Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 1

7 04 2016

downloadI know, it’s been a while. But, just like writing, maybe examining a reading can benefit with the passage of time. Here’s how this is going to work: as I read Edward Longacre’s study of the First Battle of Bull Run, The Early Morning of War, I put little Post-Its where I saw something with which I agreed or disagreed, or which I didn’t know, or which I did know and was really glad to see; essentially, anything that made me say “hmm…” So I’ll go through the book and cover in these updates where I put the Post-It and why. Some of these will be nit-picky for sure. Some of them will be issues that can’t have a right or wrong position. Some of them are, I think, cut and dry. So, here we go:

Prologue: Page 4 – Here we have Abraham Lincoln, three months after the attack on Fort Sumter (July, then), fretting over a recurring dream (you know, the one in the boat) and “the coming passage of arms” between “the forces fated to meet at Manassas.” But he also mentions a “presumed superior strength of the Union forces” in that coming fight. I have to wonder, what presumed superior strength is the author talking about here? Plans submitted to AL in June assumed meeting an enemy of at best equal numbers.

This idea of an expectation of outnumbering and overwhelming the rebels at Manassas is a recurring assumption in First Bull Run literature. But the facts just don’t back it up, as I’ve discussed before. See, for example, this post.

The author also notes earlier in the same paragraph that AL was hoping for a “complete victory at minimal cost in Northern and Southern lives” [emphasis mine]. This is tantalizing and something I’ve considered in trying to understand just what Irvin McDowell wanted to accomplish in the campaign (another assumption typically pulled from the air). That is, how did AL’s hopes for a “soft war” and a quick reconciliation, if indeed he hoped those hopes, impact McDowell’s game plan? Unfortunately, the author really didn’t examine this in much detail, even later (see this post for more thoughts on this).

Wow, that was just one Post-It. This could take some time. I have no schedule for this – guess you’ll have to check back here every…single…day.


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7 responses

7 04 2016
josepharose

Whenever I read about the battle, the text never even intimates that the Southerners might have a possibility of equal numbers, much less numerical superiority.

Are you approaching your post-its in page order or are you going to bounce around? Can people “send” you post-its to think about (although you’ll assuredly have enough of your own)?

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7 04 2016
Harry Smeltzer

I’ll post these in page order, hopefully more than one Post-It at a time becasue I did in fact wind up with a whole lot of them. But one never knows! If you ran across anything while reading the book that you want to discuss, maybe save it for when I pass it up. Discussions of far flung bits could get confusing. Best we try to be a little orderly. FWIW, John Hennessy’s book addresses McDowell’s expectations regarding numbers, as does (briefly) R. M. Johnston’s.

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9 04 2016
Jens C. Falster

Please excuse this long-winded reply. I believe we should look beyond mere numbers here and what military force truly represented to the commander involved. McDowell was a committed military professional, however lacking in command experience. Obeying orders is one thing, but I find it hard to believe he would not have moved forward when he did without believing in a reasonable chance of success, despite the somewhat even manpower. So the numbers were not there, but what else might have instilled some confidence?

First, the full weight of the U.S. Army regular establishment, including quartermaster, commissary, ordnance departments and other sundry support services. All were established and functioning, however indifferently and at cross purposes. By stark contrast, the new Confederacy had to build this complex institution almost from scratch, with serious shortcomings in every aspect, albeit with an experienced cadre of officers and not a few clerks, who moved south. Certainly this was no easy task, and men without food, weapons, ammunition or adequate equipment are next to useless in war.

Second, the Union Army clearly had a pronounced superiority in artillery, both in number of tubes and in larger and rifled calibers..All but one battery were regulars, generally officered by trusted, experienced professionals, and the crews (while most were newly recruited) were well trained, disciplined and (in the event) brave. The Confederates had nothing approaching this. Still McDowell requested more batteries only to be turned down by Scott, who kept them back and secure in the Washington forts.

Third, the battalion of regular infantry companies was strong and trustworthy, as were the squadrons of regular cavalry also formed into a battalion. They would be used sparingly to stiffen the line and encourage the other troops, and there was nothing of equivalence on the Southern side. Confederate superiority in horse companies and mounted recruits was largely discounted as the days of effective massed cavalry charges on infantry were considered past, and in any event the ground was thought generally unsuited to mounted operations.

A final note. This campaign has fascinated me for most of my adult life, and my reading and research, (however egotistic, flawed, amateurish, lacking and inadequate), has left certain nagging questions still unanswered, but leading to certain stubbornly held beliefs. Namely, (1) that public pressure did not force Lincoln’s hand to precipitate the battle, but rather it was other more complex political, diplomatic, and psychological influences first and foremost; (2) that McDowell never came close to winning the battle but was instead lucky to have escaped complete disaster and the near total capture of his army had he advanced to victory over Henry Hill and much further beyond later in that Sunday; (3) Washington was never ever in danger from the Confederate victory, and to believe otherwise is specious nonsense, totally at odds with reality; and finally, (4) Patterson’s dismal performance in the Valley has never been fully explained, and logistics and the very size of his army (and thus its inherent weakness) may well have had a great deal to do with it, not simply a dismissive timidity or confusion brought on by his so-called advanced age. Answers in agreement or refutation to all or some of these questioning statements I eagerly anticipated in Longacre’s thick history (heavily book-marked as well) but did not find. Perhaps I missed them. But for now (unless otherwise chastised and corrected) for singular edification and education I’m writing my own essays on these and other related topics, with the great help of the marvelous Bull Run orders-of-battle complied in Britain, which along with the Official Records, should be the starting point for any real research by “military” or “non-military” Civil War buffs. Unlike all other major battles and campaigns of our Civil War there’s much still hidden and still much to be learned from First Bull Run, Much indeed, for I believe the jury is still out.

Again, I do beg pardon for the manic wordiness and ranting.

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9 04 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Jen. Jonathan’s OOBs are great. He’s a good man, and thorough.

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13 04 2016
Chris Evans

I’m looking forward to your detailed examination of what I think will be a classic book in the field. Your notes should be classic.

I really like what Longacre did with this book. All that talk about he writes too many books (which might be true) and then he stepped up to the plate and knocked the heck out of this one making it well written, thought provoking, and interesting.

I doubt you would spend much time with it if you didn’t think it was worthwhile.

Chris

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13 04 2016
Harry Smeltzer

I don’t know about classic. My notes will be my notes, that’s about it. Not sure if I’ll get any more out before the tour, though.

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15 04 2016
Chris Evans

Thanks. I’m looking forward to them.

Chris

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