Friday, September 21, 2012

Bierce's Civil War and other reminiscences

I don't know what anyone else's background is here on Historum or how they might be affected by Bierce's war stories, but in my case they have taken an emotional toll. I was a Marine in Korea for the last two battle seasons, and despite my ill-advised attempts to get to the front never experienced actual battle, I did live the life. I experienced the marching, waiting, walking post not knowing whether we would be attacked.

A month before I got to K-8, a North Korean up to no good had been killed outside our compound. The Sergeant of the Guard was a WWII veteran who kept sentries on the alert by sneaking up on the sleepy ones, grabbing them and putting a knife to their throats and whispering, "what if I was a Gook?" [I know that is an offensive word now, but that was the word we had back then.] I developed my own methods for walking post so that would never happen to me. I would move from shadow to shadow and at each one stop and search the surroundings.

We had just one pair of thermal boots for walking post, so the one who walked around the rice paddy at the northern end of our compound got the boots. I took the boots when I could get them and didn't mind being out there. We also had just one Thompson submachine gun; which the northern post got that as well. Much about being in Korea is hazy after all these years, but not that particular post. I could still walk it in a drenching rain when the water topped the paddy's raised enclosures.

Another post I remember included a grove of trees and bushes. To the west of this grove was a little clearing and beyond that was the officer's club. We were contemptuous of the officers because they had to be there for only six months while we had to stay for thirteen. One night the OD (Officer of the Day) came out of the Officer's Club to inspect the posts. As he came toward me with eyes still not adjusted to the night, I called out, "halt, who goes there."

The officer staggered to a stop and said "Officer of the Day." I then demanded, "what's the password," and he couldn't remember it. As he tried, I cranked a round into my M1. He put his hands up in alarm. "wait, wait, I really am. Look at my bars. I have other identification."

I backed into the deeper darkness of the grove without saying anything and watched as he tried and failed to see me. Eventually he staggered back to the Officer's Club.

When the truce was signed I was at K-30, Cheju Island. There was a huge Prisoner of War camp located there and, while this doesn't seem reasonable to me now, we were told that the prisoners were simply released and told to make there way back to the North. Some chose not to and instead hid out on Cheju Mountain. We were told that some soldiers from the nearby Army base went up Cheju hunting for deer and never returned.

Once when we were on full alert I strapped a couple of bandoleers around my chest, put a few grenades in my field jacket and with my M1 climbed one of the Prison Towers. The towers were intended to keep track of the then-empty prison grounds, but they worked as well for looking out toward Cheju Mountain. Nothing happened. We were not attacked, but I was up there well armed on a beautiful day, and it was very good.

H. L. Mencken admired the literary figures who fought through their war, Ambrose Bierce, W. DeForest, and Sidney Lanier. He called Mark Twain, William Dean Howells and Henry James, on the other hand, "draft-dodgers." That sort of thinking still exists, but many hold the idea that they "oppose war" and therefore won't fight or support one. Duty to family, state, country is forgotten and replaced by something else which Mencken would have dismissed as cowardice. One fights or runs, there is no other choice.

I still feel that way, but after I got back to the states and ended up my tour at Camp Pendleton as a Rifle Coach, eventually "senior Rifle Coach" which I was very proud of, I decide that since we weren't going back to war with Korea and since Truman and Eisenhower weren't inclined to go to war with China, I would get out of the Marines and go to college.

But I often wished I'd stayed in. After college I went to work in Aerospace and remained an engineer for 39 years. Toward the end I worked with another former Marine, this one had worked his way up through the ranks and retired as a Captain. He speculated with me about what my career might have been like if I'd stayed in. I got out in 1955 and it wasn't until about 1962 that "observers" and "advisers" were being sent to Vietnam. I was a Buck Sergeant and the one promise I received when being urged to "ship over" was that of a promotion to Staff Sergeant. My friend said that would have been a good thing. Rank was harder to make in the period between 1955 and 1962.

Ambrose Bierce was a misanthrope. Some times I think I'm one as well, but is it a dislike of all mankind or a contempt for half-hearted soldiers who can't remember the password, skulkers, and draft-dodgers -- especially when they preach their draft-dodgerness and skulking as though it were a higher-form of being, one to be sought by everyone not wishing to be considered a "war-monger."

A Bivouac of the Dead

Ambrose Bierce later visited much of the ground on which he fought. In "A Bivouac of the Dead" he finds a spot where his regiment fought its way up a hill only to find that it was indefensible; so his commander called it a "reconnaissance in force" and they went back down. But there were casualties and many of them, at the time of Bierce's visit, still laid buried near where they fell but the spot seemed to have been used for other dead as well:

"In these forgotten graves rest the Confederate dead -- between eighty and one hundred, as nearly as can be made out. Some fell in the 'battle;' the majority died of disease. Two, only two, have apparently been disinterred for reburial at their homes. So neglected and obscure is this campo santo that only he upon whose farm it is -- the aged postmaster of Travelers' Repose -- appears to know about it. Men living within a mile have never heard of it. Yet other men must be still living who assisted to lay these Southern soldiers where they are, and could identify some of their graves. Is there a man, North or South, who would begrudge the expense of giving to these fallen brothers the tribute of green graves? One would rather not think so. True, there are several hundreds of such places still discoverable in the track of the great war. All the stronger is the dumb demand -- the silent plea of these fallen brothers to what is 'likest God within the soul.'

"they were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime. They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification -- did not pass from the iron age to the brazen -- from the era of the sword to the member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause. Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills."

