Friday, July 26, 2013

Three years in the Sixth Corps -- Bill Salois

I’ve been slowly reading (with a Kindle) Three Years in the Sixth Corps by George. T. Stevens, Surgeon of the 77th Regiment, New York Volunteers, published in 1866.

This is tough reading because I’ve previously read accounts of the battles he describes.  I gather that his book was based upon the letters he wrote to his wife during those battles; whereas the histories I’ve read were based upon several generations of writing and thinking about them. 

I engaged in several debates that turned acrimonious over the merits of General George McClellan.  I personally compared several historians and ended up leaning toward the idea that he had been unfairly treated by most of them, but the troops liked him, several historians wrote.  Well, not George T. Stevens.  He was very critical of McClellan for not moving the army more quickly against the enemy and especially for not sending up reserves in support of the units Stevens was attached to – or fought with?  I don’t know if Stevens did any actual fighting.

In another war, the Korean, Bill Salois and I didn’t do any actual fighting either.  We got over there in 1953 when the fighting was winding down.  I changed places with a Marine who didn’t want to go to Korea in order to get over there and then planned to see if I could get transferred to the front lines, but truce negotiations were going on and I was told that such transfers were no longer possible. 

We were in an “Intelligence” outfit in Kunsan.  I would drive a Jeep over to the Air Force Base, get the current bombing plans, take them back to my base and give them to the people responsible for guiding bombers over K8 on their way to North Korea. 

Bill and I became part of Emhoolah’s “tribe.”  Emhoolah was a full-blooded Indian who liked to drink beer.  He assembled everyone at the Marine Corps base who was part Indian to be part of his “tribe.”  Bill was 1/4 Blackfoot Indian.  At the time I believed I was 1/8 Indian.  I learned later through DNA testing that my family was mistaken about that.  No Indian DNA showed up in my results, but at the time I thought I was part Indian and drank with Emhoolah, Bill Salois and two or three others.

Bill was from Montana and talked about going back there after he got out and starting a small ranch.  He urged me to come with him.  We could make extra money by riding in competition at rodeos.  That appealed to me while I was in Korea but after I got back to the states I decided to go to college instead.  I just this morning learned that Bill died at age 68 on December 29, 2001 of cancer.  “He was born December 2, 1933, worked in construction and was self-employed.  He served in the U.S. Marines and was a Korean War veteran.”  He was buried in East Glacier Cemetery. 

If I needed any further proof that this was the Bill Salois I knew I looked up two of his sons, John and Gabe Salois and there are photos of them riding bucking broncos at rodeos. 

Bill and I had no more control over what sort of war we would be engaged in than George Stevens, but we were the same sort of “volunteer” that join our armed forces whenever there is a need.  Why is it that young men do this (I was 17 when I enlisted) and not older men who have more time to think about it?  I don’t know.  I just recall at the time that I very much wanted to join the Marine Corps.  However, after the truce was signed and there were no further wars on the horizon, and my enlistment was up, I got out to go to college.  I didn’t really want to stay in the Marines, although some times I wonder what it would have been like.  I was only interested in being there for the war – such as it was.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hood, Johnston and Self-Deception

The American Civil War isn't over insofar as historians are concerned, and in reading revisionist works none of these historians seem to consider the possibility of self-deception. If there is evidence that contradicts the memoirs or writings of Grant, Longstreet, Hood, Johnston, etc. Well they are liars trying to make their records and the records of their cronies something they were not.

I've dropped out of the American History forum but I am still interested in the ACW and have books still coming in the mail. One I got yesterday is entitled John Bell Hood, The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General. It was written by Stephen M. 'Sam' Hood, a "distant relative of the general." Stephen M. doesn't appear to have written anything else. In his introduction he writes that his book is going to sound like a hagiography because attacks against General Hood are too well known to need repeating; so he is only going to write about things they missed (often for perverse reasons), things which he believes "resurrect" General Hood's reputation.

Frankly I previously leaned toward thinking the anti-Hood historians had overdone their attacks. After all, Hood wasn't defeated until he inherited the army of Tennessee from General Johnston, who made retreat after retreat before the advancing Sherman (at Atlanta). Maybe Hood would have been better off retreating some more but that wasn't why President Davis sent him to replace Johnston. And given the egos of most Civil War generals (on both sides) it wouldn't take much of a fortune-teller to predict that Johnston was later going to say, "see, if you'd only left me in charge I could eventually have defeated Sherman."

