Post 52: Roman Warfare by Adrian Goldsworthy

CoverAdrian Goldsworthy has become quite popular in recent years. He has put out successful biographies of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Anthony and Cleopatra; as well as a book on the fall of Rome. He has also branched into historical fiction with a Sharpe-like series on the Napoleonic War. In his most memorable role for me, he was in BBC’s Time Commanders – an odd game show where contestants would play famous battles in an early version of Rome Total War. A few months ago I picked up an early book of his from back in 2000.  I finally got round to reading it (I have a bit of a stack to get through) and was not disappointed.

Roman Warfare is a short book, barely two hundred pages, giving only a brief history of the Roman military. For me, in terms of my reviews, the obvious comparison would be the Bryan Ward-Perkins book (Post 34) on the fall of Rome. Both are short books on a well defined, but huge, subject with a view to updating the reader on the current academic state of things. There is however a big difference in style, BWP was forthright and opinionated while Goldsworthy stays fairly neutral in tone. He certainly does have views (including on the army’s role in the decline of Rome) but there are weaved subtly into the narrative.  It’s more of a summary than a polemic, but for this topic that suits me fine.

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Post 38: Gettysburg Requiem

The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates

Book CoverYet another of the slightly obscure biographies that I’ve picked up at the Last Bookshop in Oxford over the last few years; this book tells the story of William C. Oates, a confederate officer who was on the defeated side at Little Round Top in the battle of Gettysburg. He was a reasonably successful man in his own way, but in the grand scheme of things was a very minor player. However, history isn’t just about your Lincolns and your Lees (to use a Jamie Redknapp style syntax) and we can learn a lot from looking at someone like Oates; not just his role in (possibly) one of the crucial moments of the war, but also his general outlook and his life before and after the war.

Oates was born in Alabama in 1835 to a poor farming family, and had a bit of a wild life as a young man (and, to be honest, as an adult). He nearly killed a man in a drunken brawl and ran off to be a drifter in Florida, before being found by his younger brother John and returning to become a local lawyer. In many ways, he wasn’t a particularly likeable character (to put it mildly) – hot tempered, racist, sexist and arrogant – but he was also smart and determined. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the 15th Alabama in the Confederate army and rose through the ranks. He was talented as an officer, if occasionally a bit too opinionated or headstrong to reach the level he felt he deserved.

Continue reading Post 38: Gettysburg Requiem