What I saw at Shiloh

Have we not all imagined (or was it just me?) what it would have been like being an ordinary soldier in some big battle like Shiloh. Here are a few paragraphs from what it was like for Ambrose Bierce:

"The night was now black-dark; as is usual after a battle, it had begun to rain. Still we moved; we were being put into position by somebody. Inch by inch we crept along, treading on one another's heels by way of keeping together. Commands were passed along the line in whispers; more commonly none were given. When the men had passed so closely together that they could advance no farther they stood stock-still, sheltering the locks of their rifles with their ponchos. In this position many fell asleep. When those in front suddenly stepped away those in the rear, roused by the tramping, hastened after with such zeal that the line was soon choked again. Evidently the head of the division was being piloted at a snail's pace by some one who did not feel sure of his ground. Very often we struck our feet against the dead; more frequently against those who still had spirit enough to resent it with a moan. These were lifted carefully to one side and abandoned. some had sense enough to ask in their weak way for water. Absurd! Their clothes were soaked, their hair dank; their white faces, dimly discernible, were clammy and cold. Besides, none of us had any water. There was plenty coming, though, for before midnight a thunderstorm broke upon us with great violence. the rain, which had for hours been a dull drizzle, fell with a copiousness that stifled us; we moved in running water up to our ankles. Happily, we were in a forest of great trees heavily 'decorated' with Spanish moss, or with an enemy standing to his guns the disclosures of the lightning might have been inconvenient. As it was, the incessant blaze enabled us to consult our watches and encouraged us by displaying our numbers; our black, sinuous line, creeping like a giant serpent beneath the trees, was apparently interminable. I am almost ashamed to say how sweet I found the companionship of those coarse men.

"So the long night wore away, and as the glimmer of morning crept in through the forest we found ourselves in a more open country. But where? Not a sign of battle was here. The trees were neither splintered nor scarred, the underbrush was unmown, the ground had no footprints but our own. It was as if we had broken into glades sacred to eternal silence. I should not have been surprised to see sleek leopards come fawning about our feet, and milk-white deer confront us with human eyes.

"A few inaudible commands from an invisible leader had placed us in order of battle. But where was the enemy? Where, too, were the riddled regiments that we had come to save? Had our other divisions arrived during the night and passed the river to assist us? or were we to oppose our paltry five thousand breasts to an army flushed with victory? What protected our right? Who lay upon our left? Was there really anything in our front?

"There came, borne to us on the raw morning air, the long weird note of a bugle. It was directly before us. It rose with a low clear, deliberate warble, and seemed to float in the gray sky like the note of a lark. The bugle calls of the Federal and the Confederate armies were the same: it was the 'assembly'! As it died away I observed that the atmosphere had suffered a change; despite the equilibrium established by the storm, it was electric. Wings were growing on blistered feet. Bruised muscles and jolted bones, shoulders pounded by the cruel knapsack, eyelids leaden from lack of sleep -- all were pervaded by the subtle fluid, all were unconscious of their clay. The men thrust forward their heads, expanded their eyes and clenched their teeth. They breathed hard, as if throttled by tugging at the leash. If you had laid your hand in the beard or hair of one of these men it would have crackled and shot sparks."

Ambrose Bierce in the Civil War

In another thread there was a question about whether the "Founding Fathers" were Christian. I argued that the Founding "generation" was predominately Christian and that the "Fathers probably were as well."

An argument I didn't use but thought about was that Civil War soldiers "seemed" predominately Christian, and if they were that surely weakens the hopes of those who assert that the Founding Fathers were predominately unbelievers. For the colonists to be believers and their Revolutionary War descendants to be unbelievers only to have their Civil War descendents be believers again, defies common sense (IMHO).

I don't know where the statement "there are no atheists in foxholes" originated, but if you were a Union soldier, for example, under General Hazen and about to be asked to charge Confederate emplacements at Pickett's Mill, you might embrace whatever beliefs you held. And if you are a lukewarm Christian you might for the rest of the day increase the temperature.

My impression of Ambrose Bierce had been that he was probably a non-believer, and yet he enlisted and re-enlisted to fight in the Civil War. He was in a great number of battles and had great contempt for skulkers and cowards. I have been reading his Ambrose Bierce's Civil War and think now I may have been wrong about him: The following is the last paragraph from "A Little of Chickamauga":

"To those of us who have survived the attacks of both Bragg and Time, and who keep in memory the dear dead comrades whom we left upon that fateful field, the place means much. May it mean something less to the younger men whose tents are now pitched where, with bended heads and clasped hands, God's great angels stood invisible among the heroes in blue and the heroes in gray, sleeping their last sleep in the woods of Chickamauga."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Protestant Work Ethic in the U.S. & the West

In 1513 Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door (1513). In Luther's day they fought wars for religious principles. In fact they wore each other out, economically and in most other ways and gave up fighting each other (Catholic against Protestant) and subscribing to the "Peace of Westphalia" in 1648.

In a way, the Peace of Westphalia was a victory for the Protestants because it in effect established that religion was not something that we in the West are willing to die for anymore. Every man after that could indeed be "his own priest" without having to worry about some Church authority taking his head. The Founding Fathers were probably all alive in 1648 and while they didn't invoke the Peace of Westphalia they adhered to its principles. They would not fight over religious principles. The principles they were willing to fight for were "Enlightenment Principles."

However, as sociologists such as Max Weber, Karl Durkheim and Karl Marx argue, in effect, "enlightenment principles" are Christian principles cleansed of God. Thus, we Christians and non-Christians alike agree that we should take care of the poor; provide for the elderly, care for widows and orphans; forgive those who sin against us (at least in terms of our laws), etc. Karl Marx and Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin after him made a good living promising to provide the material blessings promised by Christianity more efficiently than they had been by the Church (whether Catholic or Protestant). An excellent modern statement of that concept is provided by Marcel Gauchet's The Disenchantment of the World, A Political History of Religion.

