This Week in the Army of the Potomac

This, of course, is the 150th anniversary of a truly tumultous week in the history of the Army of the Potomac; one that generated the following documents:

GENERAL ORDERS, HDQRS. ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
January 23, 1863.

I. General Joseph Hooker, major-general of volunteers and brigadier-general U. S. Army, having been guilty of unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of his superior officers, and of the authorities, and having, by the general tone of his conversation, endeavored to create distrust in the minds of officers who have associated with him, and having, by omissions and otherwise, made reports and statements which were calculated to create incorrect impressions, and for habitually speaking in disparaging terms of other officers, is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States as a man unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present, when so much patience, charity, confidence, consideration, and patriotism are due from every soldier, in the field. This order is issued subject to the approval of the President of the United States.

II. Brigadier General W. T. H. Brooks, commanding First Division, Sixth Army Corps, for complaining of the policy of the Government, and for using language tending to demoralize his command, is, subject to the approval of the President, dismissed from the military service of the United States.

III. Brigadier General John Newton, commanding Third Division, Sixth Army Corps, and Brigadier General John Cochrane, commanding First Brigade, Third Division, Sixth Army Corps, for going to the President of the United States with criticisms upon the plans of their commanding officer, are, subject to the approval of the President, dismissed from the military service of the United States.

IV. It being evident that the following named officers can be of no further service to this army, they are hereby relieved from duty, and will report, in person, without delay, to the Adjutant-General, U. S. Army: Major General W. B. Franklin, commanding left grand division; Major General W. F. Smith, commanding Sixth Corps; Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis, commanding Second Division, Ninth Corps; Brigadier General Edward Ferrero, commanding Second Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Army Corps; Brigadier General John Cochrane, commanding First Brigade, Third Division, Sixth Corps; Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Taylor, assistant adjutant-general, right grand division

By command of Major General A. E. Burnside:

LEWIS RICHMOND,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 128 parts (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series 1, vol. 21, part 1: 998-99.

Though William Franklin’s and Baldy Smith’s service in the Army of the Potomac would soon come to an end, President Abraham Lincoln did not approve these orders. Nor did he punish “Fighting Joe” for his efforts to undermine his senior officers–which had in fact begun during George McClellan’s tenure in command. Rather, Lincoln did just the opposite, giving Hooker command of the Army of the Potomac. That was followed by this famous letter:

Executive Mansion,
Washington, January 26, 1863.

Major General Hooker:

I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and a skilful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside’s command of the Army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of it’s ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticising their Commander, and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it.

And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.

Yours very truly,
A. LINCOLN

Roy P. Basler, ed. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953-55), vol. 6: 78-79.

In light of the circumstances, it is suprising that there is nowhere in the historical record anyone writing a letter to Lincoln at the time to this effect:

Dear Mr. President:

In light of your record of supporting officers who have worked to undermine their superiors over the past year and a half–from George McClellan in his dealings with Winfield Scott the previous fall to the circumstances under which the corps were created and their commanders appointed in the Army of the Potomac last March to the ongoing machinations of John McClernand, who the heck are you to bemoan the existence of and place responsibility elsewhere for the fact that such a “spirit” prevails in your army “of criticising their Commander, and withholding confidence from him”?

Perhaps, in surveying the history of the Army of the Potomac and its notoriously bad command climate, there is far more cause to be “not quite satisfied with you”?

Your obedient servant . . .

Going Joint with General Grant!

Next week, I will be briefly leaving the nice little Army schoolhouse William T. Sherman established here on the banks of the Missouri River and traveling to Newport, Rhode Island, to get immersed in what Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson once referred to as “a dim religious world in which Neptune was God, Mahan his prophet, and the United States Navy the only true Church.” There I will be teaching a two-hour seminar that is part of a course a former West Point colleague, Jon Scott Logel, who is now now on the staff of the Naval War College, is in charge of. The subject of the seminar is “Grant in Command”, which is described thusly:

After Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Grant took command of the entire Union Army. Lincoln depended on Grant to develop and execute a strategy that could defeat the Confederacy in 1864. This lesson examines how Grant fought his strategy in Virginia and leveraged Sherman’s forces to end the rebellion in the spring of 1865. Students will assess the merits of Grant as strategist and as a leader of the U.S. Army in war.

The assigned reading consists of about 160 pages from Grant’s memoirs that cover the last two years of the war. Since this will naturally involve covering Grant’s strategy for 1864, I have asked that the students also read the following January 1864 letter Grant wrote to Halleck.

Hdqrs. Military Division of the Mississippi
Nashville, Tenn., January 19, 1864.

Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief of the Army, Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in lieu of these one be taken farther south. I would suggest Raleigh, N. C., as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.

A moving force of 60,000 men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee should withdraw from his present position. In that case the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist. A force moving from Suffolk would destroy first all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarcely meet with serious opposition. Once there, the most interior line of railway still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our armies into new fields, where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of the North Carolina troops to desert and return to their homes. It would give us possession of many negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the port now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea-coast. It would enable operations to commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters.

Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying the country and the armies that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can. I have written this in accordance with what I understand to be an invitation from you to express my views about military operations, and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon, I shall always believe is at least intended for the best, and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U. S. GRANT,
Major-General

U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 70 volumes in 128 parts. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series 1, vol.33: 394-95.

This document—as is the letter from Halleck laying out the Lincoln administration’s objections to the ideas contained in it—must figure prominently in any effort to understand or explain Grant’s thinking as he ascended to the office of general-in-chief and assumed responsibility for formulating Union strategy. Indeed, to revisit an argument I made over five years ago in an essay on Grant scholarship, it is astounding to me that so many works published since 1983 on Grant and his generalship neglect the subject. “Undoubtedly,” I argued, “the main explanation for the neglect of this document is the fact that Grant did not mention it in his memoirs. . . . Still, this is no excuse for ignoring a document that is readily accessible in both the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant and Official Records.”

Why 1983? Aside from the dismissive treatment of it in works by Bruce Catton and T. Harry Williams, it was not really until the appearance of Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones’s How the North Won that Grant’s letter seems to have received the attention and degree of sophisticated analysis it deserved. Since then, Brooks Simpson has followed in Hattaway and Jones’s footsteps to make serious consideration of this document a critical part of his analysis of Grant’s generalship. Yet, it seems that even though nearly thirty years have passed since the publication of How the North Won, Simpson remains rare in this respect among students of Grant’s generalship—though I like to think I have also given the letter appropriate attention in my own work on Grant and his relationship with Meade.

Of course, this is just further evidence of How the North Won’s status as one of the great books in the field people say they recognize, but have not taken the time to read with the care it requires and deserves.

150 years ago

The above video clip is, of course, the opening scene from Glory, which is a dramatized recreation of Robert Gould Shaw’s experience at Antietam with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. As part of Gordon’s brigade of Williams’s/Crawford’s Division of Mansfield/Williams’s XII Corps, the 2nd Massachusetts was involved in two significant actions on 17 September 1862, the fight with D.H. Hill’s forces in the Cornfield and an advance alongside the 13th New Jersey from the East Woods to the Hagerstown Pike in the aftermath of Sedgwick’s disaster in the West Woods.

Shaw later wrote:

Of course there are mistakes made in every battle; that day we were the victims of one; for Gordon’s Brigade was sent forward to support Sumner in [the West Woods] which he had already been driven out of. Instead of finding friends there, we were met by a volley of musketry; we didn’t return fire for some time, thinking there was some mistake, and when we did fire, we did very little execution, and had to retire. Colonel Andrews saved us there, fo rif we had gone as far as we were ordered, we should probably have been overwhelmed.

Also with the 2nd Massachusetts that morning was Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight.

Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.
On the field

Dear Mother,
It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far –

Dearest mother,
I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye if so it must be I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God & love you all to the last. Dearest love to father & all my dear brothers.

Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay –

Mother, yrs
Wilder

All is well with those that have faith

Dwight died from his wounds two days later in Boonsboro.

Dwight’s story is prominently featured in the episode of the American Experience PBS is airing tomorrow night, Death in the Civil War. “Enjoyment” is probably not the right word to describe what the viewer will experience watching it, but they will find it a superbly done and sobering look at an important aspect of the Civil War.

This Week

Of course, this is the 150th anniversary of the week that the Maryland Campaign came to a head, with the finding of Special Orders 191, South Mountain, the Fall of Harpers Ferry, Antietam, and Shepherdstown. 17 September 1862, of course, remains not just the bloodiest day of combat in the American Civil War, but the bloodiest day in American history with over 3,000 killed outright and total casualties coming to a little over 22,700.

On Tuesday, 18 September, PBS will broadcast Death in the Civil War as part of its American Experience series, deliberately timed to coincide (appropriately) with the anniversary of Antietam. I received an advanced copy a few weeks ago (which is fortunate, given that I will be otherwise engaged on Tuesday night.) I cannot recommend this program highly enough. It is, of course, inspired by Drew Gilpin Faust’s great book This Republic of Suffering, features her prominently, and offers a powerful and moving treatment of the subject.

That being said, we should also remember that this is the 70th anniversary of critical events in the far larger and far bloodier battle of Stalingrad. It was on 14 September 1942 that Alexander Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Rifle Division crossed the Volga River–in daylight, under fire (the experience of which is dramatized, with some license, here in the film Enemy at the Gates)–to launch a critical counterattack in the fight for the city.

From Earl Ziemke, Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East:

The 14th was another dark day for the defense. In the south quarter, XXXXVIII Panzer Corps reached the railroad station and forced a spearhead through to the Tsaritsa. North of the river, LI Corps rammed two divisions abreast into the center of the city, by 1200 had the main railroad station, and at 1500 reached the Volga at the waterworks. By dark, the corps held almost a mile of river bank, and antitank guns set up there had sunk two ferries and a steamer. . . . Seydlitz’s LI Corps began to experience on the 14th and 15th what XXXXVIII Corps already had for several days: street fighting in a city that was being contested block by block, building by building, even floor by floor. Nothing was conceded. Houses were fought over as if they were major fortresses. According to the History of the Great Patriotic War, the main railroad station changed hands five times on the morning of the 14th and another thirteen times in the next several days. Who held what at any particular time was impossible to tell.

From Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army:

The Sixth Army’s major offensive into the city was launched just before dawn on 13 September.

That evening, Fuhrer headquarters celebrated the success of the 71st Division reaching the centre of the city. Stalin heard the same news in the Kremlin when Yeremenko telephoned him and warned that another major attack could be expected the next day. Stalin turned to General Vasilevsky. “Issue orders immediately for Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Division to cross the Volga and see what else you can send over.” Zhukov, who was also with them, poring over a map of the area, was told to fly down again immediately. Nobody was in any doubt that the moment of crisis had arrived. . . .

The battle on 14 September went badly for the defenders. The German 295th Infantry Division captured the Mamaev Kurgan as Chuikov had feared, but the biggest threat came in the centre of the city, where one of Sarayev’s NKVD regiments was thrown into a counter-attack on the main station. It changed hands several times during the day. . . .

As the [13th Guards] division was approaching the Volga, we saw a tall, dark cloud. One couldn’t possible mistake it for dust. It was sinister, quick, light, and black as death: that was the smoke from burning oil-storage tanks rising over the northern part of the city. Big arrows nailed to the trunks of trees said “Crossing.” They pointed towards the Volga. . . . The division couldn’t wait until night to cross the river. . . . Barges were rocking the waves, and men from the rifle division felt frightened because the enemy was everywhere, in the sky, on the opposite bank, but they had to encounter him without the comfort of solid earth under their feet. The air was unbearably transparent, the blue sky was unbearably clear, the sun seemed relentlessly bright and the flowing flat water seemed so tricky and unreliable. And no one felt happy about the clarity of the air, about the coolness of the river in the nostrils, about the tender and moist breath of the Volga touching their inflamed eyes. Men on the barges, ferries, and motor boats were silent. . . . Every head was turning from side to side in anxiety. Everyone was glancing at the sky.

“He’s diving, the louse!” someone shouted.

Suddenly, a tall and thin bluish-white column of water sprang up about fifty metres from the barge. Immediately after it another column grew and collapsed ever closer, and then a third one. Bombs were exploding on the surface of the water, and the Volga was covered with lacerated foamy wounds; shells began to hit the sides of the barge. Injured men would cry out softly, as if trying to conceal the fact of being wounded. By then, rifle bullets had already started whistling over the water.

There was one terrible moment when a large calibre shell hit the side of a small ferry. There was a flash of flame, dark smoke enveloped the ferry, an explosion was heard, and immediately afterwards, a drawling scream as if born from this thunder. Thousands of people saw immediately the green helmets of the men swimming among the wreckage of wood rocking on the surface of the water.

The date given for the scene from Enemy at the Gates linked to above is 20 September 1942. Grossman quotes a report written on that date by an officer from the 13th Guards Division that states:

May I report to you, the situation is as follows: the enemy is trying to encircle my company, to send sub-machine-gunners round to our rear. But all their efforts have so far failed in spite of their superior strength. Our soldiers and officers are displaying courage and heroism in the face of the fascist jackals. The Fritzes won’t succeed until they’ve stepped over my corpse. Guards soldiers do not retreat. Soldiers and officers may die like heroes, but the enemy musn’t be allowed to break our defence. . . . While the company commander is alive, not a single whore will break through. . . . We will die like heroes for Stalin’s city. Let the Soviet land be the [enemy's] grave. . . .

Folks who whine about what happened to the South during the Civil War merit little sympathy from anyone who knows the story of World War II on the Eastern Front. And while the death count from the Civil War of 750,000 is indeed sobering, it pales in comparison with Soviet losses in their Great Patriotic War. Moreover, World War II (in combination with the horrors of the Stalinist regime) decimated the generation that would have assumed leadership of Russian society in the 1970s and 1980s and it is no coincidence that it is during those decades that the Soviet Union really started to fall apart. It was Hitler’s objective to destroy Bolshevism and any fair assessment must concede that, as repugnant as it was, the Nazi regime made a not inconsiderable contribution to the outcome of the Cold War.

Just trying to keep things in perspective.

The Deep Cut – 150 years ago this afternoon

A.M. Judson, History of the Eighty-third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Erie, Pa.: B.FH. Lynn Publisher, 1865), 51:

The enemy were well posted on the hills in our front, and, having selected their own position, they compelled our troops to be the attacking party. The order was now given to advance and charge upon the enemy. The brigade passed through the woods and over a rail fence, into an open field, in columns by division, and then deployed and formed line of battle en echelon. This movement they executed in splendid order, in face of the enemy and amidst the roar of artillery and the crashing of musketry which were directed upon them. Col. Campbell, standing in front of the line, now gave the command to double-quick. The men of the Eighty-Third dashed forward with a yell. The enemy’s batteries vomited forth showers of grape and canister into their faces as they approached. But still they faltered not, nor did the lines waver. Whilst they were pressing forward, Col. Campbell was wounded by a minnie ball in the leg and fell. The regiment passed over him and he was taken to the rear. The command then fell upon Major Lamont, who also received a wound shortly after and fell into the hands of the enemy. In spite of the terrible opposition they met with, the Eighty-Third charged forward until the other regiments of the brigade halted and commenced firing.

