Why McDowell?

29 11 2007

 

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Some thoughts have been bouncing around in my noggin regarding Winfield Scott (above, left) and his cranky behavior in the days leading up to Bull Run.  It seems to me he was giving some inconsistent direction to his commanders in the field, Patterson and McDowell.  I know the popular notion is that Patterson alone was to blame, but Scott alternated in his ideas of which man’s force was going to be the focus of the action in Virginia, and he failed to make sure everyone was on the same page.  And McDowell complained that he wasn’t receiving much cooperation from Washington, particularly when it came to getting wagons for his army.

I think there were at least two factors affecting Scott at this time.  First, he was suffering from chronic gout.  I get gout attacks about once a year, and as anyone who has experienced them can tell you they make you miserable with a capital M.  Every change in position is accompanied by pain, literally from your toes to the top of your head.  You can’t imagine that your condition will ever improve.  Your judgement is clouded, to say the least, and friends and family learn pretty quickly to keep their distance.  I can’t imagine how Scott dealt with the pain over an extended period.  I have to think that gout alone would have impaired his decision making.

Also, as I read more and more about the antebellum army I find that the most important thing to regular officers was rank and seniority.  As I recounted here, John Tidball noted that [p]romotion is the lifeblood of the soldier and anyone who disregards it is not worthy of the name.  Based on my reading, I know that Scott was no exception to this rule, and I think this was another contributor to his foul mood.  He must have been pretty hacked off that a brevet major, who had only attained the regular rank of 1st lieutenant, had been elevated over his objection to command the largest army ever assembled on the continent.  And I imagine he couldn’t have been too happy about who was behind Irvin McDowell’s (above, right) rise to prominence.

While Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, was Scott’s superior on the org chart, it became apparent early on that he was in over his head.  But the war department was nonetheless being run, and the man doing much of the running was Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase (above, center).  During these days he was known as General Chase.  Chase was a former Ohio governor and senator, and it was during this time that many of Ohio’s native sons, including McDowell, became high ranking officers (see here and here).  I’ve understood that McDowell was tight with the Chase family, but I never realized just how tight.  While some historians have theorized that McDowell came to Chase’s attention during the early days of the war as an effective member of Scott’s staff, Irvin came from a family prominent in Ohio politics – his father was once mayor of Columbus.  And Peg Lamphier describes McDowell as a “family friend” on page 26 of Kate Chase & William Sprague, notes on page 62 that the cost of Kate’s Tiffany bridal tiara rose from $5,500 to $6,500 as a result of modifications made to it by family friend General McDowell, and says on page 73 that an ill Kate Chase-Sprague recovered at the McDowell home in Buttermilk Falls, NY in March 1864. 

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think McDowell possessed a good deal of common sense, as demonstrated here in his assessment of the situation in his plans for the advance on Manassas, and later in his perceptive understanding of the consequences of the proposed redeployment of his 1st Corps to the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1862. But it sounds like there is more to the appointment of McDowell to the command of the Dept. of Northeastern Virginia than serendipity or noteworthy performance as a staff officer.

So, Scott is pretty much bed-or chaise-ridden with gout, and he’s witnessing not only the disregard for his own staffing preferences but the violation of the sanctity of seniority by political forces outside the army and even the War Department.  How did these factors influence his thought processes and his decision making during these critical days? 





Governor Sprague’s Arm Candy

15 11 2007

chasesprague2.jpgYesterday I received in the mail Kate Chase & William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage, by Peg A. Lamphier (2003).  In the summer of 1861 Sprague was Governor of Rhode Island, and as chief executive of the state he joined the 1st and 2nd RI infantry regiments in the field at Fist Bull Run. Sprague played a prominent role there, accompanying Barnard on the recon of the 19th, directing artillery and having a horse shot out from under him during the battle of the 21st.  He’s even depicted here in this Alfred Waud rendering of Burnside directing his troops (that’s Sprague on the white horse – click the thumbnail for a larger view):

 

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But the most significant conquest for Sprague may just have been the winning of the hand of Kate, the daughter of Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.  Here’s a photo of her as a young girl, when she was better known to her dad’s poker buddies as Lolita: 

I’ll  have more to say about the book after I read it (it’s next on my list, as soon as I finish off this nearly unreadable biography of Slocum), but the long and short of it is that the marriage (the wedding was the social event of the season in 1863) did not canonchet.jpgend well.  Sprague was an unfaithful horn-dog from the get-go, and Kate apparently strayed with New York politico Roscoe Conkling, with whom she was caught red handed by a shotgun-toting Sprague at the 65 room family hacienda, Canonchet (at left via Rhode Island’s South County Museum).  Kate was granted a divorce in 1882, and died in relative obscurity and dire straits in Washington in 1899. Here’s a link to her New York Times obituary.  

Glancing through the book, I came across one of those damned threads again.  Kate’s divorce petition is included as Appendix A.  In it she includes a very long list of the individual women with whom Sprague had been unfaithful during the course of the marriage, beginning in its very first year.  One passage stands out:

…with one Fannie Adams, in March 1876, at Providence aforementioned, at the house of one Ann M. Ballou,  commonly called Maria Ballou, said house being a house of prostitution. 

ballou.jpgOf course, Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd RI (left) and his letter home on the eve of First Bull Run is one of the most popular stories of the battle, thanks in large part to Ken Burns.  As related here, Ballou was a cousin to Civil War general and later U. S. President James Garfield.  According to this site, by 1876 the Ballou family had been in Rhode Island for over 230 years, so I imagine there were Ballous aplenty in Providence.  Still, I have to wonder what was the relationship between the Martyred Major and Madame Maria.  I checked the index in Robin Young’s biography of Sullivan, but saw no reference to Ann or Maria.  We’ll see where this leads, if anywhere.  And just to get this back on the track of politician arm candy, I wonder if there is any link between Sullivan’s family and the Ballou (Cat) pictured below?  

