Mini-Review: Hennessy on Porter, in “Corps Commanders in Blue”

22 10 2014

517bM0P30PL._SL500_AA300_As some of you know, Bull Runnings has this Facebook Page on which I post a lot of stuff that I’ve decided not to put up here. Last night I posted a review – of sorts – of John Hennessy’s essay on Fitz John Porter, Conservatism’s Dying Ember, in Corps Commanders in Blue, a collection of essays edited by Ethan Rafuse. I’ve decided to post it here. I may, or may not, post mini-reviews of other essays in the book if it strikes me to do so. And I may, or may not, post them here, on the Facebook page, or both. So, if you want to be sure to see them, I suggest both subscribing to the blog and following the Facebook page.

I just finished John J. Hennessy’s essay on Fitz John Porter. I recommend it to all. As Tom Clemens said, it is fair and balanced. I want to comment on a few passages of note:

1 – Regarding Lincoln’s decision to hold back from the AotP McDowell’s corps: “It was, perhaps, the most cautious strategic decision of the war, establishing Lincoln as a military thinker whose strategic conservatism far exceeded McClellan’s.” Yes! Hennessy also included Lincoln’s later admission of his mistake. I’ll add that Irvin McDowell (who was not much of a tactician, but a pretty shrewd big picture guy) also knew at the time that AL was playing into the rebels’ hands.

2 – Regarding Porter’s (via McClellan’s) policies in Virginia and whether or not they dovetailed with those of the administration: “To some eyes, he [McClellan] had not been aggressive enough with respect to slavery and too kind to Southern civilians, but he had in fact hewed closely to standing policy.” Again, YES!!! I wish this had been further explored, because there was a lot of “Don’t do what I say, do what I mean” coming from the admin in those days. However, that perhaps would have required a bit more exposition than the essay format allows.

3 – “In Porter’s eyes an immobile McDowell symbolized the perfidy of the nation’s leaders.” While Hennessy doesn’t limit the evidence that Porter interpreted as indicative of perfidy, he left out the issue of the closing of northern recruiting offices. But again, it’s a limited essay, and I can’t think of anything that should have been jettisoned in favor of this tidbit.

4 – “The message [sent by Porter’s relief and dismissal] was clear: the careers of men who mixed their political views and official duties too freely would not thrive.” I think this perhaps should have been worded differently – the message was clear that those who mixed CONTRARY political views and official duties too freely would not thrive. I don’t think there was an abolitionist in the army who felt constricted by Porter’s fate.

These are all minor in the grand scheme of things. Mr. Hennessy did a great job with this essay. I’d really like to see him expand on it, and hope he intends to do so.