They then halted and commenced firing also. The understanding was that the division of troops on our right were to clear the railroad cut of rebel infantry, while our division was to advance and charge the batteries on the left of it; but their part of the programme the troops on our right failed to fulfill. The consequence was that, in addition to the artillery fire in their front, our men were now exposed to a galling flank fire from the rebel infantry in the railroad cut. They fought on, however, without any expectation of success, losing fearfully at every discharge of the enemy’s guns.

Theron W. Haight, “Gainesville, Groveton and Bull Run,” War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (Milwaukee: Burdick, Armitage & Allen, 1896), vol. 2: 366-71:

It must have been between two and three o’clock when Porter’s Corps of 8,000 or 9,000 men marched down and formed in a column of a dozen lines or so at our left, we having been massed into a similar column ourselves. The two forces were then ordered on, and our portion of the column found a piece of woods in our front and went right along through it, moving slowly as we heard the whirring and whistling of bullets about our heads. . . . For half a mile or more to the left of us a long line of men in blue was marching forward with the same object. Now the bullets began to fly about our ears, and men to pitch forwards or backwards, out of the line, to the earth. Artillery from unseen locations back of the enemy’s infantry line opened upon us, and the shouts and yells from both sides were indescribably savage.

It seemed like the popular idea of pandemonium made real, and indeed it is scarcely too much to say that we were really transformed for the time, from a lot of good-natured boys to the most blood-thirsty of demoniacs. Without my being in the least degree conscious of any such thing, the bottom of my haversack had been torn away by a fragment of shell, and a bullet had pierced my canteen, relieving me of the weight of all my provision and drink, and my hat had somehow been knocked off my head on my way from the woods to the railroad grade. . . . [M]any, very many, were lying on the ground behind us, dead, or yielding up their young lives with the blood that was oozing from their gaping wounds. Those of us who were on the embankment were too few to even attempt to drive out the troops on the other side of it, and accordingly lay as flat to the slope as we could, crawling occasionally to the top, and discharging our muskets, held horizontally over our heads, in the direction which seemed to afford a chance of hitting somebody on the other side of the grade. In the meantime a second line of troops attempted to come across the field from our side, and the din instantly became so infernal that I desisted from the feeble efforts I had been making against the enemy, in order to see what was happening in our rear.

As I looked back, I saw our line making a grand rush in our direction, many of the men holding their arms before their faces, as though to keep off a storm. Bullets were pouring into them from the infantry beyond us, but worst of all, Longstreet’s batteries, freshly posted on a rise of ground a mile or so to our left, were enfilading the approaching troops with solid shot, shell, and sections a foot long or more, of railroad iron, which tore up the earth frightfully, and was death to any living thing that they might touch on their passage. Our second line gave way before this terrific storm, and ran back to the cover of the woods, leaving us on the embankment to our fate. As for ourselves, we still kept up the desultory fire that I have described, with no serious effect, I presume, after the brief intermission mentioned.

But shortly there came an unlooked-for variation in the proceedings. Huge stones began to fall about us, and now and then one of them would happen to strike one or another of us with very unpleasant effect. By this time all my friends on the rebel work at my side were badly wounded, and I had received a few scratches and bruises for my own part. The enemy kept up the showers of stones, and we were returning the favors to such extent as we were able, and bullets intended for the rebels from our soldiers back in the woods were striking the ground about us, and at least one of them struck a comrade at my elbow, wounding him in the back, and fatally. . .

It was a puzzle to decide upon any course of action, and I took time to cut away Cotter’s shirt, find that his hurt was one that I could not relieve, and replace the garment with my own, and also to place a bandage about Ayer’s arm, before finally deciding to try running over the embankment in the hope of obtaining a cessation of hostilities at that point, in case of my getting over alive. I was fortunate enough to be permitted to jump down from the top into the rebel line before anybody got a successful shot at me, and made bold to ask the further favor of being allowed to bring my wounded friends over the work. This request was not granted, and I probably owe my life to the refusal. The stone-throwing ceased there, however, and I helped bandage up the wounded arms of a few of their soldiers who had been retired into the ditch at the foot of the grade.

Shortly afterwards an officer seized me by the collar, drew me to my feet, and bade me look at the greatest soldier, he said, that ever lived. It was indeed Stonewall Jackson, who was riding down the line, a stalwart figure, in rusty uniform, his slouch hat in his hand, and accompanied, of course, by a retinue of mounted officers. He was greeted with hearty cheers, but his own aspect was rather pre-occupied, as though he were thinking of something out of the range of present vision.

“Chicken” Generalship

Needless to say, when one finds something with this headline, it does not inspire optimism that you will find something that is to be taken very seriously.