Johnston's reputation suffered at the hands of Civil War historians almost as much as Hood, and at the moment I have the schizophrenic problem of suspending disbelief while I read a revisionist work defending Hood and a revisionist work defending Johnston and discovering that their respective historians defend their subject at the expense of the other. The fact that Hood and Johnston attacked each other (verbally) detracts a bit from my belief that their writings that diverge from evidence are a result of self-deception and not "wickedness"; bringing to mind here Jeremiah 17:9. But honest forgetting and honest "self-deception," if there is such a thing, can readily give way to something stronger when anger enters the equation.

Hood was writing his memoirs, Advance and Retreat when he read a Joe Johnston attacking him; so a huge segment of this book is devoted to Hood's "Reply to General Johnston" on various points. His descendent, Stephen Hood suggests that John B. would have revised his book to leave that sort of thing out, or at least put it in an appendix had he lived. (General Hood and his wife died of yellow fever on August 30, 1879).

I don't recall an historian ever allowing for self-deception, and this would be something I would remember (unless I'm deceiving myself) because I am a believer in Collingwood in regard to the writing of history. We all have "preconceptions" so the historian's job is to understand his and compensate for them as he writes his history, striving to be as true to the situation he is writing about as possible. Interestingly (sort of) this was the crux upon which my argument was based that caused me to eventually abandon the American History Forum. None of the individuals discussing these matters with me believed that they had "preconceptions." They all were devotees of the truth, and if I would only abandon my perverse beliefs in preconceptions and self-deception; which I exercised not because they were true but because I believed they supported whatever position I was arguing, they would be able to educate me. They believed in the unvarnished truth. There was only one truth and they had it. The idea of preconceptions and self-deception were red herrings I was throwing out to support my argument.

Ah, there, now I recall why I called myself a misanthropist.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hal Bridges and Alan Guelzo on camaraderie amongst enemies

I have been reading Hal Bridges, Lee’s Maverick General, a military biography of Daniel Harvey Hill, 1961, and as appears in a number of books I’ve encountered, some West Point friends are captured.  And invariably they are embraced warmly.

“’Hill, old fellow, how are you?’

"To the surprise of his staff, Hill embraced the enemy officer like a brother.  His prisoner was Henry B. Clitz, a friend of West Point and the Mexican War.  Generals Anderson and garland also knew Clitz well and greeted him warmly.  Hill had the knee examined by his surgeon and was greatly relieved to learn that Clitz would not lose his leg.  he and his friend slept on the same overcoat that night, and early the next morning he made preparations to send Clitz to Richmond in an ambulance.

I hadn’t thought deeply about this matter, but didn’t it happen in all modern wars?  I recall that Germans and British soldiers in trenches in World War One were friendly to each other when the shooting stopped -- just as occurred within the lower ranks in our Civil War.  Alan Guelzo had some interesting things to say about this matter in his C-Span Book TV discussion about his book, Gettysburg, the last invasion, broadcast in June and July of this year:  Guelzo thought this immediate camaraderie after the shooting stopped was the result of almost all the combatants being citizen soldiers.  They weren’t hardened “regulars.”  And just because an officer had graduated from West Point didn’t mean he was a “regular” either.  West Point was and is primarily an engineering school.  Many Civil War officers took their West Point degrees, left the army or stayed in for just a few years and then went to work in the private sector.  D. H. Hill worked as a college professor, and I found this record of Henry B. Clitz:

[There seems to be some confusion over his death.  The first part says he died October 30, 1888.  The second part says he left his home for no know reason and was last seen October 30, 1888.]

Clitz was more of a “regular” than Hill was, and the camaraderie of friends from West Point isn’t what Guelzo was emphasizing, so there were two reasons for this camaraderie: old friends meeting up in time of war, and citizen soldiers ready to make friends after the shooting is over; which to some extent must account for the relative ease with which the Union came back together after 1865.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Col James K. P. Scott

I just read a strange book, The Lost History of Gettysburg by Colonel James K. P. Scott. I don't know why it was "lost." It was published in 1927 as The Story of the Battles of Gettysburg. Craig Symonds in an introduction found it more interesting than I did, but there were a few interesting paragraphs. Some of them were written by Symonds: "In the popular mind, the Civil War became less a struggle to break the Union apart than a forge that welded the nation together."

And "In 1922, the United States Marine Corps conducted a war game of sorts at Gettysburg, reenacting Pickett's Charge with different tactics and different weapons to see if that could have changed the outcome. Afterward, the high command determined that it would not. . ."

