Friday, July 27, 2012

Bragg & Longstreet in Cozzens & Hallock

Cozzens in The Shipwreck of their Hopes, The Battles for Chattanooga, as was previously mentioned, has a chapter entitled "Everyone here Curses Bragg." Cozzens as I must admit after finishing Hallock's biography of Bragg (which Cozzens references btw) is just as hard on Bragg as she is. Cozzens doesn't try to put Bragg's actions in the best light (which Hallock does whenever she can fine any such light; which isn't always), he uses whatever logical light seems to be shining on each event, but he does produce people who might almost serve as scapegoats.

In Hallock's case, she is extremely critical of Bragg's cavalry and Longstreet. Cozzens sticks to Longstreet. I must confess that after reading about the "Lost Cause" and its mythological exaltation of R. E. Lee and its equally mythological demonizing of Longstreet I am suspicious of anything that smacks of excessive criticism of Longstreet, and much of what Cozzens writes about Longstreet in The Shipwreck smacks of that myth.

One factor that appeared in both Hallock and Cozzens is gratuitous criticisms of Longstreet's motives. On the one hand Bragg screws up time and time again. Yes, he may be screwing up because he is sick, but neither Hollock nor Cozzens deny his screw-ups. Also, Bragg issues one screwy order after the other. Not all of his orders are wrong, but a lot of them are; also he keeps changing his mind and issuing countermanding orders. Neither Hallock nor Cozzens deny this. But when they turn to Longstreet they criticize his "ambition" for thinking he could do a better job than Bragg. They also criticize Longstreet and other generals for not following Bragg's instructions to the letter when those instructions would have turned out to be efficacious.

Think of The Caine Mutiny and of Lt. Cmder Francis Queeg (played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 movie) rolling those little ball bearings in his hand while taking his whole crew to task over some missing ice cream. Then think of Lt Steve Maryk (played by Van Johnson) as his first mate making the decision to remove him when the ship was in danger of being destroyed in a storm. The script-writer's decisions in Maryk's later trial is relatable to Bragg & Longstreet. Queeg is declared to be as incompetent as Maryk thought he was, but then Queeg's commendable record is trotted out in order to shame Maryk and the others for what they believed themselves compelled to do. The historians I've read describe Bragg as being similarly incompetent, but heap shame upon Longstreet, Hill & others for trying to take command out of his hands. Interestingly, the script writers kept fairly close to human nature by causing Maryk to remove Queeg from command before the ship sank. In the case of Bragg at Chattanooga, his crew attempted to get Davis to remove him before the army's "ship" sank, but Davis wouldn't back them up. And so the "ship," at least in terms of the battle at Chattanooga and Bragg's military career, did sink.

Cozzens and Hallock, but not just them, freely psychoanalyze Bragg, Longstreet and the other main actors at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. There is little or no evidence to support their opinions about the motives of Bragg, Longstreet & others, but they do it regularly. One is especially bothered by it when one reads a historian presenting an opposite point of view about motives. Then it is possible to (somewhat) clearly see historians taking the same events and ascribing opposing motives to the actors. They can't both be right and the "evidence" doesn't actually preclude either opinion. In histories of other events, I have read historians scrupulously distinguishing between the events and their interpretations and opinions about them. Often, they will say that Historian A, B & C say X but I believe Y. I appreciate that sort of candor, but it seems absent in many if not most of the books I've thus far read on the Civil War.

If Longstreet was the devil then an historian might be safe in ascribing evil intentions to all his acts, but when we look at Longstreet's whole life we see (IMO) a very different individual, one who always tried to do what was right regardless of consequences. He may have been naive enough to think that historians would eventually see him for the conscientious fellow he was, but that has occurred only in the wake of modern historians who have examined his actions in great detail and produced a few books seemingly little read. For the rest, including apparently Cozzens, they continue to view Longstreet as the devil -- not it is true as malevolent a devil as he appears in Lost Cause writings, but a devil none the less.

No comments: