Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Fifteen Decisive Battles of History, Part One

In 1851, the English historian Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy published his famous work, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. It was very influential in his time and has been continually reprinted for the last century-and-a-half. The selections Creasy made, of course, reflect the mind of a Victorian English gentlemen, all of them involving European nations and several of them involving Britain itself. It's still a great read, however, and has spawned a veritable industry of popular historical writing involving numbered things (i.e. "Twenty Most Influential Scotsman", "Ten Most Important Inventions", and so forth).

I feel that has as much right as Sir Edward Creasy to think up a list of the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. Since it is far too much for a single blog post, I plan on splitting them up over the next three weeks. Anyway, here are the first of my choices for the fifteen decisive battles of history. I've decided to go in chronological order, rather than in order of importance.

Salamis, 480 BC
In 480 BC, all appeared lost for the Greeks. The gallant three hundred Spartans under Leonidas had been massacred defending the pass at Thermopylae and Athens had been razed to the ground. It seemed that the city-states of ancient Greece were about to be incorporated into the Persian Empire, the mightiest realm the world had ever seen.

According to the historian Herodotus, the Greeks had a bit more than 370 ships. The total number for the Persians is less certain, but it was clearly a vastly large force. Tricked by Themistocles into attacking up a narrow strait, thereby reducing the importance of their numerical advantage, the Persians were caught in a deadly trap. The Persian fleet was wrecked, utterly shattering the plans of the Emperor Xerxes to continue with the invasion of Greece.

Unlike Marathon ten years earlier, which was only a temporary victory, the Battle of Salamis marked a decisive turning point in the struggles between the Greeks and the Persians. Never again would the Persians seriously threaten to conquer Greece. Had the Greeks failed, their city-states would have become just another province of the Persian Empire. The entire cultural legacy of ancient Greece - democracy, science, drama, philosophy - would have been snuffed out like a candle covered by a jar. It would have meant nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization.

Gaugamela, 331 BC
If Salamis ensured that Greek culture would survive, Gaugamela ensured that it would triumph. The long struggle between the Greeks and the Persians came to an end on that dusty field in what is now northern Iraq (indeed, where the forces of ISIS and its Kurdish enemies are now locked in battle).

Alexander the Great, having inherited the kingdom of Macedonia and a semi-unified Greece from his father, had led a great army on one of the most astounding campaigns of conquest in the history of the world. Having beaten the Persians at the battles of Granicus River and Issus, and subdued the city of Tyre after an epic siege, Alexander now faced a huge Persian army under Emperor Darius III. He was massively outnumbered, with roughly 40,000 Greeks and Macedonians up against at least 100,000 Persians and perhaps many more. The historian Plutarch maintained than the Persians fielded a million men, which is obviously impossible, but there is no denying that the Persian army was of an enormous size.

It didn't matter, though. Through a brilliant set of tactical maneuvers, Alexander tricked Darius into opening a gap in his line. While the Greek infantry desperately held against the Persian advance, Alexander charged through the gap with his cavalry, tearing the Persian army into pieces. The Persian army was largely destroyed and the rule of Darius broken forever. A year after the battle, Darius had been assassinated by one of his own nobles and the Persian Empire had effectively ceased to exist.

Because of the results of Gaugamela, Greek culture became entrenched throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East as the dominant way of life. From Spain to the Indus Valley, Greek colonies would become centers of commerce and intellectual life. This would continue through Roman and Byzantine times, infusing what became Western civilization with its dynamic energy. Had the Persians crushed Alexander at Gaugamela, obviously, things would have turned out very differently.

Qin Conquest of Chu, 224 BC
Western civilization remains the most dominant culture force in the world today, as it has been since the early modern period, but it is far from the only one. China was the most advanced society in the world for many centuries and one of the stories of the 21st Centuries is the return of China to a position of power, after having been dominated by the West for a century beginning in the mid-1800s.

Despite its immense size and population, China exists as a single nation rather than a collection of numerous nations, as is the case in Europe. This is due to the military campaigns of a single individual, Qin Shi Huang, known to history as the "First Emperor". It was his brilliant if unimaginably brutal leadership that brought to an end the so-called Warring States Period and unified China as a single nation.

Of the seven powers vying for control during the Warring States Period, the most powerful was Qin. Under Qin Shi Huang, Qin had finally embarked on a conquest of the remaining states. In 244 BC, the rival state of Chu was the only remaining challenge to complete Qin dominance of China. In a series of brutal battles, Qin forces eventually crushed the Chu and incorporated into the Qin orbit. This victory assured the unification of China under Qin Shi Huang and effectively marks the beginning of China as a single political entity.

Zama, 202 BC
The Second Punic War brought the Roman Republic to the edge of total destruction. In a series of brilliant victories, the Carthaginian general Hannibal had destroyed one Roman army after another. For more than a decade-and-half, Hannibal's army left a path of devastation across southern Italy. It was during this time that Rome's answer to Hannibal, the young general Scipio, learned the art of war by leading Roman armies to victory in Spain.

Having secured Spain, Scipio convinced the Roman Senate to let him invade Africa and attack Carthage itself. Hannibal was recalled to defend the city and the two generals finally met in battle on the plans of Zama. It was one of the few times in history when two truly great captains fought against one another in battle. In the end, Scipio crushed Hannibal's army and ensured Roman victory in the war.

The Battle of Zama made certain that Rome would become the dominate power in the Mediterranean. Half a century later, Carthage would be wiped out by Rome in the Third Punic War. The Hellenistic states of the eastern Mediterranean would be incorporated by Rome during the same period. When the Roman Republic morphed into the Roman Empire in the late 1st Century BC, its territory stretched from Spain to the Middle East and would endure for half a millennium.

Rome played a crucial role in the cultural development of Western civilization. It transmitted Greek culture, as well as its own concepts of law, literature, and engineering, into what became Medieval Europe. By providing a long and stable political structure in Europe for so long, Rome also made it possible for Christianity to be born, develop, and spread through the entire region. Had Hannibal won the Battle of Zama, it's entirely possible that Rome would not have progressed further and there might never have been anything called "The West" at all.

Yarmouk, 636
In the 7th Century, seemingly without warning, the mighty armies of Islam exploded out of the Arabian peninsula and embarked on a campaign of conquest across the Middle East. It marked the final destruction of what was left of classical civilization and changed the world forever.

