Friday, June 28, 2013

Bagging Bobby Lee

I have grown increasingly fond of Thomas Rowland and decreasingly so of the historians who have taken a contrary view. In his Chapter 8, "Bagging Bobby Lee" Rowland begins by discussing the belief that Lee's army should be the focus of the Federal army and not any particular city. Bruce Catton credits Grant with formulating that idea but others, T. Harry Williams for example, credit Lincoln. Thus we see that even though Meade defeated Lee at Gettysburg, Lincoln is unhappy with him because he didn't pursue and destroy Lee's retreating army.

McClellan, bent upon a siege of Richmond had it all wrong we are told by the modern historians whom almost everyone believes nowadays. Who cares about Richmond? McClellan should have been trying to destroy Lee's army and because he was an incompetent failure.

Rowland then discusses the fact that no one ever destroyed an army during the civil war. The closest anyone came was when Hood took his remnant of an army off after his charges at Franklin and his not being able to absorb Thomas's punishment at Nashville. So yeah, it might have been nice if some Federal general could have destroyed Lee's army, but it doesn't seem possible that anyone could have -- at least not without a siege after the manner of McClellan at Richmond, for that is exactly the way Lee was finally defeated.

Grant kept trying to "destroy" Lee's army but the best he could do was force him into a siege situation at Petersburg, the Gateway to Richmond; which in effect resulted in Lee's surrender. And McClellan was heading toward the same goal in 1862 during the Peninsula campaign by going after Richmond rather than Lee's army. Who cared about Richmond?

When McClellan started up the Peninsula, "the movement struck fear in the Davis cabinet and in military circles in Richmond. On one occasion, Davis sat dumbstruck in a meeting when Joseph Johnston recommended that the army fall back in concentrated force to defend the capital. When Johnston wrote Lee, a military adviser at the time, asking what plans were being devised for the evacuation of Richmond, Davis called a meeting of the cabinet. During the session, Lee, with uncharacteristic emotion, pronounced that Richmond had to be defended to the last extremity. At least for him, the loss of his native state's capital spelled the beginning of the end for the Confederate experiment. With tears streaming down his face, he jolted his audience with the emphatic declaration: 'Richmond must not be given up. It shall not be given up!"

Lee hoped that Jackson could create a diversion to prevent reinforcements from reaching McClellan. "Lee confided that McClellan was methodically preparing to commence the dreaded siege of Richmond. 'McClellan will make this a battle of Posts. He will take position from position, under cover of his heavy guns, & we cannot get him without storming his works, which with our new troops is extremely hazardous. . . . It will require 100,000 men to resist the regular siege of Richmond, which perhaps would only prolong not save it."

Of course it never came to that. McDowell didn't arrive in time, Stonewall Jackson did and McClellan was forced to retreat. No Meade Lee, Lee attempted to destroy McClellan's retreating army but only succeeded in getting his own shot up at Malvern Hill. After that battle D. H. Hill made the famous statement, "it wasn't war, it was murder." Lee lost 5,650 to McClellan's 2,214. Could Lee have been attacking unwisely because his beloved Richmond had been so threatened?

As we know, Grant ended up in a siege situation near Richmond that essentially ended the war. Lee feared that McClellan was going to be able to do that in 1862. Rowland, on page 4 wrote that Lee purportedly said "that of all Federal commanders he faced, McClellan was his most difficult adversary." If Lee really said that, it was probably because of the close-call at Richmond.

On McClellan's numbers

It is interesting that when Rowland (in his George B. McClellan & Civil War History) has occasion to treat McDowell, he defends him with some of the same tools he uses to defend McClellan: McDowell was perfectly competent but bullied by Lincoln into taking an untrained army, and relying upon unreliable senior officers to support him, against an entrenched position in July 1861. When McDowell objected, and presented sound reasons for not attacking quite yet, Lincoln told him the Confederates were as unprepared as his Federal force was. Rowland comments that Lincoln's folksy rejoinder "ignored the fact that offensive operations were much more difficult to conduct than defensive ones."

At this point I tried to recall if that has been sufficiently examined in recent discussions about McClellan, both in what I've read and in this thread. He is regularly ridiculed for wanting more troops when he outnumbered his foe, but did he outnumber it in the ratio needed for an offensive attack against an entrenched foe? And did both McDowell and McClellan realize that the ratios had changed from the time they had been taught by Mahon at West Point?

We can find plenty of generals who didn't know, or didn't fully appreciate the hazards of charging an entrenched enemy, but was McClellan one of them? McDowell thought he had the ability to defeat Beauregard if Patterson had did his job of distracting Johnston, but McClellan wouldn't have thought Patterson's failure cause enough for McDowell's defeat. When he took charged he gave his army proper training and thoroughly screened the officers he would be relying upon; so he clearly sought to avoid those McDowell mistakes. But in regard to the numbers McClellan thought he needed we have seen that Lincoln, the Press and his War Department scoffed at them, but did they take into account the numbers an offensive force needs to defeat an entrenched defender?

In Attack and Die, Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage, McWhiney'& Jamieson argue that the South never did learn that lesson -- at least not in a significant way. On page 18 they write, "By 1865 the South's supply of soldiers had about run out. 'It is a most sad and humiliating picture,' a general reported to President Davis in March 1865. 'You hear of victories, . . . I see disasters, disorderly retreats and utter confusion on our part, with combinations and numbers against us which must prevail.' A few months before a distraught Southern had exclaimed: 'I do not see what an extricate us but God. The West Pointers have . . . generaled us to the verge of death itself.' He was right; by attacking instead of defending, the Confederates had murdered themselves."

Jomini "in his 1838 Summary of the Art of War," wrote, "A general who waits for the enemy like an automaton without taking any other part than that of fighting valiantly, will always succumb when he shall be well attacked." The West Point Training Manuals reflected Jomini's thinking. Jomini was writing from experiences gained from the Napoleonic wars, what what he taught still sounded good a few years later at West Point and still guided the thoughts of many of the Generals who fought in the American Civil War.

Generals on both sides must have pragmatically realized that entrenched positions were harder and harder to overcome, and yet we see Grant still using the Jomini charge at Cold Harbor and Hood virtually destroying his army with Jomini's tactics. Certainly the attacker, Grant in this case, had justification for aggression against entrenched positions for after all, the North was invading the South, but what was the Hood's justification, and it wasn't just Hood's idea? Hood was doing what Davis wanted.

West Pointers thought they were accounting for the ability of the rifle to fire faster than the musket by increasing the speed of the charge. The old charge speed against a defense using muskets was 90 steps per minute, but Hardee's tactics (supposedly taking into account the rifle) increased the charge speed to 110 steps per minute, and if necessary the "double quick time" of 180 steps per minute."

This may sound a bit beside the point, but I'm wondering if the wunderkind, George McClellan perhaps understood the ratio needed for attacking an entrenched position better than his peers -- or did he think Hardee's Tactics adequate? He had a low opinion of his political superiors and in retrospect we can see that he should have explained himself better to Lincoln, but did he or could he have explained the ratio of attackers needed against entrenched defenders?

McClellan wrote a "cavalry manual" which I have only seen references to, but in it he wrote that "the strength of the cavalry is in the 'spurs and saber.' That sort of thinking had been abandoned by the time Sheridan led his cavalry, but this antiquated thinking wouldn't necessarily reflect upon his ideas of what it would take for an infantry force to charge an entrenched position.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Escalation of the war . . . study

I didn't start this McClellan investigation intending to defend McClellan but only to find out if he was really as bad as Sears said he was, but in the process of reading Rowland's George B. McClellan & Civil War History and now Joseph Harsh's Doctoral Dissertation, I am finding myself influenced, if not entirely persuaded, by their arguments.

I've begun Chapter two of Harsh's doctoral dissertation and in it Harsh discusses the "war aims" of the North. He uses some analyses and what statistics existed in 1970 to argue that 90% of those fighting for the North in 1861 were fighting for Union and not the end of slavery. McClellan was clearly in that category, but so was Sherman and almost everyone else.

The "war aims" were in 1861 necessarily "limited." You don't want a "scorched-earth" war if your goal is the reuniting of the two squabbling sides. Like two brothers in a sandbox, after they've blacked each others eyes you want them to dust themselves off and shake hands. Harsh and Rowland both show McClellan's policies reflecting that limited sort of war. But how do you fight a limited war? Lincoln's views were accelerating, leaving the "Limited" concept, more quickly than McClellan's. He wanted more aggression, perhaps because the political situation demanded it, but also because he (perhaps) more quickly saw that "Limited War" wasn't going to get the job done.

After Pope's defeat at Second Manassas, McClellan was brought back to achieve a very bloody victory at Antietam. Did that mean that he was adjusting to a less-than-limited war, or was he appalled by the "butcher's bill." I don't know. (Perhaps Sears' The Young Napoleon will tell me and I may look later on.)

McClellan didn't approve of Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, but he was willing to respect it. On page 96 Rowland writes, "Whatever thoughts he might have harbored toward opposing the president's edict were quickly suppressed in favor of abiding with civil prerogative. He ordered his soldiers to respect the decisions of the chief executive and pointed out that the only qualified redress to this instruction was grounded in the democratic process. 'The remedy for such errors, if any are committed,' he observed, 'is to be found only in the action of the people at the polls.'"

COMMENT: Were Lincoln, McClellan and the rest thinking in terms of "limited war" as Harsh defines it, or is he superimposing a concept that was never defined as such? Harsh's arguments sound valid, and if someone is going to challenge them, it seems to me, a repetition of the arguments Harsh and Rowland are arguing against probably isn't going to accomplish anything. "He has the slows" for example, takes on new meaning if we see Lincoln as wishing to abandon Limited War and become more aggressive. This would then become an indication of policy change and not a criticism of McClellan's psychology.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Joseph Harsh on McClellan's alleged "slows"

Someone sent me Joseph Harsh's 1970 doctoral dissertation, the first chapter of which became the article, "The McClellan Go Around." The dissertation is on line at

The Dissertation is entitled "George Brinton McClellan and the Forgotten Alternative: An Introduction to the Conservative Strategy in the Civil War: April -- August 1861.

