T. E. Lawrence on Strategy and Tactics, and the Power of Ideas

13 03 2015

57936Right now I’m working my way through Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, T. E. Lawrence’s memoir of his adventures in the Middle East. I’m enjoying it a good deal more than I anticipated. Lawrence was, it appears to me, a jerk. For instance, he spelled the names of places and people differently intermittently, and on purpose. He explained that this was because they were frequently spelled differently, which doesn’t help the reader much. But I suspect he really wasn’t writing for the reader. In fact, he says:

There are no lessons for the world, no disclosures to shock peoples. It is filled with trivial things, partly that no one mistake for history the bones from which some day a man may make history.

The edition I’m reading includes the historiography of the book, which is an adventure in itself, as well as some correspondence between Lawrence and his editor, in which you can see that not only was Lawrence a jerk, but he knew he was a jerk, he knew his editor knew he was a jerk, and moreover he knew that the editor needed him so badly that Lawrence had no motivation whatsoever to curb his jerk tendencies.

Enough of that – let’s get to it. In Chapter 33 (there are many short chapters – Lawrence anticipated the People Magazine approach to article length), Lawrence recounted the thoughts running through his head as he lay prostrate with illness, or as he described it “in impotence upon my face in this stinking tent.” I won’t get into the insight provided regarding the situation in the area then and its applicability to the world today, but will say if you’re interested you should really check the book out. This is the pivotal chapter (I think) where Lawrence hits upon the secret to “victory.” Not really being a military man by his own admission, Lawrence nevertheless found himself in a position of high command. So, with time on his hands, he started to think back on what he had read, beginning at Oxford, from “Napoleon to Clausewitz and his school, to Caemmerer and Moltke, and the recent Frenchmen” to “Jomini and Willisen” to “Saux and Guibert” to “Kuhne and Foch.”

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about strategy and tactics and operations and goals and objectives, it’s that no matter how smart or well-versed you are, whatever your thoughts on them may be, somebody – somebody really smart and well versed – is going to tell you you’re thinking about it all wrong. If you’re really unlucky, they’ll toss about a few acronyms and initials to boot. So keep that in mind as you consider Lawrence’s thinking, which I’ve transcribed selectively.

But first, click on this link to give a little background music to the rest of the read:

When it grew too hot for dreamless dozing, I picked up my tangle again, and went on ravelling it out, considering now the whole house of war in its structural aspect, which was strategy, in its arrangements, which were tactics, and in the sentiment of the inhabitants, which was psychology; for my personal duty was command, and the commander, like the master architect, was responsible for all.

The first confusion was the false antithesis between strategy, the aim in war, the synoptic regard seeing each part relative to the whole, and tactics, the means towards a strategic end, the particular steps of its staircase. They seemed only points of view from which to ponder the elements of war, the Algebraical element of things, a Biological element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas.

The algebraical element looked to me a pure science, subject to mathematical law, inhuman. It dealt with known variables, fixed conditions, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in type-masses too great for individual variety, with all artificial aids and the extensions given our faculties by mechanical invention. It was essentially formulable.

Lawrence went on to do the math with regards to the size of the area he wished to “deliver” and how his enemy was likely to defend it. Then he hits upon his true weapon, that of ideas:

…but suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, and idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed.

(When it comes to Bull Run, I think this notion of an idea or ideal as a weapon needs to be explored. At this point of the war, the possibility of an ideological impact was greater than it would ever be again. In the north, some – even Lincoln – still held out hope that southern unionists were the key to bringing the wayward sisters home, so highly did they value the idea of “Union.” How, if at all, did this belief or hope affect Union strategy? There’s not much documentation to go on, but you have to wonder…)

Then Lawrence calculated the number of men his enemy would require to defend the ground, and the number required to achieve his aims. He moved on to the biological factor and makes some keen observations with regard to reserves.

[I] plunged into the nature of the biological factor in command. Its crisis seemed to be the breaking point, life and death, or less finally, wear and tear… A line of variability, Man, persisted like leaven through its estimates, making them irregular. The components were sensitive and illogical, and generals guarded themselves by the device of a reserve, the significant medium of their art. [Military theorist Colmer Freiherr von der] Goltz had said that if you knew the enemy’s strength, and he was fully deployed, then you could dispense with a reserve; but this was never. The possibility of accident, of some flaw in materials was always in the general’s mind, and the reserve unconsciously held to meet it.

The ‘felt’ element in troops, not expressible in figures, had to be guessed at…and the greatest commander of men was he whose intuitions most nearly happened. Nine-tenths of tactics were certain enough to be teachable in schools; but the irrational tenth was like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and in it lay the test of generals. It could be ensued only by instinct (sharpened by thought practising the stroke) until at the crisis it came naturally, a reflex.

This last bit touches on the popular belief, which some claim was predominant at least in the North, that great military commanders are born, not made. That a military education and experience might sharpen those with the innate ability to excel in command, but that it could not provide it. That the great, natural soldier who would lead the armies to victory could emerge from any walk of life. Some of this would come to a head in the debate over the value of West Point in the wake of the defeat at Bull Run.