The Civil War’s Most Chicken General
A new history tells the story of George McClellan, the Union Army leader who almost undid Lincoln.
By John Swansburg
Posted Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, at 11:54 PM ET

Imagine, for a moment, that it is 1862 and you are Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s premier fighting force. The Confederate Army, led by Robert E. Lee, has just invaded Maryland. As you’re preparing your strategy for checking Lee’s advance, a message arrives at headquarters: A corporal from Indiana has found an envelope lying in a field near enemy lines. Inside are three cigars. Oh, and a copy of Lee’s Special Order No. 191, detailing his invasion plan and revealing that the Confederate general has split his force in two, a daring move that has left his army dangerously exposed to attack. You’re George McClellan—beloved by your soldiers, tasked by your commander-in-chief with destroying Lee’s army. What do you do?

Smoke the cigars, obviously. But after that? If you answered, Attack with all possible speed, by god!, you have a lot to learn from Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution. As its title suggests, the book sets out to show how the nature of the war changed during Lee’s Maryland campaign, which culminated in the famously bloody Battle of Antietam. Up until that point in the war, powerful men on both sides of the conflict believed that a negotiated peace might be hammered out. But after 3,600 Americans died fighting outside a farming village on the banks of Antietam Creek, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, a radical document that ended any hope of reconciliation. In the wake of Antietam, the Union would fight an all-out war of subjugation, with the goal of crushing the rebellion beneath its Yankee boot and ending the institution of slavery by force.

The full story is here.

There is much, of course, that I could say in response, but with the new academic year scheduled to begin next week, I have neither the time nor energy to do so right now. Nor do I think it would do much good.

So all I will do here is offer an excerpt from the chapter of Erich Ludendorff’s memoirs in which he discusses the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg that, for some reason, came to my mind after reading the sort of commentary that the comments section at the bottom of Swansberg’s piece indicates the subjects of Civil War generalship in general and George McClellan in particular still attract like flies.


The civilian is too inclined to think that war is only like the working out of an arithmetical problem with given numbers. It is anything but that. On both sides it is a case of wrestling with powerful, unknown physical and psychological forces. . . . Only the head of the Government, or the statesman who decides on war, shoulders the same or a bigger burden or responsibility than that of the commander-in-chief. In his case it is a question of one great decision only, but the commander of an army is faced with decisions daily and hourly. He is continuously responsible for the welfare of many hundred thousands of persons, even of nations. For a soldier there is nothing greater, but at the same time more awesome and responsible, than to find himself at the head of an army or the entire armed forces of his country. . . .

All those who criticize the dispositions of a general ought first to study military history, unless they have themselves taken part in a war in a position of command.

I should like to see such people compelled to conduct a battle themselves. They would be overwhelmed by the greatness of their task, and when they realized the obscurity of the situation, and the exacting nature of the enormous demands made up on them, they would doubtless be more modest.

Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914-November 1918: The Great War from the Siege of Liege to the Signing of the Armistice as viewed from the Grand Headquarters of the German Army, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920), vol. 1: 63.

Clausewitz

Over on Crossroads, Brooks used some recent commentary by Mark Neely as his point of departure for discussing the much-quoted and cited, but too-often poorly understood Prussian philosopher.

Why some consider Clausewitz difficult is a mystery to me, as I have always found him pretty easy. But that is perhaps grist for another post.

In any case, while Brooks is correct that the entirety of On War was not translated into English until after the Civil War, in fact excerpts (including its discussion of friction) did appear, translated, in a London publication in June 1834 and were republished in the United States in the March-September 1835 and September 1835-January 1836 issues of The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States.

Of course (ahem), had you read The Ongoing Civil War: New Versions of Old Stories, you would know this already. Still, the larger point that Clausewitz was largely unknown remains accurate. The excerpts that appeared in English in the 1830s are rather short and miss some of Clausewitz’s most important points. Moreover, wading through Military and Naval Magazine is not much fun today; I doubt many of its undoubtedly rather limited number of readers at the time found the effort worthwhile or got much out of it.

Tramping the 150th

Some photos from a trip last week to the Virginia peninsula for a Yorktown Staff Ride with our satellite campus at Fort Lee, from which I took some time out to celebrate the 150th anniversary of George McClellan’s 1862 grand campaign.

The first photo below was taken along the section of the defensive line near the Yorktown Vistor Center. The cannon posted next to the flag is a French 6 pdr. known as “Le Renard” (“the Fox”). Redoubt No. 9, which was captured by the French on 14 October 1781, is visible to the right of the picture.

It is interesting to look at the maps and see just how much the Confederates followed the outline of Cornwallis’s defenses from 1781 in constructing their defenses around Yorktown itself. (Magruder’s men also constructed fortifications that extended south behind the Warwick River.) Of course, the same terrain features, in particular Yorktown Creek and Wormley’s Creek, essentially dictated that the historic Hampton Road (modern Cook Road/VA 704) be the main avenue of approach for armies conducting offensive operations against Yorktown in both 1781 and 1862. (The first map below of the 1862 lines is from plate 14 in the OR Atlas; the second of the 1781 lines is from the USMA Atlas site.)

The photos below were taken at Fort Darling on Drewry’s Bluff. Both look downstream to where on 15 May 1862 the engagement took place between the Confederate land defenses and the James River Flotilla (which included the ironclads Monitor and Galena) in which the latter were forced to retreat downstream. The engagement resulted in the awarding of the first Medal of Honor to a member of the US Marine Corps, Corporal John Freeman Mackie. Fort Darling was also the site of the Confederate Naval Academy.

