The story of Hannibal’s brilliant campaigns in Rome is one of the most famous and dramatic in military history and it has been oft told. Nearly all that we know about him is contained in the works of just a few Roman historians, and after so many years new information is very rarely discovered. Historian John Prevas acknowledges this in his new book Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy, which was provided to Discerning History for review. All historians are working from the same material, but Hannibal’s Oath provides an interesting version of the story that readers would do well to consider.
Prevas insightfully brings out some aspects of the story that other authors graze over that shed new light on the man and his battles. He also has spent time in Europe visiting the sights that he mentions, and so speaks from first hand knowledge wherever possible. The book is not very long, and sometimes it feels as if he moves quickly over certain events that would be well worth dwelling on. One somewhat strange example of this is the one referenced by the title – Hannibal’s Oath, referring to the time as a boy when Hannibal’s father had him swear that he would never be a friend of the Romans.
Prevas does not use extensive quotes from the ancient sources, rarely quoting more than a phrase here or there. While some may prefer that, I enjoy occasionally hearing directly from the historians on which all of our knowledge is based.
This book, while acknowledging Hannibal’s brilliance and military skills, is definitely a negative assessment of the man. It is based on the principle that “great men, those who make history and even change its course, are invariable the most evil.”1 It attempts to show that in many ways Hannibal was a “colossal failure.”2 While you may not agree with all of his assessments, it is still a useful perspective to hear and evaluate.
In summary, if you are looking for a short, readable and insightful account of Hannibal, this may be the book for you. This book may not be suitable for younger readers, as it deals with some quite unsavory aspects of Carthaginian culture.
We are giving away a copy of Hannibal’s Oath, see this post for details!
1. Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy by John Prevas (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2017) p. 241. 2. Ibid, p. 238.
Our episode on John Brown from Discerning History: Causes of the Civil War, has been selected as a semi-finalist at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. The trailer for the festival is above, and you can see the link for our film here.
Yesterday we drove up to Maryland for an interview with Thomas Dilorenzo, an economics professor and historian for our video series, Discerning History. He wrote the Real Lincoln, a very interesting book on whether Lincoln was actually the great man that almost everyone sees him as today. We interviewed him on the economics and states rights issues leading up to the Civil War.
The Confederates around New Orleans have begun to make preparations to drive off the blockading squadron which was obstructing the shipping from the Mississippi River. One hundred and fifty years ago today a small steamer, the CSS Ivy, skirmished with the large Union sloops. The Union commander, John Pope, panicked because the Ivy’s guns were rifled and long range.
U. S. S. Richmond,
Mississippi River, October 9, 1861
Sir: I have to report that the Ivy (steamer) has been down this after noon and made an attack upon these ships, throwing shot and shell over this ship and the Preble, keeping herself entirely out of the range of any guns on board either of the ships, her shot passing some 500 yards over this ship, which makes it evident that we are entirely at the mercy of the enemy. We are liable to be driven from here at any moment, and, situated as we are, our position is untenable. I may be captured at any time by a pitiful little steamer mounting only one gun. The distance at which she was firing I should estimate at 4 miles, with heavy rifled cannon, throwing her shot and shell far beyond us. This may have been an experiment to ascertain the range of our guns, which they now have, and of course will quickly avail themselves of the knowledge….
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
As the coming battle would show, Pope’s fears were unfounded. The Ivy and her sister ships were too weak to actually do significant damage to the Union vessels.
1. Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, I, v. 16, p. 699 – 700
The New York Time’s blog on the Civil War published an interesting article about counting the number of deaths from the Civil War.
Even as Civil War history has gone through several cycles of revision, one thing has remained fixed: the number of dead. Since about 1900, historians and the general public have assumed that 618,222 men died on both sides. That number is probably a significant undercount, however. New estimates, based on Census data, indicate that the death toll was approximately 750,000, and may have been as high as 850,000.
150 years ago today Stirling Price
captured Lexington, Missouri after a 8 day seige. After their victory
at Wilson’s Creek the Missouri State Guard under General Stirling
Price advanced into the northern portions of the state. John C.
Fremont, commander of the Union Department of the West, decided to
defend Lexington. It occupied an important position on the Missouri
River, and it was in a very pro-Confederate area. The commander in
the town was Col. James Mulligan. He put his 3,500 troops in motion
to build entrenchments in preparation for a seige. More
reinforcements were on the way, but they were ambushed by the
arriving Confederates and forced to retire. The Confederates were
aware of their position because they had tapped the telegraph line,
allowing them to spy on the Union messages.
Price arrived in front of the town on
September 11th and launched an attack two days later. They found the
Federal works to strong to be taken with a direct assault, so they surrounded the town and began shelling the Federal positions with
their artillery. On September 18th the Confederates attacked again,
and drove the Union forces from their outlying works. By this time
the Union forces in the town were in severe lack of water. The wells
had gone dry, and Confederate sharpshooters shot anyone who tried to
reach a spring between the lines. On September 19th the Missourian
forces prepared for their final attack. They brought up hemp bales
soaked in water to use as mobile breastworks. These were very
effective, and allowed the Confederates to roll them forward, all the
time sheltered from Union fire.
Hill up which the Confederate Forces advanced
The Confederate forces advanced to
attack on the morning of the 20th of September. The rolled the bales
forward, hidden from the rifles of the Union soldiers. The Union
attempted to set the bales ablaze by using red-hot cannon balls
heated in ovens, but the bales were so wet that they were immune to
the tactic. At noon Mulligan, seeing that the Confederate troops had
advanced to the point where they could easily take the trenches with
a final charge, requested terms of surrender.
The casualties from the battle had been
light. The Missouri State Guard had suffered only 25 killed and 72
wounded, while the Federal forces had 39 killed and 120 wounded, with
their entire force being taken prisoners. The light casualties of the
defenders resulted from the brilliant idea of using the soaked bales
as movible defenses. Jefferson Davis later wrote, “The expedient
of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that
which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to
the northern pillar of Hercules.”
In accordance with his mission to redeem the fortunes of the Confederacy in Western Virginia, R. E. Lee made plans for an assault on the Union positions on Cheat Mountain. Five regiments were in a defensive position at the foot of the mountain, while another was posted at the summit. Lee’s plan was way to complicated for the inexperienced troops and generals, and it involved several uncoordinated advances that were supposed to attack in unison. This movement, impeded by the rain and mountain roads, would have been difficult to execute even with experience troops. As the troops were moving on September 11th, the columns never made contact with each other. The commander of the attack on the fort on the summit decided not to go forward with the plan because they had captured some prisoners who told them that the Union force greatly outnumbered them. It was actually only 300 men, compared to the Confederate’s 3000. After skirmishing for a few days, Lee called off the other attack as well. Both sides had only a few dozen casualties. This failure earned Lee the nickname of “Granny Lee.” It was believed that although great things had been hoped from him, the opinion of the generals in the old army was mistaken. However, in a few months Lee would prove these critics wrong. In this battle Lee learned many things regarding what to expect from inexperienced troops, and how to deal with troublesome subordinates.