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.





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 stonewall1863@comcast.net, call 724-258-3406, or text 724-787-2340.





Theory and War’s Friction

31 03 2016

Plotting_Table

In reading Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, I came across a passage from the official British military history of the allied operation at Salerno, Italy, in 1943 [emphasis mine]:

In the land of theory…there is none of war’s friction. The troops are, as in fact they were not, perfect Tactical Men, uncannily skillful, impervious to fear, bewilderment, boredom, hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Commanders know what in fact they did not know…Lorries never collide, there is always a by-pass at the mined road-block, and the bridges are always wider than the flood. Shells fall always where they should fall.

It seems to me, when analyzing a commander’s performance, or divining his intent based on subsequent events, too many American Civil War writers live too much in the land of theory.





Victory at Bull Run – What Was McDowell’s Game Plan?

24 05 2015

51PK6Qew8sL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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.

Get it?





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.) 





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Brother, On Preparations to March

3 08 2014

Camp opposite Georgetown,

July 16, 1861.

Dear Brother,

We start forth today –  camp tonight at or near Vienna – tomorrow early, we attack the enemy at or near Fairfax C. H., Germantown, and Centreville – thereabouts we will probably be till about Thursday when movement of the whole force some 35,000 men on Manassas, turning the position by a wide circuit. You may expect to hear of us about Aquia Creek or Fredericksburg (secret absolute)

I leave your saddle & bridle with the Commissary Gray with orders to Send it with my large trunk over to you – I take your saddle bags, along – and will have my small trunk to follow.

If anything befal me, my pay it drawn to embrace June 30 – and Ellen has full charge of all other interests. Goodbye, Yr. brother,

W. T. Sherman

(over)

Ellen will write to your care and you can enclose her letters. This will give me a better assurance of receiving them. Send the enclosed to her. Yrs.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, p 118





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Preparations to March (1)

16 07 2014

Rosslyn, opposite Georgetown.

July 15, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

Charles Sherman came over yesterday & spent most of the day with me. He brought your two letters of the 11th and I was very glad to hear you were so well and that the little baby was also flourishing. We certainly have a heavy charge in these Six children, and I know not what is in store for them. All I can now do is to fulfil the office to which I am appointed leaving events to develop as they may. After all Congress is not disposed to increase the Regular Army as the President supposed. The ten new Regiments are only for the war, and will be mustered out, six months after the close of hostilities, but who know when hostilities are to cease? I won’t bother myself on this point but leave things to their natural development.

I now have my brigade ready for the March – Mine is the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division[.] Brig. Gen Tyler commands the Division composed of four Brigades – Keyes’s (you remember him in California) Schenck – Sherman and Richardson – In my brigade are-the New York 69, Irish, 1,000 strong – the 79 Scots, 900 strong – Quinbys 700 strong, and Wisconsin and Col. Peck 900 strong, and the Battery of Capt. Ayres – used to be Shemans battery 112 men – 110 horses and six Guns – We move without baggage – I have Lt. Piper adjt. – McQueston & Bagley aids – two mounted orderlies and a negro servant John Hill.

4 columns move out against the forces of Beauregard – posted from Fairfax C. H. to Manassas Junction – supposed to be from 30, to 45,000 men – one under Col. Miles starts from below Alexandria – one Col. Heintzelman from Alexandria – one Col. Hunter from Long Bridge – and ones from this point Gen. Tyler – This latter is a West Point Graduate, at present Brig. Genl. from Connecticut. I don’t know him very well, but he has a fair reputation – McDowell commands the whole – say 40,000 men – The purpose is to drive Beauregard beyond Manassas – break his connection with Richmond, and then to await further movements by Gen. Patterson and McClellan – I know our plans, but could not explain them to you without maps – It may not produce results but the purpose is to fight no matter the result. We have pretty fair knowledge of the present distribution of Beauregards forces, but he has a Railroad to Richmond from which point he may get reinforcements, and unless Patterson presses Johnston, he too may send forces across from Winchester. Manassas Junction in our possession, Richmond is cut off from the Valley above Staunton. But with these Grand strategic movements I will try to leave that to the heads, and confine my attention to the mere handling of my Brigade[.]

Keyes Brigade is about 5 miles out – the Ohio 4 miles – mine here, Richardson is on the other side – on the first notice we simply close up – and early next morning at Fairfax C. H. where there are 6 or 7 S. C. & Georgia Regts. – Close at hand at Germantown, Flint Hill, Cumberville, Bull Run & Manassas are all occupied & fortified – but we may go round these. I take with me simply valise, & saddle bags – and leave behind my trunks to be sent over to John Sherman. Letter can take the same course. If we take Manassas, there will be a Railroad from Alexandria to that point, so that letters can be received regularly. Though we momentarily look for orders to cook Rations to be carried along, I still see many things to do, which are not yet done, and General Scott, will allow no risks to be run – He thinks there Should be no game of hazard here. All the Risks should be made from the flanks.

I wrote to Minnie yesterday – Poor Charley will be disappointed sadly – He overrates my influence and that of John Sherman – I have some hopes of the transfer with Boris. I will write again before we start but the telegraph will announce all results before you can hear by mail – as ever &c.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 114-116