Thus, we can see that the war to establish Liberal (more or less) Democracy in America (1776) occurred not so long (in historical terms) after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and not so much prior to the war over "Economic Management of the people") (1917).

Most Sociologists today would probably agree that the U.S. is the most Christian of all Western nations and would probably attribute that fact to our Founding generations (not necessarily "fathers") being more intensely religious than those remaining behind in Europe. It is a truism that the West became an economic powerhouse because of its "Protestant Work Ethic." (a term first coined by by Max Weber.) Puritan Protestants especially believed that God would economically bless those who did their duty, and for farmers and others that meant working as hard as they were able to.

Obviously the Protestant Work Ethic isn't as popular as it once was. In France for example workers aren't willing to give up entitlements or tax themselves to pay for them. We see some of that in the U.S. as well but the "Protestant Work Ethic" is perhaps more alive in the U.S. than it is in Europe, (probably) accounting for America's slightly better economy.

But back in the years leading up to 1776 no one was worrying about Social Security, public supported hospitals and other such entitlements. They worried about such enlightenment principles as "freedom," "democracy," and "equality." It needs to be understood, as Marcel Gauchet tells us, that "Enlightenment Principles" are not antithetical to Christian Principles, they are merely principles that have been excised from Christian dogma.

Take "equality" for example. You won't find the words "all men are created equal" in the Bible, but the New Testament is shot through with that principle, e.g., in the heaven the first shall become last and the last first. Powerful religious leaders such as the Pharisees were despised by Jesus and his disciples not because of their political positions but because they thought themselves better than "lesser" people. Thank God, a Pharisee prayed, that I am not like that beggar over there. And perhaps most tellingly, is the beatitude "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

In the twentieth century, the Fascists denounced Enlightenment Principles by declaring that they were better than others. The Communists gave lip-service to them by declaring themselves the "meek," i.e., "workers," but they never gave up the idea that the "workers" needed a "vanguard," i.e., a group of superior people to rule over the workers.

In the West, on the other hand, Enlightenment principles are still held sacred. No Western politician would dream of standing up before the people he wanted to vote for him (or her) and saying, "you should vote for me because I am more competent than you are" even though he might think that. Instead he will present any modest & meek attributes he can dig up from his past and present them for public approval.

So is the matter of which of our Forefathers was Christian a non-issue? In the Max Weber and Marcel Gauchet sense it is. Even if we ask whether the Forefathers were members of the mainline churches extant in the days before 1776 we are on shaky ground. Were these Forefathers members of those churches, such as Presbyterian and Episcopalian sincere believers or were they members in order to show that they were no better than those they wanted to vote for them?

In days prior to the Civil War (1861-1865) there were a lot of mixed marriages. Catholics and Protestants married amicably in the West at least, but there wasn't much softening of sincere Christian belief. The father of Christian Liberalism (Liberal here meaning "less than orthodox") in Europe is generally considered to be Frederick Schleiermacher (1768-1834). Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) brought the ideas "higher Criticism" to England; so who would have brought them to America prior to the Revolution?

Various Americans such as Thomas Jefferson were very well read for the time; so there may have been a "climate of opinion" in Europe that was giving rise to "higher criticism" that Jefferson was aware of and even influenced by, but it doesn't seem reasonable to assume that those ideas were widespread in America prior to the Revolution. Could there have been something equivalent taking place in America: our own "higher criticism"? I doubt it.

Sherman, Thomas & the Snake Creek Gap controversy

I looked at Albert Castel's book on Atlanta and he pretty much agrees with McMurry (McMurry's Doctoral Dissertation was given in 1967 so "presumably" he advanced this theory before Castel). Castel is fairer than McMurry however because in an appendix he outlining an opposing view, that of B. H. Liddell Hart.

In the advocate-ridden world of Civil War commentary, admirers of General George Thomas, who first proposed the Snake Creek Gap maneuver, argue that if only Thomas had been in charge in place of Sherman the war could have been ended much earlier. Thomas proposed that he send his army (composed on April 30th of 72,938 officers and men, per McMurry) through the Snake Creek Gap to pounce on the undefended rear of Johnston's army. He (or some of his people) had done some reconnaissance and saw that the gap itself was lightly defended and if he could get his army through it he was confident he could defeat if not rout Johnston's entire army.

Sherman chose instead to send McPherson's smaller, 24,000 man army through the gap. Hart thinks Sherman made the right decision. "To swing Thomas out [and send him toward Snake Creek Gap] and pull in McPherson, who was already 'out' [in the direction of the trail to Snake Creek Gap] would mean a crossing of routes and a probably entanglement of lines of supply. And in this spy-ridden country the sudden disappearance of Thomas's army which had been so long facing the Confederates, would be likely to put them on their guard. The one objection to Sherman's decision was that it employed but a quarter of his force in the rear attack, and left an excessively large force to contain Johnston in front. At the same time, however, this covered Sherman's own base, which was within unpleasantly close reach of the enemy, and the loss of which would ruin not only his plan but his army. Moreover, the turning movement had to be made by an uncertainly known route, and with a still greater uncertainty as to whether Snake Creek Gap would be blocked. Sherman would look foolish if two-thirds of his force found itself locked out in front to this narrow defile, with Johnston free to strike swiftly at the remaining third and at Sherman's precious base.

