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Tags: Army of Northeastern Virginia, Articles, Irvin McDowell, John Hennessy, McDowell's Plan
Categories : Articles, The Battle
John Hennessy is working on a new edition of his seminal tactical study, The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861. I’ve corresponded with the author enough to learn that this will be one of the rare updated editions that owners of the original will consider a “must have.” Mr. Hennessy discussed the new book somewhat in a recent interview with Civil War Talk Radio, which you can listen to here.
During this interview, you’ll hear the author discuss one of the great mysteries of the campaign – what exactly was Irvin McDowell’s vision of victory for his army (which ex post facto became known as The Army of Northeastern Virginia)? Many authors/historians have made the assumption – and it can only be an assumption – that McDowell envisioned a swift flank attack which would overwhelm his opponent and result in a set-piece victory, rolling up and decisively defeating Beauregard in a classic clash of arms.
The definition of victory here is not just semantics. It is critical in assessing McDowell’s plans and actions, and in determining why they failed.
I believe victory in McDowell’s mind was something other than what almost all chroniclers and critics of the campaign have assumed. I won’t tell you what to think, but will make a suggestion that may help you think for yourself: the answer can perhaps be found in what McDowell wrote before the battle and in what he did during it. In order to discern that, I think you must cast aside assumptions of what he must have intended and take him at his word – and actions. If you do that, then the inexplicables of the campaign may become more explicable. What appears to be a complex plan (given the traditional assumption of intent) may become less so.
Read McDowell’s plans. Look at what he did. Does that jive with your assumptions regarding his intent? To use a sports analogy, would you as a reporter rely on a head football coach’s post-defeat comments about his game plan when you have the actual game plan and video to look at? Especially when the game plan and video don’t support those comments?
Post-defeat comments: “We really wanted to establish the running game, but that didn’t work out.” Game plan: we must exploit the opponent’s secondary. Game film: first three possessions each consisted of three incomplete down-field passes and a punt.
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Tags: After Action Reports, Army of Northeastern Virginia, Articles, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Armies, Articles, Official Reports
You’ll notice in Col. Pratt’s report that he uses “Army N. E. Va” in the closing. As I’ve discussed here and here, I’ve never been able to find any documentation creating or formally recognizing an Army of Northeastern Virginia. Pratt’s report is one of only three references to such an organization in the Official Records. The other two are Porter’s endorsement (dated August 19, 1861) of Burnside’s report, and Robert E. Lee’s reference to his own army in a September 3, 1862 letter to Jefferson Davis (OR, Series I, Volume XII/2, p 559). Pratt’s report is exceptional in that it contains the first reference to the army that is contemporary to the battle, as the report is dated July 22. Pratt was a judge before and after the war, so maybe he was predisposed to timely record keeping. Or maybe he pre-dated the report. I honestly don’t know.
I don’t want to belabor this point. McDowell was in command of the Department of Northeastern Virginia, and the federal troops within that department. But every reference I’ve found to the Army of Northeastern Virginia, with the exception of Pratt’s report, was written after McDowell’s army was broken up. I can’t find any mention of the Army of Northeastern Virginia in the New York Times for 1861.
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Tags: Army of Northeastern Virginia, Articles
Categories : Armies, Articles
In response to my post about the origin of the name Army of Northeastern Virginia, blogger David Woodbury commented:
It’s not much, but when A. Porter submitted Ambrose Burnside’s report, he refers to Burnside’s command as the Second Brigade, Second Division, Army of Northeastern Virginia. Series I, vol. 2, p. 395.
After a quick check of the OR’s, I responded:
As for the report of Porter: that’s Andrew Porter, First Brigade commander of Hunter’s Division who took over command of the division when Hunter was wounded. He does mention the name of the army, but this cover letter to Burnside’s report was not written until August 19, while Burnside’s report itself was sent from Hdqrs. Second Brigade, Second Division, Major [!!!] General McDowell’s Column and dated July 24. Porter’s own report on page 383 refers to the First Brigade, Second Division, of the Army. It was written on July 25. If anything, this probably supports the ex post facto origins of the Army of Northeastern Virginia.
David’s post last year about McDowell’s misspelled headstone played some role in feeding my interest in First Bull Run. Thanks for that, David, and thanks for taking the time to comment here.
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Tags: Army of Northeastern Virginia, Articles, Irvin McDowell
Categories : Armies, Articles
Interesting. I’ve received not one comment regarding the misspelling of McDowell’s name on his headstone.
A note regarding the Union OOB: I can’t find any documentation of the existence of a Union Army of Northeastern Virginia. This is the name typically used for McDowell’s army at Bull Run. The Department of Northeastern Virginia was created on 5/28/1861 from part of the Department of the East with boundaries enclosing Virginia east of the Allegheny Mountains and north of the James River with the exception of a sixty mile radius around Fort Monroe. It was commanded by McDowell until 7/25/1861 when it was attached to the Military Division of the Potomac; it was merged with the Department of the Potomac on 8/17/1861 (see Eicher and Eicher, Civil War High Commands, p 837). But none of the reports or correspondence from First Bull Run reference an Army of Northeastern Virginia – instead they refer to the Department or simply “McDowell’s Corps.” The moniker appears to be an after the fact creation, and that is the story I’m sticking with unless you can prove otherwise!