Few in the mighty empires of Byzantium or Persia had paid little notice to events in the Arabian peninsula during the early 7th Century, where Mohammed had founded the dynamic Islamic religion and quickly united the various tribes under his leadership. Following the death of Mohammed in 632, the Muslims began raiding northwards into Byzantine territory, capturing several cities. To counter the Arab threat, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius mobilized an army and ordered it south in 636.

The two armies met in the Battle of Yarmouk during the summer. The Arabs were led by a general named Khalid ibn al-Walid, a master of mobile desert warfare. Using rapid movements to counter the Byzantine numerical superiority, the Muslim army won a complete victory, slaughtering much of the Byzantine army and forcing the survivors to retreat. The conquest of the Levant, modern Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, was solidified.

Had the Byzantines prevailed over the Muslims at Yarmouk, the great Islamic conquests of the 7th and 8th Centuries might never have happened and Islam might never have expanded into the global force that it is to this day. As it was, the Muslim victory at set the stage for a vast series of conquests that would eventually take Islam as far as Spain in the west and India in the east. The world would never be the same.

Next week, battles #6 through #10.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What If the South Had Won the Battle of Gettysburg? Part Two

Last week, we studied the question of whether or not the South could have won the Battle of Gettysburg. This week, will look at a different question. Supposing the South had, in fact, won the Battle of Gettysburg, how would this have altered the course of history? Would the Confederacy have won the American Civil War and emerged as an independent nation? Would the war have still ended as a Confederate defeat? Would something else have happened? In today's entry, we'll try to answer these questions.

Most of the scenarios of a Confederate victory at Gettysburg which we discussed last week - better intelligence allowing Lee to unite his forces earlier, taking Culp's Hill on the first day, more coordinated attacks on the second day - would have seen the Union army retreating in some confusion to the south/southeast, out of Pennsylvania and back into Maryland. What then?

It was extremely rare for armies in the Civil War to achieve what military thinkers term "decisive" victories. In other words, victories so complete that the opposing army is effectively if not actually destroyed. When one thinks "decisive victory", one is thinking of battles like Hannibal's victory at Cannae or Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz. In the American Civil War, the only thing approaching a decisive victory was the Battle of Nashville, in which the Confederate Army of Tennessee under John Bell Hood was effectively destroyed by the Union forces under George Thomas.

Gettysburg might have easily been a victory for the Confederates, but it is extremely unlikely that it would have been a decisive victory. In all of the scenarios we outlined last week, considerable Union forces would have remained relatively unaffected by the overall Confederate victory, allowing Meade to use them as a reserve to block Lee's pursuit. Moreover, the Confederate forces themselves would have undoubtedly suffered heavy casualties and become disorganized. It was a truism in Civil War battles that the winning army was almost always as disorganized by victory as the losing army was by defeat. Even assuming that Lee wins a victory at Gettysburg on the scale of, say, Second Manassas does not mean that the Army of the Potomac is going to be destroyed. It will, instead, live to fight another day,

In the few days between assuming command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28 and the beginning of the battle on July 1, Meade has selected Pipe Creek as the line along which he intended to meet Lee in order to protect Baltimore and Washington. It was, indeed, a formidable position, with excellent defensive terrain and a stream that would have to be crossed by any attacker. Once the battle had commenced, Meade designated Pipe Creek as the logical fallback point for the army in the event of a defeat. If Lee wins at Gettysburg, the most likely outcome would have been for the Army of the Potomac to retreat south to Pipe Creek and take up a defensive position there on July 4 or July 5.

What would have happened then? Lee, suffering from the common malady of Civil War armies being in no condition for effective pursuit after a victory, would probably not have been able to catch up to the Union army before it settled into its new position (especially if we are dealing with a scenario of victory on the first day, when Stuart would still have been absent). At best, he would have been able to beat up on the rearguard a bit and take a couple hundred more prisoners. A few days after the battle, Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, flush with victory but having suffered heavily themselves, would have looked upon the formidable Union position along Pipe Creek.

Would Lee have attacked? Quite possibly. He was a general of enormous aggressive instincts, as was shown by his relentless pursuit of McClellan in the Seven Days and of Pope in the days after the victory at Second Manassas. He regretted deeply not attacking Burnside after the slaughter of Fredericksburg, having not done so out of a belief that the Union commander would attack again the morning after the battle. At Chancellorsville, having smashed up the Army of the Potomac between May 2 and May 5, Lee was preparing an all-out frontal assault against a fortified enemy that outnumbered him when Hooker withdrew across the river. In all likelihood, a Confederate assault on a prepared Union position on Pipe Creek would have been Fredericksburg in reverse, with the Southerners bloodily repulsed with heavy casualties.

A defeat at Pipe Creek, even after a victory at Gettysburg, would have left Lee's army in a perilous position. Indeed, his situation would have been much worse than was actually experienced in the historical aftermath of Gettysburg, because Lee's army would have been drawn farther to the east, away from its crossing of the Potomac, with Meade in a position to more easily assemble reinforcements for a potential counter attack. The increased ease of communication between the army headquarters and Washington City would have allowed Lincoln and Stanton to more forcefully express their demand that Meade focus not on driving Lee back to Virginia, but on cutting him off and destroying him. Paradoxically, in this case, a Confederate victory at Gettysburg might have then led to a defeat at Pipe Creek that would have endangered the survival of the Army of Northern Virginia. And if Lee was cut off and forced to surrender north of the Potomac, the war would have surely ended before 1863 was over.

But suppose Lee declined to attack the Pipe Creek line. Then things get more interesting. By driving the Army of the Potomac out of Pennsylvania and into Maryland, the victorious Army of Northern Virginia would have been left as the master of the Keystone State. Lee's original plan to live off the enemy's country would have been realized as roaming bands of foragers would have swept the countryside clean of livestock and crops. Historically, the Confederate army substituted for months off the food and fodder it gathered in Pennsylvania during its brief time there; one can only imagine had much more effective and complete the foraging would have been had they remained in Pennsylvania through August and perhaps even into September. Telegraph lines, key railroads, and bridges over the Susquehanna and Monongahela would have been destroyed, seriously damaging Union transportation and communication between east and west.