In the discussions on this thread and probably any thread on McClellan will include the same negative assertions, assertions that according to Harsh do "not bear up under scrutiny." Here are two examples:

The Lost orders: McClellan "pursued a conscious and purposeful strategy from start to finish. Perceiving Lee's strategic options, McClellan throttled them one by one. The campaign's turning point came as early as September 11th. And, on the evening of the 12th, Federal intelligence informed McClellan that Lee had split his army. The 'lost orders,' found the next morning, simply filled in the details. McClellan incorporated this new information into his planning, but he continued to follow the strategy with which he had started his campaign. In the end, he beat Lee at Lee's own game, and that was no mean achievement."

"Historians have caricatured him by exaggerating certain supposedly prominent traits of his personality into a full-blown interpretation of the man and his conduct. The result is a bad history in two ways; it is oversimplified in general and it is inaccurate in several of its parts.

"For illustration of the oversimplification, one need look no further than the major recurring theme in the critics' assessment of McClellan's generalship: his slowness. Here again the viewpoint is that of Lincoln, who once remarked that McClellan 'has got the slows'. Almost unanimously , historians have agreed. There is nothing improper, of course, in an historian concluding that a military action was conducted more slowly than the circumstances of a particular situation permitted. But it is another thing altogether for the historian to judge the cause of the slowness to lie in the personality of the commander without ever inquiring what reasons he might have had for acting as he did. And yet this is what has happened to McClellan.

"To write simply that 'McClellan conducted the siege of Yorktown cautiously,' for instance, could lead to a broad analysis of all the factors producing the caution. But to write, as is nearly always the case, that 'the ever-cautious McClellan wasted nearly a month besieging Yorktown,' is to combine description and explanation in a way that shuts out further inquirry. After such a statement, no one is left wondering why the siege lasted for a month. It was because the Union commander was 'by nature slow.'"

". . . Not only was slowness an inadequate explanation of McClellan's actions, it is also inaccurate as a total assessment of his generalship. To believe that slowness was part of the very fiber of McClellan's being, it is necessary to ignore or misrepresent five significant contradictions. In his first campaign in Western Virginia, not only was he not slow, but he acted with a vigor, efficiency and speed unrivaled by any other commander on either side during the same period. One month and three days after his appointment, McClellan had organized and equipped a field army, marched it into enemy country, and won a campaign. In another month and a half he secured the mountain counties of Virginia to the Union cause.

"In his conduct of the Peninsula Campaign, McClellan has been roundly criticized for his slowness. Yet that campaign lasted scarcely two months from its start to its abortive finish. And on three separate occasions McClellan moved his army with what in fairness must be called alacrity: the four-day amphibious operation carrying the army to the Yorktown peninsula; the fighting change of base during the last week of June; and the removal of the Army from the James at the close of the campaign. Granted that these were not movements directed against the enemy. But the West Virginia Campaign was. And so, too, was the Maryland Campaign.

"Nowhere has the question of slowness been more abused than in the latter. On September 2, 1862, McClellan was reinstated to command the disorganized, dispirited, and chaotically intermingled fragments of five separate armies. Within a week a field army which was still sorting out its horses and wagons and leavened by a high percentage of raw troops that had been snatched directly from the mustering-in ceremonies, marched into Maryland. In another week McClellan brought Lee to bay at Antietam Creek and inflicted upon him the severest casualty rate ever suffered by the Army of Northern Virginia in the bloodiest day's battle of the entire war.

"The fairest conclusion to be drawn from all of this would not be that McClellan was slow, but rather that sometimes he acted slowly and sometimes he acted rapidly; and that some other explanation in addition to slowness is needed to explain his military conduct. . . ."

COMMENT: As Rowland and Harsh tell us, almost no one has reexamined the poorly thought out and argued assertions against McClellan. Also, there may be little market for a reexamination of McClellan in these modern days. The person who sent me Harsh's dissertation urged me to read the entire thing and not just the first chapter, but why didn't Harsh publish the "entire thing"? He died some time ago; so it isn't going to be published unless someone else does it.

Rowland did publish his George B. McClellan and Civil War History," but in 1998. I don't gather it was terribly popular or widely read. Why, I wonder not?

McClellan as both Rowland and Harsh write deserves criticism in certain areas, but his psychology and peccadilloes are not among them -- at least not if one concludes that the possession of them makes him unique. Whatever criticism is selected, Rowland can describe other generals who did or thought or wrote equivalent things.

The one area where a few more, it seems to me, are taking him more seriously than hitherto is in the realm of his strategy. I have seen reviews where authors like Harsh are finding McClellan quite good.

The way they were

Rowland makes the valid point that many of the criticisms against McClellan are using 1864-5 thinking to judge the beginning of the war. When the war began both Lincoln and McClellan were thinking in terms of conciliation. Surely when the South saw the Northern behemoth they would give up this silly secession business. Someone, perhaps Lincoln said that if a fair vote was held in the south, overwhelming numbers would vote for union. Lincoln and McClellan both thought that there was an underlying sympathetic segment that would declare for union once the North exhibited a show of force.

The thinking that influenced both Lincoln and McClellan was Winfield Scot's who in the waning days of the Buchanan administration "labored over the possible military responses the North might be called upon to make. Scott was not sanguine about the success of any plan to invade the South and force those seceded states into rejoining the Union. Of four options laid out by him, he was most pessimistic about the invasion plan. Arguing that it would require an army of three hundred thousand commanded by a brilliant general and take 'two or three years' to subdue the South . . . ." As a consequence Scott advocated milder means that were not discarded as policy until after Fort Sumter.

Rowland references Michael C. C. Adams, Our Masters the Rebels: A speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861-1865. "Adams thesis . . . has its merits. McClellan, indeed, was convinced that the South was not only better prepared at the outset of the war but furnished a social order that was more conducive to discipline and order. Consistent with his views on the influence of the slave-holding aristocracy in perpetrating secession, he believed that the deference shown them by the poor whites in the South made discipline an easy task. Along with Sherman and many other Northern generals, McClellan believed that during the secession crisis the North had allowed the South to seize federal property and arsenals and to begin drilling and training recruits for the army. The South, they believed, was fully prepared for war; the North was not."

COMMENT: We have seen the end of this play and know that conciliation wasn't going to work. We judge McClellan by the lessons learned by 1864, but we ought not. If there was a chance conciliation would work then it should be tried. If there was a chance a show of force would bring the South to its senses then that should be tried as well. And the North tried those things.

The South during the Civil War reminds me quite a lot of Sparta. The Spartans were also an aristocratic slave-holding society and were man for man the best fighters in the world. Democratic Athens far outnumbered them but it didn't matter. The Spartans won most of their battles year after year. Of course that didn't last forever, but longer than the ACW. So there the North was, not even as well trained or practiced as the Athenians preparing to defeat the Confederate Spartans with just numbers. The Persians were impressed with numbers as well.

Athens learned from Sparta and eventually fought as well as they did, but it took a long time to learn. I admire Sheridan as this same sort of fighter -- as good as the Spartans, but the Athenian (Northern) Army wasn't ready for him until 1864. It had no place for him, at least not as he was to become, in the McClellan army of 1861.

And shall we blame McClellan for that? The Athenians blamed their generals for defeats. It gave them something to do while their armies and their generals got better and better.

Grant, Sherman, Lincoln etc as bad as McClellan?

Rowland by page 60 (of his George B. McClellan & Civil War History) has abandoned his introductory good intentions of not down-grading Grant and Sherman in order to make McClellan look not so bad. I was unfortunately reading myself to sleep with this book when I developed the strong suspicion that Rowland was invoking "revisionist" historians, historians "deconstructing" our national heroes, Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman in order to do enhance his thesis, namely that McClellan wasn't as bad as he has been portrayed. After all, if everyone was 'doing it,' then why single out McClellan for special excoriation?

This morning I began checking Rowland's references. Two of his references that seem to bear the "revisionist" stamp are Fellman's Citizen Sherman, and McFeely's Grant:

My "checking" doesn't meet scholarly standards, but it probably provides enough insight to enable one to see why Rowland chose these sources:

Fellman's Citizen Sherman: [from Publisher's Weekly:] "This is a study of William T. Sherman as a human being rather than a soldier. Fellman, who teaches history at Simon Fraser Univ., in Canada, utilizes Sherman's extensive correspondence to depict a man driven by anger. A frustrating childhood and an unhappy marriage, a foundered career in the pre-Civil War army and a succession of business failures left Sherman a seething cauldron of hostility that he unleashed on the South during the war. Yet Sherman's will kept his emotions in check most of the time. His harrowing of the Confederacy was a means to end a war he wished to be followed by a peace of reconciliation?albeit at the expense of blacks, whom Sherman detested. Postwar fame modified his contentiousness, but only in old age did he mellow significantly. Sherman's life and career highlight the fact that relationships between aggression and achievement are complex and often symbiotic."

[from Booklist:] "Although his marriage endured the strains of prolonged physical separations, Sherman's feelings toward his wife (who was also his foster sister) ranged from irrational resentment to an abject sense of inadequacy for failing to meet her emotional and sometimes financial needs. In tracing his subject's life, Fellman is moving over well-traveled ground. However, his probing into Sherman's deeper motivations and feelings makes for fascinating reading and speculation. If Fellman seems alternately entranced and repelled by Sherman's actions and personality traits, it seems a natural reaction to one of our most enigmatic and frustrating military figure."

Turning now to McFeely's Grant: Turning to Amazon 94 out of 101 found the following review helpful: "McFeely won the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1982, but the conclusions he reaches about his subject have drawn fire ever since. Those sympathetic to Grant correctly point to errant assumptions and mistakes in character analysis. Most glaring is McFeely's insistence that Grant gloried in carnage, was insensitive to death and suffering, and was an incompetent chief executive. . . ."

