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“Little Mac” Fauntleroy

Re Ethan’s cri de coeur: In the past month I’ve had conversations about McClellan with Eliot Cohen, whose excellent Supreme Command has a chapter on Lincoln as commander in chief; and James McPherson, who is currently at work on an entire book devoted to Lincoln as commander in chief. Both are very able historians, but both looked at me as if I were slightly daft to think that a) Lincoln’s involvement in military affairs did not always yield happy results; and b) Lincoln’s interference with McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign almost surely prevented McClellan from capturing Richmond in June 1862.

I mean, with even half of the 40,000+ troops Lincoln siphoned from the Army of the Potomac, McClellan could hardly have done otherwise. Whether he would have known what to do if the Confederate government had evacuated the city and continued the war — which I think it would have done — is a different matter.

On Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, I have a post on the popular image of McClellan that basically argues it endures so powerfully because of its resonance as a mythical archetype. It seems so apropos of this discussion that I reprint it here:

A couple of weeks ago I bought McClellan’s War: The Struggle for Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, by Ethan S. Rafuse. In recent days I’ve begun dipping into it to see how Ethan handles the various issues concerned with McClellan’s generalship. I can tell already that it is the best study of the subject that I have ever seen.

Even so, I’ll be curious to see whether the book manages to have any impact on the standard interpretation of McClellan as arrogant but timid to the point of incompetence: in the formulation of historian Kenneth P. Williams, “a vain and unstable man, with considerable military knowledge, who sat a horse well and wanted to be President.” This interpretation has so far defied pretty much every attempt to take McClellan seriously as a commander, including my own The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865.

This is partly because there’s enough to the standard portrayal to make it plausible, and it certainly does not help McClellan’s case that he had a stormy relationship with the most beloved president in American history. (Few who disliked Lincoln have come off well in the history books.) But I suspect that the principal reason the standard interpretation has been so durable is because it perfectly fits a mythic archetype that Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, in their book on the archetypes of the mature maculine (see Shadow Warriors, Pt 2), call “the High Chair Tyrant.”

Adopting a Jungian framework, Moore and Gillette argue that there are four mature male archetypes — the King (the energy of just and creative ordering), the Warrior (the energy of self-disciplined, aggressive action), the Magician (the energy of initiation and transformation), and the Lover (the energy that connects men to others and the world). Real men — real in the sense of being actual human beings — embody all four of these archetypes, or energies, to some extent, though depending on their temperament, stage of life, etc., they usually embody some of them more than others. McClellan, in his role as commander of the Army of the Potomac and given his universally acknowledged skill at organizing that army in the first place and then revitalizing it after its setbacks in the Peninsula and Second Manassas campaigns, arguably most embodied the King and Magician archetypes. But in mythical terms, his King archetype was deeply flawed.

Each archetype has a three-part structure which Moore and Gillette convey in the form of two triangles. At the pinnacle of the mature King archetype, shown above, is the “king in his fullness.” At the base of the archetype are two dysfunctional, or “shadow” forms: the Tyrant King and the Weakling King. The mature King archetype springs from an earlier childhood archetype called the Divine Child. It is the first and most primal of the immature masculine energies: His Majesty the Baby, beautiful, innocent, redolent of omnipotentiality, and surrounded by adoring parents and family. Think Jesus in the manger — or just visit the maternity ward of most hospitals.

The Divine Child also has two dysfunctional or shadow forms: the High Chair Tyrant and the Weakling Prince:

The High Chair Tyrant is epitomized by the image of Little Lord Fauntleroy sitting in his high chair, banging his spoon on the tray, and screaming for his mother to feed him, kiss him, and attend him. Like a dark version of the Christ child, he is the center of the universe; others exist to meet his powerful needs and desires. . . .

The High Chair Tyrant, through the Shadow King, may continue to be a ruling archetypal influence in adulthood. We all know the story of the promising leader, the CEO, or the presidential candidate, who starts to rise to great prominence and then shoots himself in the foot. He sabotages his success, and crashes to the earth.

I do not say that this description applies to the real McClellan. I do say that as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Moore and Gillette, and many others have demonstrated, these mythical archetypes are universal and quite powerful and therefore, to anyone crafting a historical narrative, quite seductive. They are like ruts in a well-traveled road. The wheels of one’s narrative wagon are bound to fall into them. Can they be avoided? I’m not sure it’s possible, any more than it’s possible to avoid the narrative tropes and modes famously laid out in Hayden White’s Metahistory. But one can at least become aware of these mythical archetypes and employ them consciously — to put them in the service of one’s narrative rather than let the archetypes hijack it.

Comments (14) to ““Little Mac” Fauntleroy”

  1. I’ve long questioned Lincoln’s management abilities, but that comes from a career in management, not history.

    One needs only look at his handling of Newton and Cochrane just prior to the Mud March to see a management style totally gone awry, and full of really bad decisions.

    How Lincoln, as C-in-C, allowed a couple of AWOL generals to see him, denigrate their boss, and then peremptorily act on their comments defies logic.