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Kansas at First Bull Run

23 11 2006

 

Much has been written of the civilians present at the First Battle of Bull Run, mostly in a dismissive, derogatory manner.  David Detzer treats the matter more practically and, I think, fairly in Donnybrook.  Many of these observers had familial or official ties to the men of McDowell’s army (I hesitate to refer to the army as “Army of Northeastern Virginia”, because while I have found that there was such a department, I can find nothing on any such officially named army).  Quite a few were politicians, including the Secretaries of State and the Treasury.  Secretary of War Cameron shuttled back and forth between Washington and McDowell’s HQ.  Various senators and representatives from congress were present, as many of the participants were their constituents.  These included Senator Wilson of Massachusetts, Senator Wade of Ohio, and  Congressman Ely of New York, who wandered so near the front that he was captured by the rebels.  Rhode Island governor Sprague – who later would capture one of the most sought after prizes of the Civil War, Secretary Chase’s daughter, the alluring Kate – took a hand in the direction of infantry and artillery on the battlefield.

And among those present at the battle were two senators from western states who would later become Union generals, John Logan of Illinois and James Lane of Kansas. 

“Jim” Lane was the proud owner of perhaps the worst hairdo outside of A Flock of Seagulls.  That’s his picture at the end of the Kansas Again post.  Here’s a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Lane:   

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My favorite Lane photo can be found in Edward Leslie’s deeply flawed The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and His Confederate Raiders.  That photo, showing an impossibly coiffed Lane, is reproduced courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, but I couldn’t find it on their website.  I imagine it is a moneymaker for them.  If anyone has a digital copy of it, let me know.  

Senator Jim (not to be confused with Reverend Jim, pictured here)   

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was born in either Boone County, KY or Lawrenceburg, IN, in 1814.  His father was a judge and politician, and at one time a member of Congress.  Jim followed his father into the law and politics, led Indiana troops in the war with Mexico, and eventually represented Indiana in Congress (1853-1855), where he voted in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska act.  

In 1855, Lane relocated to Kansas, perhaps to help organize the Democrat party in the territory.  Corruption in the party there led to the formation of the Topeka Movement, a free-state organization.  The movement was a coalition of New Englanders and Westerners, and Lane headed up the western contingent.  While no abolitionist, Lane was opposed to pro-slavery efforts to admit slavery into the territories through nefarious means.  He came to lead the military arm of the movement and took to appearing in military garb.

In 1856, on behalf of the free-state Topeka government Lane petitioned Congress for Kansas’ admission to the Union as a state.  Oddly, all of the signatures on the petition appeared to be written by the same person.  While he was in Washington, fighting broke out between pro-slavery and free-state forces in Kansas.  Lane raised an army and entered Kansas from Iowa and Nebraska.  Union army forces under territorial governor John Geary calmed things down, and Lane returned to his law practice and farm.

In 1858, Jim Lane killed another free-state settler over a property line disagreement.  He was acquitted of murder but maintained his political influence, and when Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861 Lane represented the new state in the U. S. Senate.  In the early days of the war, Lane formed a group of Kansas men called the Frontier Guard and assigned them the role of protecting the White House.

Around this time, Lane and President Lincoln became friendly, and AL would later take sides with Lane in disputes with Kansas Governor Charles Robinson, the former leader of the New England contingent of the Topeka Movement.  Lincoln appointed Lane a brigadier general of US volunteers in August 1861.  You won’t find him in Generals in Blue – his commission was cancelled in March of 1862 because sitting congressmen were not permitted to hold a general officer commission.  However he was reinstated the following month.  As far as I know, Lane is the only person to hold both the office and the commission without being required to give one up, a sign of one hell of a politician.

During the war Lane directed some small operations along the Missouri-Kansas border.  He was reelected to his seat in the Senate in 1865.  At the end of the war, he directed Captain Redleg Terrell and Fletcher to apprehend the outlaw Josey Wales, telling Fletcher:   

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“The war’s over. Our side won the war. Now we must busy ourselves winning the peace. And Fletcher, there’s an old saying: To the victors belong the spoils.”  To which Fletcher responded with the classic:  

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“There’s another old saying, Senator: Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.” Senator Lane came back with his own classic, in response to Fletcher’s outrage at the killing of his guerrillas after their surrender: “They were decently treated. They were decently fed and then they were decently shot. Those men are common outlaws, nothing more.”  It’s ironic that an actor named Schofield played Lane in the film, because the real Senator  had a run in with General John Schofield in the aftermath of the raid on Lawrence.

[Edit] Some folks didn’t “get it”: the above is a reference to the film “The Outlaw Josey Wales”.  The film is fiction.  

OK, sorry about that!  Anyway, after Lincoln’s assassination Lane unfortunately took the side of Andrew Johnson in his veto of the Civil Rights bill and drew the ire of the Radical Republicans.  Coincidentally, he came under investigation for some shady war contracts by which he may have illegally profited.  On July 1, 1866, while riding with two friends in Leavenworth, KS, Lane drew his revolver and shot himself in the mouth.  He died ten days later and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, KS (photo from www.findagrave.com).  More on Lane and what he did at Bull Run later.

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