Lee's army would not have been able to remain in Pennsylvania indefinitely. There never was any thought to a permanent occupation of Union territory, for Lee's invasion of the North was, in essence, simply an enormous raid. Sooner or later, the Army of the Potomac would recover and advance against the Confederates, threatening their lines of retreat back to Virginia. Lee would eventually have to get out of Pennsylvania while the getting was good. Preferably, he might have withdrawn without a further battle, so that the Union could not have claimed to have driven him out.

Such a scenario, a Confederate victory at Gettysburg that forces the Army of the Potomac back to Pipe Creek, followed by a thorough Southern foraging (pillaging?) of Pennsylvania, would have been disastrous for the Union cause. The Army of the Potomac would again have been defeated, the Lincoln administration would again have been made to look foolish, and Robert E. Lee's reputation for invincibility would have been as strong as ever. By luring the Union army north of the Potomac, the farmers of Virginia would have been given a critical reprieve and the front lines perhaps moved back to the north of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers rather than south of them.

Politically, the situation in the United States was already very tense, with attention already beginning to shift towards the presidential election that was due in just a year-and-a-half. Since the commencement of the war, the Democrats had been divided into War Democrats who supported the war effort and Peace Democrats who were pushing for some sort of ceasefire and a negotiated settlement. The strength of the so-called Copperheads, Peace Democrats who so strongly opposed Lincoln that they nearly crossed into being pro-Confederate, steadily increased after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1864, the Peace Democrats became so strong that they effectively took control of the party and almost brought down the Lincoln administration in the fall presidential election. Had they done so, the Confederates might have been able to establish their independence, for if a ceasefire went into effect it is highly doubtful that the political will would have existed in the North to resume fighting at a later date.

Lee understood this perfectly well. In a perceptive letter to Jefferson Davis written on June 10, as the army was just beginning the advance that would lead to Gettysburg, the army commander pointed out that an outright military victory by the Confederacy over the Union was impossible, given the disparity in numbers and resources. That being the case, the only policy which might bring about Confederate independence would be to encourage those elements within the Northern public that wanted a negotiated peace with the South. The best way to do this, Lee clearly felt, would be by demonstrating the futility of bringing the South back into the Union by force. In other words, military success for Lee was aimed at achieving a political goal as much as a military one.

Historically, during the first half of 1864, the Confederates were able to hold their ground and inflict such heavy losses upon the Union armies that it appeared likely that Lincoln was going to lose the election and the incoming Democratic candidate, George McClellan, was going to be willing to declare a ceasefire as a prelude to a negotiated settlement. Lincoln himself believed this and was astute enough to realize that a ceasefire was tantamount to Confederate independence. It was only the trio of Union victories that summer - won by Farragut in Mobile Bay, Sherman at Atlanta, and Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley - that restored the morale of the Northern public and saved Lincoln's reelection.

If this is what happened historically, how much more likely would a 1864 peace-through-exhaustion be for the Confederates if they had won at Gettysburg? The Lincoln administration would have suffered yet another humiliation rather than a face-saving victory. Lee's army would have ended the campaign with yet another victory under its belt, having secured far more supplies and probably having suffered far fewer casualties. The Army of the Potomac would have been beaten once more, its men still questioning the competence of their commanders and regarding Lee as an invincible opponent. In such a scenario, we can only assume that the Confederates would have done better during the 1864 campaign than they did historically, thus making the defeat of Lincoln and a negotiated peace much more likely.

What about the oft-raised possibility that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg might have led to foreign recognition by the United Kingdom and France? In the summer of 1863, a pro-Confederate member of Parliament, John Roebuck, undertook a bit of personal diplomacy and sought out Napoleon III of France about the possibility of joint recognition of the Confederacy. The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation had dampened European inclinations to recognizing the Confederacy, but not entirely extinguished them. Napoleon III hinted that he would follow England's lead, and Roebuck addressed the House of Commons to push for diplomatic recognition.

Historically, Roebuck's effort was turned aside without too much trouble. Indeed, the government was rather upset with his engaging in freelance diplomacy with the French without permission. News soon arrived of Lee's defeat at Gettysburg, which shut down Roebuck's push for recognition altogether. Never again was the possibility of British and French recognition a serious threat to the Union cause.

But what if the news had, instead, been of a dramatic Confederate victory on Northern soil, which the Union army forced to flee and the South yet again triumphant? Might Roebuck's push for recognition have gained steam? It's entirely possible. As mentioned in a past blog post, British and French recognition of the Confederacy would almost certainly have led to Confederate independence. It would not even have required military intervention by the European powers, for financial and political repercussions by themselves would probably have been sufficient to ensure Confederate victory in the war.

So although Gettysburg is not going to lead to the fall of Washington City and the surrender of the United States government, it is possible that it would trigger political and diplomatic changes that would vastly increase, if not guarantee, an ultimate Confederate victory in the war. But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. It's important to note that Vicksburg fell to General Grant the day after the Battle of Gettysburg concluded, forcing the surrender of thirty thousand Confederate soldiers and securing Union control of the Mississippi River. From a strategic point of view, this was an even more important victory than was the Union victory at Gettysburg. Even if the war in the Eastern Theater continued to favor the Confederates, it would not change the fact that the war in the Western Theater was still going the Union's way.

Oft-repeated suggestions that a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would force the Union to pull troops away from the Western Theater have never made any sense to me. By the time any of those troops would have been able to intervene, Lee almost certainly would have withdrawn back to Virginia on his own accord. The best strategy for the Union to employ would be to push harder against Confederate forces in Mississippi and Tennessee, thus placing pressure on Richmond to shift forces from Virginia westwards, as indeed happened in September when Longstreet's corps was sent from Lee to reinforce Bragg's army in Georgia.

Would the Union victory at Vicksburg have compensated for a defeat at Gettysburg? In a military sense, perhaps, but not in a political or diplomatic one. To Lincoln's annoyance, public attention in both the United States and the rest of the world was focused on events in the Eastern Theater and comparatively little press coverage was given to events in the West. So long as Lee was winning victories, the world seemed to believe that the Confederacy was winning the war. In the American Civil War as in so many other historical events, the perception of reality was more important than actual reality. Since the most important consequences of a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have been political and diplomatic rather than military, it is the perception of reality that has to be considered.