  2. I am still a novice reader of Civil War literature, but it seems to me that Lincoln’s worst blunders were his elevation of political goals over military ones. For example, his preoccupation with capturing East Tennessee. East Tennessee had virtually zero military significance, but Lincoln wanted to liberate it due to the fact that East Tennessee was a hotbed of unionism. He constantly took away much-needed troops to protect Washington, which it seems to me was never under any real threat. He also diverted more much-needed troops to Texas to counter a nonexistant threat from France, etc.

    Also, I think he should have sacked Banks, Butler, et al as soon as their incompetence manifested itself. Did any of these men really represent such a potent political threat to Lincoln that their removal would have cost him dearly in the political arena? It seems to me that as long as he prosecuted the war to success, his political future was secure. By undermining the war effort, the political generals were more of a burden to Lincoln than they would be had he removed them.

    Lastly, there is the controversy over whether Lincoln believed the proper target of the war was the enemy army or the enemy’s capital/territory. Regardless of where Lincoln stood, I think either one would be wrong. The real target of the war should have been the South’s morale and capacity to wage war, and attacking that target could sometimes entail attacking the enemy army, and other times siezing territories for strategic or political gain. Other times it can just mean wrecking southern infastructure, as with Sherman’s March. I think Grant and Sherman understood this aspect of the war far better than Lincoln did.

  3. It is good to see more than just Rotov questioning the “standard model” of McClellan. If one visits any “buff” sites, he can often see varying opinion on many leaders, even Lincoln, but any one who questions the standard model of McClellan is quickly labeled a fool or dupe. I have an interest in how the adminstrative and doctrinal history of the US Army affected the war, and it always bothered me how quickly people moved from “good organizer” to an unfavorable critque of McClellan. I’m also finding interesting some of the current political punditry which seeks to use the war, and in particular Lincoln’s handling of generals (most importantly McClellan), as a model for how Iraq should be managed. All the stock images of Lincoln and McClellan are given full flower in this type of analysis. For my part, I think it is more interesting to look at the current war situation and envision how it might provide insight into the high commands in the civil war.

  4. Justin,

    I disagree that East Tennessee “had virtually zero military significance”; in fact I would argue it had important miltiary significance. First, the fact that it had “a hotbed of unionism” gave it military importance [see your own comment about “The real target of the war”]. Secondly, the rail line linking Virginia and Tennessee was militarily important to the Confederacy.

    As for Texas, in the summer of 1863 he directed that the flag be planted in West Texas due to French activity in Mexico. The amount of troops necessary to do this was not that large.

    Regarding Banks, Butler, etc., you say he should have sacked them “as soon as their incompetence manifested itself.” Can you specific when their incompetence manifested itself for Lincoln?

    I think Lincoln made a number of significant military mistakes, just not the ones you focus on.

  5. Will,

    How is it that the prevalence of union sentiment in East Tennessee conferred military importance on that region? I don’t see how capturing that area would damage Confederate morale or the Confederate capacity to wage war by the mere fact that there were unionists in that area.

    As for the rail line linking Virginia and Tennessee, it seems to me that Chattanooga was the most important rail hub in the region, and that union efforts in Tennessee should have been focused entirely on obtaining that objective. Wouldn’t the capture of Chattanooga render moot any rail lines in East Tennessee?

    I admit ignorance regarding the number of troops sent to Texas — maybe you could tell me? Even if it was a small number, surely they would have been put to better use assisting the Union operations in Tennessee or Alabama?

    I think Banks should have been done away with after his failure in the Valley. If not then, then at least after Port Hudson or the Red River Campaign. When I named Butler I didn’t realize that up until that point in the war, he hadn’t really suffered a major defeat. Maybe his incompetence wasn’t very obvious until he was whipped by Beauregard, but it seems that many in the military hierarchy were aware of his inability (see Halleck’s “little better than murder” comment).

    I’m curious — what do you think Lincoln’s military mistakes were?

  6. Justin,

    What incompetence on the part of Banks in the Valley was manifest to Lincoln?

    I thought that your point about “attacking that target could sometimes entail … siezing territories for strategic or political gain” made my point about East Tennesee. I think you are correct about the importance of Chattanooga, so maybe we arent so far apart on this issue.

    I think the way Lincoln pressured his commanders for an advance in Virginia mid 1861 was a mistake. I think Lincoln made mistakes in the way he rearranged the commands in northern Virginia in the spring of 1862, including creating a new command for Fremont and reducing Banks command such that Banks became an inviting and easy target for Jackson. I think he made a mistake in the way he handled McClernand’s quest for an independent command. I think he made mistakes in the way he dealt with other problem officers — above Dave Smith mentioned Newton and Cochrane, I would add Hooker to the list. I dont understand his relationship with Halleck, but it seems there was mistakes there. I think he made the mistake of allowing the US strategy to be at times to uncoordinated.

