Saturday, September 1, 2012

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.

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