Wednesday, September 26, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
It was with great delight that I opened a letter from the University of Missouri Press (publisher of the fine–ahem–work of scholarship on the right) notifying me that it will remain in operation.
From the 29 August Kansas City Star:
University of Missouri Press will remain open
The University of Missouri will take over responsibility for an academic press, printing books and digital publications, administrators said Tuesday.
The announcement comes after recent controversy about the future of the University of Missouri Press. University officials said control of the press will be shifted from the four-campus university system to the Columbia campus.
The press will remain at its location in Columbia.
Full story is here.
According to another report (available here) the press is looking for manuscripts to replace those that went elsewhere when it appeared the press was going to close. Looks like a great opportunity to do some shopping–for both authors and readers of Civil War history!
Monday, September 17, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
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
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 —
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 —
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.
Saturday, September 15, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Saturday, September 15, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
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.
Friday, September 14, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Yesterday was, yes, the 150th anniversary of the finding of Special Orders No. 191. More importantly, though, it was the 253rd anniversary of this:
And, of course, it was the anniversary of my birth (thanks to all who posted birthday wishes on Facebook)–and that of Brad Johnson, the last decent Washington Redskins quarterback. While the Jeff George-Tony Banks-Shane Matthews-Danny Wuerffel-Patrick Ramsey-Tim Hasselbeck-Mark Brunell-Jason Campbell-Todd Collins-Donavan McNabb-Rex Grossman-John Beck Era wasn’t without its share of fun and laughter, I think I’d rather have fifteen more years of this:
Monday, September 10, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 is the bloodiest day in American military history. Now, exactly 150 years later, a panel of historians discusses the events of that day.
Leading his Confederate troops into Maryland for their first fight on Union soil, Robert E. Lee was met at Antietam Creek by George McClellan’s federals. The battle claimed 23,000 casualties and resulted in a standoff. But after that the Union believed it could win, giving President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to issue his Emancipation Proclamation.
Monday, September 3, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
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.
Thursday, August 30, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
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.
Sunday, August 26, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Thursday, August 23, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
If you did not get enough Antietam at Ted Alexander’s Antietam-fest last month at Chambersburg, or were unfortunate not to be able to attend, here is another opportunity to learn about the great campaign whose 150th anniversary will be celebrated next month.
Save Historic Antietam Foundation Inc. is pleased to announce a special lecture series in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the battle of Antietam. The lectures will take place in the Mumma Farm barn at Antietam National Battlefield on Saturday September 8, starting at 9:00.
This event will also feature presentations from the recipients of two special scholarships funded by SHAF. Daniel Vermilya has received the first Joseph L. Harsh Scholar Award and will share his research on the Union Army at Antietam. Susan Rosenwald was awarded the special Sesquicentennial Award and she will share her research about the role and actions of Clara Barton at Sharpsburg.
Other speakers will include Dennis Frye, Chief Historian of Harpers Ferry National Park, Dr. Mark Snell, director of the George Tyler Moore Center for Study of the Civil War, and local columnist and writer Tim Rowland. The event is free and open to the public. No reservations will be required.
Donations to SHAF will be accepted and there will be book signing by the authors and other items for sale.
9:00-9:30 – Coffee and Danish
9:30-9:45 – Opening Remarks, Tom Clemens, President, SHAF
9:45-10:30 – Session I, Dr. Mark Snell, “Causes of the Civil War”
10:30-10:45 – Break
10:45-11:30 – Session II, Dan Vermilya, Harsh Scholar recipient, “Perceptions, Not Realities: The Strength, Experience, and Condition of the Army of the Potomac at Antietam”
11:30-12:00 – Awards
12:00-1:00 – Lunch, Box Lunch available, by pre-order only $10.00 each*
1:00-1:45 – Session III, Susan Rosenwald, Sesquicentennial Award recipient, “Clara Barton at Antietam”
1:45-2:00 – Break
2:00-2:45 – Session IV, Dennis Frye, “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril”
2:45-3:00 – Break “Behind the Battles: Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War
3:00-3:45 – Session V, Tim Rowland, “Odd Incidents of Maryland Campaign”
3:45 – Closing Remarks
* Preorder on-line at www.SHAF.org, choices will be available on the website.
