and, eventually, Christianity.  It is somewhat frightening to think that so much of our history depended upon the military prowess of one man.

What if Alexander hadn’t turned East?  What if he had turned West?  The Roman historian Livy, in one of the first examples of alternate history, mused about what would have happened if Alexander had marched against Rome. Continue reading

Alternate History: What If Lincoln Allowed Secession?

An exchange on my personal blog over yesterday’s post about Gettysburg swerved into a question which I imagine our history-minded readers would enjoy commenting on: What would things look like today if Lincoln had simply allowed the CSA to leave and recognized it as a separate country?

Given Lincolns character and beliefs, this seems almost impossible to imagine, but these sorts of alternative history exercises can be an interesting diversion, if only because they make us think about the interconnectedness of history. A few thoughts of my own:

One of the major questions there would, of course, be: Which CSA?

The deep south seceded immediately after Lincolns election, but the mid and upper south didn’t secede until after Lincoln responded to the attack on Fort Sumpter with a call for the states to raise militias.

Personally, I think you’d also have to imagine that a Union which let the South secede would probably have broken up further over the following 60 years. Once the precedent for peaceful secession was made, it would be an obvious answer to regional tensions between East and West, etc.

A final factor which shouldn’t be overlooked: If the CSA had been left independant, Wilson would clearly never have become president of the US — and the presidency of Wilson (who said his earliest memory was of huddling with his family in the steeple of his father’s Presbyterian church and watching the flames of Sherman’s army passing through Georgia) was one of the formative influences on the US in the 20th century and on the modern Democratic Party.

Alternate History: If Gore Had Won, Who Would Be President Now?

This started as an attempt to annoy a somewhat too Obama-struck Democrat on Facebook, but I think the question is an interesting one to play with at this point:

Imagine that Gore had been given Florida in the 2000 election and was thus elected president. How would subsequent history have been different? Who would be president now? (Would anyone outside of Illinois have heard of Obama?)

I’ll provide my initial thoughts in the comments in order to keep the playing field level.

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