The Fall of Cities – Some Reflections

As some of you may know, I’m writing a book on the Bataan-Corregidor campaign of 1941-42, which culminated in the largest surrender in American military history.Manila_declared_open_city

I’m to the point now where I’m finishing the section about the evacuation of Manila in 1941. The congruity of writing this story around the 150th anniversaries of Columbia’s fall, Charleston’s fall, and the impending evacuation of Richmond casts a new light on all four events. They all offer the same drama, one of evacuating major military and civil personnel and stores while racing against time and an enemy at the gates. The human drama is intense, and not often found in American history – the evacuation of Washington in 1814 comes close.

But it is more than that – these cities’ collapse presage the end of an era. World War II knocked Manila from its perch as “Pearl of the Orient,” and the city has never fully recovered. The fall of these Confederate cities ended the dream of Confederate independence, and to a greater or lesser degree define each of them today.

For participants, the fall of these cities was an emotional wrench, and left scars that never fully healed. These have often rippled across subsequent generations.

In world history, the closest parallels from the last 150 years (“comparison cases” if you will) that come to mind are Madrid 1939, Warsaw 1939/44, Paris 1940, Singapore 1942, and Saigon 1975. Put in that perspective, the fall of the Confederacy takes on a new depth.

Thoughts welcome.

Top illustration: An Open City sign in downtown Manila, January 2, 1942.

9 Responses to The Fall of Cities – Some Reflections

  1. Interesting thoughts. I would like to see more books on civilian consequences during the Civil War, and any other war for that matter. I look forward to your efforts on this aspect.

  2. Thanks very much! A great book on the aftermath of Manila’s fall and the Allied internees in the Philippines is Frances Cogan’s “Captured.”

  3. As I understand it there were varying attitudes among leading Civil War generals related to targeting armies or cities as an effective tactic. Since cities (i.e. Atlanta, Nashville, Chattanooga, Corinth, Charleston, Savannah, Petersburg, Richmond) were also centers for commerce and industry as well as rail and other crossroads their occupancy became critical to Union success. As a result, the losses suffered by civilian occupants of these centers were devastating and contributed dramatically to the long-standing bitterness among the eventually conquered populace; some of which prevails to this day. General Lee’s forays into northern territory was necessitated by the need to provide provisions for his men and animals and hopefully defeat the forces he faced. The nature of the ensuing battles did effect a few small towns but never rose to the level of destruction suffered in major city centers in the south. Both of his forays ended in failure, the most significant being the Battle of Gettysburg. Another significant Confederate attempt to capture a northern city was the Tennessee Campaign of late 1864 and General Hood’s campaign to retake Nashville. Had he succeeded, the effect upon wars’ outcome might have been dramatic.

  4. Chris, it is also interesting to contrast Manila’s fall, in 1942, with the brutal 1945 battle to retake the city – which certainly left it devastated.

    1. Yes. I many ways, Manila’s trajectory in WWII is the best and most searing example of how a city’s wartime experiences leave an indelible mark on it and its people going forward.

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