In the case of Lincoln, Rowland references (for a lot of Lincoln bad behavior) Collected works of Lincoln 5:474; and Philip Shaw Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. I found in regard to this book:

What may be from the cover:
"Lincoln, Paludan contends, proved himself a truly great leader in a highly combustible situation. True, he was no saint and could rule with political expediency and a heavy hand. But no other president faced such awesome challenges, and none showed better how the nation could meet them and move toward 'a more perfect union.'

"Filled with new insights and fresh interpretations, Paludan's study presents a genuinely new and compelling portrait of a president and nation at war. It will change the way we look at such things as Lincoln's evolving reconstruction plans, his civil liberties restrictions, and his handling of foreign affairs and enlarge our understanding of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, which linked the president's personal feelings with the needs of the nation. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Lincoln, the presidency, and the Civil War."

Is Paludan's book on Lincoln "revisionist"? I can't tell from the reviews I've read but here is what Rowland gets from someplace: ". . . At various times throughout McClellan's tenure as commander, Lincoln upbraided him in disrespectful tones and with biting sarcasm. If anything, Lincoln showed he could give as well as he could take. Lincoln also demonstrated that he could be as insensitive as his commander on occasion. He waited until McClellan had embarked for Fortress Monroe before issuing the order that relieved McClellan as general in chief. As it was, McClellan learned through the grapevine that the order had already been published in the press. If anyone was graceful, it was McClellan, for he accepted the demotion without grumbling, even though it was a clear setback to his public image. Nor is it exactly true that Lincoln was entirely candid in articulating military goals and sustaining his commander's every need. Although he shelved his own preferences for the spring offensive of 1862 in favor of his commander's, he nursed his reservations throughout the entire Peninsula campaign and acted upon them in a number of decisions that were decidedly to McClellan's disadvantage. At critical moments during the campaign he reneged in committing the manpower originally promised McClellan, an act that actually imperiled the general's troop dispositions. And the president was not frank about how military goals were to be shaped by the political dimensions of the rebellion. . . ." Rowland goes on, but that will give an idea of his approach in comparing McClellan to others.

COMMENT: How valid are these criticisms of Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman? One would perhaps be more open to them if one could ignore the fact that historians are always on the lookout for something new or different in order to publish books; which in academia is virtually mandatory, especially if one has yet to achieve tenure.

It seems more than fortuitous that Rowland in his desire to rehabilitate McClellan's reputation has available to him revisionist historians Fellman, McFeely, and (perhaps) Paludan who have found enough flaws in their subjects to enable them to publish their books. Since I have yet to read their books I am no doubt wrong and unfair, but . . . .

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

McClellan's letters to his wife

Someone wrote, “I've often wondered what we would think of him if we couldn't point to any of the letters he wrote to his wife.”

Quite right. I keep trying to come up with an explanation that would permit me to think that he didn't really mean what he said in them, but I haven't managed thus far.

On page 22 of George B. McClellan & Civil War History Rowland writes "The evidence historians draw upon for their psychological profiling of George McClellan is his correspondence. A review of their selections demonstrates that they relied almost exclusively upon letters he wrote to his wife, Ellen. One may find the complaining, peevish, ambitious, or insulting McClellan in his correspondence to friends and associates, but the so-called truly damaging psychological expose is generally found only in his letters to Ellen. . . ."

"The few McClellan supporters in recent historical literature shrink from contesting, or at least engaging in, any discussions that involve the personal McClellan. Consequently, one does not see Ellen Marcy McClellan's name mentioned in any of their works. Joseph Harsh deplores the fixation Unionist historians have on McClellan's personality because it detracts from any serious consideration of his strategy. Edward Hagerman omits any reference to the general's personal background and his imbroglios with the administration in favor of studying McClellan's appreciation for tactical and staff reorganization. And Rowena Reed, who praises McClellan's strategic brilliance at the expense of his principal antagonists, largely avoids the psychological dimensions of the literature. The only drawback to these omissions is that when the psychological profiling is ignored, it assumes a degree of general acceptance or, to borrow the cliché, silence breeds consent. The power of the psychological argument is strong and compelling. One of the reasons it becomes easy to scoff at McClellan's strategy and his skills and talents is that the psychological dimension to the argument always garners more attention. Why bother to deal with McClellan as a respected strategist or skilled administrator when he has been rejected as a persons incapable of producing a positive result?"

I paused in Rowland's book to read the applicable chapter in Joseph Glatthaar's Partners in Command, The Relationships between Leaders in the Civil War as well as Glatthaar's "Appendix: McClellan's Tragic Flaws in the Light of Modern Psychology." Glatthaar is more reasonable than I was led to believe by Rowland's criticisms, but then Rowland's criticisms covered more than just Glatthaar. In any case, Glatthaar was persuasive so in returning to Rowland I decided to buy the publications he referred to in the above paragraph:

I was able to buy Edward Hagerman's The American Civl War and the Origins of Modern Warfare, and Rowena Reed's Combined Operations in he Civil War, but failed to obtain Joseph Harsh's article "On the McClellan-go-around." It appears in the 1973, Volume 19, Number 2 issue of Civil War History, but I couldn't find out how to buy it or even how one subscribes to Civil War History. They seem to offer subscriptions only to organizations.

I know Harsh has written books on Lee's strategy and perhaps Rowland has those in mind as well, but I only found reference to Harsh's article.

Despite Rowland's assertion that if we ignore the criticisms of McClellan's psychology we are letting them stand, making it difficult not to scoff at McClellan's skills, I would be willing to settle for evidence that McClellan has any skills -- beyond his ability to organize and train an army; which everyone seems to concede.

. . . and then I found this in Rowland: "The only one ever to question seriously the content and possible meanings of McClellan's letters to his wife -- that have become, if you will, the prima facie case against McClellan's mental health status -- was James G. Randall. Nearly a half century ago, Randall suggested that McClellan's letters to his wife were a 'kind of unstudied release, not to be taken seriously.' Randall's is a valid point that has been brushed aside altogether too hastily. McClellan's assertion that his wife was his alter ego was written during the year they were engaged to be married. What people throughout the ages have intimated in love letters during the span of a courtship ritual can be left to one's own experience or imagination. Moreover, while that designation of 'other self' suggests that McClellan felt free to bare his soul to his wife, it does not necessarily imply that he meant every jotted word to be explored in its literal sense."

Comment: I'm not as willing as Sears to dismiss Randall's speculation. I recall that Edgar Allen Poe wrote all sorts of things in code. Did McClellan have that sort of mind, and beyond that the inclination?

In Glatthaar's "Appendix" he writes on page 239 that McClellan "exhibited a marvelous mind. His capacity for knowledge, coupled with a first-rate education, transformed McClellan into a true intellectual force. By age twelve, he had mastered Latin, French, and the classics, and at fourteen he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania. Two years later, he entered West Point, where his academic excellence continued. At nineteen and a half years of age, McClellan graduated second in his class. . ."

"Even during his eleven-year Regular Army career, where most officers' minds languished, his reputation for cerebral prowess expanded. And engineer officer, he prepared two papers for the Napoleon Club at West Point (one of them 111 pages long), invented a cavalry saddle, and translated a bayonet manual from French, all in his spare time. His greatest intellectual feat, though, occurred during a three-month leave after observation of the Crimean War, when McClellan taught himself Russian and translated a 300-page book from Russian to English."

So it seems clear that McClellan had mind enough to be able to write to his wife in some sort of code or with some goal in mind other than absolute literalness. But did his wife have that same sort of mind, or at least mind enough to understand him in a non-literal sense. I'm not convinced by Rowland's Randall-reference, but I'm intrigued enough to order Randall's book. It seems that he wrote a four-volume work on Lincoln, and if I read Rowland's reference correctly, the speculation about McClellan's "unstudied release not to be taken seriously" appears on page 73 of volume 2. I found an old copy of Volume 2 for $3.99 which isn't too much to pay to put a better face on this much vilified general.

Evaluations of McClellan -- fair and unfair

I intended to switch over to some Southern figure after spending so much time on Sheridan and decided to focus on Joseph Johnston. Davis was critical of Johnston's unwillingness to act in similarly to Lincoln's criticism of McClellan. I got to page 146 in Joseph E. Johnston, A Civil War Biography by Craig L. Symonds, and decided to supplement that with some battles Johnston fought and picked up To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign, by Stephen W. Sears.

The more I read in Sears the more uncomfortable I became, not about what he said about Johnston, which was very little, but about what he said about McClellan. McClellan seemed to have a long list of psychological problems and was so deficient as a commander that I wondered how Lincoln could ever have picked him, and how the otherwise perceptive R. E. Lee could have admired him. I lost interest in Johnston and picked up another book on McClellan, George B. McClellan & Civil War History, In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman, by Thomas J. Rowland.

Rowland entitles his second chapter, "A Foray into the twilight zone." In it he takes to task Sears (who devoted a whole book to what I just got a taste of in his Peninsula Campaign. That book being entitled George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon) first of all, but Glatthaar also (referring to Glatthaar's Partners in Command). Glatthaar took psychological criticisms of McClellan even further than Sears did.

On page 18-19 Rowland writes, ". . . Many historians have acted upon theri own prejudices and have invoked a form of inductive reasoning to ferret out evidence for preordained conclusions. They have concluded that McClellan was a failure and that he was psychologically incapable of achieving success. Sears and Glatthaar, in particular, extrapolate from selected details in McClellan's past to conclude that the evidence that they have uncovered conforms to a pattern -- one that all along, has supported their forgone conclusions. Additionally, the ad hominem nature of their attacks on McClellan's psychological character appears to serve them well in their final verdicts on military dimensions of the general's performance. By establishing him as a psychological powder keg, they are able to reject any serious considerations of McClellan's strategy. Of all the reasons why McClellan may have been a gravely flawed commander, the exploitation of the psychological model is the most flawed itself, especially when employed by historians who see psychological reasons as the a priori condition for McClellan's failure. And it is so, for reasons beyond mere suspect reasoning."

