on July 5, 2013
In this thorough and thoughtful chronicle, Dr. James Holden-Rhodes limns and details the extraordinary life of a man who indelibly stamped the memory and course of the U.S. Marine Corps with his commitment to excellence. Henry Clay Cochrane, through force of will, persistence and happenstance worked successfully to establish the Corps' bona fides and continued existence when it was in doubt, raise the bar of accountability and performance among its officers and men, and grow a nascent technical professionalism in the Marine Corps that remains a defining characteristic to this day.
The portrait of Cochrane is crisp and clear, equally highlighting strengths, weaknesses and inevitable eccentricities, all in a way that results in a sharpened understanding of an important character well beyond the caricature that we often encounter in less thorough works. The reader greatly benefits from Dr. Holden-Rhodes' deep grasp of the historical context in which Cochrane performed; the story is so much more than a chronology of connected dots.
Cochrane was especially dedicated in his effort to keep a record of his activities and thoughts. His career gave him many opportunities, and the reader enjoys unexpected nuggets and interesting commentary on events as diverse as his travel with Lincoln to Gettysburg, his role in the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889 and his journey to Russia for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. Tried and tempered in warfare, Cochrane is forthright and engaging in his commentary on how things went well, and often, how they went awry.
While giving us a clear and honest portrait of Cochrane, Dr. Holden-Rhodes has also provided a context that provides a startlingly deep look at the everyday life of a man-at -arms in the early and less genteel days of our military. While Cochrane's' accomplishments are well and true, we are also treated to the crushing drudgery and frequent boredom that is the lot of soldiers, sailors and Marines everywhere, even to this day. The peculiarities and oddities that somehow eventually comprise "tradition" in the services are here, as well as the sometimes hilarious circumstances in which they occur.
Few books have captured the complexity of the life of a military man such as this one. It is a penetrating look into the life of a Marine that compassed all manner of obstacles and successes. In the end, one understands and, for those with military experience, even resonates with the forces and serendipity that produce men such as Cochrane.
Captain, U.S. Navy (ret)
on July 4, 2013
The book by Retired Marine Officer James F. Holden-Rhodes opened the door for scholars and recreational readers to peek into the career and times of Henry Clay Cochrane, a Marine who served his Nation from the Civil War through the turn of the 20th Century. The author carefully weaved primary and secondary source material to include correspondence by Cochrane, contemporary accounts, government documents, and works by writers of both military and naval history into an easy-reading book of over 300 pages that kept my attention throughout.
Cochrane lived through some of the most exciting times in Marine Corps history, experiencing war as both a sailor in the Navy and Marine officer, uneventful barracks duty, long cruises aboard U.S. Navy ships, coronations and expositions, recruiting duty, and finally retirement as a colonel in 1905. Cochrane advocated for much-needed reforms in the Corps in the years after the Civil War to include equipment, uniforms, tactics, and mission. I note that Cochrane had no friends that I could discern from the book, but he had rivals and admirers. A young Smedley Butler was not sure if Cochrane liked him, though Butler admitted that he learned much soldiering from Cochrane.
Students of Marine history will recognize the Corps of the 19th Century was in many ways similar to the Corps of today. My reading this book brought back memories of my career that commenced 70 years after Cochrane retired. Reformers such as Henry Clay Cochrane came along once in a generation. When given the opportunity, leaders such as Cochrane had the foresight and drive to make lasting changes that permitted future generations of Marines to be proud of their membership in the "smart and faithful force." The next time I pick up my Mameluke sword, I'll thank Henry Clay Cochrane. Holden-Rhodes has added one more giant of the Corps to be studied by current and future Marines.
on May 18, 2013
Dr. James Holden-Rhodes has written a book that touches many parts of our society. The story begins at a point of history that most people recognize. The civil war was a turning point in our history and most people don't understand the mindset and conditions the soldier endured. There are many insights of the era that are revealed as the story progresses. Dr. Holden-Rhodes uses a technique of actual letters and journal entries to develop the timeline and connects them with a smooth fit for ease of reading.
The character, setting, and long term effect that Henry Clay Cochrane had on the Marine Corps is of interest to any military individual. The reason for reading this book goes beyond the military aspect. The concept of ethics and morals is related to the time. Virtues such as Duty, Honor, and Responsibility are intertwined in the letters and journals. You follow a young man with a vague idea of these virtues coupled with a great interest in self satisfying goals and you watch him grow. As a parent and an instructor for over forty years, it is this that I wish to instill in my students and children.
The path in his career should be read to show the average person that with persistence you can achieve. This achievement does not have to come at the cost of your values. It showed that there are many obstacles and trials put in your path during your lifetime but if your vision is true then the result will be worthwhile.
The Marine Corps of today is the cumulative result of people such as Henry Clay Cochrane. His task oriented behavior associated with virtues such as Duty, Honor, etc. has allowed the Corps to stand head and shoulders above all others. Dr. James Holden-Rhodes has written a book that gives the reader a look at the Civil War era from many different views. You see it from the sea, the boredom, the need to be tested, the psychological impact of war stress on the individual, watching your leaders make poor decisions, nurturing optimism, following orders, and the growing of an idea which will in the future impact the services of today.
Thank you Dr. James Holden-Rhodes
Professor of Chemistry