Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 5

30 06 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: 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:

Chapter 5: Escaping the Deathtrap (In which we go back to the Valley. As I said before, I’m not of the school that the Valley is integral to the story of First Bull Run, but the author is, so let’s take a look.)

P. 116 – To bolster his argument that the retention of Harper’s Ferry was vital, Jefferson Davis argued that it’s loss would “interrupt our communication with Maryland, and injure our cause in that state.”

P. 121 – Early on, Col. Ambrose Burnside’s 1st Rhode Island Infantry was part of George Thomas’s brigade of Patterson’s command. This of course would change and Burnside and the 1st RI would have a prominent role at Bull Run.

P. 124 – After taking Harper’s Ferry in mid-June “without firing a shot,” Patterson determined that Johnston’s retreat was so rapid he could not overtake him before Winchester.

P. 124-125 – Part and parcel to the mixed signals Patterson was receiving from Winfield Scott all during his foray into the Valley, after taking Harper’s Ferry, seeing no need for Patterson to press Johnston, Scott ordered the U. S. Regulars and the 1st RI returned to Washington. This left Patterson “with an army composed almost entirely of three-months’ volunteers, half of whose service terms had already expired or were about to.” The author theorizes that part of Scott’s reasoning was “a belated realization that the present campaign would be won or lost in McDowell’s theater. Scott had finally come to see Patterson’s operations as supportive of McDowell’s.” Would he ever communicate this realization to Patterson?

P. 130 – On June 20, on Johnston’s ordered the not-as-yet “Stonewall” Jackson destroyed B&O train cars and tracks at Martinsburg, to deny the resources to the enemy. Johnston ordered this as he understood it in conformance with directives from Richmond. However, the reaction from those quarters was far from laudatory. Maryland politicians and citizens, and especially B&O shareholders, were livid. Johnston’s stock in the Confederacy was now losing value as well.

PP. 135-137 – Also on the 20th, Scott ordered Patterson to submit a plan for moving his army east to support Col. Charles P. Stone’s brigade’s move on Confederate outposts between Leesburg and Washington. Patterson submitted plans for just such a move, which he later argued would have changed events considerably in favor of the Union.But on the 25th, Scott changed his mind and told Patterson to stay at Harper’s Ferry. Scott continued to mix signals [IMO (in my opinion)] by cautioning Patterson to engage Johnston only “if you are in superior or equal force,” but that it “would not due to pursue them as far as Winchester.” In light of later events and Scott’s assertions to the contrary, the General-in-Chief’s directives to Patterson were as clear as mud [again, IMO].

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 4

14 05 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: 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:

Chapter 4: Green and Green Alike (Don’t get me started on this quote – some view it as an indication of Lincoln’s raw, common sense. I see it as evidence of his poor grasp of military realities – if, in fact, he said it.)

P. 91 – The first sentence of this chapter is one of my great pet peeves: “On the day Irvin McDowell assumed command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia…”

The footnote for this paragraph cites Starr’s Bohemian Brigade and Warner’s Generals in Blue. Neither of these are primary sources (nothing wrong with that), and neither of them discuss the origin of the name Army of Northeastern Virginia (this is the first time the name is used in this book.) Why does this note not cite some order creating the army, or some report referring to it for the fist time? Because, as far as I’ve been able to determine, there never was any organization on the books called The Army of Northeastern Virginia. The moniker was only applied post-battle, and post formation of The (Federal) Army of the Potomac. Why is this important? What difference does it make? Maybe none. But it bugs the heck out of me when I see it. OK, enough on that, let’s move on.

Pp. 93-94 – The author notes that McDowell was hampered not only by “inadequate communications” south of the Potomac, but also faced a shortage of wagons to carry rations for his army when on the march. He had to deal with a “lack of cooperation from superiors and colleagues alike,” and that McDowell would later attribute this to Winfield Scott’s dissatisfaction with his elevation to command of the army in the field. General J. K. F. Mansfield was an instrument in Scott’s obstruction of McDowell’s efforts.

P. 101 – In the same vein, McDowell later claimed that he “had no opportunity to test my machinery…” That is, he couldn’t drill his new regiments in battlefield, brigade sized evolutions. When he did exercise a group of eight regiments together, Scott accused him of “trying to make some show.” The author points out that failure to drill regiments as brigades and divisions resulted in the inability to use them as such in practice. This gives some insight into the time-honored opinion that the “piece-meal” insertion of units into the battle was key to Union defeat.

