Mark Grimsley on the Impetus for the Advance on Manassas

3 06 2008

The Hard Hand of War - Mark GrimsleyMark Grimsley has been discussing his book The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865 over at Civil Warriors (see here and here).  I read the book recently after it sat on my bookshelf for a few years, and I’m one of the folks who sent the emails to which Prof. Grimsley referred in his post.  I won’t go into all the reasons why The Hard Hand of War is one of the most important books on the American Civil War of the last 25 years.  But I’ve been meaning to mention something covered in it, as it directly deals with First Bull Run.  I just hope I can do it justice.

A component of the traditional narrative of the campaign is that the Federal advance on Bull Run was prompted by pressure from the Northern public as expressed via the press.  While some historians have removed the President from the equation by saying that the army was prompted to advance by this pressure, or that Winfield Scott was induced to advance by it, or even that McDowell was compelled to advance by it, to me it has always seemed obvious that the moving force behind the advance was Abraham Lincoln.  I think Lincoln himself sought to distance himself after the fact, if the story of his reaction to Scott’s post battle lament about Scott’s allowing himself to be pressured to send the army to the field before it was ready is to be believed (AL basically said “surely you’re not blaming me for pressuring you” – Scott’s response, interpreted by most as backing down, was to me delightfully sarcastic and probably not lost on a sharp wit like Lincoln’s).  But that’s neither here nor there as far as Grimsley’s book is concerned, and I’ll discuss the Scott-Lincoln exchange more fully in a post some other time.

Grimsley’s work does not run counter to the idea that the primary force behind the advance on Manassas was Lincoln.  Where he differs with the accepted story line is in the influence on Lincoln of a supposedly unified, howling Northern press.  This discussion is in Chapter 2, Conciliation and its Challenges.  It begins (italics are extractions from the text):

Conciliation formed the dominant Union policy for the first fifteen months of the war.  It not only characterized the way in which Federal forces were to deal with Southern civilians, it also shaped the Federal strategy to defeat the Confederacy.  Northern officials instinctively grasped the truth of Treitschke’s statement that “Again and again, it has been proved that it is war that turns a people into a nation.”  The slave-holding aristocrats had made a rebellion; they must not be allowed to make a nation.  Conciliation on the one hand, and a sweeping military effort on the other, seemed the keys to preventing this.  Together these two approaches would sap Southern resistance and make possible an early victory.

(One of the great things about this book is that it was written by that rarest of birds in Civil War literature, an honest to God military historian – see here for what I mean by historian)

Winfield Scott was on board with the idea of a combination of conciliation and military effort.  As Grimsley points out, tact and patience characterized Scott’s behavior over the years in things military and diplomatic (if not personal).  Concerns in the early days of the rebellion were for the promotion of pro-Union sentiment in the southern states, and Scott was of the opinion that this could best be done through the adoption of a policy that might defeat the Confederacy without the bloodshed, devastation, and bitterness that would accompany a major offensive.  In May of 1861 these thoughts manifested in Scott’s overall strategy for victory, dubbed by the press The Anaconda Plan.  Note that Scott’s plan was born of experience and not, as has been stated by some, of his fondness for his native South.

Initially the press was unanimously behind Scott, because he was Winfield Scott, after all; because they were patriotic, of course; because many believed the idea that victory could and should be won with as little loss of life and property as possible; and because rumors also circulated that Scott’s deliberation would extend no further than mid-July at the latest.  Criticism came not from people who thought Scott was wrong about the potential of pro-Union sentiment in the South, but rather from those with different ideas concerning the best way to tap it.  To them, only quick action could ignite Southern Unionists; delay would leave them correspondingly discouraged.

Within Lincoln’s cabinet, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was one whose thoughts on the best way to encourage Southern Unionists opposed those of Scott.  Blair felt that the regular army officers grossly overestimated the strength of secessionist spirit in the South.  “This,” he declared (in a mid-May 1861 letter to Lincoln), “is a fundamental and fatal error and if our military movements are predicated on it & we fail to go to the relief of the people of the South they will be subjugated and the state of consolidation now falsely assumed will be produced.”  Immediate, offensive action was what was needed to best encourage Southern Unionists, and it could be accomplished by a very small portion of the army. Blair wasn’t questioning Scott’s patriotism, just his ability to grasp the true state of affairs.  He recommended that the President should adopt a policy independent of the General-in-Chief.