In a note on page 19, Rowland writes, "In response to an inquiry from the author, Dorothy M. Bernstein, M. D., editor of the history column of the Psychiatric News, published by the American Psychiatric Association, offered several warnings that should be heeded by psycho-historians, or those who practice psychiatric analysis from a distance. First, they must acknowledge the influence of the cultural, social, and political milieu upon the subject under review. Second, 'Psycho-historians should recognize their [own] personal ideological approach and qualify their responses accordingly. If they are applying modern day concepts and diagnoses to another period, they should do so with qualification.' Dorothy M. Bernstein, M.D., to author, March 12, 1996."

COMMENT: Rowland was hesitant to take up McClellan as a revisionist because he was afraid what he wrote might reflect badly on Grant and Sherman; as a consequence his first several pages are almost embarrassingly obsequious. I was tempted to give up on him, but then he tore into Sears and Glatthaar and became more interesting. His criticisms are among the worst that can be leveled against a fellow historian: letting unacknowledged presuppositions influence what one writes, using shoddy reasoning, ad hominem attacks and attempting to apply the tools of another discipline without fully understanding them.

Since Rowland's book was written in 1989 and Sears and Glatthaar could hardly have avoided being aware of it, I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't come to their own defense . . . however a search using Google didn't disclose anything. Rowland seems to have written only one other book since the one on McClellan -- a biography about Franklin Pierce; so perhaps Sears and Glatthaar have chosen to ignore him.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Forrest working with others

My Forrest library thus far consists of

That Devil Forest by John Allen Wyeth
First with the Most by Robert Selph Henry
Bedford Forrest and his Critter Company by Andrew Nelson Lytle
Nathan Bedford Forest by Jack Hurst
Men of Fire by Jack Hurst

I confess that once I've read a good biography from cover to cover I have difficulty picking up another biography on the same person and doing the same thing -- at least not right away. However I have sought out the controversial sections and have a fair feeling for them. With that introduction I want to say a few things without providing references; although I'm prepared to look for them and hopefully find them if challenged.

I have read and heard (not in the above books) that Forrest didn't work well with others, wouldn't do as ordered and insisted on doing his own thing -- and variations on those themes. I didn't find any of those things to be true. In his early days there are many references to his doing the "traditional" things, but there are also references to his providing warnings of approaching troops and being ignored. Bragg ignored him on occasion as did Hardee -- "go back to bed. You worry too much" -- words to that effect.

Forrest was "not to the manner born" but he was eminently pragmatic and being such he was very adaptable. That he couldn't have managed high command or high office because of a fixed personality is not supported by anything I've encountered. He did not suffer fools gladly, even fools in positions over him, but compare Forrest to Joseph Johnston. The latter's poor relationships with Davis and his secretaries of war Benjamin and Davis was extremely damaging to the Confederate cause.

To put this another way, most would probably agree that Forrest was very innovative. He would try one thing and if that didn't work he'd try another. He could size up a military situation and in an instant figure out the best approach to it. He was better than almost anyone (not Lee) I've read at figuring out what his opponent was going to do (better than either Sherman or Sheridan, for example). So take this malleable, pragmatic person, Forest, and put him in some new situation, say overall command and then tell me why he wouldn't be able to adapt to that as well? If you say he is "too fixed" in some area, then how do you explain his battlefield pragmatism. If you say he is too uneducated or not intelligent enough, then how do you explain his regularly outsmarting West-Point graduates?

Jefferson Davis when considering what he would have done differently if he had it all to do over again said that he would have used Forrest more.

After having read so much about Sheridan recently, I can't help comparing the two. Sheridan came up through the West Point ranks, distinguishing himself in battle but also played politics in order to advance in rank. Once he had proven himself then he was as arrogant in battle as Forrest. There was no longer any need for him to do the diplomatic things he did when of lesser rank -- although he didn't give that up entirely, only during battle.

Forrest on the other hand was from the beginning a warrior leading other warriors. He won and kept winning. We read about Grant's victory at Fort Donelson, but Forrest was there and Grant didn't defeat him. I encountered consideration about whether Forrest should have been reprimanded for not surrendering as the commander of Fort Donelson had commanded. Davis apparently thought about it.

If Forrest and Sheridan had equal numbers, and equal everything else, I would have difficulty picking someone to bet on, but I might pick Forrest because he was much better at guessing what his opponent was going to do. For Sheridan it didn't matter because once the battle had started no one (at least no one he ever encountered) could stand against him, but Forrest was (or seemed to be) just as good as he was once the battle started. I wonder if either of them would have survived such an encounter.

General Sooy Smith's attempt to destroy Forrest


On page 257 of That Devil Forrest, Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Wyeth writes, "When it was known that Forrest was to command the cavalry in the new department, Generals Grant and Sherman had put their heads together to find a cavalry leader of ability sufficient to cope with so formidable an adversary. General Grant's selection fell upon General William Sooy Smith, and on the 11th of November he was made chief of Cavalry for the military division of Mississippi. General Sherman did not altogether approve the selection. The blunt soldier wrote to his superior on December 19th: 'I deem General William Sooy Smith too mistrustful of himself for a leader against Forrest. Mower is a better man for the duty.' . . ."

Beginning on page 276 we see what happens when Sooy Smith caught up to Forrest: ". . . General William Sooy Smith found himself in great perplexity, and it is not improbable that the fact that he was now at last face to face with the redoubtable Forrest had something to do with his state of mind. The man whom he had, as he expressed himself, been anxiously looking for and ready to 'pitch into wherever he found him' was at last directly across his path. Although he had accomplished considerably more than half of the distance from Memphis to Meridian, and General Sherman was still within reach of him, he hesitated and was lost. Three or four days of energetic marching would have brought him to Sherman's camp, between Meridian and Canton.

"In this hope Sherman's army lingered in the neighborhood until the 6th of March. Smith says he made a careful reconnaissance of the Sakatonchee swamp and the crossings of the various streams in that neighborhood, and they were all found strongly held by the enemy. Exaggerated statements of the strength of Forrest's command had been brought to him [Forrest had about 2,000 troops to Smith's 10,000 at the time], and for this the Confederate leader was of course responsible. . . ."

"General Forrest had been directed by his superiors, Generals Polk and S. D. Lee, to retire in front of Smith's advance, in order to draw him as far as possible from his base at Memphis, and then turn upon him and endeavor to destroy him. . . . "

"[Smith] however, had no intention of attempting to cross this Rubicon." After a small skirmish, Smith retreats, and Forrest chases after him. "Captain Tyler was vigorously pursuing the retiring Federals. He says: 'General Forrest in person gave me my orders to push forward and ascertain quickly what direction the enemy had taken. I followed at a stiff pace, but did not come upon them until I reached West Point. Their Rear-guard was passing through this town, when I charged them with my two companies, driving them without serious resistance through the village, capturing and killing several. . . I learned that the entire Federal force had gone northward . . . and were evidently in rapid retreat. . . ."

"From the Union reports it is evident that they had considerable difficulty in getting away fast enough to save themselves. . . The confusion into which this division of General Grierson's cavalry was thrown was complete, and the relentless pursuit and vigorous pressure which Forrest brought to bear upon them soon developed their flight into a hopeless stampede. Officers as well as men stood not 'upon the order of their going,' but went as best they could. Along the road and through the woods or fields on either hand, paying slight heed to commands from any source, the crowds of panic-stricken soldiers rushed and crowded until the way was choked with the surging mass of men and animals. . . ."

"Colonel Joseph Karge of the Second New Jersey Cavalry bears testimony to the dilapidated condition of the Federal command as it journeyed toward Memphis: 'the regiment lost by death on the march and in camp the majority of its horses, and of the remaining one hundred and sixty-one only fifty-five can be called serviceable.'

"Lieutenant Curtis, whose battery, with the exception of a single piece, was captured in the stampede, reports: 'I then proceeded to gather up my company with my single gun. I lost thirty horses during the march.'

"In his official report, General Forrest says of the last resistance offered on this day: 'They made a last final effort to check pursuit; from their preparations, numbers, and advantageous position no doubt indulging the hope of success. . . My ammunition was nearly exhausted, and I knew that if we faltered they in turn would become the attacking party, and disaster might follow. Many of my men were broken down and exhausted with climbing the hills on foot and fighting almost constantly for the last nine miles. I determined, therefore, to rely upon the bravery and courage of the few men I had, and advanced to the attack. As we moved up, the whole force charged down at a gallop, and I am proud to say that my men did not disappoint me. Standing firm, they repulsed one of the grandest cavalry charges I had ever witnessed. The Second and Seventh Tennessee drove back the advancing line, whose head wheeled into retreat, pouring a destructive fire on each successive line of the enemy, who soon fled the field in dismay and confusion, losing an entire battery of artillery, and leaving the field strewn with dead and wounded men and horses. . . ."

On page 295, Wyeth quotes from Sherman's Memoirs: General Smith was ordered to move from Memphis straight for Meridian, Mississippi, and to start from there the 1st of February. I explained to him personally the nature of Forrest as a man, and his peculiar force; told him that in his route he was sure to encounter him; that he always attacked with vehemence, for which he must be prepared, and that were he repelled at a first attack, he must in turn assume a most determined offensive, overwhelm him, and utterly destroy his whole force. He knew that Forrest could not have more than four thousand cavalry, and my own movements would give employment to every other man in the rebel army not immediately present with him, so that General Smith might safely act on this hypothesis. I wanted to destroy General Forrest, who was constantly threatening Memphis and the river above, as well as our route to supplies in middle Tennessee. In this we failed utterly, because General Smith, when he did start, allowed General Forest to head him off and to defeat him with an inferior force near West Point, below Okolna.

"Of course I did not, and could not, approve of his conduct. I had set so much store on his part of the project that I was disappointed, and so reported officially to General Grant. General Smith never regained my confidence as a soldier, though I still regard him as a most accomplished gentleman and a skillful engineer. Since the close of the war he has appealed to me to relieve him of that censure, but I could not do it, because it would falsify history."

Comment: Wyeth was born in Alabama in 1845 and enlisted as a private in the Confederate cavalry and rode with General Joseph Wheeler. He was captured two weeks after Chickamauga and suffered considerably from the time he spent in Federal prison. After the war he became a surgeon.