"Thus, in sum, the one valid criticism seems to be that Sherman might have augmented McPherson's army from Thomas's. But Grant had previously discovered Thomas's sensitiveness and for Sherman, newly appointed and previously junior to Thomas, to have broken up an army of such jealous esprit de corps would hardly have been the way to eradicate jealousies and to ensure harmonious co-operation. Nor is there any serious reason to believe that McPherson's army was inadequate in strength to the task of closing Johnston's line of retreat."

Later on Hart writes about Johnston that "It seems curious that he should have concentrated so solidly and placed no part of his force to guard his rear near Snake Creek Gap. But apart from the lack of accurate maps of this tangled wilderness, Snake Creek Gap was so narrow and the mountain approaches to it so winding and difficult, that the Confederates did not seriously believe that Sherman would attempt such a maneuver."

Both McMurry and Castel, and in a slightly more ambivalent fashion Ecelbarger blame Sherman for "ordering" McPherson to stop once he got his army through the gap and wait for further orders. They all admit that Sherman chewed McPherson out for not destroying the railroad at Rasaca, but unjustly so, they tell us. Hart, however looked at the actual orders and they present a different view:

"These instructions, as contained in a letter of May 5, are so explicit that one can only marvel at the subterfuges to which in post-war controversy disgruntled partisans of Thomas were driven in their efforts to blame Sherman not merely for giving McPherson the task in preference to Thomas, but for McPherson's failure to execute it. 'I want you to move . . . to the head of Middle Chickamauga, then to Villanow: then to Snake Gap, secure it and make a bold attack on the enemy's flank or his railroad at any point between Tilton and Resaca. I hope the enemy will fight at Dalton, in which case he can have no force there that can interfere with you. But, should his policy be to fall back along his railroad you will hit him in flank. Do not fail in that event to make the most of the opportunity by the most vigorous attack possible, as it may save us what we have most reason to apprehend -- a slow pursuit, in which he gains strength as we lose it.' Sherman had clearly grasped the truth that to roll the enemy back along their communications means that their resistance will be solidified and expended by accretions like a snowball. 'In the event of hearing the sound of heavy battle about Dalton, the greater necessity for your rapid movement on the railroad. If once broken to an extent that would take them days to repair, you can withdraw to Snake Gap. . . .'

What actually happened when McPherson exited Snake Creek Gap does not seem to be in dispute. Here is Hart again: 'Thus when, early in the morning of the 9th, McPherson's corps, 24,000 strong, debouched into the valley about 4 miles due west of Resaca, there were only Cantey's brigade and a fraction of Reynold's, not much more than 2,000 men to stop it. After driving back a cavalry detachment, belatedly sent down from Dalton to watch this flank, McPherson came within sight of the frail line of Confederate entrenchments covering Resaca, and halted his army, taking up defensive dispositions with four divisions while he sent the fifth forward. This skirmished forward cautiously, and at 12.30 P.M. McPherson wrote a dispatch to Sherman saying that it was probably 'within 2 miles of Resaca,' and adding 'I propose to cut the railroad, if possible, and then fall back and take [up] a strong position near the gorge. . . .' The tone suggests that he was thinking more of the final clause of Sherman's order than of the earlier clauses about making 'a bold attack.'"

Castel accuses Sherman of destroying or hiding or ignoring some letters from McPherson describing his very reasonable (according to Castel) reasons for not attacking as Sherman ordered. Hart quotes from (presumably) those letters:

"At half past ten that night he [McPherson] sent a further and fuller report -- 'General Dodge's command moved up and skirmished with the enemy at Resaca this afternoon. While that was going on one company of mounted infantry ['actually eighteen men' Hart tells us] . . . succeeded in reaching the railroad near Tilton station, but were forced to leave without damaging the track. They tore down a small portion of telegraph wire. . . . After skirmishing till after dark . . . I decided to withdraw the command and take up a position for the night' -- at the mouth at Snake Creek Gap. He then explained that his decision was due, first to the fact that there were several roads down whcih Confederate reinforcements from dalton might arrive on his flank if he stayed out; second, that Dodge's division was 'out of provisions.' 'I shall have to rest my men tomorrow forenoon, at least, to enable them to draw provisions.' Lastly, he expressed regret that he had been unable to break the railroad owing to lack of cavalry, telling Sherman that Garrard's cavalry division had only reached Lafayette and that Garrard wished to wait there for his forage train."

"Sherman was never more bitterly disappointed in his life, and in acknowledging the message prefaced his fresh instructions by the remark, 'I regret beyond measure you did not break the railroad . . . but I suppose it was impossible.'"

Comment: The critics of Sherman defy the cliche "you can't argue with success," for that is exactly what they do. Sherman's taking of Atlanta saved Lincoln's presidency and may have saved the Union. Sherman did that with his three armies, but his critics with a great deal of venom argue that Thomas could have done it quicker and better.

As a long-time hiker I can't get my mind around the idea of old "Slow-Trot" Thomas sneaking his 72,938 through Snake Creek Gap and surprising Johnston. Most hiking trails I have been on require a party to hike single-file. How many miles I wonder would 72,938 men take up marching single file? I suppose that wouldn't have been all bad. If Johnston had noticed that Thomas army had gone missing from the front and decided to beef up his defenses at Snake Creek Gap and then decided to attack Sherman's depleted front, the latter part of Thomas' single-file army would still be close enough to Sherman to turn around and come to his his aid.

Sherman's failures during the Battle of Atlanta

McMurry in his Atlanta 1864, Last Chance for the Confederacy is hard on all of the top commanders. He was harder on Joe Johnston than I had read before. As to Hood (about whom McMurry wrote a separate biography) he was no harder than others I've read, and in a left-handed way Hood comes out a bit better. Hood did a lot of maneuvering against Sherman at Atlanta and guessed right more often than Sherman did. His failure (according to McMurry) was in overestimating what his lieutenants and troops could do.

