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Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out? – Pt 1

Recently two “think pieces,” coincidentally dealing with pretty much the same topic, appeared in the major professional journals concerned with the American Civil War:

Gary W. Gallagher and Kathryn Shively Meier, “Coming to Terms With Civil War Military History,” Journal of the Civil War Era (Volume 4, Issue 4):487-508.


Earl J. Hess, “Where to We Stand?:  A Critical Assessment of Civil War Studies in the Sesquicentennial Era,” Civil War History (Volume 60, Number 4, December 2014):371-403.

Both articles depict, to varying degrees, the increasing marginalization of traditional military history (strategy, operations, tactics, etc.) within academe.  Actually, I would place the word “seemingly” immediately before the word “increasing.” But I’ll explain that in a future post.  For now, I’d just like to call attention to the response to these two pieces by Historista, the nom de blog of Megan Kate Nelson, author of Ruin Nation:  Destruction and the American Civil War (2012), which, according to the description on the back of the soft cover edition, is “the first book to bring together environmental and cultural histories to consider the evocative power of ruination [that is to say, the destruction of cities, houses, forests and soldiers’ bodies] as an imagined state, an act of destruction, and a process of change.”  Which is to say, one of the books forming part of the phenomenon that is causing Civil War military historians to freak out.

Her post, entitled “Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out,” appeared on her blog on December 10, 2014.  I self-identify as a military historian, and I’m freaking out so badly that I assigned Ruin Nation as a supplemental text in an undergraduate readings course I taught last summer and as a required book in my upcoming graduate readings course (it starts next week).

For now, I simply refer you to the post, with comment to come on the articles that prompted it:

Megan begins:

Let’s imagine that you wake up one morning after many years of writing and speaking and teaching in your academic specialty. You have tenure, you have written a lot of books and articles and book reviews, and colleagues across the profession (and sometimes, complete strangers) know who you are. But you wake up one morning convinced that it has all been for nothing. Nobody cares anymore about your research topic or your methodologies or your arguments. You wake up and think, “Oh my god! My field is dying!”

So what do you do?

Find out by reading Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out

Answering the question . . . or not

If the reviews here are any indication, my talk to the Puget Sound Civil War Round Table a few weeks ago seems to have gone over well with the audience.  (I certainly had a good time with its members.)  Evidently, though, my unwillingness to play the game of ranking the Army of Northeastern Virginia–Army of the Potomac-Army of Virginia commanders did not go gone over well with one member.

I, of course, understand this.  Both because I want to make my audience happy by answering their questions and because such exercises can be a lot of fun. Still, this is the sort of question that I am reticent to answer due to a reluctance to engage in exercises that can lead (especially given the time constraints one faces during the Q & A session that follows a lecture) to oversimplified analysis when the true reason we should study history is to understand historic actors and appreciate the complexity of events. Indeed, if there is one thing I have strove to push back against in my scholarship and teaching it is against oversimplified judgments about individuals and events–in other words, what Mark has labeled the “what fools they were” school of military history.  (And, yes, I am aware of the irony of this coming from a guy who recently published an article on “Civil War Generals We Love to Hate”.  I have pointed out that the purpose of my piece was to explain why the particular generals in question are hated, not say it was justified, though I can see how I might not have been as clear on that as I could and should have been.)

To illustrate the complexity of “grading” generals, take for instance what appears on the surface to be a simple question:  Was Grant a better general than McClellan?  The first response, naturally, is to say . . . absolutely!   Look who Lee surrendered to!   But, of course, there is the immensely inconvenient fact that, to get to the same place McClellan had in 1862, east of Richmond on the James River, fighting an Army of Northern Virginia that did not have James Longstreet or JEB Stuart for most of the campaign (and no Stonewall Jackson at all), which was symptomatic of the fact that two years of hard fighting had significantly dulled the strength and vigor of Lee’s army by May 1864, Grant pretty much wrecked the Army of the Potomac.   And, of course, one searches in vain for a Cold Harbor or Crater on McClellan’s military resume.

So move Grant down in the rankings and McClellan up, right?   Well . . .  wait a minute, there are certainly extenuating circumstances in Grant’s case (which Grant fanboys, of course, label “excuses” when presented on behalf of anyone else)–not the least being that one can easily imagine ways that having Longstreet, Stuart, and/or Jackson on hand in 1864 might have actually worked to Grant’s benefit!  After all, anyone familiar with Longstreet’s performance at Seven Pines and Jackson’s conduct during the Seven Days Battles, can certainly make a case that their presence was to McClellan’s benefit in those instances.   They certainly did not prevent Lee from getting his army blasted to pieces at Malvern Hill.