P. 103 – The author raises a good question: Why was Daniel Tyler, who held no volunteer or regular army rank, and who had been out of the army for almost 30 years, given command of the largest division in McDowell’s army? Other than a generally favorable remark from W. T. Sherman (“has a fair reputation”), a good reason isn’t offered. The author notes and provides evidence that the men in the ranks were left unimpressed by Edith Carow (Mrs. Theodore) Roosevelt’s grandfather. [As a side note, I found some evidence in Alan Gaff’s If This is War that, despite having personally drilled the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers of his division at least once, the men were less than familiar with Tyler, as some of them believed he attempted to rally the men on Henry House Hill, when he was nowhere in the vicinity. I’m guessing they confused him with another white-haired officer, Samuel Heintzelman.]

P. 108 – The author notes that the June 1 raid on Fairfax Court House by Lt. Charles H. Tompkins, and his “wildly inflated estimate of the troops” there “inhibited McDowell from making further reconnaissances.” He also states that “some historians” claim this also resulted in a postponement on the eventual movement on Manassas and allowed more time for Beauregard to strengthen the defenses there. [Delays leading to defeat, and separately to plan failure, will be a recurring theme.]

PP. 108-112 – On June 3, Scott directed McDowell to give an estimate of the number of troops he would need to make a move on the Bull Run Line (and maybe Manassas Gap), in conjunction with Patterson’s movement against Harper’s Ferry. McDowell’s was to be a supporting role. McDowell returned a number that was very low, a total of 17,000 men including a 5,000 man reserve. McDowell felt this would perhaps compel Beauregard to fall back on Richmond. Even when credible reports established that Beauregard had 20,000 on the line, McDowell still thought the move (and men), which would bypass Fairfax Court House, could succeed via a move toward Vienna. [The author does not explore this line of thought, but here we see an indication that McDowell is thinking along the lines of Scott’s campaign in Mexico, a series of turning movements by smaller forces, in the face of which the enemy would withdraw.]

As a test, McDowell ordered a foray to Vienna. The misfortune that befell Brig. Gen. Schenck at that place seemed “to have infected his men with a deep-seated fear of ‘masked batteries,’ one that politicians and newspaper editors would play up.” [All of which may be true, but I have yet to find any creditable evidence that this in any way impacted the orders to and dispositions of McDowell’s force when it eventually moved out. There are more practical reasons for those than some “fear” of masked batteries, a theme that runs through many chronicles of the campaign.]

P. 112 – The author notes that as of June 24, McDowell had access to fewer than 14,000 troops in his department [a much better term to use than a formal army name, by the way], but that he remained confident that if he could properly train, organize, and motivate all the men he would receive over the next few weeks they could defeat the rebels “if they needed to fight them at all. He [McDowell] continued to believe that a well-mounted advance might persuade” the rebels to fall back to better defenses nearer the Rappahannock River. [And here it is: I don’t think McDowell ever stopped believing that.]

P. 113 – By late June, those in power were getting anxious for a move. McDowell would say later that whenever he mentioned the obstacles he was facing, he received the same response regarding the relative “green-ness” of his men and those of the enemy [it’s tough sometimes to nail down just who first flung this classic, but misguided, comeback McDowell’s way – I’ve seen it attributed to both Scott and Lincoln]. The author correctly points out that it was the “government’s” lack of patience that was pressuring for a move, not that of “the people” or “the press.” [Of course, that buck stops with POTUS.] And so on June 21, Scott directed McDowell to present a “finished plan to ‘sweep the enemy from Leesburg to Alexandria’ in cooperation with a column from Patterson’s army.”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 5





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 3

21 02 2017

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_To recap, here’s how this works: 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:

Chapter 2: The Fretful Virginian and the Hesitant Irishman

I see the actions in the Shenandoah Valley at this time as much less important to the story of First Bull Run than does pretty much everyone else, primarily because it figured so little in Federal planning, and even in the failure of that planning (more on that later, but I’ve written about it often). Needless to say, Mr. Longacre is not of the same opinion, and provides substantial coverage of that area of operations. I didn’t skip over this when reading the book, so I won’t skip over it here.