McMurry's treatment of Sherman was harsher:

Page 182: "The Atlanta campaign itself showcased several of Sherman's weaknesses as a director of field operations. His chief shortcoming was his failure to see that the situation in North Georgia that spring and summer required him to act more as a field commander and less as a person responsible for a grand, overall war plan. His errors were ones of omission rather than of commission, matters of what he did not do that he could reasonably have been expected to do and almost certainly could have accomplished. He simply failed to realize that no single method of warfare is always best in every situation. He did not grasp the reality that sometimes armies must pursue routes to victory other than that dictated by their commanders' pet theories or personal preference. Specifically, armies sometimes have a great opportunity to win an old-fashioned, smashing military triumph on the battlefield that would be important enough to justify the risk it would involve and the casualties it would entail.

"During the Atlanta campaign two opportunities to win such a great battlefield victory presented themselves to Sherman. On both occasions, he was aware of his opportunity, and on both he chose not even to try seriously to take advantage of the situation. At Snake Creek Gap he had one of the war's few real chances to trap an enemy army in the open field and destroy it. Sherman elected instead to make only a limited effort with a relatively weak force. Again, on September 1 at Jonesboro, he had a second such opportunity. He stood then with six powerful infantry corps in the midst of weakened, widely separated parts of the Rebel army. Beyond question, he had that day had it in his power to destroy much or all of the opposing force. Had he chosen to pursue aggressively either of those opportunities, he almost certainly would have broken Secessionist power in the West for all time and hastened the end of the wary by many months.

"Arguably, Sherman had similar opportunities on at least four other occasions in North Georgia in 1864. . . ."

"In all those cases, we can legitimately criticize Sherman for what he failed to do. Because he did not seize any of the opportunities Johnston and Hood gave him, he left the Rebel army intact to march north in the fall after it had evacuated Atlanta. Destruction of Confederate military power in the West did not take place in North Georgia in the spring and summer of 1864. It occurred in Middle Tennessee in late November and December that year at the hands of troops commanded by John M. Schofield and George H. Thomas.

"To be sure, Sherman's handling of operations in Georgia in the spring and summer of 1864 was not inept. Two of his maneuvers, in fact, rate high among the war's operations and showed considerable skill. Seizure of Snake Creek Gap at the very beginning of the campaign was one of the strategic masterpieces of the war and made ultimate Rebel success in Georgia that year very unlikely. The crossing of the Chattahoochee two months later was a well-conceived and well-conducted operation. In both those maneuvers Sherman completely fooled Joseph E. Johnston, struck where he was not expected, and by so doing compelled the Rebels to evacuate very strong positions on which they had expended much time and labor.

"In summary, Sherman proved capable enough to achieve success for the Union cause. In the long run, that was what counted -- except, of course, to the men killed or maimed in the subsequent operations that would have been unnecessary had the war ended nine or ten months sooner than it did."

Comment: To my unskilled eye, it seems inconsistent of McMurry to on the one hand berate Sherman for not taking sufficient adavantage of his victory at Snake Gap and on the other telling us that "Seizure of Snake Creek Gap at the very beginning of the campaign was one of the strategic masterpieces of the war and made ultimate Rebel success in Georgia that year very unlikely."

Also, McMurry states that Sherman can be legitimately criticized for failing to take actions that he could have and should have taken. I have seen other historians make such judgments and wonder how they know that generals like Sherman "could have and should have known." McMurry in places chides Sherman for "guessing" wrong about what Johnston intends, but he provides no references describing what would have enabled Sherman to guess right.

Also, McMurry's main criticism of Sherman, i.e. that he could have destroyed or badly crippled the entire army of Tennessee if he had used a bit more foresight and competences in two places. How does McMurry "know" what Sherman could have known? He provides no references to answer that question. Sherman on p. 412 of Sherman's Memoirs wrote, "The movement by us through Snake-Creek Gap was a total surprise to him. My army about doubled his size, but he had all the advantages of natural positions, of artificial forts and roads, and of concentrated action. We were compelled to grope our way through forests, across mountains, with a large army, necessarily more of less dispersed. Of course, I was disappointed not to have crippled his army more at that particular stage of the game; but, as it resulted, these rapid successes gave us the initiative, and the usual impulse of a conquering army.

"Johnston having retreated in the night of May 15th, immediate pursuit was begun. A division of infantry (Jeff. C. Davis's) was at once dispatched down the valley toward Rome, to support Gerrard's cavalry, and the whole army was ordered pursue, McPherson by Lay's Ferry, on the right, Thomas directly by the railroad, and Schofield by the left, by the old road that crossed the Oostenaula above Echota or Newton. . . ."

Since McMurry provided no reference to show what Sherman should have known that he didn't or should have done that he didn't. Pursuing an army that hasn't been routed didn't in the Civil War result in the destruction of that army as far as I have read. Retiring in order was an art form. A military unit, either cavalry or one or two brigades would skirmish with the pursuing army and bring its forward units to a halt while they deployed. After additional forces came to the front, the delaying forces would move after the "retiring army" and set up at the next good spot to delay the pursuing army once again.

Maybe I'm missing something here, and of course I have read but the one account of the Battle of Atlanta, but McMurry hasn't convinced me that Sherman failed at Atlanta.

Historians of the Battle of Atlanta

I have Albert Castel's Decision in the West, The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 as well as Gary Ecelbarger's The Day Dixie Died, The Battle of Atlanta.