"As for Longstreet, Scott accepts Old Pete's claim (unsubstantiated by others) that 'It was decided in conference between Generals Lee and Longstreet before leaving the Rappahannock, that the movement into Pennsylvania should be offensive in strategy, but defensive in tactics' Some modern scholars would be astonished to read this passage from Scott's book: 'One thing about Longstreet -- he always told the truth. . . .'

Actually Scott's comment sounds consistent with what the scholars I've read say about Longstreet: "It was decided in conference between Generals Lee and Longstreet before leaving the Rappahannock, that the movement into Pennsylvania should be offensive in its strategy, but defensive in tactics -- that there should be no offensive battles fought, recalling Napoleon's advice to General Marmont on the eve of a campaign: '. . . so maneuver that your enemy must attack.'

And this got me thinking about McClellan again. The style of fighting preferred by Longstreet, Joe Johnston and McClellan was not favored by either Lincoln or Davis. While it saved men and lost fewer battles, perhaps, it wasn't as newsworthy or inclined to bolster public morale. Had Lee followed Longstreet's understanding of their "agreement" Lee might have pulled out a victory. Scott elsewhere says that Meade wouldn't have been able to play a waiting game. He would have been pressured to attack and then the advantage would have swung back to Lee. If that was in Lee's mind, the aggressive General Hill changed all that and once the battle started, Lee pursued it aggressively.

Lee and Grant make it seem that only aggression was good even at the expense of 625,000 casualties. Whereas the ideas of Longstreet, Johnston and McClellan were not good, but to speculate upon why they were not good we enter into the land of counterfactuals, e.g., maybe McClellan would have lost fewer men but he would have stretched the war beyond acceptable bounds, the North would have gotten fed up and the South would have like the Viet Cong won.

I had been leaning toward the idea that 625,000 casualties were not good and that it was interesting to speculate about how they could have been avoided, especially other approaches, and Longstreet, Johnston and McClellan were high on my list of those who believed in them.

On page 21 Colonel James K. P. Scott provocatively writes ". . . Great questions come to plague nations as well as individuals that, seemingly cannot be settled without the shedding of blood. . . ." Scott 's outfit was Company H of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry. Craig tells us this outfit wasn't actually in the battle of Gettysburg, but the title page tells us, he was "a survivor of a regiment with a monument on the base-line of the defense at the Angle, with its name inscribed on the pedestal at the High Water Mark." That sounds like Gettysburg to me; so I don't know In any case Scott saw plenty of action in some battle or battles but by 1927 he is at peace with all that happened. The nation had a "great question" and it had been answered by the "shedding of blood." This was all as it should have been. There should be no looking for counterfactuals, and the loss of McClellan's "conciliation policy" should not be mourned. There needed to be a "shedding of blood" in order for the "great question" to be answered.

Scott spent his final years giving regular tours of the Gettysburg battlefield before his death & is buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery -- whether or not he actually fought at Gettysburg.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Injustices of all sorts on trial

I've been reading Curt Anders Injustice on Trial, Second Bull Run, General Fitz John Porter's Court-Martial, and the Schofield Board Investigation That Restored His Good Name -- not reading thoroughly, but moving through it. Why should I read too carefully when Porter's biographer can write, "Finally, I did not undertake this project to grind an ax for or against General Porter. I hold with General Lee that Porter might 'do well enough with someone to tell him [what to do]' It was Porter's misfortune, however (as had been William Franklin's and Charles Stone's) to have come under the influence of George McClellan instead of -- well, Henry Halleck, whose lieutenants included William Tecumseh Sherman and U. S. Grant and, by the way, John Schofield, but also, alas, John Pope."?

Anders read the many thousands of pages comprising the trial notes. Even though Grant had initially supported the trial verdict, he changed his mind once he read these notes.

Underlankers might suspect me of smelling blood in the water after reading "And Stephen W. Sears has written recently that 'An example had to be made, and General Porter was the not entirely undeserving victim." Perhaps the Sears-grinding-wheel is still spinning a bit, but I'm letting that pass.

Lee's comment about Porter reminds me of something that happened to me years ago. I was working in Engineering on the Skybolt program and had a small group responsible for creating a "Task Plan" that was to identify all the segments comprising the program and the steps needed to design and build them. There was a lady in my group named Betty B. She told me that she was for the first time working for someone younger than she was. She was a pushy lady and wanted to be promoted to salary. She said, "I can do anything. All you have to do is tell me how to do it and I can do it."