Despite Blair’s advice, Lincoln decided to bear with Scott’s policy for awhile.  But as time dragged on (and we’re talking mere weeks here – the definition of dragging time would change dramatically by 1865) without any significant offensive action, elements in the Northern press began to express opinions more similar to those of Blair.  Then, on June 26, Horace Greeley’s Republican paper New York Tribune declared:

Forward to Richmond!  Forward to Richmond!  The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the 20th of July!  BY THAT DATE THE PLACE MUST BE HELD BY THE NATIONAL ARMY!

The Chicago Tribune jumped on the bandwagon the next day, echoing Blair’s sentiment:

The Union men of the South, to whose relief the loyal army is marching, will be crushed out, or forced into cooperation with the rebels, long before the anaconda has got the whole country enveloped in its coils.

But a number of Northern newspapers were still backing Scott’s plan, and their editorials ridiculed the “Forward to Richmond” cries of the two Tribunes.  The New York Times reported on June 27 that the General was still committed to the conciliatory plan, concluding that By January, he [Scott] thinks that the rebellion will be entirely defeated, and the Union reconstructed.  On July 1 that paper responded to a letter critical of Scott it had printed two days earlier, stating:

The South must be made to feel full respect for the power and honor of the North: she must be humbled, but not debased by a forfeiture of self-respect, if we wish to retain our motto – E pluribus unum – and claim for the whole United States the respect of the world.

Grimsley points out that:

With public opinion on its efficacy still divided, the popular notion that Lincoln was somehow forced to launch an immediate offensive is untenable.  It is much more likely that the President himself embraced the Blair thesis that an early offensive offered the best way to encourage the Southern Unionist sentiment that, he hoped, would then overwhelm the slaveholding aristocracy.  

Fully embracing Blair’s thesis required the adoption of a policy that was independent of Lincoln’s General-in-Chief.  It wouldn’t be the last time the President would make that choice.

At a meeting with his cabinet, Scott, and Irvin McDowell on June 29, Lincoln directed – despite Scott’s objections – that an advance be made within a few weeks.  He issued positive orders to that effect to McDowell on July 8.  On July 16, McDowell put his army in motion.

Grimsley concludes that the repulse of McDowell’s offensive ended any hopes of a rapid Confederate collapse.  It also destroyed whatever promise the Anaconda held out, for the South had been further united by the nationalistic pride generated by the victory.

Talk about a turning point.





Why McDowell?

29 11 2007

 

winfield-scott.jpg  salmon-chase-2.jpg  irvin-mcdowell.jpg

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? 





Housekeeping

26 11 2007

I’m back from a long Thanksgiving weekend in the Philly/Delaware vicinity.  We attended a family wedding in Wilmington (that DuPont Country Club is pretty darn swanky).  I took a stroll in the Wilmington and Brandywine cemetery, and stumbled on a little Civil War section tucked back by the on ramp to I-95. We also hit some of the sites in Philadelphia, including the standards (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, you get the picture), and the new National Constitution Center, which you should make time to see.

Rene over at Wig-Wags is doing a nice job documenting her journey through the Civil War and academia, so I’m adding her to the blogroll.  Check it out.

David Woodbury has some interesting stuff up on Irvin McDowell at his blog that is worth your time; be sure to read Drew’s comment.  It’s sure to raise the hackles on those hypersensitive Grant fanboys (you know who you are).

In the workout room at the Sheraton Suites they had a few extra copies of a Newsweek magazine with a cover story on those fancy (and expensive) e-book readers.  The one being marketed by Amazon.com is featured.  I think I’ll have some comments on this phenomenon later.

I had an unusually high number of hits on the blog on Monday, considering I really haven’t made a new post in awhile.  It looks like my page with links to online books and articles gets a lot of activity.  Check out this link to an article from Military Images Magazine about the March, 1862 photos of the battlefield taken by George N. Barnard.  The article was co-authored by Manassas Museum Specialist Jim Burgess, who has been a good friend to this blog.





