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.

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