  7. Re the military as well as political importance of East Tennessee: Tennessee contributed 42,000 troops to the Union army, many of them from East Tennessee. Until the North got control of the region, would-be recruits had to trek across the Cumberland Plateau into Kentucky. It’s reasonable to suppose that East Tennessee could and would have contributed many more troops had the North gotten control of it sooner than mid-1863.

    Re Banks, Butler, etc.: It was after all a civil war, and a big part of the strategic challenge was to administer occupied regions of the South intelligently and with the political know-how to get reconstruction underway, address the many issues of an emerging post-emancipation order, and so on. To judge them solely according to combat ability misses a huge part of their importance to the Union war effort. The problem, of course, is that Banks and Butler desperately wanted to win a battlefield triumph — especially the latter.

  8. Didn’t all filed commanders want to win a battlefield triumph? And what is the problem with wanting to win?

  9. Nothing wrong with it, except that for Banks and Butler their reach in field operations exceeded their grasp. But I take your point that a departmental commander can’t necessarily make field operations optional, though in Butler’s case Grant plainly tried (unsuccessfully) to restrict him to administrative affairs.

  10. Mark, do you know how many of those 42,000 troops were contrabands?

    Regarding the political generals, did Lincoln really have Reconstruction on his mind when he appointed people like Butler and Banks? Everything I have read indicates that their owed their positions primarily to their political clout in rallying war Democrats or raising troops from their home states or whatever (although many of them such as Butler did turn out to be good administrators of occupied areas).

  11. On the subject of the Lincoln administration’s expectations and standards of measurement for the performance of political generals like Butler and Banks versus the West Point professionals, see Thomas J. Goss’s The War Within the Union High Command. I think Goss demonstrates that the political generals were judged to be successful if they recruited troops, demonstrated loyalty and support for the Administration and its policies, and managed conquered Southern territory. Goss believes that Lincoln did have a form of Reconstruction in mind with Butler and Banks in Louisiana and that they succeeded in what Lincoln wanted there. One could then view them as competent within their sphere of expertise. The professionals were expected to fight battles, generate casualties (on both sides), and stay clear of politics (especially Democratic politics). Unfortunately for Mac, he was viewed as having missed on all three of these points. Unfortunately for many senior professionals, the administration had little inlination or patience with logistics or economy of force (or lives). They saw victory as did the Radicals in Congress, largely in terms of body counts.

    Personally, I was brought up with the Southern Lost Cause and the Bruce Catton views on the North. A couple years ago I became interested in how so many intelligent Northern officers could be fooled into thinking that Mac was a great commander. Could they have all misjudged a man they knew quite well or did the historians generally get it wrong on Mac, and therefore to a degree on Lincoln too. The recent work by Rafuse, Beatie, Goss, and Harsh – and the contemporary writings by some of the participants themselves – have provided some really refreshing opportunities to rethink the whole Northern war effort, especially in light of how partisan politics seems to have infused everything and everyone. Rotov’s site has pointed the way to a lot of interesting reading for me on these points.

  12. Actually, I’ve seen Tom’s book in a variety of incarnations.

    I suggested the idea for his dissertation and then, as his adviser, directed it, and once he had made his final dissertation defense, Tom rapidly revised it into what of course became The War Within the Union High Command. But beyond helping him frame some of the basic questions to pursue and reading his draft chapters as they rolled in, my fingerprints aren’t much on it. It’s very much Tom’s analysis and conclusions.

  13. Re: East Tennessee. The Lincoln administration operated on the legal principal that secession governments were not legitimate and that they were simply engaged in an effort to save the people of the south from “combinations to numerous to suppress through normal legal procedures” (or something like that) and restore legitimate governments. The people of East Tennessee could be pointed to as evidence to support this thesis and if quickly rescued could be used, it was believed, would restore a legitimate government in a Southern state quickly which would encourage loyalist sentiment throughout the south and depress secessionist sentiment. The importance of the region was also great because of the symbolic importance Andrew Johnson’s and Horace Maynard’s presence in Washington in 1861 provided to those who wanted to believe the rebellion had no, or at least very weak, legitimacy in the South. Johnson and Maynard did not hesitate to leverage their hero status in the North to push the Lincoln administration, especially in the months after the abortive November 1861 Unionist uprising in East Tennessee. Engle’s Buell biography is really good on the pressure these two individuals were able to exert early in the war.

  14. Lincoln had to deal with the political realities of the day. The more you find out about the various pressures, it’s amazing he could handle half of them, much less all of them.

    For example, there were Northern Congressmen, in 1863, calling on the floor of the Hous, for the literal “arrest and execution” of anyone who said that slavery had to end for the war to end.

    Most people today, even historians, seem blissfully unaware of those sentments. Lincoln did not have the luxury of ignorance. So when you read Lincoln’s quotes – you better find out what the pressure was on him to adopt certain public poses. If you had Congressmen calling for your arrest and execution – you would notice too. Thats very likely why LIncoln had to bend over backward to finese the slave ryvs Union issue.