Ecelbarger's book was published in 2010. On the back, Peter Cozzens is quoted as saying "Noted Civil War historian Gary Ecelbarger has written the definitive study of the Battle of Atlanta, the climactic encounter in a campaign that cemented Abraham Lincoln's prospects for reelection in 1864 and doomed the Confederacy to defeat. In this deeply researched work, Ecelbarger not only provides the clearest and most detailed account ever written of the battle itself, but he also explains clearly and convincingly what was at stake. His analyses of the strengths and foibles of the leading figures in the battle are exceptionally insightful, and his treatment of the suffering of the men in the ranks most poignant."

I bought Ecelbarger's & Castel's books along with McMurry's Atlanta 1864, Last Chance for the Confederacy at about the same time and started with McMurry's (of which I am 128/208 complete). Why did I start with McMurry? I had previously read his biography of Hood and his Two Great Rebel Armies and appreciated them both.

In reading the bibliography of the "definitive" work by Ecelbarger I see that he includes Castel's work (published in 1992) but does not include McMurry's work (published in 2000). Why didn't he include McMurry's work? Did he not read it? That doesn't seem likely.

Castel writing in 1992 references McMurry's doctoral dissertation on Atlanta. Perhaps McMurry in 2000 does little more than publish his doctoral dissertation in which case Ecelbarger might have decided to pass it over inasmuch as Castel had taken it into consideration.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The principle we fought for

I am a former U. S. Marine, old enough to have been in the Korean War, currently interested in the American Civil War. I just popped into another forum because of a title deploring “American aggression” and all the “deaths” caused thereby.

One thing I especially noticed was the rather illogical belief (on the part of at least one posting there) that deaths equal evil. If deaths are caused in a war then the causer of those deaths is evil. And last but not least the underlying assumption that deaths trump principle.

The American Civil War caused -- resulted in -- an enormous number of deaths. There were as many special interests as there are in any modern war but few would today say that the American Civil War was some form of "aggression" or "Imperialism." Oh yes, at the time the North was declared an aggressor for wanting to preserve the Union and impose its will on the secessionist-minded south, but few would argue in that fashion today. When American interests are at stake (in the mind of a sufficient number of Americans) then war is not "off the table," and it makes no difference whether this matter is being discussed in the North or in the South.

But returning to those "deaths." Percentage-wise if not in raw numbers, The American Civil War racked up higher numbers than any other war. Why aren't modern anti-Americans saying things to support their thesis "death trumps principle"? Perhaps because our Civil War "became" a war to free the slaves. Apparently that principle isn't trumped by deaths.

But what about other principles. As many of the great modern theorists of Foreign Affairs recognize, it is hard to get America into a war (despite what the anti-Americans assume). Walter Russel Mead in his Special Providence, American Foreign Policy and How it changed the World argues that there have been four major thrusts or movements or interests in American history as it pertains to foreign policy. The Hamiltonians emphasize economic interests. The Wilsonians want to spread Liberal Democracy to the rest of the world. The Jeffersonians are interested in Civil Rights and the legality of various matters. The Jacksonians, while not ones to advance causes are the ones who make up the majority of those who fight our wars.

Meade would have counted me a Jacksonian back when I was 17 and anxious to enlist in the Marine Corps and be sent to Korea. I have tried fruitlessly to reconstruct my frame of mind back then. But I was only 17. What could I know? Others such as Mead tell us that the Jacksonians in each case need to be convinced by one or more of the others American segments.

The Wilsonians, for example can be seen at their finest in the First World War and its aftermath. Jacksonians would have had a clear idea why they were fighting in that war. They were advancing the cause of "freedom," and of "Liberal Democracy."

In my war, the Korean, we understood (albeit vaguely) that we were fighting Communism. Anti-Americans of that time turned that on its head and believed Communism good and Liberal-Democracy evil, but they were in the extreme minority. Liberal Democracy (known at the time in America as 'the American way") was definitely "good" and Communism was definitely "evil."

While I, hopefully, know quite a bit more now than I did when I was 17, my views (while they might have bounced around quite a lot over the years) are not too far from where they were when I boarded the General Gordon to sail to Japan and from there to be flown on a DC-3 to Korea. Marx had some creditable ideas but he was extremely naive about human nature. The Russians, ostensibly creating a state that was destined (in Marx's view and supposedly Stalin's) to wither away and be replaced by a paradise where people contributed to society in accordance with their abilities and took from the common larder that which they needed.

A lot of American intellectuals compared the Marxist ideal with the Liberal-Democratic reality and preferred the former. The fact that the former never existed and never could exist didn't deter them. They would get caught up in something they didn't like in the American Liberal democratic system and want to see it overthrown and replaced by something promising a paradise; which most of us believe would be as impossible of achievement as the one believed in by Marx.

I am arguing here, in case I have become too foggy, that principle is important. And if people die during a war, well that is what always happens during a war, but let's not lose sight of the principle involved. Certainly the anti-Americans didn't think much of our going to war in Korea and elsewhere to oppose Communism, but a very clear principle was at stake there. We fought in our American Revolution and later in our Civil War for what has been called variously "freedom," "Liberty," "Capitalism," "Democracy," and most recently and more accurately "Liberal Democracy." Was (is) Liberal Democracy a principle, a way of life, worth fighting for?

Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man. He drew the logical conclusion that Marx's turning Hegel on his head was wrong. Hegel had said that "capitalism" would be the "end of history" meaning that it would supplant all other systems and represent a finality no one could improve upon. Marx said that Hegel was wrong and that Communism would comprise the "end of history." In 1992 when Fukuyama published his book he said that everyone could then see that Marx had been wrong and suggested that we look more favorably at that which was before our eyes namely, Liberal Democracy, for it had become the end of history.

But what of other movements, movements antagonistic to Liberal Democracy? Fukuyama considered them but predicted that in the long run they would not be able to compete with Liberal Democracy.