From, John Russell Soley, “The Navy in the Peninsular Campaign,” Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 2: 268-70:

On the 10th, Norfolk was abandoned, and was immediately occupied by the Union forces under General Wool. Early the next morning Commodore Tattnall, being unable to carry out his plan of taking the Merrimac up the James River near Craney Island. Meantime, the Galena and her consorts under Commander John Rodgers had been working their way up the James River. On the first day two batteries were encountered. The first, at Rock Wharf, was silenced, The resistance of the second, at Hardin’s Bluff, was more obstinate, but Rodgers, in the Galena, lay abreast of the enemy’s guns and kept up a steady fire, disconcerting their aim while the wooden boats went by. During the next week Rodgers continued on his course up the James, meeting With no serious impediment until he arrived at Drewry’s Bluff, eight miles below Richmond.

At this time, May 15th, the flotilla had been increased by the addition of the Monitor and the Naugatuck. Fort Darling (Commander E. Farrand, C.S.N.), at Drewry’s Bluff, was a strong position, two hundred feet above the river, and mounting a number of heavy guns. At the foot of the bluff an obstruction had been placed in the river formed of sunken vessels secured by chains. The light armor of the Galena had not as yet been seriously tested, and Rodgers had no great confidence in her ability to stand a severe fire; nevertheless, he decided to make the test. In a private letter written shortly after, he said: “I was convinced as soon as I came on board that she would be riddled under fire, but the public thought differently, and I resolved to give the matter a fair trial.” Accordingly, he ran the Galena up to a point opposite the battery, where the width of the stream was not more than double the ship’s length. According to an officer in the fort, the Galena “steamed up to within seven or eight hundred yards of the bluff, let go her starboard anchor, ran out the chains, put her head inshore, backed astern, let go her stream-anchor from the starboard quarter, hove ahead, and made ready for action before firing a gun.” Nothing could have been more beautiful than the neatness and precision of movement with which Rodgers placed the Galena, as if at target practice, directly under the enemy’s fire. In the words of the officer already quoted, “It was one of the most masterly pieces of seamanship of the whole war.”

In this position the Galena remained for three hours and twenty minutes until she had expended all her ammunition. She came out of the action badly shattered, having been struck 28 times and perforated in 18 places. The Monitor passed for a short time above the Galena, but being unable to elevate her guns sufficiently to reach the bluff, she again dropped below. The wooden vessels cooperated as far as possible, but of course could not accomplish much. The attack made it clear that the obstructions could not be passed without first reducing the fort, and that the fort could not be reduced without the cooperation of the army.

“I Can Do it All”

On Thursday, 8 December 2011, I will be in Littleton, Colorado, speaking to the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table on “McClellan as General-in-Chief.”

This Thursday, of course, will be the 150th plus one month anniversary of the day in 1861 when then thirty-four year old Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan (his 185th birthday is this Saturday!) ascended to the post of Commanding General of the United States Army upon the retirement of Bvt. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.

From U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (70 vols. in 128 parts; Washington, 1880-1901), ser. 3, vol. 1: 613-14:

GENERAL ORDERS,
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Numbers 19.
Washington, November 1, 1861.

In accordance with General Orders, Numbers 94, from the War Department, I hereby assume command of the Armies of the United States. In the midst of the difficulties which encompass and divide the nation, hesitation and self-distrust may well accompany the assumption of so vast a responsibility; but confiding as I do in the loyalty, discipline, and courage of our troops, and believing as I do that Providence will favor ours as the just cause, I cannot doubt that success will crown our efforts and sacrifices.

The Army will unite with me in the feeling of regret that the weight of many years and the effect of increasing infirmities, contracted and intensified in his country’s service, should just now remove from our head the great soldier of our nation–the hero who in his youth raised high the reputation of his country on the fields of Canada, which he hallowed with his blood; who in more mature years proved to the world that American skill and valor could repeat if not eclipse the exploits of Cortez in the land of the Montezumas; whose whole life has been devoted to the service of his country; whose whole efforts have been directed to uphold our honor at the smallest sacrifice of life-a warrior who scorned the selfish glories of the battle-field when his great qualities as a statesman could be employed more profitably for his country; a citizen who in his declining years has given to the world the most shining instance of loyalty, in disregarding all ties of birth and clinging still to the cause of truth and honor. Such has been the career, such the character, of Winfield Scott, whom it has long been the delight of the nation to honor both as a man and a soldier. While we regret his loss, there is one thing we cannot regret-the bright example he has left for our emulation.

Let us all hope and pray that his declining years may be passed in peace and happiness, and that they may be cheered by the success of the country and the cause he has fought for and loved so well. Beyond all that, let us do nothing that can cause him to blush for us; let no defeat of the Army he has so long commanded embitter his last years, but let our victories illuminate the close of a life so grand.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.