I recall at the time thinking that what she said comprised a good definition between an educated person and a non-educated person. The education doesn't need to be told "how to do it." Of course I didn't tell her that, and she was still on the clock when McNamara cancelled the Skybolt program.

But surely Fitz-John Porter was "educated." He graduated from West Point eighth in his class, which was higher than Meade managed: nineteenth. Of course class standing doesn't tell us everything. Stonewall Jackson was second in his class and his ability seemed commensurate. Sheridan on the other hand was last in his graduating class and by the end of the war was right underneath Grant and Sherman in status.

On page 37 Anders writes, "General Pope's presence in Washington in early July led to his standing aside while Secretary of War Stanton dictated . . . 'By special assignment of the President of the United States I have assumed the command of this army' . . . quickly enough, though, Pope and Stanton injected slurs obviously directed towered the Young Napoleon. . . "

After reading Pope's words, "Fitz John Porter wrote to a friend: 'I regret that Genl Pope has not improved since his youth and has now written himself down what the military world has long known, [as] an ass. His address to his troops will make him ridiculous in the eyes of military men . . .and will reflect no credit on Mr. Lincoln who has just promoted him. If the theory he proclaims is practiced you may look for disaster.'

"Four days after issuing his bombastic address to his troops, John Pope confirmed the correctness of Fitz John Porter's low opinion of him by circulating certain orders that clearly had a Stantonian ring. This provoked General Lee into condemning Pope as 'a miscreant who ought to be suppressed.'"

This reminded me that I had yet to study Stanton; so I sent for a bio, not just because of the Stantonian influence on Pope. A few days ago I was checking the bibliography in Sears The Young Napoleon and discovered Margaret Leech's Reveille in Washington which I read back in 1997. On page 132 I discovered the sort of statement that offended me in Sears, but this one was not directed against McClellan: "Mr. Stanton was a physical coward. Fear drove him to bluster, sneer and rage." How on earth could she know that. I checked Leech on Wikipedia and she is highly thought of -- her book as well. I checked through my library for references to Stanton and everything I found was favorable. Still, Margaret Leech could assert, without referenced evidence that "Mr. Stanton was a physical coward . . ."

That made me wonder about Civil War scholarship in General. As Underlankers jokingly said, perhaps I have spent too much time studying theology. There may be some truth to that. Such an unsupported statement as Leech's would never appear in the writings of one of the better theologians. It might in the writings of someone who without qualification decided to sit down and write a Biblical commentary. That is why I went to Wikipedia, to see if Margaret Leech was in that category, but she is not. She is highly thought of. She won the Pulitzer prize for her bio of McKinley.

But back to Underlankers joke, While I didn't really look for that sort of thing before I got serious about studying the Civil War, I believe I would have reacted if I read a comment like Leech's in anything I read. I spent several years chipping away at Norman Cantor's "A Core Bibliography for Medieval Studies." I read Cantor's Civilization of the Middle Ages, and his Inventing the Middle Ages. The latter is an excellent introduction to Medieval Studies and his bibliographies provide lists of books he recommends. In Cantor's view very little prior to 1900 stands up to the high standards of work that were written later on, work he praises in his Inventing the Middle Ages.

I don't think the same sort of thing could be said about Civil-War histories. Historians are probably still too close to that war. Anders says he doesn't have an axe to grind in regard to Fitz-John Porter, but it was not meaningless for him to say this. Many who read Civil War history as well as some who write it do have axes to grind. The best writers should strive toward objectivity, but that is easier said than done, especially if one is passionate about her subject. Margaret Leech didn't provide a reference for calling Stanton a physical coward, but we can be sure she had something against him, something she felt passionate about.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gingerly picking up Sears again

In Introduction of George B. McClellan, The Young Napoleon, Stephen W. Sears writes, ". . . He believed himself to be God's chosen instrument for saving the Union. When he lost the courage to fight, as he did in every battle, he believed he was preserving his army to fight the next time on another better day."

"Further down he writes, "Few of those who commented on General McClellan, in his day and afterward, have been neutral toward him, and as a consequence their interpretations of his actions, even their recital of the facts of his life, have varied widely. . . McClellan was said, for example, despite all his faults to have been the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had, yet on the evidence he was inarguably the worst. . ."

"The historian James Ford Rhodes once wrote that 'no man can go unscathed if his acts are interpreted by his innermost thoughts.' However true that may be, history can be grateful that in George McClellan's case it is these innermost thoughts so well expressed in the full record of his letters and other writings, that finally reveal the measure of the man. If that measure is not how he himself believed history would judge him, it is representative of yet one more of his delusions."