So, would a Confederate victory at Gettysburg have led to an ultimate Confederate victory in the war? Perhaps. It might have triggered foreign recognition, which in turn would have had an enormous impact. It might have made it impossible for Lincoln to win the following year's presidential election and set the stage for an administration pledged to peace coming into the White House. Alternatively, if Meade had fallen back to Pipe Creek and lured Lee into attacking him there, the Confederates might have been smashed up themselves and a completely different situation would have emerged, paradoxically making a Union victory before the end of 1863 a possibility.

As with all alternate history, we'll never know the answer to these questions, yet we'll never stop asking them. That's why it's fun.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What If the South Had Won the Battle of Gettysburg? Part One

Gettysburg is by far the most famous battle of the American Civil War. If I had to guess, I'd say that nearly as many books, fiction and nonfiction, have been written about Gettysburg as the rest of the war put together. In three days of terrible fighting on the hills and fields of southern Pennsylvania, more than 50,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. Ask the reasonably educated American to name a single battle of the war and they will almost certainly answer, "Gettysburg."

A certain mystique has grown up around Gettysburg since the end of the war. It is often referred to as the turning point of the war, with Pickett's Charge itself sometimes called "the High Watermark of the Confederacy". The Lost Cause school of Southern history, which was started by Jubal Early and others in the years immediately after the war, firmly maintained that the South never had a chance to win the war, but there was something of an asterisk mark next to Gettysburg. There has always existed in the popular conception of the war the an idea that, if only Robert E. Lee had won the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederacy would have won the Civil War.

I want to explore this question. Today's post will ask and answer the simple question: could the South have won the Battle of Gettysburg? Next week's post will ask the obvious follow-up question: if the South had won the Battle of Gettysburg, would it have won the war?

First, a quick recap of the events of the battle is in order. Following his brilliant victory at Chancellorsville, Lee marched the Army of Northern Virginia north to begin his second invasion of Union territory. This time, his columns struck deep into Pennsylvania, foraging liberally among the rich farms they found and replenishing their exhausted supplies of food and fodder. His general plan seems to have been to subsist his army on enemy resources and seek an opportunity to win a decisive victory on Northern soil. The Army of the Potomac, not entirely sure as to Lee's intentions, followed very cautiously. Lee was unable to obtain definitive information about the whereabouts of the Union army, as his cavalry chief Jeb Stuart had exceeded his orders to screen the army from the Federal cavalry and was attempting to repeat his previous feat of riding all the way around the enemy army. Consequently, he was out of communication. Historians have argued about whether Stuart openly violated his orders in doing this, but there is little doubt that Lee was deeply upset about it.

Eventually, Lee learned from a spy employed by James Longstreet, the senior and most trusted of his three corps commanders, that the Army of the Potomac was moving into Pennsylvania. Though taken by surprise, Lee reacted quickly and ordered his spread out army to concentrate in and around the town of Cashtown, less than ten miles west of Gettysburg.

On July 1, Confederate troops under division command Henry Heth marched towards Gettysburg as a reconnaissance-in-force to ascertain if any Union troops were there (the oft-repeated legend that they were looking for shoes is highly debatable). There they encountered the dismounted Union cavalry of General John Buford, a tough and fearless old soldier. He had seen the value of the high ground around Gettysburg and determined to try to hold it long enough for reinforcements to arrive, Thus began the epic Battle of Gettysburg. Buford did manage to hold on for a few hours, to the annoyance of the Confederates. Annoyance turned to dismay, however, when the lead elements of the I Corps, followed by the XI Corps, arrived and took position on the ridges west of town.

Having begun by accident, the battle now could not stop. The rest of July 1 was a brutal slugging match, some of the most intense infantry combat of the American Civil War. But Confederate reinforcements arrived more quickly than those of their enemies. Heth's division was soon reinforced by the rest of A.P. Hill's Third Corps, while Richard Ewell's Second Corps arrived north of the town and assailed the Yankee right flank. Despite fighting bravely, the outnumbered and outgunned Yankees broke and fled, dashing through Gettysburg in an attempt to escape. The defeated Union troops regrouped on the heights south of town, Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. Lee, now arrived on the field, gave ambiguous orders, suggesting that Ewell continue the attack and seize the heights, but the corps commander decided that caution was called for and held back.

The next day, the bulk of both armies had drawn themselves up around Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac holding a fishhook-shaped line on the heights south of the town and the Army of Northern Virginia roughly paralleling it. The Confederate took their time getting organized, while General Dan Sickles, commander of the Union III Corps, made the inexplicable and disastrous decision to advance his troops forward into an indefensible position. The Confederate attack was late, but was devastating when delivered. Longstreet's First Corps shattered the opposing Union line and came close to capturing the crucial position of Little Round Top; only the last minute arrival of Yankee reinforcements saved the day. Elements of McLaws's division temporarily broke through the Union line on the southern part of Cemetery Ridge, but could not hold the ground without support. Attacks by Anderson's division of Hill's corps were uncoordinated and achieved little but addition casualties. In the evening, Ewell's troops launched assaults on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, many of whose defenders had been sent to bolster the Union left flank. Despite initial successes, however, the attacks eventually failed in the gathering darkness.

The third day of the battle was perhaps the most dramatic of the American Civil War. A flurry of renewed fighting on Culp's Hill sputtered out and cavalry attacks in the Union rear led by the now arrived Stuart came to nothing. Lee, running out of options, gambled on a mass frontal assault on the Union center. The Southerners tried to prepare the way with the greatest artillery bombardment of the entire war, then sent forward roughly 13,000 troops from three different divisions in what became known as Pickett's Charge. They came on grandly and gallantly, displaying courage rarely equaled on any battlefield in history. But it quickly turned into senseless slaughter. The massed firepower of Union artillery and infantry blew the attacking lines to pieces. Half of them were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, while the Yankees suffered light losses by comparison. A momentary breakthrough near the famous "Angle" marked the highest point of the charge, but it was rapidly sealed off and the men who made it either captured or killed. The bravest infantry assault of the war had also the most futile; the Southerners had never had a chance. As the gunfire faded, the battle came to an end.

Lee remained in position the following day, July 4, hoping that Meade would attack. When he didn't, Lee began a retreat back to Virginia. Meade pursued but without much enthusiasm. By mid-July, the Army of Northern Virginia was back in its namesake state, wounded but far from dead. The Army of the Potomac, though also grievously hurt, had gained its first unquestioned victory over its adversary and decisively thwarted Lee's grandiose invasion plans.