Sherman’s Forgotten General

30 10 2007

 

Right now I’m reading Sherman’s Forgotten General, a biography of Henry Warner Slocum by Brian C. Melton.  Slocum was the colonel of the 27th NY in Porter’s brigade of Hunter’s division at Bull Run, and Melton is an assistant professor of history at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.  I had some misgivings about this book when I bought it and mentioned them here.  So far, the book is more than fulfilling those expectations.  But here I’m going to focus on the Bull Run section of the book.

Slocum’s father was born in Marietta, OH, and prior to settling in the Syracuse, NY area spent some time in New Port, RI.  Apparently some Slocum roots were planted in the seaside community, but Melton is very vague.  I don’t know if that’s because he couldn’t nail the family tree down, or if he felt it wasn’t that important.  Dude, it’s a thread.  Pull that sucker!  This fact (or possibility) came into play at Bull Run when Slocum was wounded in the leg at Bull Run and the colonel of the 2nd RI, John S. Slocum (whom Melton also refers to as Joshua), was killed.  Resultant confusion led to some tense, unsure moments for Henry’s wife back home in Syracuse.

I take issue with Melton’s assessment that McDowell’s plan for the battle was sound on paper and broke down in the execution.  But I won’t take him to task for it: that is the conventional wisdom, after all.  He does make some errors of fact, however.

On page 44, when summarizing the plan, Melton writes that [t]he army near Washington would march quickly south and west to engage Beauregard, while Patterson would keep Johnston busy in the Shenandoah.  Each Union army significantly outnumbered its Confederate counterpart, so if McDowell could fall on Beauregard before Johnston could reach him, he might devour the Confederates in detail.

Despite conventional wisdom (again), the above is not true with regards to McDowell’s plan.  Patterson’s actions were designed and directed by Scott, not McDowell.  In addition, Melton’s analysis employs some hindsight.  While it was true that McDowell’s force outnumbered that of Beauregard in June, his plan considered that the Confederacy would forward all available troops exclusive of Johnston to Manassas.  McDowell’s plan can be found in War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs), Series I, Vol. 2, pp 719-721.  In this plan, written about June 24, McDowell uses some sound logic to deduce how many men the Confederacy might muster to face him, and at the same time give the lie to the notion that the rebels would need to rely on intelligence from folks like Rose Greenhow to track the movements of the enemy (see the whole plan here):

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.

So as you can see McDowell had no plan to overwhelm Beauregard’s smaller force – he didn’t anticipate confronting a smaller force.  In fact, his plan would be a turning movement, the favorite grand tactic of Winfield Scott’s smaller army in Mexico.  McDowell expected to face 35,000 Confederate troops.  As it turned out, once Johnston’s forces arrived from the Valley, that’s about how many men they would have on hand.  A force roughly equal to that of McDowell.

zelig.jpgI won’t go into detail on the rest of the book, other than to comment on its thesis, that Slocum was a dynamic version of Locke’s blank slate.  That is to say, he was a reflector of light, and tended to absorb the characteristics of his commanding officers.  Melton’s Slocum, in other words, was akin to Woody Allen’s Zelig (left): a human chameleon.  It’s an interesting construct, but falls apart when facets of Slocum’s personality or actions appear at odds with the author’s preconceived notions of the characteristics of those Slocum was supposed to be emulating.  Either he was a reflector, or he wasn’t.  So far it’s looking like he only reflected what the author saw as his commanders’ negative attributes – any positive features were Slocum’s alone.  But then, I’ve only read through McDowell, McClellan, Burnside & Hooker.  Perhaps once Slocum comes under the influence of someone to whom history and historians have been more kind, like, say, Sherman, things will change in this book.  I suspect they will.





The McDowell Monument

1 08 2007

  

mcdowellshiloh.jpg 

The McDowell headquarters monument is situated just west of the Stone House at the intersection of the Sudley Springs Road and the Warrenton Turnpike.  That is, just about 800 miles west of that point, on the battlefield of Shiloh, at the intersection of the Hamburg-Purdy Road and route 142/22.  I took this photo during my June trip to Tennessee and Mississippi. 

Colonel John A. McDowell was a brigade commander in Brigadier General William T. Sherman’s division of Major General U. S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee during the Battle of Shiloh.  He was also a brother of the commander of the Union forces at the Battle of First Bull Run, Irvin McDowell. 

John McDowell’s command at Shiloh was comprised of the 40th IL, 46th OH, his own 6th IA, and the 6th IN Battery.  (McDowell had relieved the 6th IA’s Lieutenant Colonel and placed a captain in command of the regiment.)  Positioned on the far right (western) flank of Sherman’s line, McDowell’s brigade missed much of the heavier fighting experienced by Sherman’s other three brigades.  Consequently, McDowell does not get a lot of ink in the various Shiloh campaign studies. 

This list of officers of the regiment notes that John Adair McDowell was a resident of Keokuk, IA (he was born in Ohio), and was 39 when he became colonel of the regiment on June 20, 1861.  He resigned his commission on March 12, 1863.  Here’s a history of the regiment. 

John is a shadowy figure, due in part to the fact that, despite serving in brigade command, he was never made a general officer.  I found some mention of him in Sherman’s Civil War, a collection of W. T. Sherman correspondence edited by Brooks Simpson at Civil Warriors. 

On page 267, Sherman mentions that McDowell delivered a speech prior to the presentation of a saddle to the general.  On page 323 he writes to Grant in Nov. 1862 that he feels McDowell among others is fit for brigade command.  On pages 341-342 he establishes the familial relationship between John and Irvin in a December 14, 1862 letter to the latter (in which he expressed his support for the embattled Irvin, who was suffering under a cloud of suspicion following Second Bull Run): 

Your brother John A. McDowell has been with me nearly a year commanding one of my Brigades and I left him a few days since at College Hill near Oxford in command of as good a Brigade as is in our whole army.  He is a good kind hearted Gentleman, full of zeal for our cause and I parted with him with feelings of great kindness.  I have urged his name for promotion and I hope successfully.  We have often talked of you, and through him I have sent you many expressions of my personal regard for your high character as a Patriot and Soldier. 

 Other than noting the event in a March 13, 1863 letter to his wife, Sherman does not detail the circumstances of McDowell’s resignation.  Lieutenant Colonel and future general John M. Corse took command of the 6th IA. 

Sherman also mentions on two occasions Major Malcolm McDowell of Ohio, a paymaster in his command.  There was a Malcolm McDowell who was a signal officer on Irvin’s staff at First Bull Run, and Malcolm was involved in preferring charges against Colonel Thomas Worthington as described in Sherman’s letter to Thomas Ewing Sr. on January 16, 1863.  As John McDowell is mentioned in this same letter as having complained about Worthington, I don’t think it a stretch that this Malcolm is the same Malcolm who was with Irvin on July 21.  On page 76 of Historic Families of Kentucky you’ll see that Abram Irvine McDowell of Columbus, OH had three sons – Irvin, John and Malcolm – so I’m pretty confident the fellows I’ve mentioned above are the three brothers.  I’m positive Major Malcolm is not the fellow pictured here:     

clockwork.jpg 

This guy makes looking for info on Major Malcolm on the web a real pain, tempting one to acts of ultraviolence.  Not to worry, he’s just here to check the meter. 

If you have any more info on John or Malcolm, please let me know. 

I’ve been remiss in posting photos and tales of my visit to Shiloh, and I’ll try to make up for that in the months ahead, assuming I can find some sort of Bull Run connection.  Speaking of that, here’s a random headstone I ran across at the national cemetery in Corinth, MS:   

manninggrave.jpg 

 

 

 





More Ohio Hmmmms

31 05 2007

In my last post I mentioned some of the apparent ties between prominent Ohio families and the possibility that these ties may have assisted some family members in attaining positions of authority.  While surfing the net in my typical aimless manner last night, I ran across a curious tidbit of which I was previously unaware.

