Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Brother, On Preparations to March

3 08 2014

Camp opposite Georgetown,

July 16, 1861.

Dear Brother,

We start forth today –  camp tonight at or near Vienna – tomorrow early, we attack the enemy at or near Fairfax C. H., Germantown, and Centreville – thereabouts we will probably be till about Thursday when movement of the whole force some 35,000 men on Manassas, turning the position by a wide circuit. You may expect to hear of us about Aquia Creek or Fredericksburg (secret absolute)

I leave your saddle & bridle with the Commissary Gray with orders to Send it with my large trunk over to you – I take your saddle bags, along – and will have my small trunk to follow.

If anything befal me, my pay it drawn to embrace June 30 – and Ellen has full charge of all other interests. Goodbye, Yr. brother,

W. T. Sherman

(over)

Ellen will write to your care and you can enclose her letters. This will give me a better assurance of receiving them. Send the enclosed to her. Yrs.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, p 118





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Preparations to March (1)

16 07 2014

Rosslyn, opposite Georgetown.

July 15, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

Charles Sherman came over yesterday & spent most of the day with me. He brought your two letters of the 11th and I was very glad to hear you were so well and that the little baby was also flourishing. We certainly have a heavy charge in these Six children, and I know not what is in store for them. All I can now do is to fulfil the office to which I am appointed leaving events to develop as they may. After all Congress is not disposed to increase the Regular Army as the President supposed. The ten new Regiments are only for the war, and will be mustered out, six months after the close of hostilities, but who know when hostilities are to cease? I won’t bother myself on this point but leave things to their natural development.

I now have my brigade ready for the March – Mine is the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division[.] Brig. Gen Tyler commands the Division composed of four Brigades – Keyes’s (you remember him in California) Schenck – Sherman and Richardson – In my brigade are-the New York 69, Irish, 1,000 strong – the 79 Scots, 900 strong – Quinbys 700 strong, and Wisconsin and Col. Peck 900 strong, and the Battery of Capt. Ayres – used to be Shemans battery 112 men – 110 horses and six Guns – We move without baggage – I have Lt. Piper adjt. – McQueston & Bagley aids – two mounted orderlies and a negro servant John Hill.

4 columns move out against the forces of Beauregard – posted from Fairfax C. H. to Manassas Junction – supposed to be from 30, to 45,000 men – one under Col. Miles starts from below Alexandria – one Col. Heintzelman from Alexandria – one Col. Hunter from Long Bridge – and ones from this point Gen. Tyler – This latter is a West Point Graduate, at present Brig. Genl. from Connecticut. I don’t know him very well, but he has a fair reputation – McDowell commands the whole – say 40,000 men – The purpose is to drive Beauregard beyond Manassas – break his connection with Richmond, and then to await further movements by Gen. Patterson and McClellan – I know our plans, but could not explain them to you without maps – It may not produce results but the purpose is to fight no matter the result. We have pretty fair knowledge of the present distribution of Beauregards forces, but he has a Railroad to Richmond from which point he may get reinforcements, and unless Patterson presses Johnston, he too may send forces across from Winchester. Manassas Junction in our possession, Richmond is cut off from the Valley above Staunton. But with these Grand strategic movements I will try to leave that to the heads, and confine my attention to the mere handling of my Brigade[.]

Keyes Brigade is about 5 miles out – the Ohio 4 miles – mine here, Richardson is on the other side – on the first notice we simply close up – and early next morning at Fairfax C. H. where there are 6 or 7 S. C. & Georgia Regts. – Close at hand at Germantown, Flint Hill, Cumberville, Bull Run & Manassas are all occupied & fortified – but we may go round these. I take with me simply valise, & saddle bags – and leave behind my trunks to be sent over to John Sherman. Letter can take the same course. If we take Manassas, there will be a Railroad from Alexandria to that point, so that letters can be received regularly. Though we momentarily look for orders to cook Rations to be carried along, I still see many things to do, which are not yet done, and General Scott, will allow no risks to be run – He thinks there Should be no game of hazard here. All the Risks should be made from the flanks.

I wrote to Minnie yesterday – Poor Charley will be disappointed sadly – He overrates my influence and that of John Sherman – I have some hopes of the transfer with Boris. I will write again before we start but the telegraph will announce all results before you can hear by mail – as ever &c.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 114-116





McDowell’s Real Plan

1 05 2014

Sorry this has taken so long.

The good folks at the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table – they’re in the Columbus area – invited me out to speak to them on the topic of my choice this past March 12. They invited me, jeez, must have been at least 18 months ago. They get really good speakers out there so the schedule is set many months in advance. This is the second time I’ve spoken to the group. I really like being invited back to a group, as I rightly or wrongly interpret that to mean they like what I do. Regardless, I’m to the point now where I won’t speak to any group unless they say “Hey, you want to speak to our group?”

My wife actually accompanied me on this trip; she’s never seen me speak before, and only once did she even attend a class I taught – because our soon to be son was due any day and she hoped discomfort and boredom would help spur things along. So this was an unusual trip right from the start, and continued on the unusual path when we got a flat tire very near our hotel. I changed the tire and we made it over to the hotel where our host Mike Peters (the historian of the COCWRT and the talent-booker) was waiting to take us to dinner.

After a nice meal we headed over to the venue in Westerville – a cool room in an old building at Otterbein University where veterans held meetings post-war. I renewed a couple of old acquaintances and made some new ones, and finally got to meet Phil Spaugy, with whom I’ve been “friends” on Facebook for awhile, and his posse from Dayton. Check out Phil’s blog here.

Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Meeting Room, COCWRT, Towers Hall, Otterbein University

Meeting Room, COCWRT, Towers Hall, Otterbein University

I was told by Mike that I had about 30 to 45 minutes for my presentation. I went over by about half an hour, but only one of the 20 or so in attendance left before the end (he is a lawyer, and I heard a siren going off only minutes before he left – coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.)

The gist of the presentation in a nutshell – my opinion, which I hope I supported adequately:

McDowell’s plan for the First Bull Run campaign was not a quick, tactical flank attack meant to overwhelm his outnumbered opponent and defeat him in the field. It was a deliberate, strategic turning maneuver, meant to compel a superior opponent to abandon his carefully chosen position, allowing McDowell to cut his line of communications. It did not fail because of slow movement, a complex plan, or the arrival of last minute Confederate reinforcements. It failed because McDowell was unable to establish his own line across Bull Run and move on the rail line at Groveton, and was instead drawn into a series of frontal assaults against a larger force occupying a superior position.

Sacrilege, I know. Of course, I had more to say than these four sentences, and that’s the fun part. You can read a recap of my talk here. I can quibble with a few things, but I’m not sure if the misunderstanding was due to a failure on my part to be clear. For now let’s just say that not all the details jive with what I meant to say. I really like this bit, though:

[Harry Smeltzer] reacts to consensus like a bull to the matador’s cape. Charge! And he lays waste to conventional wisdom. He doesn’t trust accepted “facts” and easy generalizations about battles, strategies, troop movements, and other assumptions that have been passed down as gospel over generations.

Yep, that’s me. I’m a loner. A rebel.

Afterwards we took a chilly walk to a nearby college pub where a few of us quaffed ales and had a generally ribald time. The next day, Mike and I went on a little field trip to nearby Lancaster, OH, while the wife made some sales calls and got the flat fixed. But that’s another story…





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.








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