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.

No comments: