by Raymond Jonas
Harvard University Press, 413 pp., $29.95
JOHN WELSH - Empire defeated
Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army marched a remarkable 135 miles from Chancellorsville, Virginia to the battle of Gettysburg. Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, an arduous three-month march from Vilnus to Moscow, stretched nearly 500 miles. Both campaigns ended in a catastrophic defeat that dramatically altered the course of human history. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg turned the American Civil War against the South and changed the future shape of the United States; Napoleon’s heavy losses in Russia disrupted French European hegemony and led to the Decembrist uprising in 1825 and eventually to Russian Revolution. But 1896 witnessed the culmination of an even longer and, arguably, an even more historically significant military march. The army had traveled for five months, logged almost 600 miles, and—unlike the forces of more universally recognized and celebrated generals Robert E. Lee and Napoleon—this grueling march ended in a monumental victory in which the stakes involved not only the future shape of a continent, but indeed its very color. Most surprisingly? Unlike Lee and Napoleon, you can graduate from an excellent four-year college in this country and know absolutely nothing about it. You may have never even heard the name Menelik; you may know nothing of the Battle of Adwa.