Episode Archives

Battle of Second Manassas

In August 1862, after the Confederate victory in the Battle of Second Manassas, or the Second Battle of Bull Run as it was referred to in the North, Robert E. Lee had the momentum to lead the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland that September. There he would gain support in that border state, resupply his men and pressure Washington into negotiations with the upcoming elections.

General Jack Mountcastle joins Mark to discuss the extensive tour he leads for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours that covers Manassas as well as the other key events in the Eastern theatre. We explore the strategies, leaders on both sides and specific actions in the battle and leading up to the fight. It’s the closest thing to going to the battlefield itself.

Kate Tietzen on Iraq: From Ancient to Modern Times

With the Middle East at the forefront of international news, Mark revisits his conversation with Kate Tietzen about Iraq, from ancient to modern times. They discuss the conflicts, sometime resolutions and the evolution of the country. Her in-country research delves into the many facets of the Iraqi people, the religious factions and the nation’s friends, foes and allies.

Photo: British Troops in Baghdad in June, 1941.

About Kate Tietzen

Kate Tietzen is a PhD candidate in Military History at Kanas State University. Her dissertation explores the Iraqi-Soviet relationship in the Cold War, analyzing this dynamic through the Iraqi point of view by using Ba’athist regime documents housed in the United States. She seeks to demonstrate the complexity of the Cold War in the Middle East, and to draw out the legacies of this relationship in the post-Cold War era.

As she noted in an article she wrote for the Hoover Institution, where she is a Silas Palmer Fellow:

“My dissertation analyzes the formation, development, and continuation of the Soviet-Iraqi military and diplomatic relationship. I argue this relationship was neither one-sided nor heavily in favor of the Soviets, but was rather fluid and dynamic, creating much frustration for the Soviets. In addition, the Cold War dynamic between the Soviets and the Iraqis did not cease with the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991; instead, the relationship was only renewed and even strengthened as the Americans assumed hegemonic status. With these Iraqi documents, this dissertation seeks to reveal how the political, diplomatic, and military conditions created in the Cold War did not simply cease after 1991. Therefore, the historical legacies and consequences of the Soviet-Iraqi military and diplomatic relationship can help inform scholars, policymakers, and contemporaries about the Middle East today.”

Kate received her B.A. in History and Political Science in 2012 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2014 she received her M.A in history from Clemson University under the guidance of Dr. Edwin Moïse. While her M.A. thesis examined the Falklands War 1982, in the fall of 2014 she pivoted towards the Middle East upon arrival at Kansas State University.

LIfe in Jefferson Davis’ Navy

Dr. Barbara Brooks Tomblin joins Mark to discuss her recent book, Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy. She addresses every aspect of the officers and men who served in the Confederate Navy—from the daily life of the sailors to the combat they endured. Through diaries, letters and newspaper accounts, she vividly depicts the wartime experiences on the gunboats, ironclads and sailing vessels in the Civil War.

Overview of the Book

The Civil War is often considered a “soldiers’ war,” but Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy acknowledges the legacy of service of the officers and sailors of the Confederate States Navy. In this full-length study, Barbara Brooks Tomblin addresses every aspect of a Confederate seaman’s life, from the risks of combat to the everyday routines which sustained those sailing for the stars and bars. Drawing upon diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, and published works, Tomblin offers a fresh look at the wartime experiences of the officers and men in the Confederate Navy, including those who served on gunboats, ironclads, and ships on western rivers and along the coast and at Mobile Bay, as well as those who sailed on the high seas aboard the Confederate raiders Sumter, Alabama, Florida, and Shenandoah.

The author also explores the daily lives, deprivations, and sufferings of the sailors who were captured and spent time in Union prisoner of war camps at Point Lookout, Elmira, Camp Chase, Johnson’s Island, Ship Island, and Fort Delaware. Confederate prisoners’ journals and letters give an intimate account of their struggle, helping modern audiences understand the ordeals of the defeated in the Civil War.