(Anyone wishing to acquire a deeper knowledge of the Gettysburg Campaign should read Stephen Sears's Gettysburg or Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, both of which are superb single-volume studies. Entire libraries could be filled with the totality of decent books about the campaign and battle.)

Could it have gone differently? Of course it could have. Nothing in history is preordained. Let us now set out a few scenarios that could have given the Confederacy victory in the famous battle.

What If Stuart Had Not Conducted His Ride Around the Federal Army?
This has been the source of controversy since the battle itself. Lee's orders to Stuart, given on June 22, were to screen the army from the enemy cavalry and protect the right flank of Ewell's Second Corps (on the army's right) after the Potomac was crossed. Instead, Stuart took three of his five brigades on the now infamous ride around the enemy army. Worse yet, the two brigades he left behind were considered the least dependable and experienced of the army.

The cavalry was to the Civil War what aerial and satellite reconnaissance are today. They are the eyes and ears of the army. By taking away the best three-fifths of the cavalry, Stuart effectively deprived Lee of the means of knowing the location and movements of his enemy. In fact, until Longstreet's spy made his report on June 29, just two days before the battle, Lee had no idea that the Union army had even crossed to the north side of the Potomac River.

Whether Stuart technically violated the letter of his orders is a matter for debate, but there is no doubt that Lee was extremely upset by his cavalry commander's absence. However, it may well be that what happened was not really Stuart's fault. There is evidence to suggest that Stuart informed Longstreet of his plans to ride around the enemy army and that Longstreet told Lee. Neither Longstreet nor Lee seem to have objected. Perhaps Lee was upset at himself for letting Stuart go more than he was at Stuart for going. But this is all speculation. (Readers interested in learning more about this question should read Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Eric J. Wittenberg.)

Needless to say, had Stuart remained closer to Lee, the Confederates almost certainly would have had accurate intelligence about the position of the Army of the Potomac. Lee's plan seems to have been to detect the approach of the enemy and concentrate his forces in such a way as to attack and defeat the lead elements before the more distant enemy corps could intervene. This almost happened by accident on the first day, when the Union I Corps and XI Corps were smashed, but the victory was incomplete because not all of the Army of Northern Virginia was on the field. Had Longstreet been present with his corps, it is certain that the victory would have been truly decisive, with the Confederates ending the first day in full possession of the heights south of Gettysburg.

There is another point to make. Even with Stuart's absence, Lee had two brigades of cavalry available. For whatever reason (and perhaps because he had become so dependent on Stuart for intelligence-gathering over the past year), Lee made very poor use of these troopers in terms of reconnaissance. It's doubtful that these two brigades could have done as good a job as Stuart would have done, but Lee seems not to have even made the effort, which is frankly mystifying. Perhaps the fault lies not with Stuart for being gone, but with Lee for not using the cavalry he had left.

Whatever the case, had Lee had accurate intelligence on Meade's movements, we can assume that the battle would have begun with a united Army of Northern Virginia on ground of its own choosing, rather than divided and forced to engage on unfamiliar terrain. Considering how close the Southerners came to victory in the actual Battle of Gettysburg, it's more than possible that such a scenario would have seen a smashing Confederate victory.

What If Ewell Had Taken Cemetery Hill or Culp's Hill on the Evening of the First Day?
Like Stuart's ride, this incident has been among the most controversial of the Gettysburg Campaign. As night was falling on the first day of the battle, the victorious Confederates had seized all the ridge lines west of Gettysburg, as well as the town itself. They had inflicted a severe defeat on their Yankee enemies and captured hundreds of them. Flush with victory, might they have pushed on in the gathering twilight to knock the Union troops off of Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill, the two heights commanding the northern portion of the Union position?

Lee seems to have thought it was at least a possibility. He famously gave orders to Ewell to push on and take Cemetery Hill "if practicable". Ewell decided that it wasn't practicable; his men had been fighting all afternoon, had suffered significant casualties, and were disorganized. He later said that he would have attacked had he received support from Hill's corps on his right, but no such support materialized. Some present, among them brigade commander John B. Gordon, believed that this was a mistake and that Ewell should have pressed on with the attack. Ewell has since been the subject of unflattering comparisons with the great Stonewall Jackson on account of his caution.

It may be, however, that the caution had been warranted. Had Ewell launched an evening assault on Cemetery Ridge, it is likely the Confederates would have been repulsed. A fresh Union infantry brigade had been left on the position as a reserve, as well as a powerful collection of artillery, and large numbers of Union troops were reorganizing on and around the hill. This would likely have been a match for any force Ewell could mustered for an assault. Perhaps the critics were right in saying that Jackson would have attacked where Ewell did not, but even the great Stonewall probably would have been denied a victory.

There was another option, however. Just to the southeast of Cemetery Hill was another elevation, Culp's Hill. If the Southerners held Culp's Hill, the Union position on Cemetery Hill would be rendered untenable. Early Confederate probes towards the elevation found no Union troops on the hill at all. General Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's division of Ewell's corps, which had not seen combat during the first day, was ordered forward to take the height if they found it still undefended. Johnston, however, dragged his feet in moving his men forward. Ewell seems to have forgotten about the whole thing and took his time checking on whether the hill had been occupied. By the time Johnson finally got his men going, the Yankees had realized the importance of Culp's Hill and moved reinforcements to the threatened position. The possibility of a Confederate attack faded in the darkness.

The oft-repeated suggestion that Ewell should have continued the attack and seized Cemetery Hill is not a realistic scenario for a Confederate victory. Any attack force that might have been put together would not have been sufficient to drive off the Union forces known to be in position on the height. Culp's Hill, however, might have fallen to the Army of Northern Virginia had Ewell and Johnson acted more forcefully. Its possession would have certainly forced the Army of the Potomac to retreat during the night, leaving Lee in possession of the battlefield. Gettysburg would thus have gone down in history as a one-day battle and a Confederate victory.

What if Lee had taken Longstreet's advice and flanked the Army of the Potomac to the south?

This is another oft-repeated scenario that had become part of the Gettysburg legend. After the war, Longstreet suggested that he had agreed to support Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania because Lee promised him that any battle against the Army of the Potomac would be one in which the Army of Northern Virginia would fight on the tactical defensive. Longstreet, so it is thought, wanted the coming battle to be a repeat of Fredericksburg, where repeated Union attacks against strong Confederate positions had mowed Northern soldiers down in heaps.