For more information call Tom Clemens 301-331-3877 or visit SHAF’s website.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Yesterday I learned that one of the cadets I taught the History of the Military Art to when I was on the faculty at West Point is now a major and been assigned to one of the staff groups I teach here at Fort Leavenworth.
My immediate response was:
1. Poor guy. (At USMA, at least, he only had to put up with me for a semester. Here he is stuck with me the entire academic year.)
2. How and when the heck did I get old enough for this to happen?
Saturday, August 18, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Some photos of the new Texas monument at Manassas National Battlefield, which was put up about a week ago next to the Fletcher Webster monument on Chinn Ridge.
It was not until four o’clock on the evening of the 30th that our brigade again sought the foe. The same meadow was to cross, the same skirt of timber to pass through. As the Fourth emerged from the latter, the Fifth New York Battery, commanded by Captain Curran, and stationed on a commanding eminence on the other side of a deep hollow, devoted its whole attention to us, and to show our appreciation of the courtesy, we made directly for it. A Federal regiment between us and the battery fired one volley at us and fled as fast as legs could carry them. Another regiment that had been placed in a pine thicket immediately in rear of the battery as a support to it, followed suit, but, undismayed, gallant Captain Curran fired his guns until every artillerist was shot down, and he himself fell as he was in the very act of sending into our huddled ranks a charge of grape and canister that would have sent the half of us to kingdom come. A braver spirit than his never dwelt in the brest of man. “You would never have captured my battery,” said he, as at his request a Texan laid him under one of the guns and placed a knapsack under his head, “if my supports had been men instead of cowards.” We fully agreed with him. * * *
Looking up the hill, a strange and ghastly spectacle met our eyes. An acre of ground was literally covered with the dead, dying, and wounded of the Fifth New York Zouaves, the variegated colors of whose peculiar uniform gave the scene the appearance of a Texas hillside in spring, painted with wild flowers of every hue and color. Not fifty of the Zouaves escaped whole. One of their lieutenants, who had lost an arm, told me that they were in the second line of the breastworks which the Fourth Texas had carried at Gaines’ Mill a month before; that in the mad retreat of the first line of Federals they had been swept away, and that, on learning the position in the Confederate line occupied by our brigade here at Second Manassas, they had made a special request of General Pope to be permitted to confront us on the 30th, and regain the laurels lost at Gaines’ Mill. There they met the Fourth Texas and suffered ignominious defeat—here, they came face to face for a minute only with the Fifth Texas—and suffered practical annihilation.
The Zouaves, it seems, were posted just under the crest of the hill, and a hundred feet from the edge of the timber, and fired the moment the heads of the Texans showed above the crest. Of course they aimed too high, and before they could reload the Texans poured such a well-directed and deadly volley into their closely formed ranks that half of them sank to the ground, and the balance wheeled and ran. Not waiting to reload, the Texans rushed after the fugitives, and, clubbing their muskets, continued the work of destruction until every enemy in sight was left prone upon the ground.
Thursday, August 16, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
Nominations Sought for the Mark Grimsley SMH Fellowship in Social Media
The SMH Facebook and Twitter Management Team seeks a doctoral student in military history to fill its fifth vacancy. This newly created position comes with a title – “the Mark Grimsley SMH Fellowship in Social Media.” It is named in honor of Dr. Mark Grimsley, an associate professor in the Department of History at the Ohio State University. Besides being a widely published and highly honored scholar, Grimsley has been a leading pioneer in social media and academic blogging. In addition to a title, the Grimsley Fellowship comes with a stipend of $2,000 per year. The Grimsley Fellow will assume primary responsibility for maintaining the SMH presence on Twitter. At the very least, that will involve posting abridged versions of notices that appear on our Facebook Group, Facebook Page, and the SMH web site.
Any student of military history currently enrolled in a doctoral program is eligible for this fellowship. Please submit your application electronically to SMH Vice President Gregory J. W. Urwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications should consist of a cover letter with a statement of 500 to 750 words describing how social media can benefit the SMH, the applicant’s c.v., and written confirmation from the applicant’s adviser that he or she is a student in good standing in an accredited program.
The deadline for applications is September 15, 2012. The winner will be chosen by the SMH Social Media Committee in consultation with the SMH Facebook and Twitter Management Team.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012 by Ethan Rafuse
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.