Then, there is the question of how much weight should be given to the degree to which a general contributed to the cancerous command climate in the Eastern armies (caveating, of course, that the real villains in the story resided in Washington).  How much does malignant conduct in this regard, in the case of Hooker, balance against the very real ability he demonstrated as an operational commander?   And what makes for a good tactical commander in the Civil War besides the good fortune to fight on the defensive? (Of course, good fortune being something any successful general has–not exactly something that goes down well in a society that possesses an active management guru industry. Indeed, Napoleon is supposed to have asked only one thing of a general–that he be lucky.)  Should we view Pope as a victim of the Eastern command climate, or a villain in the story of its poisoning?   Burnside, of course, very clearly was a victim of the poisonous command climate.  In this light, and given the extremely problematic operational problem he faced in December 1862, can we really consider his time in command a fair test of his–or anybody’s–ability?   And was Fredericksburg really a defeat for the Union?  By what measure?  If a Union defeat, why did Lee declare himself “depressed” afterward?

In the end, though, I am willing to play the game on one point.  There really is no question who the best commander of the Union armies in the East, and indeed the entire Civil War, was (although a continuous stream of books and his fans insist on insisting there is) . . . Grant.  (What, you thought I was going to say Ben Butler?)   Lee was a great commander, but what sets Grant apart is the fact that he demonstrated the ability to successfully negotiate the Washington game and conduct joint operations–two things Lee never had to do.

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:

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:

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,

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. 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.

Some terminology – “Joint” v. “Combined”

If the dialogue between students of history and the military is to be smooth and productive, it is highly useful–if not absolutely essential–for both to use a common language.

To help us all get on the same page going forward, I provide here some definitions from Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (8 November 2010; as amended through 15 July 2012).

Joint – Connotes activities, operations, organizations, etc., in which elements of two or more Military Departments participate. (p. 165)

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Task Force, Joint Professional Military Education, etc. The American Civil War saw, for instance, numerous examples of “joint” operations, such as Fort Henry and Donelson, Yorktown, Vicksburg, and Fort Fisher.

Combined – Between two or more forces or agencies of two or more allies. (When all allies or services are not involved, the participating nations and services shall be identified, e.g., combined navies.) (p. 55)

Combined Chiefs of Staff, Combined Bomber Offensive, Combined Forces Command-Korea, etc. Since, unlike at Yorktown in 1781 or Market-Garden in 1944, there were no instances of “two or more allies” cooperating together, it is inaccurate according to the defintion above to speak of any Civil War military operation as “combined”–that is, unless one takes a truly extreme state rights perspective on matters. (The term more in vogue today is actually “multi-national”; thus, what was once known as the Department of Joint and Combined Operations [DJCO] at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College became the Department of Joint and Multinational Operations [DJMO], and has since been expanded to be the Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations [DJIMO].)

To further confuse matters, there is also something called “combined arms”. The Joint Pub defines the “combined arms team” as “The full integration and application of two or more arms or elements of one Military Service into an operation.” [p. 56] Examples of this would be the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia integrating and applying artillery, infantry, and cavalry at Gettysburg, or the Marine Corps integrating and applying tactical air elements and ground elements at Tarawa.

“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.

Today we celebrate

. . . the 150th anniversary of the day the guy on the left side of the picture probably should have ducked.

From Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations, pp. 138-40.

About seven o’clock I received a slight wound in the right shoulder from a musket-shot, and, a few moments after, was unhorsed by a heavy fragment of shell which struck my breast. Those around had me borne from the field in an ambulance; not, however, before the President, who was with General Lee, not far in the rear, had heard of the accident and visited me, manifesting great concern, as he continued to do until I was out of danger. The firing ceased, terminated by darkness only, before I had been carried a mile from the field. As next in rank, Major-General G.W. Smith succeeded in command of the army. . . . About noon General Lee was assigned to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, by the President.

Here’s Johnston’s monument at Bentonville, which I believe captures the moment in the battle when he was getting ready to rock some Skynyrd.

(Hat tip to Charles Bowery.)

Gallman, Simpson, and Levin

Here is something for those interested in what is going on here and here.

Of course, the fact that I am aware of what is going on is a pretty sad commentary on me.

Patriotic Gore

Interesting take on Wilson’s book by David Blight:

“Patriotic Gore is Not Really Much Like Any Other Book by Anyone”: Revisiting one of the most important and confounding books ever written about the Civil War.
By David Blight
Posted Thursday, March 22, 2012, at 7:02 AM ET

Fifty years ago this spring, the great literary critic Edmund Wilson, author of classic intellectual histories of Marxism, French symbolism, English literature of all kinds, and many other subjects, published one of the most important and confounding books ever written on the American Civil War. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War both offended and inspired its many reviewers and readers in 1962, when America was celebrating the Civil War Centennial, and it is still likely to dismay as well as enlighten the serious-minded student of the central event of American history. A mythic and sentimental Civil War is still abroad in our culture; reading Wilson anew during these sesquicentennial years will puncture those myths as it explains why they persist. Before or after 1962, no one ever wrote a book quite like Patriotic Gore and it deserves a rereading in our own wartime.