From John Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary (3 vols.; Washington, 1908), vol. 1: 50-51:

…. The night of the 1st November we went over to McC[lellan]‘s. The General was there and read us his General Order in regard to S[cott]‘s resignation and his own assumption of command. The President thanked him for it and said it greatly relieved him. He added:—”I should be perfectly satisfied if I thought that this vast increase of responsibility would not embarrass you.” “It is a great relief, Sir! I feel as if several tons were taken from my shoulders, today. I am now in contact with you and the Secretary. I am not embarrassed by intervention.” “Well,” says the President, “draw on me for all the sense I have, and all the information. In addition to your present command, the supreme command of the army will entail a vast labor upon you.” “I can do it all,” McC[lellan] said quietly.

McClellan was the fourth man and first graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to hold the post of Commanding General. His predecessors in the office, which was created in 1821, were Jacob Brown, Alexander Macomb, and Scott. McClellan was by a considerable margin the youngest man ever to hold the office, which was eliminated in the General Staff Act of 1903. (The second youngest was Grant, who was about 42 when he became general-in-chief in 1864.)

Information on the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table, including logistics for next week’s meeting, can be found at this site.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Before everyone rushes out in pursuit of cheap electronic goods that will probably be obsolete this time next year, from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler (9 vols.; New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953-55), vol. 6: 496-97:

Proclamation of Thanksgiving
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Every *properly* educated student of American history, of course, knows that the true First Thanksgiving Celebration in British North America did not take place at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, but at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia two years earlier on 4 December 1619. That day 38 men from Berkeley Parish in England landed on the banks of the James River and, in thanks for their safe voyage from England, proclaimed:

Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.

Of course, to those of us with an interest in the American Civil War, Berkeley Plantation is better known as the site of Harrison’s Landing, the final destination for the Army of the Potomac after the Seven Days’ Battles, and where “Taps” (also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby”) was composed in 1862. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that if you have not visited Berkeley Plantation, you have not visited Virginia.

Now to run out and grab that cheap Blu-Ray combo with surround sound. It’s what Mr. Lincoln and the folks at Berkeley would have wanted, I think.

More on Black Confederates

For those who just can’t get enough of this subject:

Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph
Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr.

Introduction
“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause – - a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery – - has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.”

In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy. As of the date of this website this photograph is being sold on the web by an on-line retailer, www.rebelstore.com, which promotes itself as “The Internet’s Original Rebel Store,” and advertises this photograph as a legitimate photo of “Members of the first all Black Confederate Unit organized in New Orleans in 1861.”

The Photograph
In a photographic studio somewhere in Philadelphia, probably in early 1864, a group of black Union soldiers posed for a rather somber photograph with a white officer. We know nothing of this group, but it may have formed part of a unit that had been recently formed in the union army [4]. In his preliminary emancipation proclamation of September 1862, President Lincoln announced that the federal government would enroll African-American soldiers as of New Year’s Day 1863. By June of that year, a committee of prominent Philadelphians had been appointed to raise black regiments. By the war’s end the federal government had raised 166 black units of infantry, cavalry and artillery totaling 185,000 combatants. Eleven of these units had been formed at Camp William Penn, “the largest camp existing for the organization and disciplining of Colored Troops,” located in Chelten Hills (now Cheltenham Township, just outside the northern city limit of Philadelphia). The white officers commanding the troops were trained under the auspices of the Free Military School for the Command of Colored Troops established in Philadelphia in 1863.

The rest of the essay, with notes, can be found here.

A Happy Story

I think just about everyone can agree this is good–no, great–news:

WALMART ABANDONS PLANS TO BUILD SUPERCENTER ON WILDERNESS BATTLEFIELD

Preservation community pleased with decision by retail giant to drop plans to build a supercenter within historic boundaries of Wilderness battlefield

(Orange, Va.) – In an unexpected development, Walmart announced this morning that it has abandoned plans to pursue a special use permit previously awarded to the retail giant for construction of a supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield. The decision came as the trial in a legal challenge seeking to overturn the special use permit was scheduled to begin in Orange County circuit court.

“We are pleased with Walmart’s decision to abandon plans to build a supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield,” remarked James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. “We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield. We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”

The Civil War Trust is part of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, an alliance of local residents and national groups seeking to protect the Wilderness battlefield. Lighthizer noted that the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition has sought from the very beginning to work with county officials and Walmart to find an alternative location for the proposed superstore away from the battlefield.

“We stand ready to work with Walmart to put this controversy behind us and protect the battlefield from further encroachment,” Lighthizer stated. “We firmly believe that preservation and progress need not be mutually exclusive, and welcome Walmart as a thoughtful partner in efforts to protect the Wilderness Battlefield.”

In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of the Walmart Supercenter and associated commercial development on the Wilderness Battlefield. A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by Pulitzer Prize-winners James McPherson and David McCullough. One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a legal challenge to overturn the decision.

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought May 5–6, 1864, was one of the most significant engagements of the American Civil War. Of the 185,000 soldiers who entered combat amid the tangled mass of second-growth trees and scrub in Virginia’s Orange and Spotsylvania counties, some 30,000 became casualties. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, composed of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, and Civil War Trust, seeks to protect this irreplaceable local and national treasure.

The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved nearly 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more at www.civilwar.org.