P. 45 – I was unaware that Joseph Johnston resigned from the army in 1837, to take a civilian position with the Topographical Bureau in Washington. This is similar to a tact taken by George Meade, who, like Johnston, was assigned to the artillery upon graduation from West Point and who, like Johnston, felt he was stagnating there, and who, like Johnston, moved to a civilian position in the Topographical Bureau, and who, like Johnston, used this as a backdoor later to return to the army in the more prestigious  Topographical Engineers. I did not know that about Johnston (Longacre does not make the Meade connection, which is neither here nor there).

P. 61 – On this page, Longacre becomes the first author other than Russel Beatie to emphasize, in foreshadow, the influence that the character of Fitz John Porter may have had on his superior officer in the Shenandoah Valley, Robert Patterson.

P. 62 – The plan of how to move recruits to secure Washington in May of 1861 was devised by Patterson.

Chapter 3: Awaiting the Invader

P. 71 – A nice description of the geography around Bull Run, noting the convergence of major roads at Centreville, the Centreville Ridge, the thin population and poor soil.

P. 73 – The author points out the significance of the railroad junction at Manassas to both armies, and discussed the concerns of Robert E. Lee, who as Virginia’s head military honcho played a major role in the development of defenses in the area.

Pp. 74-75 – A nice description of the less than attractive personality of Beauregard’s predecessor in command Milledge Luke Bonham. At the end of the campaign, every member of his staff transferred elsewhere.

P. 79 – The author points out several times the importance of interior lines in the planning and disposition of Confederate forces, in the thinking of folks like Lee and Beauregard.

P. 81 – The author notes that, while Beauregard’s failure to form any organization larger than a brigade was an “unwieldy decentralization of authority,” at the same time it kept “things simple and avoid[ed] extra levels of command. Then too, ‘Old Bory’ was not sufficiently acquainted with his subordinates to pronounce them deserving of leading more than a brigade.”

P. 89 – On much maligned Confederate Commissary General Lucious B. Northrup: “A dispassionate evaluation of the evidence, however, must conclude that while he made mistakes, they were mainly due to inexperience rather than obstinacy and that too many of the problems that beset him and, to a lesser degree, Lieutenant Colonel Myers – especially the slow and erratic shipment of rations and equipment by overburdened railroads – were beyond their ability to solve.”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Part 5

 





Notes on “Early Morning of War” – Part 2

9 12 2016

51gm8atoyol-_sx329_bo1204203200_I know, it’s been eight months since Part 1 of this series. Life goes on. To recap, here’s how this works: 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:

Chapter 1: The Great Creole and the Obscure Ohioan

The biographical sketch of McDowell is pretty good here, more in-depth than you’ll find pretty much anywhere else. It touches on McDowell’s familial political connections, his broad education, experiences as a staff officer, alcohol abstention, and generally favorable impression upon military and political figures. This all contributes to making his ultimate appointment to command of an army more understandable and less serendipitous. I would have preferred a little more on McDowell’s actual rank (while a brevetted major, his actual rank prior to appointment as a full Brigadier General U. S. A. was as First Lieutenant) affected his relationship with other officers and his boss, Winfield Scott.

This chapter (p. 29) also gives the first glimpses into McDowell’s planning process, primarily with very preliminary plans he presented to his benefactor, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, in May, 1861. These plans far exceeded McDowell’s areas of influence, and I think should not be given too much weight in examining the plans he would later develop, under changed circumstances, for moving on Manassas. It seems to me some of the assumptions and conditions in these earlier, larger plans get conflated by analysts into McDowell’s later, more narrow plans.

The background provided on Beauregard in this chapter is pretty standard, with a little more discussion of his pre-war politics than one normally finds in general sketches. One surprise here is a description of Beauregard’s character (p. 22) provided by South Carolina Governor Pickens in a 7/7/1861 letter to fellow South Carolinian Milledge Luke Bonahm, whom Bory had succeeded in command of the Bull Run line. In that letter, which may have been written in part as salve for the wounded pride of the recipient, Beauregard is described  in terms usually applied to his comrade Joe Johnston (“His reputation is so high that he fears to risk it”).

Also in this chapter is a brief recap of General Scott’s “offering” of “command” of “the” Union army to Robert E. Lee which left me as dissatisfied as most accounts of the meeting.

