Leftwich’s Gun Crew’s Rebuttal

9 01 2009

The letter to the Richmond Enquirer written by members of Leftwich’s gun from Latham’s Battery, contesting the report of Captain John D. Imboden, was provided courtesy of Jim Burgess at Manassas National Battlefield Park.  It generated some good comments – check them out at the bottom of the post.  Notice that the gun crew claimed that Wheat’s Battalion alone faced off against 35,000 Federal troops.  This is not all that unusual for after action reports, regardless of th army, the period of the war, or the rank of the writer.  You defeat insurmountable odds, or retreat in an orderly fashion under the weight of same.

numbersFor instance, Joe Johnston’s report says 6,000 Confederates held off 35,000 Yankees at Bull Run.  Other reports make similar assertions.  And the myth that the Confederates were significantly out manned at Bull Run persists, showing up as recently as Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here and here).  And a new Lost Cause publication states that the Rebels faced the largest army ever assembled on the North American continent up to that time: true, but the book fails to mention that they did so with a force that came in a very, very close second.  I’ll be reviewing that book in the next installment of America’s Civil War’s Six-Picks.

So keep in mind that the two armies probably totaled about 33,000 to 36,000 men each.  We typically don’t include Runyon’s reserve division, or Johnston’s troops who failed to arrive in time, or any nearby Confederate militia units (thanks, Robert).  And the fighting on Matthew’s and Henry House Hills involved only about 15,000 to 18,000 men on each side.  These were evenly matched forces.

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One response

10 01 2009
cenantua

Harry,

Not for the sake of argument, but, you say… “This is not all that unusual for after action reports, regardless of the army, the period of the war, or the rank of the writer.”

Granted, estimations of enemy numbers were poor throughout the war. However, I believe that folks like Leftwich may have been able to better assess numbers they faced as the war progressed. I think it’s simply a reflection of the green soldier becoming the veteran. It might be pretty neat to go back in the regimentals (especially those published for the HE Howard series) and assess the reports of commanders at various levels, and as the war progressed, to see how their ability to judge enemy numbers changed.

It would take some legwork, but I think this type of thing would be an interesting thesis for someone to develop.

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