Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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.

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