If Fukuyama is right then as unpleasant as all those deaths were, there was a golden-thread of a principle at stake and at work and if the 17-year old Lawrence Helm didn't understand it very well it didn't make any difference. He was an American and caught up in it and thrust along like Americans before him.

I have been especially interested in the views of Southerners both before and after the Civil War. Was the principle they fought for "universal" to the extent that it would survive their defeat and sustain their antagonism against the forces of the North indefinitely? No; that never happened. Southerners (as Jacksonians) fight in all the American Wars. The Union was preserved by the Civil War and the South accepts that fact as readily as the North. Perhaps they don't always have the "principle" clearly in mind but they know it is there and they know it is worth fighting for.

Another thing to keep in mind is that after the Second World War, the British literally handed off to America (during the Eisenhower administration) a job that has variously been called "the policeman of the world," the protector of Liberal Democracy," and the "protector of Western Civilization." I'm not sure that Eisenhower took theory all that seriously, but he did recognized that Britain had been doing something in the past it didn't have the means to do in the future. The British were thinking primarily of the USSR and Communism at the time but if Liberal Democracy is being threatened in some way by other systems then the same considerations would apply. Most in the West think some nation needs to lead and that needs to be emphasized. Perhaps France thinks the leader of the West should be France and not the U.S. but France more than most nations in the E.U. believes that some nation or combination of nations (such as Germany and France) needs to lead in the West -- or at least in Europe.

So not all to the U.S., Liberal Democracies, and especially not all of Western Civilization goes along with and approve of America being in this hegemonic position that it found itself in once the baton had been handed by the British to Dwight David Eisenhower? Definitely not, but the same sort of thing can be said about almost everything political that goes on in every Liberal Democracy.

The downside of "Freedom," and "Liberal Democracy" is that individuals are going to disagree with each other. That's ugly, unpleasant and we can be ashamed of it, but two great alternatives to this ugliness were tried in the 20th century, Fascism and Communism, and most people in the West accept Liberal Democracy, with all its warts, as being far preferable. Also other nations in the world such as Japan and South Korea have taken to Liberal Democracy. China while not embracing it whole-heartedly is becoming more and more attracted to it. Russia is not ruling it out, etc.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Warren's questionable Exoneration

I received Jordan's Happiness is not my Companion, the Life of General G. K. Warren, and don't see the "exoneration" clearly accomplished. Apparently, the "Findings" were simply published and they are an exoneration if you read them to be an exoneration, but not an exoneration if you do not. I don't gather that President Arthur, the president in office when the Findings were published, made an official endorsement of them one way or the other.

Jordan seems emotionally affected by Warren's health, predicament, family and finances which a biographer would need to be, it seems to me, to write about this depressed and depressing person.

On page 312 Jordan writes, "Some of Warren's friends trumpeted the court's report as the vindication he sought, which in truth it was, although somewhat more ambiguous than he would have liked. Others, including Fitz John Porter, deplored the court's opinion; John A. Kellog, commander of the 'pivot' brigade in Crawford's division, said 'the wishy washy verdict of the Court has lessened my respect for all military tribunals."
On page 313 Jordan writes that Warren's daughter engaged Emerson Gifford Taylor to write a biography of General Warren. "Taylor wrote that the court of inquiry had sustained Warren in every respect, and historian Henry Steele Commanger jumped on this assertion. 'The Court did no such thing,' Commanger wrote. 'It found against Warren on the first two charges,' itself a dubious statement, 'and vindicated him on the third and fourth.' Taylor's statement, he wrote, 'inevitably inspires distrust of the correctness and impartiality of the entire narrative.' . . ."

The last three pages of Jordan's book provide his own conclusions about Warren: "Warren suffered from chronic depression, whether clinical or not. . . His bleak outlook on life, already a part of his nature before Five Forks, was magnified by his grudge against Sheridan and Grant and by his persistent ill health after the war.

"As a person, the postwar engineer suffering from his supposed disgrace is a far more sympathetic figure than the arrogant and hypercritical young general of 1863, 1864, and 1865. The quick and sulfurous temper which he displayed during the Virginia campaign of 1864 worked against Warren by making him unnecessary enemies and dismaying his friends. There is little chance that Sheridan would have found Warren a congenial figure in any event, but the latter's angry outbursts against Sheridan's cavalry laid up obvious trouble for him. When the crisis came Warren had so alienated Meade that he received no help from his commander."

". . . He had a bad habit of second-guessing the plans of his superiors, and Meade was certainly not enthralled to receive Warren's long letters replete with strategic advice. warren's hesitance to obey orders which he could see promised no success in his immediate front was a more serious matter; it nearly cost him his command at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and did so finally at Five Forks."

"James Wilson, a division commander in Sheridan's cavalry who had his share of run-ins with Warren in 1864, called him an 'officer of great experience and fine ability, who was generally regarded as one of the most capable corps commanders our army ever had, but . . . captious and impatient of control.' 'Certain it is,' Wilson went on, 'that toward the latter part of his career he hardly ever received an order which he did not criticize nor a suggested which he did not resent.' . . ."

"Civil War generals can be judged as to both their leadership and their generalship. Warren's leadership was generally of a high character. . . Warren's generalship is more problematical to assess. Even those most critical of him agree that he was skilled in the tactical handling of his troops in combat. It is on the higher level of generalship that Warren seems to fall short. His hectoring of Meade, whether on general principles, proposed strategic initiatives, or the failings of his colleagues, was counterproductive, as was his frequent delay in carrying out orders to advance or attack while he checked on peripheral matters which had already presumably been considered by his superior. . . ."