Albert Castel wrote in 1989 a foreword to the edition I have, and in it he refers to a few flaws but writes "Taken as a whole, it remains a superb work of history and biography. That is why during the ninety years since its original publication it has been reissued at least four times . . . and why it continues to be included on all lists entitled 'One Hundred Best Civil War Books.' That is why, too, of all the books about Forrest there is only one that bears comparison with it, and that is Robert Selph Henry's First with the Most, Forrest, published in 1944. Henry was an excellent historian and writer, he had access to sources unavailable to Wyeth, he was able to approach Forrest and the Civil War from a longer perspective, and his interpretations are more objective and sophisticated. Yet factually he presents little of substance that cannot be found in Wyeth's work, from which he drew heavily . . ."

If I have included enough of Wyeth's narration above, one can perhaps see the powerful dread many Federal officers and soldiers felt when they came up against Forrest. Not that Sherman ever felt this dread, as seen from the fact that he refused to clear Sooy Smith's record from having felt it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

General Wright at Cedar Creek

I finished William Bergen’s article “The Other Hero of Cedar Creek, the ‘Not Specially Ambitious’ Horatio G. Wright,” appearing in Gary W. Gallagher’s The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, published in 2006.

I had some initial doubts but ended up being impressed by Bergen’s work. If he were to write a book I would buy it just based upon the way he dealt with his material in this article.

While I don’t recall that I actually said that Wright never planned a counterattack after Early’s initial success at Cedar Creek, it did surprise me and beyond that I didn’t have clearly in mind that Wright had control of the Sheridan’s entire army in his absence, but Bergen provides more detail about what happened before Sheridan’s arrival than I have thus far read – or at least thus far paid attention to. Here is what Bergen writes on pages 108-109:

“Once Wright had reformed the army north of Middletown, he ordered preparations for a counterattack to begin in early afternoon. ‘General Wright was active in his effort to retrieve the day,’ remembered one officer who witnessed him personally bringing up the Nineteenth Corps to extend the Sixth Corps line. ‘He has never admitted that he had given up the battle or had lost hope of renewing the offensive.’ Another officer recalled carrying orders to various commands, telling their officers to ready their troops for an advance at 3:00 P.M. Writing soon after the war, a veteran of Getty’s division recalled that Wright ‘frequently said that he could yet defeat the enemy, and his staff have claimed that he issued orders looking to a counter-attack, but it is doubtful if such a movement would have been successful, as the army was much disheartened.’ He characterized the army as being in ‘sort of a dogged gloom.’ General Keifer concurred, writing that though ‘the army loved Wright, and believed in him, his temperament was not such as to cause him to work an army up to high state of enthusiasm.’ A member of the Nineteenth Corps similarly remembered doubting that a counterattack led by Wright would be successful, though he had the ‘entire confidence of the corps.’

“Whatever preparations Wright had made for a counterattack, Sheridan’s arrival around 10:30 A.M. made all believed that it could, and would, happen. . . The magnetism of his fiery energy electrified the army with a kindred spirit, and they fought with just that desperate valor that was needed to turn the tide of affairs in our favor.’”

COMMENT: Assuming that my untrustworthy memory is accurate, most modern historians would go along with what Bergen has written above, but there are others, and Bergen quotes some who think that Wright would have succeeded as well as Sheridan. What I’m reminded of at this point is a study done years ago with Howler Monkeys in South America. Naturalists constructed a complex catwalk up above these monkey’s and observed them over a long period of time. Among other things they assigned each monkey a “dominance rating.” It was based upon who made the decision to go to the watering hole, to return home, to fight with the neighboring monkey tribes, etc. Something like a 3 or a 4 was a high number. A 3 or a 4 was most likely to make the decisions for the tribe. Each tribe had its territory and while it might fight a bit with its neighbors it returned home afterward. Then to the surprise of all those up above in the catwalks, one tribe began walking all over the island, taking whatever it wanted from the other tribes, and no one, no tribe challenged them. At last they were able to define what they were seeing. One of the monkeys had a “dominance factor” far above any of the others. It was so high that no other monkey would challenge him.

Something like this is true in humans as well. Few would challenge the assertion that Hitler, for example, had an extremely high “dominance factor.” In terms of modern generals, Patton comes to mind as being up there above most of his peers. Administrators like Eisenhower and Bradley probably wouldn’t rate as high.

If I am right, Sheridan had an extremely high dominance factor, probably higher than Grant’s or Sherman’s. I read one account, perhaps in Horace Porter’s memoirs, of Sheridan showing up at Grant’s headquarters. All the generals there, including Grant and Sherman, were uplifted and encouraged by Sheridan’s presence.

The idea that Sheridan had a very high “dominance factor” and that no one, including Wright himself, asserted that Wright had one, suggests that at the very least, the army had a much better chance of a successful counterattack under Sheridan than under Wright.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sheridan at Cedar Creek


Coffey, in his short book Sheridan’s Lieutenants doesn’t provide the great detail that you will find in Cozzens and a few others, but in regard to Sheridan he addresses the controversial stuff. In regard to the battle of Cedar Creek he first describes Early’s plans and the extent of his initial victory over the forces Sheridan left behind when he went to visit Stanton (upon Stanton’s request).

Then by page 82 Coffey has described Early’s attack and then writes that while Early’s forces had conquered quite a lot, “Could this Yankee Army be destroyed?”

“Unfortunately for Early, his triumphant little army found its pursuit of that lofty goal challenged by the very bane of its existence – the Federal cavalry. The intimidating presence and considerable firepower of this mighty blue monster brought the Rebel advance to a halt at Middletown. Had Early possessed a mounted arm of any consequence (he had only 300 troopers of Payne’s brigade on his right flank), he likely could have sealed the victory before the Yankee horsemen came into play, but he had nothing of the sort. Torbert’s men held the pike north of the village and appeared poised to contest a continued advance by Early’s forces. Merritt’s and Custer’s divisions had been in the saddle since well before light. Much of their effort thus far had been dedicated to stemming the flow of panicked infantrymen – a distasteful duty for sure. Rugged Tom Devin’s brigade did most of this dirty work, ‘it being necessary in several instances to fire on the crowds retiring,’ the veteran wrote, ‘and to use the saber frequently.’ With his infantry falling back on Middletown, General Wright had ordered both cavalry divisions from the extreme right to the left in order to shore up the disintegrating army and to hold the Valley Turnpike. Torbert left three of Custer’s regiments to deal with Rosser out to the west and sent Merritt and Custer to support the main army north of Middletown, and here they rendered valuable service. When the gray lines pushed through the village, they ran into Merritt’s men, whose Spencer repeaters stopped the Rebels cold.”

“. . . Meritt reported, ‘Never did troops fight more elegantly than at this time; not a man shirked his duty.’ The men of the Cavalry Corps, under withering fire and almost completely exposed, ‘held their ground,’ in Torbert’s words, ‘like men of steel.’ Custer noted with perhaps more accuracy than many wished to admit: ‘But for the cavalry the enemy would have penetrated to the rear of our army, which at that time was in no condition to receive an attack from any direction. . . .”

“A great controversy arose over what happened next. Gordon, the architect of the day’s success, claimed that he encountered Early at Middletown during this lull and advocated vigorously for an all-out assault that would finish the Federals. But, maintained the handsome Georgian, Early declined to act, satisfied with his considerable gains, and therefore failed to capitalize on this rare chance to crush an entire Yankee army. . . .”

It was during this same lull that Sheridan returned to his army. “In one of the truly remarkable occurrences of the war, Sheridan’s mere presence on the field, which he made obvious by dashing from one sector to another, instantly revived the spirit of a demoralized army. Men who had stood and fought now cheered; many, if not most, of those who ran now returned to fight. Officers, some older than Sheridan, greeted him emotionally; Custer Raced up on horseback to hug him. Some Civil War commanders possessed great skill, others sheer determination, a few, it was said, had luck; Sheridan wielded magic. The confidence his soldiers placed in him at this stage no doubt owed much to his recent string of battlefield successes, but that fact only partially explained his uncanny influence over officers and men in battle. He inspired his troops as few army commanders could. As if shocked back to life by some inexplicable force, the Army of the Shenandoah resumed its swagger.

“Sheridan’s return did not save his army from destruction. Wright and Getty and the Cavalry Corps had pretty much achieved this feat before he arrived. . . No, Little Phil could not take credit for rescuing his army from the brink of annihilation, but almost as certainly the subsequent events of this most extraordinary day would not have transpired without him. Sheridan, then, came not as a savior but as a redeemer.”

Naysayers, and I have to believe from his reference to “Little Phil” that he has Wittenberg in mind here, have made light of Sheridan’s achievement on this day – as though the mere saving of his army from annihilation by Wright and others was all that was called for, but it was not. Had Sheridan not shown up Grant, Stanton, and all the newspapers would have termed it a shocking defeat – even if not all the army was destroyed. The great thing that Sheridan did was rally his troops, get them turned around, counterattack and defeat Early. “This counterattack completed the most stunning reversal of fortune to transpire on one field on one day during the war. Some 6,000 Federal officers and men and 3,000 Confederates were killed, wounded or missing. Captain Hotchkiss remarked bitterly: ‘Thus was one of the most brilliant victories of the war turned into one of the most disgraceful defeats, and all owing to the delay in pressing the enemy after we got to Middletown. . . .’”

Coffey sides with Wittenberg and a few others in disagreeing with Gordon about Early’s ability to destroy Sheridan’s army utterly if he hadn’t stopped at Middleton. I am not convinced that he could not have by what I’ve read. Sure Custer said the cavalry stopped Early, but if they had not Early’s army would have gone all the way through Sheridan’s army. And perhaps Early was impressed with the Federal cavalry as Coffey speculates, but Gordon wasn’t. He believed their army could have pushed through them. Are Gordon and others to be discounted? We recall that after each defeat Sheridan discounted Early’s ability to come back – and was surprised each time. Surely Sheridan’s division commanders were in agreement with him. So shall we give Merritt and Custer greater credence this time? Could Early’s army encouraged as Gordon was prepared to encourage them have completed the Federal army’s annihilation? Maybe not, but on the other hand maybe.