Wilson was an intimidating, irresistible writer. Experts in English departments can argue the point, but he was the preeminent American literary critic/historian of the 20th century. Born in Red Bank, N.J. in 1895, the son of a stalwart Republican father who was a successful lawyer and an occasionally institutionalized depressive, and a deeply caring mother who wished he would be more athletic, Wilson went to boarding school, where he cultivated a love of literature, and then to Princeton, where he graduated in 1916. When the United States entered the Great War, he enlisted in the Army’s ambulance corps, spending much of 1918 working in a hospital complex in Northeastern France. That experience behind the lines of the Western Front, but immersed in its horrible results—his jobs were burying the dead, attending to gas victims, and preventing suicides on the mental ward—shaped Wilson’s moral view of war for the rest of his life. He openly opposed World War II, and by 1960 had become so fiercely pacifist and so discouraged with the Cold War and its proliferation of nuclear weapons that he refused to pay his taxes.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, Wilson wrote prolifically in nearly every genre, including fiction, social criticism and the nonfiction essay, autobiography, and especially literary history. Almost no part of world literature remained beyond his interest. Wilson would chart a plan of superhuman reading and research, spend years in the literary mines of his own imagination, and then produce classics such as Axel’s Castle (1931), a study of French symbolism and modernism, and To the Finland Station (1940), his massive intellectual history of ideas of social justice from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as a brilliant series of portraits of writers and suffering artists (especially Karl Marx) trying to change the world with their pens. To grasp the structure and purpose of Patriotic Gore, one should first read Wilson’s Finland Station. There we see him endlessly pursuing the meaning of the actor in history, and above all, the question the nature, trajectory, and meaning of History itself.

The rest of the article can be found here.

There’s a *blurb* about me! A blurb!

As part of their commemoration of the 150th, the Kansas City Star recently ran a series of articles on the Civil War, focusing naturally on its impact on the Kansas-Missouri border region. In July, they ran the following story on the war’s lessons for the modern military, drawing on interviews with myself and my colleague Terry Beckenbaugh.

July 24

LEAVENWORTH | A more fitting place for Army officers to come and study insurgencies and counterguerrilla tactics would be hard to find in the United States.

For it was from right here that Union soldiers ventured out to butt heads with the bushwhackers who ruled the nearby Missouri countryside.

Proud of its part in taming the West, Fort Leavenworth offers little evidence, beyond some old graves in the cemetery, of its history in the bloody suppression of revolt next door. No displays about “jayhawkers” or “Red Legs” are in the post museum; no statues of their commanders are to be found.

But in the classrooms at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, chapters of the Civil War are remembered, 150-year-old lessons even taught. Not so much Gettysburg or Chancellorville, either, but of places mostly unheard of back east — bloody places, such as Grinter’s farm, Baxter Springs, Centralia, Lawrence.

In an era of prowling Predator drones, it may seem strange that anything would carry over from the days of black powder, but the past has a way of circling around to surprise us on many fronts, cultural as well as military.

Full story is here.

Rock Chalk . . . Terrorist?

More from the Trans-Mississippi . . .

Osceola — still smarting from Civil War — calls on KU to drop Jayhawks as mascot
by The Associated Press and KY3 News
12:15 p.m. CDT, September 19, 2011

OSCEOLA, Mo. — Leaders of a town that was nearly destroyed 150 years ago by a Kansas militia want the University of Kansas to get rid of its Jayhawks mascot because it’s an association with “a group of domestic terrorists.” A resolution passed last week by the Osceola Board of Aldermen also asks the University of Missouri to educate Kansas on the historical origins of the “Border War.”

Osceola, which is 60 miles north of Springfield on Missouri 13, has a population of about 950. The town was a thriving center of commerce on the Osage River and had 2,500 residents on Sept. 22, 1861, when U.S. Sen. Jim Lane led a band of 2,000 “Jayhawkers” in the Kansas Brigade on a two-day siege of the city.

Lane’s men killed a dozen men on the town square, burned nearly all the buildings, and stole all the residents’ property and livestock, as well as cash from the banks. Residents fled and only about 200 people remained after the Jayhawkers left.