Why Did Thomas Francis Meagher Get the Jerk? It’s Nobody’s Business…

9 03 2015

Donald Williams, author of Shamrocks and Pluff Mud, sent along this bit from the May 7, 1861 edition of the Charleston Mercury, explaining the actions of the Charleston Meagher Guards militia regarding the individual in whose honor they took their name (see here):

At a meeting of the Meagher Guards, held at the Military Hall on the evening of the 6th inst., the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted:

The report of the committee appointed to inquire into the truth of the rumor that THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGER, Esq. (in honor of whose patriotic efforts for the liberation of Ireland this company was named) had joined the crusade against the Southern States, having been heard—

1. Resolved, That the same be confirmed.

And, whereas, from the said Report, it appears to be true that Mr. Meagher has been carried away by the fanaticism of the North, and has enrolled himself in the ranks of our enemies, taking arms against us in this most unholy war, in support of usurpation and oppression, thus proving himself recreant to the sacred principles of liberty, of which he was hitherto an uncompromising an advocate; therefore,

2. Resolved, That, remembering the services of Mr. MEAGHER in the cause of freedom in Ireland, this Company have learned with infinite disappointment and regret that he too, should have joined the oppressors of this their adopted land.

3. Resolved, That under these circumstances this company can no longer, consistently with its position and dignity, bear his name, and that the same be and hereby is repudiated by them.

4. Resolved, That the name of THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER be erased from the roll of the honorary members of this Company.

5. Resolved, That it be referred to a Committee to suggest some suitable name by which this Company shall hereafter be known.

6. Resolved, That a copy of these preamble and resolutions be published in the daily papers of this city, and in the New York, Day Book





A New Flag Flies Over Castle Pinckney

6 03 2015

I received word from my brother in Charleston, SC, that a new flag is now flying over Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor (see here for some posts on the one-time Bull Run prison-pen.)

Irish flag 1Irish Flag 2

Yep, that’s the famous Irish tricolour you see flapping in the breeze. The fort was purchased a while back from the South Carolina State Ports Authority by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1269 for $10 (read about it here.) They’re the folks who have raised the flag, and according to them they’ve done so in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a very, very big day in Charleston, if you didn’t know. Visit their preservation site here. This is the second time the flag has flown there. See here for details on the first.

You’re right if you’re thinking that this particular flag was not officially in use in Ireland at the time of the Civil War. In 1848, the first Irish tricolour was presented to two visiting Irish nationalists by a small group of French women who were sympathetic to their cause. Those men returned to Ireland’s Waterford City and presented the flag, but it would be another sixty-eight years before it would become recognized as an emblem of the nation, after one was raised over the Dublin Post Office during the Easter Rising.

But there are links between the Irish banner and Castle Pinckney in Civil War ways, even if unintentional on the part of the fort’s caretakers.  On December 27, 1860, local Charleston militiamen led by (North Carolinian) James Johnston Pettigrew stormed the very lightly defended fort and took possession of it for the state. The three militia units involved were the Washington Light Infantry, the Carolina Light Infantry, and the Meagher Guards.

OCCUPATION OF CASTLE PINCKNEY BY THE CHARLESTON MILITIA, DECEMBER 26, 1860.  Harper's Weekly, 01/12/1861

OCCUPATION OF CASTLE PINCKNEY BY THE CHARLESTON MILITIA, DECEMBER 26, 1860.
Harper’s Weekly, 01/12/1861

Hmm…Meagher Guards. Tantalizing, yes? The Guards was a company of Charleston Irishmen, which had named itself in honor of Thomas Francis Meagher. Yes, that Thomas Francis Meagher.  In 1853 Meagher, on the lecture circuit, delivered a St. Patrick’s Day speech to Charleston’s Hibernian Society so stirring that – according to Donald Williams, the Society’s current historian and author of Shamrocks and Pluff Mud – an honorary membership was conferred on him. Of course, at the time Meagher (an acting major with the 69th New York State Militia at First Bull Run) was still famous as an Irish patriot, and not as the Union general he would become. The Hibernians revoked Meagher’s membership in 1861 as his role in the Union war effort became more prominent. The Meagher Guards became the Emerald Light Infantry (see here.) According to Irish-American Units in the Civil War they eventually formed part of Co. K. of Maxcy Gregg’s 1st South Carolina Volunteers.

1861-currier-ives-engraving-1entitled-capt-thomas-francis-meagher-zouave-corps-of-the-sixty-ninth-brightly-tinted-meagher-appears-in-his-zouave-uniform-of-the-69th-new-york-vols

Capt. Meagher of Co. K, 69th New York State Militia

 

Now here’s where it gets freaky. Care to guess who was one of the two young Irish nationalists that accepted the tricolour from those French women back in 1848? That’s right, non-other than Thomas Francis Meagher, who had yet to be exiled to Tasmania and escape to the United States. His unveiling of the flag in Waterford City is celebrated annually (this year’s festivities are being held today and tomorrow – see here.) How about that?