In any case everything changed when Sheridan returned. He wasn’t content to avoid annihilation, he wanted a victory, and that is what he achieved. “In a note to Secretary Stanton, the commanding general praised his hot commodity: ‘Turning what bid fair to be a disaster into a glorious victory stamps Sheridan, what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of generals.’ Two days later a handwritten message from President Lincoln arrived at Sheridan’s headquarters: ‘With great pleasure I tender to you and your brave army the thanks of the nation and my own personal admiration and gratitude for the month’s operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and especially for the splendid work of October 19, 1864.’ Lincoln had good reason, beyond the battlefield victories, to be grateful – Sheridan’s Valley Campaign had, along with Sherman’s triumph at Atlanta, guaranteed the president’s reelection . . . .”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sheridan and his Lieutenants

In the mail today I received David Coffey's Sheridan's Lieutenants, Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War, published 2005. On the back cover was a comment by Eric J. Wittenberg: "Professor David Coffey has written a concise, interesting, and fast-paced study of the evolution and accomplishments of the Union cavalry in the East that is useful to any student of the last year of the Civil War in Virginia."

I thought, "oh no! If Wittenberg liked this book than I'm sure not to," but then I found the following in Coffey's "Bibliographical Essay": ". . . For a more negative treatment of Sheridan, see Eric J. Wittenberg's study, Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Leadership of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan (Washington, DC: Brassy's, 2002). Wittenberg has done extensive work on Sheridan and his campaigns during the last year of the Civil War. While he makes some excellent observations, with many of which I agree, he rather ignores the essential truth of Sheridan's success and importance within the context of his time, which, as unpleasant as it may be to admit, was enormous."

I felt much better after reading that although I paused some time over "as unpleasant as it may be to admit." Without doubt Wittenberg would have found it unpleasant to admit such a thing, but does that also represent Coffey's view? I'm inclined to think not. Consider the following from Coffey's preface:

". . . High attrition throughout the war ensured that there would be plenty of opportunities to find new leaders.

"None of this fully explains the rise of Ulysses S. Grant, and with him those of William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan -- the great triumvirate of Union victory. Some men are simply good at war; others thrive in combination with dynamic collaborators, military and political. These men bore out these truths. And no one could have imagined it. The Civil War gave Grant a last opportunity to salvage his life, and he made the most of it with a series of Western Theater victories that kept the Federal war effort viable while it foundered in the East. But Lincoln deserves credit for fueling the Grant war machine with the two most significant, if not decisive, moves of the war. The first was to retain Grant after his embarrassing loss-turned-victory at Shiloh, when the president responded to calls for Grant's head, 'I can't spare this man; he fights.' The second great move on Lincoln's part was to bring Grant, fresh off a stunning victory at Chattanooga, to Washington, where he received promotion to the newly authorized rank of lieutenant general and overall command of the armies of the United States.

"Grant made the third and fourth most important personnel dispositions of the war when he pegged his loyal friend Sherman to command in the West and summoned little Philip Sheridan to lead the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. Grant made other momentous decisions during the final year of the war, but once he turned loose Sherman and Sheridan the war assumed a new attitude, and the Federal armies both East and West applied the irresistible force the Union needed to finish the Confederacy."

COMMENT: It is interesting to think of Sherman and Sheridan in the "same breath." Sherman was never able to guess what his opponent was going to do and only through his reliance upon his own lieutenants was that defect overcome. Lee by contrast was a superb guesser. Grant was not as good but better than Sherman or Sheridan -- and maybe Sheridan was a bit better than Sherman. In the midst of battle, however, both Sherman and Sheridan were able to overcome their lack of being able to anticipate their enemies.

Sheridan was the sort of general Grant admired. Grant liked Sheridan's fire and his willingness to lead his troops into battle. He probably liked Sherman personally better than any other general. Maybe a good comparison would be to see Sheridan like Lee's Jackson and Sherman like Lee's Longstreet . . . Perhaps Sheridan and Jackson had similar "fire," and perhaps Longstreet and Sherman favored the same sort of defensive maneuvering. But, I hasten to add, Sheridan and Sherman were nothing like Jackson and Longstreet personally. That is, the profane Sheridan was nothing like the hyper-religious Jackson. And Sherman who hated politics even more than he hated reporters was the antithesis of the ambitious Longstreet.

And then to compare Sherman to Sheridan in terms of their legacies, Sherman was much the greater, still being studied at war colleges. Sheridan didn't possess that sort of genius, but he was superb in any sort of battle, able to think on his feet and inspire his men to . . . not super-human effort, perhaps, but one thinks of great battles where a superb leader led his men to a momentous victory. Could even Grant or Lee have done that? We don't know because their aids kept pulling them back from harms way. Could Sherman have done that? Perhaps, but he wasn't inclined to subject his men to that sort of fighting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sheridan at Appomattox

Bruce Catton in his A Stillness at Appomattox describes Sheridan as being everywhere, taking his cavalry ahead to block, Lee, blocking him again, confronting his forces to slow them down, sending back to Grant urging him to send up infantry to stop Lee for good and then when the infantry arrived urging them forward. But Catton has in mind the stillness at the end. There was no cheering on the part of the Union forces who watched the Confederates stop fighting and stack arms. They knew Lee was going off to surrender to Grant. They were exhausted from being driven to march so far. They hadn't eaten in more than a day. They had enough energy to bring Lee to this standstill at the end, but there was no jubilation -- only the stillness that Catton refers to.

But Horace Porter, who arrived with Grant has something different to say about Sheridan at Appomattox [from his Campaigning with Grant, pages 468-9]: "We saw a group of officers who had dismounted and were standing at the edge of the town, and at their head we soon recognized the features of Sheridan. No one could look at Sheridan at such a moment without a sentiment of undisguised admiration. In this campaign, as in others, he had shown himself possessed of military traits of the highest order. Bold in conception, self-reliant, demonstrating by his acts that 'much danger makes great hearts resolute,' fertile in resources, combining the restlessness of a Hotspur with the patience of a Fabius, it is no wonder that he should have been looked upon as the wizard of the battle-field. Generous of his life, gifted with the ingenuity of a Hannibal, the dash of a Murat, the courage of a Ney, the magnetism of his presence roused his troops to deeds of individual heroism, and his unconquerable columns rushed to victory with all the confidence of Caesar's Tenth Legion. Wherever blows fell thickest, there was his crest. Despite the valor of the defenses, opposing ranks went down before the fierceness of his onsets, never to rise again, and he would not pause till the folds of his banners waved above the strongholds he had wrested from the foe. Brave Sheridan! I can almost see him now, his silent clay again quickened into life, once more riding 'Rienzi' through a fire of hell, leaping opposing earthworks at a single bound, and leaving nothing of those who barred his way except the fragments scattered in his path. As long as manly courage is talked of, or heroic deeds are honored, the hearts of a grateful people will beat responsive to the mention of the talismanic name of Sheridan."

Comment: It is almost sacrilegious to add anything to what Porter has written; so I won't. Porter was secretary to General Grant, President Grant, and later to Sherman, and he was a warrior in his own right receiving the Medal of Honor at Chickamauga; so he was qualified, if not uniquely so in the midst of so many others heroes, to speak about Sheridan. Meade was a competent first-class general and a good subordinate, but Sheridan was in a class by himself. There was no one like him in the Union Army -- and Grant and Sherman, if not Meade, would have agreed with him.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Meade at the "Horrid Pit"

After Meade's Petersburg fiasco Grant asked him what his plans were. He didn't have any, but he told him about an idea, Meade thought dubious, presented to him by Burnside, that of tunneling under the Petersburg defenses and engaging in a surprise attack. Meade thought the idea preposterous and would never work, but Grant liked it; so Burnside was given the go-ahead.

Burnside chose Edward Ferrero to lead the enterprise and he chose Ferrero's Colored Division to be the first ones through the tunnel. Why did Burnside chose Ferroro's colored troops? Because all the other troops were worn out and apathetic as their actions proved in the initial assault against Petersburg; whereas "the black men of Ferroro's Fourth Division burned with a hunger to fight and were eager to learn to fight well. Whereas the white soldiers craved a rest, the black soldiers wanted nothing more than to prove themselves. They seemed to Burnside the obvious choice to make the assault." from Alan Axelrod's The Horrid Pit, page 93.

When Meade learned of this the day before the assault he countermanded Meade's orders. Catton on page 238 of A Stillness at Appomattox wrote, "Meade made one change in Burnside's original plan. He told Burnside that Ferroro's colored division must not be used as the first wave. The fight must be spearheaded by the white troops. If the colored troops were to be used at all they must go in later, as support.

"Burnside objected, with heat, pointing out that Ferrero's was the biggest, freshest division and that it had been getting special training for weeks in the movements which would be involved in this assault. Meade refused to yield . . . Profoundly disturbed, Burnside went back to his own headquarters to arrange his plans and prepare new orders."

Axelrod tells us that Meade made two changes to the orders and not just one. Burnside later testified "[Meade] did not approve of the formation proposed, because he was satisfied that we would not be able, in the face of the enemy, to make the movements which I contemplated, to the right and left; and that he was of the opinion that the troops should move directly to the crest [of Cemetery Hill, behind the Petersburg line] without attempting these side movements."

When the mine exploded opening a crater through the Petersburg walls, the white troops behaved just as Burnside feared, just as they behaved at Petersburg. The up a little way and milled about. When the black troops attempted to make their way through the opening it was filled with white troops unwilling to go forward.

So of course Burnside had to appear before congress to explain his failure. Ferroro as a witness testified, "Each of the division commanders, as well as every officer in the command, who had given his attention to the subject in the least degree, was fully aware of the condition of the white troops, as I had previously stated it to General Meade, and were firmly impressed with the conviction that the colored troops were in much better condition to lead the attack, and of the wisdom of using the white troops as supports.
Grant, who backed Meade up testified, General Burnside wanted to put his colored division in front, and I believe if he had done so it would have been a success. Still I agreed with General Meade in his objection to that plan. General Meade said that if we put the colored troops in front, (we had only that one division,) and it should prove a failure, it would then be said, and very properly, that we were shoving those people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them. But that could not be said if we put white troops in front."