While many people know about the raid by a band of Missourians, led by William Quantrill, on Lawrence, Kan., in August 1863, most don’t know that many of the Missouri guerrillas shouted “Remember Osceola” as they burned Lane’s home town. The two attacks were among many along the Missouri-Kansas border during the Civil War between slavery abolitionists like Lane and Southern sympathizers like Quantrill.

Full story is here.

Who Do You . . . Hate??

A few months ago I was asked by Tamela Baker, the editor at America’s Civil War, to put together an article on the “Generals We Love to Hate”. The idea was to choose six generals (the number she estimated could be accomodated in the proscribed word-length) that students of the Civil War hate and explain why this was the case. Her specific vision was expressed this way:

Civil War buffs love to blame particular generals for lost battles and campaigns—McClellan, Bragg, McDowell, etc. Why do we like to hate them so much, and do they deserve it? Pick a couple from each side and examine what made them pariahs—and whether hindsight should rehabilitate their Images. Pick three from each side, 500 or so words on each, and a 500-word intro for about 3,500 words.

As soon as I accepted the assignment, it was clear that there were two approaches I could take to the subject: choose the six generals *I* hate or the six generals I believe are most hated by students of the Civil War. The fact that George McClellan appears first in the article and Henry Halleck does not appear at all should be enough for informed readers to realise which approach I took on this. I also followed Tamela’s direction to include generals from both the North and South. Not surprisingly, it proved much, much easier to identify hated Yankees than hated Rebels and I ended up with four from the North and two from the South on my list.

Anyway, I just finished my final revisions on the essay, so it should be appearing fairly soon. Thus, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to reveal too much of my list or reasoning right now. Still, I was wondering: What do the folks in the blogosphere who follow Civil Warriors think about this question? So, I throw it out to you. Take either or both of the approaches to the question. Who do you think are the most hated generals? Or, who do you hate? Why? Should be fun to compare what you have to say with my list when it comes out.

Hsieh Strikes Back!

Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh’s video response to my review of his West Pointers in the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace, which appeared in The Journal of Military History 74 (April 2010): 597-98.

Congratulations, Brooks!

. . . on the appearance of:

From the publisher:

This book fills a gap in Civil War literature on the strategies employed by the Union and Confederacy in the East, offering a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East.

For all the literature about Civil War military operations and leadership, precious little has been written about strategy, particularly in what has become known as the eastern theater. Yet it is in this theater where the interaction of geography and logistics, politics and public opinion, battlefront and home front, and the conduct of military operations and civil-military relations can be highlighted in sharp relief.

With opposing capitals barely 100 miles apart and with the Chesapeake Bay/tidewater area offering Union generals the same sorts of opportunities sought by Confederate leaders in the Shenandoah Valley, geography shaped military operations in fundamental ways: the very rivers that obstructed Union overland advances offered them the chance to outflank Confederate-prepared positions. If the proximity of the enemy capital proved too tempting to pass up, generals on each side were aware that a major mishap could lead to an enemy parade down the streets of their own capital city. Presidents, politicians, and the press peeked over the shoulders of military commanders, some of who were not reluctant to engage in their own intrigues as they promoted their own fortunes.

The Civil War in the East does not rest upon new primary sources or an extensive rummaging through the mountains of material already available. Rather, it takes a fresh look at military operations and the assumptions that shaped them, and offers a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East. The eastern theater was indeed a theater of decision (and indecision), precisely because people believed that it was important. The presence of the capitals raised the stakes of victory and defeat; at a time when people viewed war in terms of decisive battles, the anticipation of victory followed by disappointment and persistent strategic stalemate characterized the course of events in the East.

Well, what are YOU waiting for? Get it here now!

We the People . . . or

A follow up to Mark’s post regarding the oath and the ramifications for the question of what the United States was/is, and the discussion that followed.

There is an argument, advanced by contemporary Calhouns and Vallandinghams, that a state rights, limited federal power spirit animated the Founding Fathers when the U.S. Constitution was written in the 1780s and that the Constitution was written by and for a confederation of states, sort of like the UN, rather than a nation. (And in light of how well the UN works, I find it curious that anyone who cares about this country would want to have THAT as our way of doing business. But that’s a matter for perhaps another post.)

Yet, if this was the case, why did Founding Fathers of the Confederacy deem it necessary to modify the preamble of their Constitution, eschewing the “We the People of the United States” in favor of “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character”? By doing this, where they not conceding a nationalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, that it was written by the people of the United States rather than the states? Otherwise, why would they have felt the modification was necessary? Moreover, by forsaking their Constitution and submitting to the authority of the U.S. Constitution after the superiority of a government that embraces centralized power run amok (their stated view) was demonstrated by the war, were not the people of the South de facto submitting to what by their own preamble they had declared a centralist Constitution?