The best way to bring about such a situation would have been to maneuver the Army of Northern Virginia into a position between the Army of the Potomac and Washington City. Ensuring the defense of the capital was absolutely paramount in the minds of President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton, a fact which was well known to General Lee and of which he made repeated use. During the Gettysburg Campaign, it is doubtful that Lee's army ever could have posed a serious threat to Washington, the most heavily fortified city on the planet, yet the fact remains that Lincoln and Stanton greatly feared a direct attack. General-in-Chief Henry Halleck worried that Lee would undertake exactly such a flanking movement to the south.

At the end of the first day's fighting, with the beaten Union troops having retreated to Cemetery Hill and the victorious Confederates occupying Gettysburg, Longstreet apparently suggested to Lee that they conduct a night march to the south, moving past the Army of the Potomac, and then sliding east to interpose themselves between the enemy army and the enemy capital. If they could find a solid defensive position, they might then invite an attack and inflict the same kind of shattering defeat on the Yankees as they had done at Fredericksburg.

One possible location would have been along Pipe Creek in Maryland, where there was excellent terrain and where the creek could have served as a natural defensive barrier, and which have placed Lee squarely across the lines of communication between Meade and Washington. It would have been the height of irony for the Army of Northern Virginia to have taken up a position along Pipe Creek, for it had been chosen by Meade as his preferred position to protect Baltimore and Washington and as the fallback position for the Army of the Potomac in case it should suffer defeat at Gettysburg.

The reason this course of action was not adopted is traditionally attributed to Lee's aggressive instincts. Having smashed up the Union army on the first day of the battle, Lee was in no mood to break off the action and revert to a campaign of maneuver and defensive tactics. It is also possible that Lee feared, in Stuart's absence, that his cavalry would not be up to the task of screening the movement from the enemy.

If Lee had taken Longstreet's advice and the Army of Northern Virginia had managed to pull off such a flank march, then win a defensive battle against the Army of the Potomac, the results would have been enormous. Not only would Lee have won his sought-after victory on Northern soil, but his victorious army would have lain squarely between the defeated Army of the Potomac and the capital city it was tasked to defend.

What if Longstreet's assault had smashed the Union left flank on the afternoon of July 2?
As mentioned above, Longstreet's attack on the afternoon of the second day was very late in getting started. In the years after the war, Longstreet would be viciously attacked by the early Lose Cause writers (Jubal Early chief among them), who maintained that the delay in launching the assault caused the Confederates to lose the battle and therefore lose the war. This is hogwash. In fact, the lateness of the attack was to the South's advantage, for it meant that the assault struck the Union III Corps after it had commenced its foolish movement forward into an unaligned and poor defensive position.

Longstreet's assault, using the divisions of John Bell Hood and Lafayette McLaws, shattered the Union line, seizing the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field after bitter fighting and heavy casualties (the fact that the names of these mundane bits of land are now written with capital letters is a testament to the bloodshed that took place upon them). They took the rocky ground bearing the sinister name of Devil's Den and then attempted to take the critical position at Little Round Top.

The story of the defense of Little Round Top has entered the realm of myth. The rocky hill commanded the entire Union line; were Lee's men to seize it, the Army of the Potomac would be forced to retreat. Even as Texas and Alabama troops, among the finest infantry in the world, moved towards the height, it had been left undefended by the foolishness of Dan Sickles, commander of III Corps. General Gouverneur Warren, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, realized the importance of the position and took it upon himself to call for reinforcements. The brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent (can a better name be imagined?) rushed to Little Round Top just in time to meet the attack, a decision that was to cost the gallant colonel his life. In epic fighting, most famously by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Regiment, the Confederates were beaten back. But, to borrow a phrase from the Duke of Wellington, it was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.

Had Little Round Top been taken, so the thinking goes, the entire Union position would have been compromised. Perhaps, but perhaps not. It would have been very difficult for the Confederates to deploy artillery on the wooded height and heavy Union reinforcements were on hand which Meade could have used in an attempt to retake it. It's impossible to say.

While the fighting for Little Round Top was taking place, elements of McLaw's division, reinforced by some brigades of Anderson's division from Hill's corps, launched an assault on the Union position on Cemetery Ridge, which ran between Cemetery Hill to the north and Little Round Top to the south. They came within an inch of breaking through, only to be repulsed in bitter fighting. Had they succeeded, the rear areas of the Union army would have been exposed. Some historians believe that this was a greater opportunity for the Confederates than that which took place at Little Round Top.

Could the Confederate assault on the Union left have won them the battle? I think so. At times the outcome was balanced on a knife's edge. The Confederates fought like lions, but their Union counterparts were equally ferocious. With the notable exception of Sickles, the Union commanders performed magnificently, especially Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the II Corps. The Confederates had failed to coordinate their attacks properly. Had the Union leaders slipped up just a bit, or had the Southern commanders done a bit better, it's entirely possible that the Union position could have collapsed, leading to the frantic retreat that Lee so hoped for.

What if Ewell's assault had smashed the Union right flank on evening of July 2?
As Longstreet's attack on the Union left sputtered out, Ewell's attack on the Union right finally got going as the evening darkness began to fall over the battlefield. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were excellent positions for defense, but Meade had dispatched so many troops to reinforce his imperiled left flank that the number of defenders was now dangerously small. A forceful attack by Ewell's corps, perhaps reinforced by troops from Hill's corps, might have overwhelmed the few remaining Union troops and taken the hills.

Culp's Hill was now held only by the single brigade of General George Greene, one of the unsung heroes of American history. He was now assailed by three brigades of General Johnson's division, which together outnumbered Greene about four-to-one. But Greene was a thorough professional and a skilled engineer, who had already laid out an efficient set of field fortifications, including transverses to which his men could retreat if necessary. Johnson's men came on bravely and captured some sections of the trenches, but could not take the hill despite many hours of bitter fighting in the dark.