Burnside's career was ruined, but not Meade's. He endured no penalty for replacing Burnside's excellent plan with a poor one of his own making. Yet to this day there are many who think Meade was an excellent general, even better than Sheridan.

Meade at Petersburg

I've been reading Bruce Catton's A Stillness at Appomattox, and in pages 182 through 199 he describes Meade's work at Petersburg -- beginning with the Corps Commanders who failed to perform at Petersburg. Baldy Smith was there first and could have waltzed through Beauregard's meager defenses but cautiously prowled about fearful that the defenses he saw might comprise another Cold Harbor bastion. When he finally moved through them he stopped and waited for Hancock who was marching his tired troops in the wrong direction thanks to poor maps and guides. When Hancock finally arrived Beauregard thought it was all over because all Meade needed to do was send a force against the undefended south end of his defenses and, as Beauregard wrote, "I would have been compelled to evacuate Petersburg without much resistance."

This was taking place on June 17th. On June 16th Grant had foreseen this opportunity and wired Meade to get Warren over to the Jerusalem Road as fast as possible," . . . "but Warren found Rebel skirmishers in his front and they were busy and seemed to be bold and cocky, and Warren was cautious about pressing them too hard -- and, in the end, nothing in particular was done and the empty country [meaning country lacking Confederate defenders] west of the Jerusalem Plank Road remained empty all day long.

Burnside pushed ahead and gained some ground but paused to wait for Hancock to cover his flank. But Hancock's Gettysburg wound bothered him so much that he turned his command over to Birney who didn't immediately know he should move forward against the Confederates alongside Burnside.

Catton writes, ". . . control of the fight seems to have slipped out of Meade's hands, and no unit commander up front was concerned with anything except what lay immediately before him, and although the Confederate line had been broken in two places before noon nothing effective was done to exploit the openings. . ."

"it had occurred to no one to have troops ready to follow up a success, and there had not even been any routine arrangements for getting ammunition up to the firing line, and the strategy which had enabled the army to fight for Petersburg with eight-to-one odds in its favor was totally wasted."

What was Meade doing as failure after failure occurred on Beauregard's front? He was put in "a foul temper, which kept growing worse, and he emitted a furious stream of orders in a completely futile attempt to bring about the united attack which had been been designed. Hours passed, and the breakdown in the command system became complete, and by early afternoon Meade was wiring to his corps commanders: 'I find it useless to appoint an hour to effect cooperation . . what additional orders to attack you require I cannot imagine. . . . Finding it impossible to effect co-operation by appointing an hour for attack, I have sent an order to each corps commander to attack at all hazards and without reference to each other."

By the time Meade does get the attack he angrily demands, Lee has had time to get his Army in all those empty trenches that so frightened Meade's Corps commanders, making them at last as formidable as what Meade's generals feared they were.

Comment: Someone argued in an earlier note that Meade would have done as well as Sheridan in the Shenandoah campaign; so when I read the Catton account of Meade's forces at Petersburg I couldn't help but think that what was needed was Sheridan-like leadership to force the Corps commanders to do what was needful. I can't imagine Sheridan sitting back in his camp getting angrier and angrier thinking he had done everything necessary by issuing orders.

When we read of the bizarre behavior of Meade's Corps Commanders and blame them while we read, we may lose sight of the fact that they all worked for Meade. He was supposed to lead them and make sure they did what he told them to do. What does he do to his friend Warren, for example, who was typically dilatory? Nothing, but when Warren behaved in a similar fashion under Sheridan, Sheridan fired him: two very different approaches to holding Corps commanders accountable -- it seems to me.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grant on Sheridan's raid

Someone wrote, "I don't have any problem with Sheridan setting out to beat Stuart actually; I just think it was terribly neglectful for him not to leave a sufficient amount of cavalry with Grant when he did so. He took practically his entire Cavalry Corps, whereas Stuart left Lee with plentiful cavalry for his immediate needs; all Stuart had with him at Yellow Tavern was Fitz Lee's cavalry, and despite the numbers they still escaped reasonably intact."

Here is Grant putting this matter in an entirely different context. It is from the Library of America's edition of the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, pages 494-7: "On the 8th of May, just after the battle of the Wilderness and when we were moving on Spottsylvania I directed Sheridan to cut loose from the Army of the Potomac, pass around the left of Lee's army and attack his cavalry: to cut the two roads -- one running west through Gordonsville, Charlottesville and Lynchburg, the other to Richmond, and, when compelled to do so for want of forage and rations, to move on to the James River and draw these from Butler's supplies. This move took him past the entire rear of Lee's army. These orders were also given in writing through Meade.

"The object of this move was three-fold. First, if successfully executed, and it was, he would annoy the enemy by cutting his line of supplies and telegraphic communications, and destroy or get for his own use supplies in the rear and coming up. Second, he would draw the enemy's cavalry after him, and thus better protect our flanks, rear and trains than by remaining with the army. Third, his absence would save the trains drawing his forage and other supplies from Fredericksburg, which had now become our base. He started at daylight the next morning, and accomplished more than was expected. It was sixteen days before he got back to the Army of the Potomac.

"The course Sheridan took was directly to Richmond. Before night Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, came on to the rear of his command. But the advance kept on, crossed the North Anna, and at Beaver Dam, a station on the Virginia Central Railroad, recaptured four hundred Union prisoners on their way to Richmond, destroyed the road and used and destroyed a large amount of subsistence and medical stores.

"Stuart, seeing that our cavalry was pushing towards Richmond, abandoned the pursuit on the morning of the 10th and, by a detour and exhausting march, interposed between Sheridan and Richmond at Yellow Tavern, only about six miles north of the city. Sheridan destroyed the railroad and more supplies at Ashland, and on the 11th arrived in Stuart's front. A severe engagement ensued in which the losses were heavy on both sides, but the rebels were beaten, their leader mortally wounded, and some guns and many prisoners were captured.

"Sheridan passed through the outer defences of Richmond, and could, no doubt, have passed through the inner ones. But having no supports near he could not have remained. After caring for his wounded he struck for the James River below the city, to communicate with Butler and to rest his men and horses as well as to get food and forage for them.

"He moved first between the Chickahominy and the James, but in the morning (the 12th) he was stopped by batteries at Mechanicsville. He then turned to cross to the north side of the Chickahominy by Meadow Bridge. He found this barred, and the defeated Confederate cavalry, reorganized, occupying the opposite side. The panic crated by his first entrance within the outer works of Richmond having subsided troops were sent out to attack his rear.

"He was now in a perilous position, one from which but few generals could have extricated themselves. The defences of Richmond, manned, were to the right, the Chickahominy was to the left with no bridge remaining and the opposite bank guarded, to the rear was a force from Richmond. This force was attacked and beaten by Wilson's and Gregg's divisions, while Sheridan turned to the left with the remaining division and hastily built a bridge over the Chickahominy under the fire of the enemy, forced a crossing and soon dispersed the Confederates he found there. The enemy was held back from the stream by the fire of the troops not engaged in bridge building.

"On the 13th Sheridan was at Bottom's Bridge, over the Chickahominy. On the 14th he crossed this stream and on that day went into camp on the James River at Haxall's Landing. He at once put himself into communication with General Butler, who directed all the supplies he wanted to be furnished.

"Sheridan had left the Army of the Potomac at Spottsylvania, but did not know where either this or Lee's army was now. Great caution therefore had to be exercised in getting back. On the 17th, after resting his command for three days, he started on his return. He moved by the way of White Hose. The bridge over the Pamunkey had been burned by the enemy, but a new one was speedily improvised and the cavalry crossed over it. On the 22nd he was at Aylett's on the Matapony, where he learned the position of the two armies. On the 24th he joined us on the march from North Anna to Cold Harbor, in the vicinity of Chesterfield.

"Sheridan in this memorable raid passed entirely around Lee's army: encountered his cavalry in four engagements, and defeated them in all; recaptured four hundred Union prisoners and killed and captured many of the enemy; destroyed and used many supplies and munitions of war; destroyed miles of railroad and telegraph, and freed us from annoyance by the cavalry of the enemy for more than two weeks."

Comment: Grant sent his memoirs to his publisher on May 23, 1885 and wrote a brief preface on July 1, 1885. As I skimmed through Rhea's Bibliography I noticed that Grant's Memoirs have a more recent date than most of Rhea's references.

At this point, Grant being a primary source, I think the burden would belong to a detractor to prove that Grant is wrong and Rhea right rather than the reverse.

Why Sheridan retreated from Todd Tavern

Someone asked, "Okay, so where are the sources that Rhea is wrong in this instance? Every account I've ever read of Spotsylvania agrees that Sheridan's abandonment of Todd's Tavern was a critical mistake, and there's no doubting the fact that Fitz Lee's cavalry cost Grant far too much precious time on the Brock Road, throwing off his entire schedule for the advance on Spotsylvania. So again, it seems like this doesn't actually address the central point"

Trudeau's Bloody Roads South, pages 113-4: "While the Union horsemen chattered in nervous release, their chief, Phil Sheridan, fumed. His fighting today had been loud, fluid, and indecisive. The daylong scrap had taken place across the rolling fields around Todd's Tavern as Sheridan's riders had fanned out in an attempt to intercept Longstreet's column. What they had found instead was Confederate cavalry spoiling for a fight. Charge had been followed by countercharge, and then the combat had continued dismounted as the cavalrymen battled on foot.

"The racket of gunfire had been audible to John Gibbon's men, guarding Hancock's left flank only a few miles to the north. Given the lack of any clear intelligence from Sheridan until late in the day that he was fighting Confederate cavalry and not infantry, it had remained easy for Gibbon to believe that a portion of Longstreet's corps was threatening from the south.

"The Army of the Potomac's headquarters had grown increasingly apprehensive about the security of its left flank. In the early afternoon Sheridan had received a dispatch from Andrew Humphreys, reporting that "General Hancock has been heavily pressed, and his left turned.' Then had come the bitter orders: 'The major-general commanding thinks that you had better draw in your cavalry so as to secure the protection of the trains.'

