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


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


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

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.

McDowell’s Plan – Again

11 07 2016

This coming Thursday evening, July 14, 2016 (Bastille Day), join me at the California University of Pennsylvania’s Civil War Roundtable for a discussion of Irvin McDowell’s plan for the campaign on Manassas – what it was, what it wasn’t, how it succeeded, why it failed.

The meeting will be held in the KARA-BOOKER GREAT ROOM in the Kara Alumni House. Doors will open at 6:30 pm and the meeting will start at 7:00 pm.

Anyone interested in Civil War History is welcome to attend.

For further information, email, call 724-258-3406, or text 724-787-2340.

A Reminder – And a Teaser

8 06 2016

Note in the video above John Hennessy discusses the significance of the move of the batteries of Griffin and Ricketts from Dogan’s Ridge to Henry Hill. It’s a move that has been emphasized by many as one of the reasons for the Federal failure that day. As part of the next Bull Runnings tour (date to be determined), we’ll take a closer look at the use of the Federal artillery on July 21, 1861, with an examination of all the positions taken that day – including (hopefully) Dogan’s Ridge, where we did not go in April – and a discussion of their relative advantages and disadvantages. Guest guides TBA.