Check back here often for the next installment. I’m going to make an effort to put up a couple chapters per month from here on out.

Part 1 

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5





Projecting

5 12 2016

I’m getting around to outlining my thoughts on Irvin McDowell’s plan for the campaign on Manassas. If you’ve been following along, you know that I am firmly of the opinion that McDowell’s intentions and expectations for the campaign have been grossly misrepresented over the years, with resulting, understandable effects on the analysis of the failure of his plans (keeping in mind that reasons for the failure of plans and reasons for defeat are two very, very different things). While I think I’m no longer completely alone in that opinion, and may never have been, I’m still pretty sure I’m in a very small minority.

anteffcoverIn the meantime, I’m reading a very interesting book by Bradley Graham, The Antietam Effect. I’ve heard rumblings about this book over the past few years (self published in 2012), but never saw it until stumbling over it in the Fredericksburg Battlefield visitor’s center. This is a collection of essays dealing with various topics of the campaign. It’s wide-ranging, even eclectic. The titles listed in the footnotes may leave you scratching your head at first glance but, trust me, there’s a point to everything (and yes, you have to read the notes). I don’t necessarily agree with all the author’s conclusions, but I love his approach and find it very similar to my own, on a basic level.

One passage I found particularly intriguing, and applicable with some bending to my own experience with the historiography of First Bull Run, can be found on page 175:

To make their views more compelling, some authors enlist the unspoken opinions of key players…They engage in a species of psychological projection – projecting their own internalized impressions onto important historical characters. This cognitive bias tends to shape analysis, and good scholarship devolves into advocacy for the favored view, and the ascription of the author’s opinions onto those who did not espouse them.

It seems to me that, when it comes to McDowell’s intentions and expectations, authors have developed impressions of what they must have been or should have been, and in the absence of confirming evidence projected those impressions as being those of the man himself. The strange thing to me is how consistently this has been done over the years, so that those impressions have become generally accepted. When the legend becomes fact…





Those Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

2 11 2016

I’ve written before of the mis-identification of Sherman’s Battery in accounts of the battle, be it of the Sherman to whom the moniker pertains, or to the location of said battery during the battle. Like the Black Horse Cavalry, in the eyes of many participants every battery they saw on the field was the famous, rock-star Sherman’s Battery. Shortly after the battle, when faced with the reality of the safe return of the battery to the Washington vicinity, some Confederates were still in denial. From the New Orleans Daily Crescent, 8/5/1861:

A Bogus Sherman Battery.

Richmond, August 3. – It is reliably stated by undoubted authority, that when the news reached Washington of the capture of Sherman’s Battery, Gen. Scott privately ordered six cannon to be taken from the Navy-Yard and sent to the neighborhood of Alexandria, with horses, which were brought back with the announcement that Sherman’s Battery had not fallen into the hands of the enemy.

 





California University of PA CWRT Recap

17 07 2016
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Photo courtesy of Mike Pellegrini

Last Thursday evening, July 14, I gave a presentation on Irvin McDowell’s plan(s) for the campaign on Manassas to the California University of Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable in California, PA. This built on the presentation I gave to the Central Ohio CWRT back in 2014 (see recap here). The evening before, I sat down and wrote a few things out – I don’t usually like to read prepared statements, but I was glad I did as it cut down on annoying umms and ahhs on my part and helped keep me on track. It also added to the length of the program, which I think clocked in at something like 1:30 to 1:45. But I didn’t see too many of the 55-60 in attendance nod off, and didn’t notice any getting up and bugging out before the meeting was over. This program continues to develop and change as my thoughts on McD’s plans evolve, but in essence it’s pretty much nailed down.

There were some good questions afterward, but not too many as we did run long and my programs typically have give and take while in process. The room in the Kara Alumni house was very nice and worked well. It was also very cool meeting Roland Maust, author of one of my top ten favorite books on Gettysburg“Grappling with Death”: The Union Second Corps Hospital at Gettysburg, who was in attendance.

Thanks to president Walter Klorczyk who heads up a very fine group. They meet on the 2nd Thursday each month on campus.

My next speaking engagement will be October 18, 2016, when I’ll present Kilpatrick’s Family Ties for the Lunch With Books series at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling, West Virginia. Stop by if you’re in the area – it’s a fun program.