"As Sheridan later noted in his official report, 'I obeyed this order, and the enemy took possession of the Furnaces, Todd's Tavern and Piney Branch Church.' With this withdrawal, the Federal army had relinquished its hold on the crossroads at Todd's Tavern, cutting off its main route of advance to the south. Sheridan, who knew Grant well, believed that the lieutenant general would never retreat, and he realized that in order for the army to resume its advance, the Union cavalry would have to fight all over again for the ground it had been told to give up."

If what Trudeau has written is true then Sheridan was ordered to abandon Todd Tavern by the "major general commanding." But notice that Sheridan didn't want to do it and thought it would be a costly mistake. Now, turning back to Rhea, look at his wording on page 36, "Sheridan's decision to withdraw was a costly mistake."

I assumed that Trudeau was right and Rhea was wrong based upon my checking Trudeau's references on several occasions (not everything because I don't have all his references, but several of them). Whereas when I checked Rhea's references they seemed weak, inappropriate or nonexistent. 

Andre Trudeau wrote Bloody Roads South in 1989. Rhea wrote his book in 1997. How is that he didn't know about Trudeau's mention that Meade had ordered Sheridan to leave Todd's Tavern and come back and protect the wagon trains? If one looks at Rhea's bibliography one finds the answer. He doesn't reference any modern sources. He apparently didn't read Trudeau or any other modern historian on his subject.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

J. F. C. Fuller on Sheridan’s Richmond Raid

From Fuller’s The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant, pages 259-261: “Closely connected with Butler’s movement from City Point, and largely dependent upon its success, was the raid carried out by Sheridan. That it accomplished nothing except the death of General Stuart, as some writers affirm, for instance Captain Battine, is absurd; but that it did not form part of Grant’s original plan is very true, for its origin may be traced to the quarrel between Sheridan and Meade on May 8. Grant, realising the danger of friction, saw that for the time being it was necessary to separate these two generals; and as was his invariable custom when faced by a difficulty, in place of seeking for some idea solution, he accepted the lesser of two evils, in this case, separation, simultaneously turning this lesser evil to his advantage.

“If Grant had raised the power of Sheridan’s breech-loading carbines, by dismounting part of his cavalry he might have used this weapon with deadly effect in the woods of the Wilderness and around Spottsylvania. Like most generals, he does not seem to have paid much attention to weapon-power – the cutting edge of tactics. . . .”

“The objects of this raid were: to attack Lee’s line of supply – his rear; to draw the Confederate cavalry away from the Army of the Potomac, and to reduce traffic from Fredericksburg forward. Critics of it frequently overlook the fact that Butler was at City Point, and under orders to move against Richmond. Had Butler occupied Petersburg, as he should have done, then damage to the railways in rear of Lee would almost certainly have compelled Lee to fall back or risk starvation.

“Sheridan’s orders were to move around Lee’s left; attack his cavalry wherever met; cut the Virginia Central and Fredericksburg railroads, and then move south and join Butler. Starting out on the 8th, on the 22th, when a few miles from Richmond, he met the Confederate cavalry under Stuart, and defeated them, Stuart being morally wounded. Next he entered the outer defences of Richmond, causing a panic in the capital; joined up with Butler on the 14th, and on the 24th reported to the Army of the Potomac when on its march from North Anna to Cold Harbor. During the sixteen days he was absent, a period of much administrative difficulty to Grant, who was in the process of changing his supply base to Port Royal, the Federal trains were never interfered with. On the other hand, there can be no question that Lee was seriously embarrassed by this raid; for some ten miles of Virginia Central railroad and several miles of the Fredericksburg were destroyed. ‘If Grant had succeeded in dislodging Lee’s army from its intrenchments at Spottsylvania, the advantage from the interruption of their supplies might have been very great.’ These points must be borne in mind when criticising Sheridan’s operation.”

Comment: Fuller’s account seems fair. He has a larger perspective than Sheridan’s critics it seems to me. I have but one quibble with Fuller. Earlier on page 64 he writes “For the first two years of the war the Federal cavalry were indifferent, but, after grant became Commander-in-chief, under Sheridan’s skillful leadership they became more than a match for their opponents. Both sides, however, failed again and again to combine cavalry action with infantry operations, because they did not fully recognise that the main duty of this arm was to reconnoiter and not to fight. Scarcely knowing how to employ them when battle was immanent, cavalry were dispatched on raiding operations. Lee committed this mistake at Gettysburg, and Grant, more excusably so, shortly after he plunged into the Wilderness.”

Fuller wrote this book in 1929. Had he written it a bit later I wonder if he would have said the same thing. Here are a few words from the Wikipedia article on “Blitzkrieg”: . . . describing a method of warfare whereby an attacking force spearheaded by a dense concentration of armoured and motorized or mechanized infantry formations, and heavily backed up by close air support, forces a breakthrough into the enemy's rear through a series of deep thrusts; and once in the enemy's rear, proceeds to dislocate them by utilizing speed and surprise, and then encircle them. Through the employment of combined arms force in maneuver warfare, the blitzkrieg attempts to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for them to respond effectively to the continuously changing front, and defeat them through a decisive vernichtungsschlacht (battle of annihilation).”

Sheridan and Forrest weren’t capable of quite that, but their actions when using repeating rifles seem to me often elevated above mere raids, and maybe Forrest is the better focus for my point than Sheridan since Sheridan believed that “cavalry should fight cavalry.” Forrest had no such limitation in his thinking. He attacked many towns, defeating their defenses, and forced their leaders to supply him with funds and supplies. He didn’t engage in “battles of annihilation,” but he could have, and in those days he didn’t need to function in connection with infantry. In fact I don’t see quite what Fuller has in mind in that regard.

Steere on the Meade-Sheridan controversy

In my previous note I didn’t adequately explain Trudeau’s reference policy. I mentioned his apparently unique use of letters written home, but as to the basic narrative of each campaign he relies upon authorities he trusts. For example here is his reference paragraph pertaining to the Wilderness Campaign:

“After more than twenty years, the basic tactical and strategic study of the Wilderness fighting remains Edward Steere’s The Wilderness Campaign. Morris Schaff’s overly poetic recollections, published as The Battle of the Wilderness, contains many gems. The saga of the fight of the 140th New York at Saunders Field is derived from reminiscences by Henry Cribben, Porter Farley, and August Seiser. The adventures of the cub reporter Henry Wing are expansively told in his memoir, When Lincoln Kissed Me. There are so many different accounts of the ‘Lee to the Rear’ episode near the Tapp Farm that one diligent author was able to create a sizable book out of them. I have opted for one of the least romantic accounts, believing (along with Edward Steere) that it represents a version that ‘is most consistent with military psychology.’ Also controversial is Gordon’s flank attack. John Gordon’s oft-quoted memoirs represent, in places, the way he wanted things to be remembered and not necessarily the way they happened. Gordon’s account includes a dramatic, last-minute intervention by Robert E. Lee, over-riding the hesitancy of Ewell and Early with a direct command in favor of Gordon. No other significant account mentions this visit by Lee, an it seems utterly unlike the punctilious Southern commander to so clearly violate the chain of command. Early’s own memoirs have an agenda of their own and are not fully trustworthy. I have fashioned what is to me a plausible sequence of events, based on a number of little-known accounts by staff officers who were also present.”

In turning to Steere we perhaps for the first time (at least it is the first time for me) obtain the reason Sheridan quarreled with Meade over his use of cavalry. In Steere we find Meade’s “decision to employ a preponderance of his cavalry strength in a manner calculated to protect the great trains, while assigning a single division to the arduous tasks of covering the whole front of deployment, cannot be based entirely on the series of mishaps attending failure of the screening force and miscarriage of the venture toward Hamilton’s Crossing.

“In the first place, it must be conceded that Meade’s concern for the safety of his supply trains became a dominating consideration after abandonment of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad between Rapidan Station and Manassas Junction. When the rolling stock went back, in accordance with the plan of evacuation, beyond Manassas Junction, the great trains became a moving base on with the Army of the Potomac would be entirely dependent until a new supply point was established on the indented shore line of Chesapeake Bay.

“Again, the problem of achieving proper economy of force in providing the necessary protection called for a fine display of tactical judgment. Could infantry do the job without serious diminution of the army’s striking power? Mounted units, admittedly, were best suited for the job. It was an established practice in he Army of the Potomac. But would Meade be justified in denying his army the benefits of far-ranging cavalry reconnaissance before battle?

“In Meade’s opinion, the safety of the great trains in this extraordinary situation put claims on his cavalry to the exclusion of any other venture, however promising. . .”

[Steere further discusses Meade’s likely understanding of the use of the cavalry and then “Admitting that the mounted arm had been divested of the offensive power it wielded in bygone days when the awesome rumble and flashing steel of a massed charge heralded the climax of battle, the activists [of which Sheridan was one] contended that present-day cavalry, properly trained and armed with magazine rifles, was still a self-contained arm, capable of independent action in dismounted combat and indispensable in long-range reconnaissance before battle. They pointed to the exploits of Buford at Gettysburg and Forrest in Tennessee s shining examples.”

On page 286-7 Steere writes, “The Chief of Cavalry was directed to cover the left flank and protect the trains as much as possible. It was also suggested that Sheridan might take the offensive and harass the enemy if any intelligence coming to hand led him to believe that he might do so without endangering the trains. This latitude of discretion, however, was qualified by the warning that ‘our infantry has been heavily pressed all along the line.’ In short, Sheridan’s principal mission in the grand offensive required the adoption of dispositions that would guarantee the security of the great trains and, as a consequence, of the dispersion of force to this end, there could be no real offensive possibilities. Sheridan so interpreted his instructions when at 11:00 p.m., he replied: ‘Why cannot infantry be sent to guard the trains and let me take the offensive?”

Steere has quite a bit more to say on this matter, but perhaps we have enough here to see rather more fully what Meade’s concern was and that Sheridan was a cavalry activist after the manner of Buford and Forrest, that is, advocating utilizing repeating rifles in offensive engagements.