Jubal Early did rather better with his assault on the eastern rim of Cemetery Hill. The Union defenders here were the troops of XI Corps, notorious among their comrades for running away during combat. As Early's men came on in the darkness, the XI Corps men stayed true to form and abandoned their positions, allowing the Louisiana and North Carolina troops to get in among the guns. Early always maintained that had he been supported by the division of Robert Rodes, normally an outstanding commander but strangely inactive on this day, or the division of James Lane of Hill's corps, he could have held Cemetery Hill, which would have forced the Army of the Potomac to retreat. Farther down the line, the two divisions of Hill's corps which had not seen fighting earlier in the day remained completely inactive. By contrast, Union reinforcements arrived in the nick of time and forced Early's men to fall back.

Ewell's attack was poorly coordinated, yet it had briefly put the Union positions on both Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill in jeopardy. With so many Union brigades having been withdrawn and sent to the left to shore up that front, it is entirely possible that a better coordinated assault, properly supported by Rodes and Lane, or troops from Hill's corps, could have smashed the Union position. That, in turn, would surely have resulted in a Union retreat and a Confederate victory.

It was entirely possible for the Confederacy to have won the Battle of Gettysburg. Had Stuart been in a position to provide Lee with accurate intelligence, the Southerners could have concentrated their army in the right place and at the right time to meet the Union army on ground of their own choosing. Culp's Hill might have been taken on the evening of the first day of battle. Lee might have taken Longstreet's advice and flanked the enemy to the south. And the Confederate assaults on both the Union left and the Union right on the second day of battle might have successfully routed their opponents.

A word about Pickett's Charge. It could never have succeeded. Like most other people who have studied the battle, I have always been mystified as to exactly how Robert E. Lee, such a brilliant general, ever imagined that the massive infantry assault into the very teeth of the enemy artillery could possibly have worked. It is true that the preliminary artillery bombardment might have been far more effective, but even had it done so I cannot envision any scenario in which Pickett's Charge could have broken the Union line.

So the answer to the question we asked at the beginning is yes: the Confederates could have won the Battle of Gettysburg. Would this, in turn, have changed the outcome of the Civil War? If the South had won at Gettysburg, would they have won the war?

That's the question we'll explore next week.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why Did France Fall So Easily in 1940?

The collapse of France in the face of the German onslaught in 1940 has always seemed bizarre. A quarter century earlier, Frenchmen had fought like lions for four long years to defend their country against the Germans, yet in 1940 they folded like a house of cards in a mere six weeks. This fateful event has led to an unfair misconception, especially among Americans, that the French are poor fighters and perhaps even cowards. Crude jokes about "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" are commonly heard when France is mentioned in conversation.

This is unfortunate, for the French have a long and distinguished military history. Frenchmen had provided the majority of soldiers for the Crusades, to the point where the Muslims used the term "Franks" to describe the Crusaders as a whole. The vast and costly Hundred Years War gave the English memories of dramatic battlefield successes at Crecy and Agincourt, but in the end it was the French who emerged victorious. Under mighty rulers like Louis XIV and Napoleon I, French armies were the terror of Europe. Throughout the 19th Century, military officers from as far distant as the United States and Japan traveled to France to receive their advanced education in artillery, infantry, and cavalry tactics. Even the terrible defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1870-71 had seen its share of glory for France, as the desperate people of Paris bravely resisted a siege with a courage almost unrivaled in history.

In the First World War, French soldiers performed prodigies of courage and sacrifice. France lost more soldiers between 1914 and 1918 than America has lost in all of its wars from 1775 to the present day. No one can study the French experience during the First World War and say that Frenchmen are unwilling to fight.

The Second World War began in September of 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and rapidly overran the country. In the early spring of 1940, Hitler added Denmark and Norway to his rapidly growing empire. It was clear to all that a battle on a truly massive scale was about to take place between the French, aided by their British allies, and the Germans. It would go down in history simply as the Battle of France.

The odds seemed to favor the French. Together with the British, they had roughly the same number of troops deployed for battle, with roughly three million men on the two opposing sides. In terms of artillery, the French had a decided advantage, with nearly 14,000 pieces against less than 8,000 for the Germans. The French also deployed many more tanks than the Germans, with 3,300 against 2,400. Moreover, the French tanks were generally of a better quality than the German ones, being armed with heavier guns and having superior armor. Only in the air, where the Luftwaffe deployed roughly 5,000 aircraft against 3,000 French and British planes, did the Germans have an obvious advantage.

Moreover, the French and their British allies were fighting the battle on the strategic defensive. The Germans had to come to them, and not the other way around. Before the war, the French had expended enormous resources to construct the legendary Maginot Line, the most formidable set of fortifications in the history of the world, along their border with Germany. If the Germans were to come, they would have to go through Belgium, just as they had during the First World War. If they did that, the French planned to link up with the Belgians and halt the German advance in central Belgium. This would add Belgium's not inconsiderable army to the Allied ranks and keep the fighting well away from French soil.

What happened was so shocking that few could believe it, including the victorious Germans themselves. Like a knife through butter, German armored divisions punched through the lightly defended region of the Ardennes, north of the Maginot Line and south of the French and British armies advancing into Belgium. In a series of confused battles around Sedan, the Germans crossed the Meuse River and shattered the French divisions opposing them. Before the Allies could properly react to this unexpected development, the German armored divisions launched themselves from Sedan forward towards the English Channel. In Belgium, the French were winning tactical victories against the Germans at the Battle of Hannut and the Battle of Gembloux, but the only thing that mattered was that the major Allied armies were being held in Belgium. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of French troops dangled uselessly in the Maginot Line to the south. Beating off French counter attacks (including some led by a colonel named Charles de Gaulle), the Germans armored spearheads advancing from Sedan reached the coast on May 19, splitting the Allied armies in two and trapping hundreds of thousands of French and British troops in a pocket.

The next few weeks saw the British and French armies fight a desperate rearguard action while they evacuated as many troops as possible from the port of Dunkirk. The Germans inexplicably halted for a priceless few days, giving the trapped army time to get away, while a planned counter attack by the French never got off the ground. By June 4, the evacuation was complete. France's vaunted army had been well and truly smashed.

On June 5, the Germans launched their offensive southward, driving towards Paris. The French resisted stubbornly, but had lost their best troops and much of their heavy equipment in Belgium. On June 10, Italy declared war on France; an Italian offensive across the Alps was later easily repulsed by the French. Under relentless pressure on the ground and in the air, the French army began to collapse. On June 14, Paris fell to the Germans and, eight days later, the French government sued for peace.