About the Author

Barbara Brooks Tomblin is a naval and military historian and author of G.I. Nightingales, With Utmost Spirit, Bluejackets and Contrabands, and The Civil War on the Mississippi. She has a doctorate in American history from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey where she was a lecturer in military history.

Order you copy of Life in Jefferson Davis’ Navy>>

Normandy and Brittany 1944 with Mort Sheffloe: Part II

Combat veteran Mort Sheffloe continues his discussion with Mark about Mort’s WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Mort talks about Operation Cobra and being shot by a German sniper near Brest. He talks about his near fatal wounding, medical evacuation and recuperation. This is Part II of a two-part episode, and completes our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944.

Normandy and Brittany 1944: WWII Vet Mort Sheffloe

Continuing our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944, Mark relives his visit to Normandy with WWII Veteran, Mort Sheffloe. They discuss Mort’s experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944 while walking on Omaha and Utah Beaches and visiting various cafés. Mort describes the actions as well as his near fatal wounding by a German sniper’s bullet.

75th Anniversary of D-Day: The Beach Landings

On this 75th Anniversary of the D-Day, we continue with the discussion about launching the invasion and the beach landings on that day. Mark speaks with historian Marty Morgan and they give special attention to the Americans storming the formidable German positions at Omaha Beach and the fierce struggle that took place there.

Airborne: The D-Day Invasion

In continuing our study of D-Day for this 75th Anniversary Year, Mark talks about the invasion airborne operations. He and guest historian, Marty Morgan, discuss some of the actions and details of the paratroopers, including “the greatest feat of flying in the Second World War.”

Photo: General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with First lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment on June 5, 1944. The placard around Strobel’s neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23 of the 438th TCG. Strobel’s battalion was the first to drop into Normandy.

Operation Overlord: Deception Plan

Mark discusses the intricate deception plans that the Allies employed to confuse Nazi Germany about the location of the D-Day invasion. Will it be Pas de Calais as Hitler declares so convincingly? Or even Norway? Eisenhower is sure of one thing: it must succeed. There is no Plan B.

This week’s podcast is a continuation of a series of podcasts dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Last week in Operation Overlord: Planning the D-Day Invasion, Mark covered the lectures Stephen Ambrose gave at the University of New Orleans that dealt with the planning and preparation the Allies made for Operation Overlord and the selection of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander.

In this episode, Mark dives into Operation Fortitude, the grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Eisenhower had to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised.

Operation Fortitude

Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised. This necessity hatched the plan for “Operation Fortitude.” It was a grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Fortitude North led the Nazis to believe the Allies were preparing to invade Norway. Its counterpart, Fortitude South, directed their attention to the Pas-de-Calais in France near Dunkerque and the Belgian border.

Fortitude North

In the northern operation, a team of two dozen British officers went to the the upper reaches of Scotland and began filling the airwaves with fictitious radio messages. These fake transmissions duplicated the traffic that would simulate the build-up of an actual army preparing for a Nordic invasion. Requests for crampons used for ice climbing, ski bindings, instruction manuals for engine maintenance in extremely cold weather, wooden warplanes on Scottish airfields and fake tanks that accompanied dummy divisions pointed to Norway as the Allied target. It was enough for Hitler to keep 13 Wehrmacht divisions and 150,000 Luftwaffe and Navy personnel in that country—not defending the Atlantic Wall in Normandy.

Fortitude South

Fortitude South was just as confounding. In addition to phony radio traffic, dummy landing craft floated in southern England ports while inflatable and papier-maché tanks dotted the fields. Movie industry stagehands built a bogus fuel depot at Dover and spies reported heavy troop activity there. All this suggested the invasion target was Calais. Perhaps the piece-de-resistance of the southern operation was the use of Lt. General George S. Patton as a decoy. The Germans thought of him as the Allies’ best general and were certain he would lead the invasion. He commanded the First U.S. Army Group composed of actual and fictitious units: the Third Army was still stateside, the British Fourth Army was fictitious and 50 more imaginary divisions were about to leave America to land at the Pas-de-Calais to support the invasion.

