General Scott and Bull Run – Who Is To Blame?

3 02 2009

Scottish American Journal August 1, 1861

GENERAL SCOTT AND BULL RUN – WHO IS TO BLAME? – CURIOUS REVELATIONS

Immediately after the Bull Run disaster, Gen. Scott was universally condemned for sending forth the army numerically deficient and ill-provided with artillery.  General Scott has since explained his part in the transaction, making a dinner-table the opportunity to do so, and a New York newspaper editor, Mr. Raymond, the medium between him and the public.

On the Tuesday preceding the battle (say the New York Times), General Scott, at his own table, in the presence of his aids and a single guest (Mr. Raymond), discussed the whole subject of this war, and stated what his plan would be for bringing it to a close, if the management of it had been left in his hands.  The main object of the war, he said, was to bring nthe people of the rebellious States to feel the pressure of the Government; to compel them to return to their obedience and loyalty.  And this must be done with the least possible expenditure of life, compatible with the attainment of the object.  No Christian nation can be justified, he said, in waging war in such a way as shall destroy 501 lives, when the object of the war can be attained at a cost of 500.

If the matter had been left to him, he said, he would have commenced by a perfect blockade of every Southern port on the Atlantic and the Gulf.  Then he would have collected a large force at the Capital for defensive purposes, and another large one on the Mississippi for offensive operations.  The Summer months, during which it is madness to take troops south of St. Louis, should have been devoted to tactical instruction; and with the first frosts of Autumn he would have taken a column of 80,000 well-disciplined troops down the Mississippi, and taken every important point on that river, New Orleans included.  It could have been done, he said, with greater ease, with less loss of life, and with far more important results than would attend the marching of an army to Richmond.  At eight points the river would probably have been defended, and eight battles would have been necessary; but in every one of them success could have been made certain for us.  The Mississippi and the Atlantic once ours, the Southern states would have been compelled, by the natural and inevitable pressure of events, to seek, by a return to the Union, escape from the ruin that would speedily overwhelm them out of it.  “This,” said he, “was my plan.  But I am only a subordinate.  It is my business to give advice when it is asked, and to obey orders when they are given.  I shall do it.    There are gentlemen in the cabinet who know much more about war than I do, and who have far greater influence than I have in determining the plan of the campaign.  There never was a more just and upright man than the President – never one who desired more sincerely to promote the best interests of the country.  But there are men among his advisers who consult their own resentments far more than the dictates of wisdom and experience, and these men will probably decide the plan of the campaign.  I shall do, or attempt to do, whatever I am ordered to do.  But they must not hold me responsible.  If I am ordered to go to Richmond, I shall endeavor to do it.  But I know perfectly well that they have no conception of the difficulties we shall encounter.  I know the country – how admirably adapted it is to defense, and how resolutely and obstinately it will be defended.  I would like nothing better than to take Richmond; now that it has been disgraced by becoming the capital of the rebel Confederacy, I feel a resentment towards it, and should like nothing better than to scatter its Congress to the winds.  But I have lived long enough to know tha[t] human resentment is a very bad foundation for a public policy; and these gentlemen will live long enough to know it also.  I shall do what I am ordered.  I shall fight when and where I am commanded.  But if I am compelled to fight before I am ready, they shall not hold me responsible.  These gentlemen must take the responsibility of their acts,as I am willing to take that of mine.  But they must not throw their responsibility on my shoulders.”

In Congress a few days after the battle, Mr. Richardson “stood up” for General Scott.  He said: “General Scott was forced to fight this battle” (Bull Run); and then he proceeded to detail the following strange revelations:

My colleagues (Logan and Washburne) and myself were present with the President, Secretary of War and General Scott.  In the course of our conversation, Gen. Scott remarked, “I am the biggest coward in the world.”  I rose from my seat  “Stay,” said Gen. Scott; “I will prove it.  I have fought the battle against my judgement, and I think the President ought to remove me to-day for doing it.  As God is my judge,” he added, after an interval of silence, “I did all in my power to make the army efficient, and I deserve removal because I did not stand up when I could, and did not.”

Mr. Washburne – As my colleague has referred to Gen. Scott’s remarks, he might also allude to what the President said.

Mr. Richardson – I will do so.  “Your conversation implies,” said the President to Gen. Scott, “that I forced you to battle.”  To which Gen. Scott replied, “I have never served under a President who has been kinder to me than you have been.”  But Gen. Scott did not relieve the President from the fact of the latter having forced him to fight the battle.  Gen. Scott thus merely paid a compliment to the President personally.

[Photcopy courtesy of Terry Johnston]

{See also this post}

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5 02 2009
“I Am the Biggest Coward in the World” « Bull Runnings

[...] Biggest Coward in the World” 5 02 2009 The details of the newspaper article posted here are nothing new.  The story of Scott’s exclamation, Lincoln’s challenge, and [...]

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