What on Earth had happened? Why had the vaunted French Army fallen apart so quickly and so easily? It hadn't been outnumbered. It hadn't been surprised. In many ways its weapons and equipment were superior to those of the Germans. There were numerous individual cases of French soldiers fighting gallantly and winning tactical successes against the Germans and they had beaten the Italians without trouble. Yet, in the end, the French army surrendered and the country came under a German occupation that did not end for four long years. People have been trying to figure out the answer to the question since the moment the French surrendered and have never come to a satisfactory answer. I'll now humbly set out my own thoughts on the question.

First of all, the Germans were incredibly lucky in 1940. There were many occasions when the fortunes of war nearly turned in favor of the French. As a single example, on the afternoon of May 14, the French actually had a golden opportunity to mount a devastating counter attack at Sedan, when two of the three German panzer divisions formed up in a line facing westward. Only a single infantry regiment protected their left (southern) flank. At that moment, the French 3rd Armored and 3rd Mechanized Divisions were forming up directly to the south of them in preparation for a counter attack. Had it gone forward, it would have smashed into the exposed German flank and rolled up the German line. Unfortunately, as happened far too often during this campaign, the attack was cancelled for reasons that remain unclear.

The battles was filled with incidents like this. Everything seemed to go right for the Germans and everything seemed to go wrong for the French. Allied intelligence said that the Ardennes were impassable to tanks, but they were passable. The critical Belgian fortress at Eban Emael was captured by an airborne operation that would, under normal circumstances, have been a futile suicide mission. British and French aircraft tried to destroy the German bridges over the Meuse, but the bombs all seemed to miss. Bridges scheduled for demolition in Holland, whose destruction would have completely thrown off the offensive, were accidentally left standing. German assaults would just happen to strike the weakest portions of the French lines, while French counter attacks would just happen to run up against elite German armored units. It seemed that every time the Germans rolled the dice during the campaign, they got double sixes; the French, by contrast, always seemed to get snake eyes. Had the fortunes of war been evenly shared between the two sides, there is no way the Germans could have succeeded.

Setting aside the simple matter of luck, there is no question that the Germans used operational tactics that were far superior to the French. Even though the French had more and better tanks than the Germans, they were mostly spread out among the infantry divisions, while the Germans concentrated their tanks into compact armored divisions. Consequently, at the point of impact, the Germans almost always had enormous armored superiority. This is what allowed the Germans to punch through the French defenses at Sedan and drive to the coast with such seeming ease. Another crucial advantage the armored units of the Germans had over their French enemies was the fact that every German tank was equipped with a radio, allowing for much more effective coordination. This single fact in itself probably negated the superior firepower and armor of the French tanks.

Another crucial advantage that the Germans had over their French enemies was the fact that German officers were trained to employ auftragstaktik, or "mission tactics". Its lower-level officers were told what to do, but the question of exactly how to do was left for them to determine on their own. This allowed for enormous flexibility on the regimental, brigade, divisional, and corps level. In the French Army, by contrast, there was an expectation that orders were to be literally followed and that all operations were to be spelled out precisely before any action was taken. This meant that French decision-making on the field was going to be rigid and slow. In a fast-moving battle, the employment of auftragstaktik by the Germans was going to give them a tremendous advantage.

As stated already, the only major quantitative advantage the Germans had was in air power. Unfortunately for the French and their allies, the Germans made full use of this advantage during the battle. The battle began with Luftwaffe attacks on Allied air fields throughout Holland, Belgium, and northern France, establishing air superiority from the opening moments of the campaign. For the remaining weeks, Allied columns moving on the roads were constantly bombed and strafed by German aircraft, slowing them down, inflicting casualties, and instilling demoralization. The Germans also had an effective system of coordination between the air force and the army, something the French and their allies utterly lacked. This allowed German infantry and armored units to call in air strikes to hammer strong pockets of resistance. There were innumerable cases of German forces running up against entrenched French troops who stubbornly held their ground; the Germans were able to call in Luftwaffe strikes against such strong points, smashing the resistance through the deadly combination of air power and armored attacks.

So, the Germans had a lot of luck and a few crucial advantages. By itself, though, this still doesn't seem enough to explain the sheer magnitude of the German victory over France in 1940. The further explanation might be found in the tragic book Strange Defeat, written by the French historian Marc Bloch in the months immediately following the German conquest. In his book, Bloch lays the blame squarely in the hands of the military and political leadership of France. While he contended that the French people and the French soldiery were generally committed to winning the war, he believed that the high command had become infected with defeatism and disillusionment even before the war had begun. He cites the bitter political and social divisions within French society, between socialists and conservatives, creating a culture of national cowardice in some many segments of French society.

The leaders of France, in Bloch's eyes, simply lacked the stomach for the fight against Germany. This manifested itself in a reluctance to take the offensive, the construction of the Maginot Line, and an obsession with minimizing loss of life rather than achieving victory. Consequently, when the Germans won the initial encounters in May of 1940, the heart went out of the French leadership like water let out the bottom of a tub. In his memoirs, Winston Churchill expresses astonishment that the French leadership was so eager to surrender to the Germans.

The Prime Minister of France, Paul Reynaud, had only recently been appointed when the German offensive began. He had long opposed appeasement of the Germans and supported French rearmament. Yet even he seemed to lose heart after the first few German victories. On May 15, long before the outcome of the battle had been determined, Reynaud called Churchill in near despair, saying that the battle was lost. Reynaud's mistress, Helene de Portes, was a fascist sympathizer  who constantly pressured him to surrender to the Germans. De Portes died in a horrific car accident a few weeks after the armistice; many Frenchmen saw it as the act of a vengeful God.

It would fall to Charles de Gaulle to maintain and protect the honor of his great nation.

The French might have fought on. Their navy was strong and many elements of their army and air force could have been evacuated to Britain or to French colonial holdings in North Africa. This would have completely changed the course of the war. The French Resistance would have been much more active and effective had the legal French government remained steadfast. Nazi German would surely have been defeated much earlier than it historically was and countless lives would have been saved. The French people would never have had to endure the humiliation of the Vichy regime.

So, in the end, why did France fall so easily in 1940? Sheer bad luck for the French? German air superiority? Better German tactics? A few technical advantages like equipping their tanks with radios? Cowardly French national leaders?

The answer is all of the above.