A Sad Story

I really hope this is all somehow a big misunderstanding. I do not know Mr. Lowry (though I did review one of his books) but have a very hard time believing anyone would really do what he is accused of doing.

Archives: historian tampered with Lincoln pardon
By Matthew Barakat, Associated Press – Mon Jan 24, 4:24 pm ET

McLEAN, Va. – The National Archives says a longtime Abraham Lincoln researcher has been caught telling a big lie about Honest Abe.

The Archives said Monday that historian Thomas P. Lowry, 78, of Woodbridge, has acknowledged that he used a fountain pen with special ink to change the date on a presidential pardon issued by Lincoln to a military deserter, making it appear that Lowry had uncovered a document of historical significance.

Specifically, Lowry changed the date of the pardon from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. The Archive said the change made it look as if Lowry had discovered a document that was perhaps Lincoln’s final official act before he was assassinated that evening at Ford’s Theatre.

Full Story is here.

Mr. Lowry is evidently fighting back.

Va. Historian Denies Tampering With Lincoln Pardon
by The Associated Press
WASHINGTON January 25, 2011, 08:35 am ET

An amateur Virginia historian is denying allegations by the National Archives that he changed the date on a presidential pardon issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

Seventy-eight-year-old Thomas P. Lowry of Woodbridge, Va., said Monday that he was pressured by federal agents to confess. The Archives says Lowry has confessed to using a fountain pen to change the date on a pardon by Lincoln from 1864 to 1865.

The change made it appear that Lowry had discovered a document languishing in the Archives that was likely Lincoln’s final official act before he was assassinated.

Full article is here.

This Week

A more substantive series of posts is in the works for this blog (promise), but I would definitely be remiss if I did not first take a little time here to call notice to a certain noteworthy event in history. Namely, that it was in fact 150 years ago this week–9 January 1861, to be exact–that anti-government, state rights reactionaries in the southern part of the United States, upset over the fact that a certain skinny guy from Illinois had been elected president, fired on the Star of the West.

Star of the West

Here is the report of the ship’s commander:

NEW-YORK, Saturday, Jan. 12, 1861.

M.O. ROBERTS, ESQ. — SIR: After leaving the wharf on the 5th inst., at 5 o’clock P.M., we preceeded down the Bay, where we hove to, and took on board four officers and two hundred soldiers, with their arms, ammunition, &c., and then proceeded to sea, crossing the bar at Sandy Hook at 9 P.M. Nothing unusual took place during the passage, which was a pleasant one or this season of the year.

We arrived at Charleston Bar at 1:30 A.M. on the 9th inst., but could find no guiding marks for the Bar, as the lights were all out. We proceeded with caution, running very slow and sounding, until about 4 A.M., being then in 4 1/2 fathoms water, when we discovered a light through the haze which at that time covered the horizon. Concluding that the lights were on Fort Sumter, after getting the bearings of it, we steered to the S.W. for the main ship-channel, where we hove to, to await daylight, our lights having all been put out since 12 o’clock, to avoid being seen.

As the day began to break, we discovered a steamer just in shore of us, who, as soon as she saw us, burned one blue light and two red lights as signals, and shortly after steamed over the bar and into the ship channel. The soldiers were now all put below, and no one allowed on deck except our own crew. As soon as there was light enough to see, we crossed the bar and proceeded on up the channel, (the outer-bar buoy having been taken away,) the steamer ahead of us sending off rockets, and burning lights until after broad daylight, continuing on her course up nearly two miles ahead of us. When we arrived about two miles from Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter being about the same distance, a masked battery on Morris Island, where there was a red Palmetto flag flying, opened fire upon us –distance, about five-eighths of a mile. We had the American flag flying at our flagstaff at the time, and soon after the first shot, hoisted a large American Ensign at the fore. We continued on under the fire of the battery for over ten minutes, several of the shots going clear over us. One shot just passed clear of the pilot-house, another passed between the smoke-stack and walking-beams of the engine, another struck the ship just abaft the fore-rigging and stove in the planking, while another came within an ace of carrying away the rudder. At the some time there was a movement of two steamers from near Fort Moultrie, one of them towing a schooner, (I presume an armed schooner,) with the intention of cutting us off. Our position now became rather critical, as we had to approach Fort Moultrie to within three-quarters of a mile before we could keep away for Fort Sumter. A steamer approaching us with on armed schooner in tow, and the battery on the island firing at us all the time, and having no cannon to defend ourselves from the attack of the vessels, we concluded that, to avoid certain capture, or destruction, we would endeavor to get to sea. Consequently we wore round and steered down the channel, the battery firing upon us until the shot fell short. As it was now strong ebb tide, and the water having fallen some three feet, we proceeded with caution, and crossed the bar safely at 8:50 A.M., and continued on our course for this port, where we arrived this morning after a boisterous passage. A steamer from Charleston followed us for about three hours, watching our movements.

In justice to the officers and crews of each department of the ship, I must add that their behavior while under the fire of the battery reflected great credit on them.

Mr. BREWER, the New-York pilot, was of very great assistance to me in helping to pilot the ship over Charleston Bar, and up and down the channel.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN MCGOWAN, Captain.

All hail and welcome . . .

. . . the year of the Ox.