Irvin McDowell is today a tragic yet comic figure of nearly Shakespearian proportions.  This was even true during his lifetime.  Possibly the saddest reference to McDowell I think I have ever read was written by John Tidball, and can be found on page 378  of his biography.  After the war, Tidball was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and McDowell was in command of the Department of California.  On April 9, 1866, Tidball wrote to his sister:

I very seldom go to the city [San Francisco], but put in my time somehow by walking around looking at my horses and attending to my garden.  The McDowell’s are well.  They live at Point San Jose – half way between here and town.  I see them occasionally.  Although he tries the best he can, he yet does not appear to succeed better than he did in the east.  Children hoot Bull Run at him.  Citizens laugh at him, all because he strains too hard to be popular, and while he makes one doubtful friend, he creates a dozen enemies.

It’s ironic that Tidball is so empathetic to McDowell’s plight, given that much of McDowell’s legacy has been shaped by a physical description attributed to Tidball and quoted, cited, or plagiarized by just about every writer who has ever described McDowell (see page 203 of the above mentioned bio, and keep in mind that Tidball himself was by all accounts a tall, lean, good lookin’ fella):

He had it is true great physical powers, but his figure was not of a comely order.  He was of medium stature, but his body was long in proportion to his legs.  His head, although well formed and large enough, appeared small and bullet-shaped when attached to his fleshy figure by a neck short and thick.  His countenance, always florid from rugged health, was of the Holland type, and his legs although short were in other respects well proportioned to his general figure.  They were attached to his body by broad, rolling hips that worked up and down when he walked.  Notwithstanding all this seeming clumsiness, he was in the waltz, of which he was extremely fond, light of foot and tripped it off with sylph-like grace.  The virtue of temperance he carried to such an extreme that he eschewed not only the beverages that intoxicate but tea and coffee as well.  Yet while so abstemious as to drinking he set no bounds to his eating, for which his equatorial dimensions gave him great capacity.  He cultivated eating to a fine art, and was not only a gourmand, but a bon vivant, being as highly skilled in the preparation of recherché dishes as a Delmonico chef.  Intimately associated with his total abstemiousness in drinking was his abhorrence of tobacco in every shape and form.

Sorry about the long setup, but it was necessary to show how McDowell was generally regarded during his lifetime because that’s a big part of why I found this late night discovery so surprising.

James Abram Garfield, Ohioan, Republican, Civil War general, some say war department spy, U. S. senator, and 20th POTUS, fathered seven children.  The fifth child was born in 1870 and christened Irvin M. Garfield.  That is, Irvin McDowell Garfield.  Young Irvin attended his father’s alma mater Williams College in Massachusetts and had a long law career in Boston before his death in 1951.  I don’t think they ever served together during the war, so what’s the connection between Garfield and McDowell, other than their native state?  I don’t know yet.  I’ll work on it.  But it had to be some strong tie for a public figure like Garfield to elect to “saddle” his progeny with such a notorious label.

To give you some idea of how this style of “research” is akin to chaos, while finding this out I also learned a little about Garfield’s dark horse nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 1880.  He had gone to the national convention to support the nomination of fellow Ohioan John (brother of W. T.) Sherman.  Prior to that, Garfield had been chosen to fill a seat in the senate, a seat which was filled by John Sherman after Garfield won the presidential nomination.

And by the way, James Garfield was the son of Eliza Ballou Garfield, which makes him a cousin of the sentimental letter writer Sullivan Ballou, killed at First Bull Run.

As Myron Cope might say, “Yoi and Double Yoi!”





What’s in a Name?

12 01 2007

Interesting.  I’ve received not one comment regarding the misspelling of McDowell’s name on his headstone.

A note regarding the Union OOB:  I can’t find any documentation of the existence of a Union Army of Northeastern Virginia.  This is the name typically used for McDowell’s army at Bull Run.  The Department of Northeastern Virginia was created on 5/28/1861 from part of the Department of the East with boundaries enclosing Virginia east of the Allegheny Mountains and north of the James River with the exception of a sixty mile radius around Fort Monroe.  It was commanded by McDowell until 7/25/1861 when it was attached to the Military Division of the Potomac; it was merged with the Department of the Potomac on 8/17/1861 (see Eicher and Eicher, Civil War High Commands, p 837).  But none of the reports or correspondence from First Bull Run reference an Army of Northeastern Virginia – instead they refer to the Department or simply “McDowell’s Corps.”  The moniker appears to be an after the fact creation, and that is the story I’m sticking with unless you can prove otherwise!








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