Modern Day Meagher in Waterford Cities Tricolour Celebration

Modern Day Meagher in Waterford City’s Tricolour Celebration

Also, photographic evidence shows that some members of Meagher’s unit captured at Bull Run were indeed held in Castle Pinckney (the regiment at Bull Run was the 69th New York State Militia, not New York Infantry.) Meagher was captain of Co. K, a zouave group. I think the fella fourth from right, seated, is a good candidate for a member of Co. K.

Title: Federal prisoners captured at battle of Bull Run, Castle Pinkney [i.e. Pinckney], Charleston, S.C., August 1861 Summary: Photograph shows group from the 69th New York Infantry [sic](Fighting 69th), some seated, others standing in the rear, facing front. A sign above the door, No. 7 Musical Hall, 444th Broadway. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013651611/

Title: Federal prisoners captured at battle of Bull Run, Castle Pinkney [i.e. Pinckney], Charleston, S.C., August 1861
Summary: Photograph shows group from the 69th New York Infantry [sic] (Fighting 69th), some seated, others standing in the rear, facing front. A sign above the door, No. 7 Musical Hall, 444th Broadway.
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013651611/

Here is a list of the 69th’s prisoners that their colonel, Michael Corcoran, sent home from Richmond. There are three from Co. K. No telling if any of them wound up at Pinckney.

So it would appear altogether fitting and proper that this flag should fly at this place at this time, don’t you think?





Preview – Horn: “The Siege of Petersburg”

26 02 2015

Layout 1Savas-Beatie continues its series of 150th Anniversary revised editions with a rework of John Horn’s 1991 Howard Battles and Leaders Series study, Destruction of the Weldon Railroad Deep Bottom Globe Tavern and Reams Station August 14-25, 1864. The new title is The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, just so you don’t get confused. The subject is what’s known as Grant’s Fourth Offensive, dubbed the longest and most costly offensive of the Petersburg Campaign, and involved the battles of Second Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern, and Second Reams’s Station.

What you get is 313 pages of text, plus four statistical tables, and three Orders of Battle. The tables are new to this edition, as are the maps by Hampton Newsome (there appear to be plenty of them, but whether or not they serve to illuminate the text remains to be seen.) The text has also been updated with more than 20 years of new research, most notably provided by what has been published as Civil War Talks: The Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans, co-edited by Horn, the memoir of a Petersburg lawyer who was a member of the 12th Virginia Infantry.

As usual, you also get a quality hardback binding, real-live footnotes, and a sturdy and colorful jacket. And all for $32.95. Not too shabby!





Preview: Hood – “The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood”

18 02 2015

514PKhia89L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently received from publisher Savas-Beatie a copy of Stephen M. Hood’s The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood. This can be viewed as support, so to speak, for some of Hood’s earlier John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (see my review here.) In this new, 269 page book author Hood presents and annotates his collateral ancestor’s (mostly) post war private correspondence which has been held by the family since his death (these are separate from his “war papers” which were mysteriously acquired by the National Archives in 1938.) Many of these were composed during the General’s writing of his autobiography, Advance and Retreat. Author Hood has presented the documents by topic, chronologically. Some of the topics: Dr. John Darby’s medical reports concerning Hood’s Gettysburg and Chickamauga wounds; The Atlanta Campaign; Cassville; War strategy after the fall of Atlanta; Spring Hill, Franklin, & Nashville; and Advance and Retreat. An appendix, Laudanum, Legends, and Lore, wraps things up. Richard McMurry provides a foreword. Also included are facsimiles of many of the 126 documents transcribed.





More On Henry W. Slocum, Jr.

16 02 2015

Long-time readers may recall my first (and last) Bull Run Threads trivia question regarding the connection between the First Battle of Bull Run and the U. S. Open Tennis championships (see here), and the answer to that question (see here.)

Recently I came across an old photo of the trivia subject in action, and share it here with the owner’s permission, and courtesy of the Guiteras Family Archives:

Henry Slocum defeated Quincy Shaw to win the 1889 U. S. Open Tennis Championship. Slocum is believed to be in the far court in this image.

Henry Slocum defeated Quincy Shaw to win the 1889 U. S. Open Tennis Championship. Slocum is believed to be in the far court in this image.





McDowell’s Plan, You Ask?

11 02 2015

Today I received an email, from which I’ve clipped the below:

I know somewhere on your site you have posted your view on what McDowell was trying to accomplish at the battle. Could you point me to that article or posting.

For anyone else who may be looking for that magic bullet summary, here is the response I sent:

Nowhere on the site have I yet summarized my views on McDowell’s plan. I have left bits and pieces of it here and there, and you can find them by searching “McDowell” on the site.

But as far as a complete summary with documentation of sources and my line of reasoning, you really won’t find it (although I have presented much of it to a group in Ohio.)

Yet.

I will be revealing it as I review Longacre’s book, which I will do in a series of posts just as soon as I find the freaking time!!! Please be patient.

For now, I’ll say that McDowell’s plan was not to overwhelm, it was not to move swiftly, and it was not necessarily to deal the enemy a crushing defeat in a set-piece battle.

It was, in fact, exactly what he said it was. And you can find that right here (though alterations were made on the fly, which you can also find here.) 








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