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Military History Word of the Day – Salient

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salient ˈsālyənt; -lēənt n.
1. a piece of land or section of fortification that juts out to form an angle.

Salient at Spotsylvania

2. an outward bulge in a line of military attack or defense. (see example below)

Salient at Spotsylvania

The word “salient” is used frequently in John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History (see post on his book here).

Due to the extremely close proximity of the opposing lines between the two forts, sniper fire was heavy and constant in this area. Potter’s division was located in the ravine a little more than one hundred yards from Elliott’s Salient, which itself was situated at an angle in the Rebel line of works, the closest at any part to the Union lines. Observers at the time felt the Union line had penetrated into the interior of the Confederates’ lines in this area after the last battle and was thus occupying a tenuous position. (2)

Petersburg, Virginia. Interior view of Confederate works near Elliott's salient, Courtesy of the Library of Congress # LC-B811- 3222

The National Park Service identifies Elliott’s Salient as a point where Federals and Confederates had come close together.

One of these locations was in front of Elliott’s Salient, a Confederate strong point near Cemetery Hill and old Blandford Church. Here the Confederate position and the Union picket line were less than 400 feet apart. Because of the proximity of the Union line, Elliott’s Salient was well fortified. Behind earthen embankments was a battery of four guns, and two veteran South Carolina infantry regiments were stationed on either side. Behind these were other defensive works; before them the ground sloped gently downward toward the Union advance line. (3)

”]Gracie's Salient Petersburg

Someone has done a nice job exploring the term salient as military term on Wikipedia including a variety of examples of “salients” from the American Civil War as well as other military engagements which you can read here.

Other well known military salients:

Heth’s Salient

From the National Park Service’s virtual tour of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Battlefields: By mid-afternoon on May 12 the fighting at the Muleshoe Salient had reached an impasse. By coincidence, both sides focused attention on another bulge in the Confederate lines known as Heth’s Salient. General Grant ordered General Ambrose Burnside to attack Heth’s Salient at the same time as General Lee ordered General Jubal Early to attack Burnside’s left flank. In doing so, he hoped to relieve pressure on the Confederates at the Bloody Angle.

Muleshoe Salient: Look for reference to Mule Shoe Salient in the Wikipedia post here.

From the National Park Services (see the full story here): The armies flowed onto the battlefield the rest of the day, extending corresponding lines of earthworks east and west of the Brock Road. Ewell’s corps filed in on Anderson’s right and built their entrenchments in the dark to conform with elevated terrain along their front. First light revealed that Ewell’s soldiers had concocted a huge salient, or bulge, in the Confederate line, pointing north in the direction of the Federals. The men called it the “Mule Shoe” because of its shape, but Southern engineers called it trouble. Salient’s could be attacked not only in front but from both sides, and as a rule officers liked to avoid them. Lee, however, opted to retain the position trusting that his cannoneers could keep the “Mule Shoe” safe enough.

Doles’s Salient:

From the National Park Service (see the full story here): On May 10, the Union found a weakness in the Confederate defenses. Colonel Emory Upton was ordered with 5,000 men to attack a slight bulge in the Confederate lines known as Doles’s Salient. Upton’s men approached the Confederates on a narrow road (typical of the roads in the area that linked one farm with another) through the woods.

Ypres Salient: Famous for the World War I battle that took place there.

(1) “salient.” The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2009). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O63-salient.html

(2) John F. Schmutz, The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History, (Jefferson, North Carolina: 2009), 50.

(3) “The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864,” http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/hh/13/hh13f.htm

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Military History Word of the Day: "Refuse"

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Refuse

Military. to bend or curve back (the flank units of a military force) so that they face generally to the flank rather than the front.

McClellan

refuse. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/refuse (accessed: August 08, 2009).

It is not surprising that McClellan did not immediately decide to employ his left wing under Franklin to relieve Harpers Ferry. In focusing on Frederick McClellanfor the past several days, the Federal right had not only advanced quicker and farther, but the left had angled northward toward Frederick. In consequence Burnside was now considerably nearer Harpers Ferry than Franklin. Moreover, McClellan needed to refuse his left flank along the Potomac until he learned the meaning of the rumor that Jackson had recrossed the river at Williamsport. Lincoln may have jumped to the conclusion that the Confederates were retreating, but the possibility of a turning movement could not be dismissed lightly.

1. Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood : Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 / [book on-line] (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1999, accessed 8 August 2009), 209-210; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102364919; Internet.

Military History word of the day: "thalassocracy"

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I ran across this word in my reading today and have added it to “the terms” page (here) where I collect definitions of words I didn’t know. I’m continuing to finish the last book in my current course on Studies in U.S. Military History, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson. This book is filled with new terms, many associated with the vernacular of modern warriors. I’ll have some catching up to do on the terms page after the course.

Here is the context of Atkinson’s usage of thalassocracy.

If desert warfare seized the imagination of American Army commanders, the battleship held similar sway over many a sea dog. Her strategic value had long been eclipsed by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. As a tactical weapon she appeared doomed to follow the crossbow and blunderbuss. Yet, for traditionalists, no maritime silhouette better symbolized the American thalassocracy: the pugnacious, jutting bow the looming superstructure; the trio of triple-barreled turrets, each heavy as a frigate. When employed as a gun platform, she remained nonpareil, capable of tossing a shell with the heft of an automobile more than twenty miles. In the gulf war, her hour had come round at last. (Atkinson, 259)

USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91

USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91. Source: Naval Historical Center

The definition…

thal·as·soc·ra·cy (thāl’ə-sŏk’rə-sē)
n. pl. thal·as·soc·ra·cies
Naval or commercial supremacy on the seas.
[Greek thalassokratiā : thalassa, sea + -kratiā, -cracy.]
tha·las’so·crat’ (thə-lās’ə-krāt’) n.
Source:
thalassocracy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thalassocracy (accessed: August 17, 2008).

The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

By the way, I’ve been so impressed with Rick Atkinson’s well researched book that I’ve purchased all of his other works including An Army at Dawn which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. See it on my virtual bookshelves here. Photo source: The Library of Congress which includes a biography here. I’ll be adding Mr Atkinson to my “the historians” page shortly.