The Deception Plan

While some of these divisions did exist, the deception plan caused the Germans to believe that 89 Allied divisions were at the ready with enough landing craft to send 20 in the first wave of the attack. In reality they might be able to send six divisions. Eisenhower was gravely concerned about the shortage of landing craft and equally adamant about keeping the coastal areas of England secure. The success of the invasion was paramount; there was no Plan B.

Operation Overlord: Planning the D-Day Invasion

Mark begins his series of podcasts dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, discussing Operation Overlord, the planning of the D-Day invasion. He includes excerpts from  WWII lectures that historian Stephen E. Ambrose gave at the University of New Orleans, covering the preparation the Allies made for Operation Overlord. By December of 1943 the United States and Great Britain agreed that they were going to open a front in northern Europe with an invasion of France.

Choosing the Supreme Allied Commander

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Josef Stalin in Tehran that November, the Soviet leader expressed his anxiety and asked them who is going to command the invasion? When they replied that they had not yet chosen, he didn’t take them seriously. “If you don’t have a commander, you don’t have an invasion.” However, they were planning and the first obstacle was to pick the commander.

Roosevelt wanted General George C. Marshall or else his distinguished career may be forgotten and the President felt he deserved a field command. Dr. Ambrose used the analogy that “everyone remembers U.S. Grant, but how many today revere his chief of staff?”*

However, as chief of staff, that would mean moving him from Washington, D.C. to London and it would actually position him as a subordinate to General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, who would take over as chief in Washington. It would create a situation that would be diplomatically untenable. Roosevelt asked Marshall directly who the commander should be and Marshall said, “That’s not my decision to make.”

General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower

Ultimately the choice was General Eisenhower and Roosevelt even had Marshall pen the message to transmit to Stalin (Marshall actually saved the original handwritten note to give to Eisenhower as a souvenir). With the choice made, in January 1944, “Ike,” who had the perfect temperament to deal with the major Allied players, arrived in London to take over as Supreme Allied Commander.

Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues: first, where to stage the attack? Second, how do we keep the Operation a surprise? Third, when do we launch the invasion? And finally, the Allies had to devise a deception plan to ensure that the Germans are surprised.

Eisenhower and the other British and American officers at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) accomplished these tasks. How they got it done is the subject we study in depth on the Operation Overlord and D­-Day to the Rhine Tours.

*Lincoln’s Chief of Staff was Henry W. Halleck. Dr. Ambrose did his doctoral dissertation on Halleck and subsequently turned it into his first book, Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff (1962).

What Potent Blood Hath Modest May: The Civil War

In this episode, Mark takes a look at some significant events that took place in May from the Civil War era. He considers these events in light of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous (yet unrelated) quote, “What potent blood hath modest May,” which Mark will show is an applicable description when considering the outcome of some such events from this time in history.

1856

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an outspoken abolitionist, gave an oration attacking not only the institution of slavery, but two Senators personally, Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina for supporting it in his “Crime Against Kansas” speech. Three days later, South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks, Butler’s cousin, entered the chamber and severely beat Sumner with a cane. The bleeding and unconscious Sumner had to be carried from the floor, while Brooks walked away unscathed. The “Caning” incident made Sumner a martyr in the North, while many Southerners proclaimed Brooks a champion for defending the honor of his relative.

1863

On 2 May in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, General Stonewall Jackson executed a brilliant flanking attack on the Union right. In a surprise attack, his Confederates smashed into and routed the Union XI Corps under General Oliver O. Howard. That night, while leading a group of officers on a night reconnaissance ride, Jackson was mistakenly wounded by friendly fire.After the wounding, the ambulance wagon took him some twenty miles away to a home at Guinea Station. The surgeons amputated his left arm, but the bed-ridden Jackson subsequently contracted pneumonia and died on 10 May.

Photo: Battle of Chancellorsville–May 2-4, 1863–Union General Hooker, Confederate Generals Lee and Jackson (United States Library of Congress’s Prints)