"Gouverneur Warren possessed one of the finest intellects in the Union army; he was an excellent engineer, an accomplished topographer, and a highly regarded scientist. But in the crucible of war it was his military qualities which were of the highest moment. And those qualities were mixed in such a way that he was not the soldier that his intellectual inferiors like Grant and Sheridan were. The two of them, whom Warren despised to the point of hatred after Five Forks, were gifted with a kind of tunnel vision that made them aggressive and successful commanders. Warren was handicapped by the breadth of his vision, normally a quality greatly to be desired, but a mixed blessing in the context of Civil War command. It did not prevent him from carrying out his orders, but it imparted to his actions a doubtful character which exasperated his superiors. Warren was a complex man, much more so than such simpler figures as Sheridan, Grant, even Hancock. The battlefields of Virginia were, unfortunately not the proper theater for Warren's complexity."

Comment: While we might have our doubts about the exoneration provided by the official "findings," does Warren's biographer Jordan, at least provide this exoneration. Alas, he is as ambiguous as the Findings are.

My "impression" is that Warren had been living on the edge for quite some time. He seemed to be in almost constant danger of being relieved of command, but, his defenders might ask, was this particular time, the right time for his removal? Maybe Sheridan should have left Warren on the edge as Grant and Meade did. Sheridan won the Battle of Five Forks without quite the support he thought he merited from Warren, but he did after all win; so why couldn't he have left Warren "on the edge" and simply returned him to Meade? Warren could have then finished out the war with his career in tact. Perhaps, but as Jordan tells us, Sheridan, Grant and even Hancock did not have that sort of breadth of vision.

By way of contrast, at Chickamauga . . .

We have seen Sheridan criticized for not being more patient or understanding with Warren. Everybody is slow from time to time, and everybody misunderstands messages and orders so what's the big deal? Shame on Sheridan for picking on Warren.

Let's by way of contrast look at a similar (sort of) situation in the Confederate Army. Rosecrans is utterly convinced that Bragg is retreating before him so he breaks up his army into its three Corps and sends along different paths after Bragg. They are so far apart that they can't support each other if Bragg stops to fight, but of course Rosecrans "knew" that Bragg has no such intention. Only Bragg does stop to fight, and when he discovers what Rosecrans has done, and that there is only Thomas's Corps coming toward him in something like single-file with Negley way out in front, he orders D. H. Hill and Hindman to attack. The next morning, he waited for the sound of gunfire.

Glenn Tucker writes, "Perhaps there is nothing more pathetic than a general waiting vainly for the sound of the guns of an attack he ordered -- waiting hour after hour in the silence and at length recognizing that the plan he has devised so carefully has miscarried or that his orders have been ignored. Bragg dismounted, paced back and forth in his anxiety, dug his spurs into the ground, smote the air, hoped and despaired. Meantime Negley" bluffed at bit and then made good his escape as quickly as he could.

Putting Sheridan in the place of Bragg, it is perhaps too much to imagine him pacing up and down and kicking the ground with his spurs, but it is also hard to imagine D. H. Hill & Hindman getting away with ignoring his orders.

"Hill pleaded also that Bragg had not given the plan his personal supervision, and that he was ignorant of the roads, the enemy's position and the barricades in Dug Gap. These obstructions made passage into McLemore's Cove difficult.

"Hindman's indisposition to attack . . . resulted partly from Negley's prompt deployment and bold show of strength, which caused the Confederate general to believe he faced much heavier odds.
"Hindman of course had other ready explanations, which suggest that Bragg did not make everything unmistakably clear, or at least that there was sufficient leeway for the generals to exercise their independent judgment, which so often ran counter to that of their chief."

Comment: Thomas correctly believed that Bragg was not retreating. When Thomas discovered that he was indeed right and Rosecrans wrong, he said to his staff, "Nothing but stupendous blunders on the part of Bragg can save our army from total defeat." Thomas got his "stupendous blunders, and what were these blunders -- beyond Hill's & Hindman's pathetic excuses?

They were not a result of Bragg's poor planning. Bragg knew what needed to be done and did (or thought he did) what was necessary. Why didn't D. H. Hill and Hindman obey Bragg? To some extent the fault resided with Bragg. He tended to blame others too readily and perhaps sometimes unfairly causing his lieutenants to be reluctant to act unless they had unmistakably clear written orders in their hands.

But, more to the point, there was also a difference in the way the two armies operated. Suppose Bragg had replaced Hill and Hindman much as Sheridan replaced Warren; would Davis have backed him up as Grant backed Sheridan up? I don't believe that he would have. Davis had a reverence for seniority and bureaucratic rules that Grant never had. Grant was much more pragmatic: if Warren isn't supporting you, replace him. Davis never gave Bragg that sort of latitude. Davis insisted for far far too long that Bragg find a way to get the support that his lieutenants were never willing to give him. Getting rid of a non-supporting general was not an option Davis wanted Bragg to have.

Surely in regard to this matter, the North had a tremendous advantage over the South. The commander who can in his own opinion have the lieutenants he wants has an advantage over a commander who is ordered to get along with his lieutenants whether he can or not -- assuming commanders of equal perspicacity.

But look what happened, someone might object, when Grant and Sheridan didn't behave as Davis and Bragg: Nineteen or so years after the war, Warren was exonerated. While I'm sure neither Grant nor Sheridan would put the matter in crass terms, they probably at some level thought that particular repercussion acceptable when weighed against the support Sheridan believed he needed at the time.

And of course there was the example to be made. If Bragg had at some earlier point been able to fire a Warren for nonsupport, then when he later ordered Hill & Hindman to attack Negley, they almost certainly would.