McDowell and Franklin

8 07 2014

I was recently going through some older posts, and was reminded of a series of posts from over 4 years ago by Dmitri Rotov over at Civil War Bookshelf. They explore the relationship between Irvin McDowell and William Franklin, and shed some light on the duo prior to First Bull Run (and beyond). Check them out – good stuff.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV





The Long and the Short of My Columbus Presentation

14 03 2014

More to follow.





McDowell’s Plan Teaser

10 09 2013

DudeI’ve been hemming and hawing over one of the things I’ve been working on with regards to the “history” of the First Battle of Bull Run these past many months. “Working” is a relative term, and in this case it consists mostly of thinking. I’ve been firming up these thoughts, writing things down, pulling together sources, and most important bouncing them off a few people whose opinions I respect. So here’s the nutshell: I believe that the standard story of what Irvin McDowell was trying to do, and what he expected to confront, with regards to Beauregard’s force outside Manassas – which typically is covered within no more than a paragraph in most (maybe all) studies of the campaign written within the last, oh, say, 90 years – is not right. That is, it is not supported by the primary documents, and it is not supported by McDowell’s actions up to and including July 21st, 1861. Or, at least, there is an alternative interpretation.

Lots of factors play into this. As a wise man once said:

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.

OK, except for the drug regimen it applies (mine is not really all that strict.) Thankfully a few of the assumptions of the accepted line of thought are refuted so thoroughly by the documentary evidence that there’s little room for argument (at least, in my mind.) This weekend I was very encouraged by a knowledgeable and respected military historian who implied, or at least from whom I inferred, that I’m not completely nuts. More on this as we get closer to the big reveal in Columbus come March.





Civil War Trust “Hallowed Ground” Spring 2011

14 03 2011

The Spring 2011 issue of Hallowed Ground, the Civil War Trust’s members publication, is out. Happily it focuses on First Bull Run. 

There’s plenty of good stuff inside on the battle and the battlefield – see here for the table of contents. NPS historians Greg Wolf and John Reid have pieces on some battlefield detective work and the Centennial reenactment; museum specialist Jim Burgess writes on civilian spectators at the battle, and superintendent Ray Brown has an interesting article on the owner of the Van Pelt house. The folks who work and have worked at the park are the real experts on the battles that were fought here. These articles should not be missed – and yes, they’re all available online for free. While I don’t see it listed, there is supposed to be an interview with yours truly in this issue as well. Perhaps I wound up on the cutting room floor? I’ll let you know once I see the magazine itself.

One article in particular caught my attention: An End to Innocence, The First Battle of Manassas by Bradley Gottfried. Here’s the passage that stuck out:

While Lincoln and his Cabinet members listened, McDowell laid out a plan to attack the 24,000-man Confederate Army under Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, deployed near the winding Bull Run creek about 25 miles southwest of Washington. The general intended to use about 30,000 troops in the effort, marching in three columns, while another 10,000 men were held in reserve. With such numerical superiority, it appeared McDowell would overwhelm his Southern counterpart.

OK, I’ve talked about this in the past and you’re probably sick of hearing it by now. I have met Mr. Gottfried – he’s a good guy. I worked closely with him in proofing his book, The Maps of First Bull Run. But what he has written here conflicts with my understanding of McDowell’s plan. Here’s the text of the portion of McDowell’s plan regarding the force he expected to meet at Manassas (emphasis and brackets mine; you can read the whole thing here):

The secession forces at Manassas Junction and its dependencies are supposed to amount at this time [June 24-25, 1861] to–

Infantry          23,000

Cavalry          1,500

Artillery           500

Total               25,000

We cannot count on keeping secret our intention to overthrow this force. Even if the many parties intrusted with the knowledge of the plan should not disclose or discover it, the necessary preliminary measures for such an expedition would betray it; and they are alive and well informed as to every movement, however slight, we make. They have, moreover, been expecting us to attack their position, and have been preparing for it. When it becomes known positively we are about to march, and they learn in what strength, they will be obliged to call in their disposable forces from all quarters, for they will not be able, if closely pressed, to get away by railroad before we can reach them. If General J. E. Johnston’s force is kept engaged by Major-General Patterson, and Major-General Butler occupies the force now in his vicinity, I think they will not be able to bring up more than ten thousand men. So we must calculate on having to do with about thirty-five thousand men.

And here’s where he described the size of the army with which he proposed to take the field:

Leaving small garrisons in the defensive works, I propose to move against Manassas with a force of thirty thousand of all arms, organized into three columns, with a reserve of ten thousand.

I’ve not yet found any evidence that McDowell expected he would have numerical superiority in his strike against Beauregard. I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article in America’s Civil War.

UPDATE 3/15/2011: Let me make this clear for everyone, if for some reason you got a different impression from this post: my problem is with the notion that McDowell’s plan assumed a numerical superiority for his army over that which he expected to face around Manassas. To quote Wilfred Brimley in Absence of Malice: “That’s a lot of horse-puckey. The First Amendment (in this case McDowell’s plan) doesn’t say that.”

McDowell’s plans regarding this are clear, as stated above.





Elsewhere in Blogsville

9 03 2011
 
This is the first in what promises to be an interesting series of posts over at Civil War Bookshelf. I’ve discussed before (see here and here, for example) the murky origins of Irvin McDowell’s (left) rise to power in 1861. Dmitri proposes to delve into it more deeply – I think – with the added attraction of William B. Franklin (right). Franklin was a brigade commander in Heintzelman’s division of McDowell’s army at First Bull Run, but was apparently associated with McDowell in other ways.

Check it out.





McDowell Descendant

11 02 2010

Last night I received an email from a great-great-granddaughter of Irvin McDowell, Cynthia Payson Hartdegen:

Hi,

My sister sent me your blog about my great-great-grandfather, Irvin.  Family lore has it that he tried to dissuade Lincoln from fighting at Bull Run, believing it unwinnable.  Lincoln allegedly believed that the soldiers needed a battle and offered to take responsibility for the likely loss.  “Caesar can do no wrong” McDowell said (according to my grandmother, Madeleine McDowell Greene), and owned responsibility for the rout. 

I was interested in your report of his Grandfather – was that Samuel?  His portrait hangs in my library.

Thank you for your research, and comments.

Cynthia

Cynthia was referring to this article in which I commented on Michael Hardy’s recent biographical article on McDowell.  I replied to Cynthia’s email, and received a response in which she detailed her relationship to McDowell.  While she’s not aware of the existence of any of his papers at this point, hopefully we can flesh-out the General a bit in the future.

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Irvin McDowell in America’s Civil War Magazine

4 11 2009

mcdowellThe January 2010 issue of America’s Civil War magazine features an article by author and fellow blogger Michael Hardy, Irvin McDowell: The Most Unpopular Man in America.  Let me start by saying that Mr. Hardy is a fine writer, and this article is a good read.  Not a lot gets written about McDowell (see here), and anything that starts a discussion of the man is a good thing.  However, since some of the opinions or characterizations in the article are generally at odds with my own as stated here on several occasions, I think I’m obliged to address them.  I’ll add that I’m at odds with just about everybody over these issues, not just Mr. Hardy.

I: McDowell’s Rank

Mr. Hardy writes that McDowell’s promotion to brigadier general displeased Winfield Scott; that Scott would have preferred the promotion went to Joseph Mansfield, and that Mansfield held a rank superior to McDowell.  All-in-all, these facts are true, but their juxtaposition implies that Scott’s objection was born strictly of preference.  As I pointed out here, rank and seniority weren’t the most important things in the antebellum army – they were the only things.  As a 1st lieutenant and brevet major who never had a field command, McDowell was very low on the army’s totem pole.  Mansfield, for example, had been a full colonel since 1853.  I think Scott’s problems with McDowell’s elevation make a little more sense in light of this fact.

II: McDowell’s Connections

Mr. Hardy also writes that in the early days of the Lincoln administration, McDowell “quickly impressed Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan.”  As I discussed here, I’m not sure that this “impression” was as serendipitous as is generally assumed.  McDowell’s grandfather was a politico in Kentucky, his father had been mayor of Columbus, and McDowell himself had attended the U. S. Military Academy, indicating some political influence or connection.  As Mr. Hardy points out, McDowell was also a cousin by marriage of Ohio Governor William Dennison.  Later, McDowell would take an active role in preparations for the marriage of Chase’s daughter Kate to Rhode Island Governor William Sprague, and later still Ohioan James Garfield would name a son after McDowell.  I think pre-war political connections and the role they may have played in McDowell’s meteoric rise in 1861 need to be examined more closely.

III: McDowell’s Plan

This is the big one.  Mr. Hardy, like most every other person who has written about First Bull Run before him, casts McDowell in the passive role of a man whose plans were undone by circumstances beyond his control:

But the key to McDowell’s plan was out of his hands.  Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had 11,000 men in the Shenandoah Valley.  Union Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and his 15,000 man army stationed near Harpers Ferry would have to prevent Johnston from reinforcing the Confederates at Manassas.  A Federal victory depended on Patterson’s success in the Valley.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that this summary of McDowell’s plan is one with which I disagree vehemently.  The reason for its amazing staying power in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary can be found in the various testimonies before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and in the Committee’s report (find it all here).  “What?”, you ask, “Are you saying Johnston’s arrival did not spell defeat for the Federal forces?”  No, what I’m saying is that McDowell’s plan, while assuming Patterson’s success, did not depend on it; because, as I explained here, the plan also assumed that all available CSA forces would be forwarded to the Bull Run line, bringing the force there to 35,000 troops.  That’s maybe a little more than McDowell actually wound up facing, including Johnston.  (In addition, after reading McDowell’s plan you’ll see that it neither anticipated nor depended on celerity as attendant to success.)

These issues aside, I think the article is good and raises some interesting points.  Check it out.

Photo from this site.

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