Comment: In reading fiction one learns to "suspend disbelief." In reading history however, one hopes that one doesn't have to, but that doesn't always work. Let's begin with "He believed himself to be God's chosen instrument for the saving of the Union." Sears doesn't qualify or amplify this statement to explain that McClellan was at this time a member of the Presbyterian Church which at that time bore no resemblance to the present day PCUSA. It was like one of the more conservative denominations -- the OPC or PCA for example, that is, subscribing to Calvinism. Any such Presbyterian is going to believe that God is in control of his life and some of the letters I've read quotes from sound very like things I've heard modern day Presbyterians say, e.g., "I just graduated from college and have no job, but I've been praying about it and believe God has my life in his hands. He will guide me to the job he wants me to have."

In McClellan's case in a letter to his wife (quoted by one of the historians I've read recently) he notes says that God has put the fate of the nation in his hands and claims that he personally doesn't have the power to do this job but he can with God's help and prays for that help. He prays also not to be vainglorious.' I haven't known any Presbyterians who have reached such a high office, but if one did, and I heard what his prayers were, I would expect them to be something like this.

And then Sears writes, "When he lost the courage to fight, as he did in every battle, he believed he was preserving his army to fight the next time on another and better day." Sears doesn't say he is entering into his own [Sears'] interpretation. He is stating this as fact. He doesn't say McClellan "seemed to lose his courage on occasion." He says "he lost the courage to fight . . . in every battle."

In reading Ethan Rafuse McClellan's War, I was a bit annoyed over the space he allotted to McClellan's family's politics, his own political beliefs and contacts, and the extent to which he was a very highly developed political person. Perhaps he developed McClellan's politics to such a great extent in order to deal with Sears "inarguable" statements about McClellan "losing his courage in every battle."

When one has a body of facts, it is quite legitimate to say (A) here are the facts I have under consideration. (B) Here are some possible interpretations, and (C) Here is the interpretation I find most persuasive. In the study of theology, this is what I am most use to. No modern theologian worth his salt would prepare a commentary on any book of the Bible without dwelling upon alternate interpretations. Perhaps this is to some extent due to the sort of "Scholastic" training provided at the better medieval universities that has influenced and continues to influence theological studies. The medieval student was not permitted to erect a "strawman" argument. He would never graduate if he did that. He must first erect the best possible argument for the position he would ultimately argue against. After he had done that to the satisfaction of his instructors, he would then defeat that argument. Sears it seems to me from his introduction would never have been able to graduate from one of those universities.

Sears has no footnotes in his introduction, but he does for the rest of his text; so he could theoretically present the alternate interpretations later on. My exposure to another of his books, To the Gates of Richmond, causes me to doubt that will happen, but being very much impressed by the ideals of Scholasticism, I shall strive to be open to that possibility. But for now, when Sears says McClellan "lost the courage to fight . . . in every battle," he doesn't seem open to Rafuse interpretation of these battles McClellan fought.

In another discussion, that of the causes of the Civil War, the prominent or at least most vehement view was that it was about slavery. The causes of the Civil War remains a complicated subject. It is only safe to say (perhaps) that for some people it was about slavery, for others it was about saving the Union. And there were other reasons individuals fought. For McClellan it was never about slavery. He was from a region in Philadelphia, and from a class that thought the abolitionists dangerous extremists. For McClellan, and initially for Lincoln, it was all about saving, and later restoring the Union.

The Abolitionists demonized Southerners, but that was not possible for McClellan. General Joe Johnston, whom he fought against, was one of his best friends, and remained so after the war. He went to West Point and liked many of the officers that ended up on the Confederate side. For him (and my sources here are Harsh, Rowland and Rafuse) he had no desire to "destroy" the enemy. For him, the war needed to end in such a way that the combatants could move past the conflict and work together to repair the Union. He didn't lose his courage, for McClellan this wasn't a dispassionate battle that had only foes, it was a fight between brothers that needed to make up after the fighting was done.

The argument from the evidence of McClellan's personal history is more supportive, it seems to me, of the "interpretation" that McClellan was fighting in such a way as to enhance as much as possible the ultimate aim of reconciliation.

Sears then writes, ""Few of those who commented on General McClellan, in his day and afterward, have been neutral toward him, and as a consequence their interpretations of his actions, even their recital of the facts of his life, have varied widely. . . McClellan was said, for example, despite all his faults to have been the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had, yet on the evidence he was inarguably the worst. . ." Sears begins well. There are indeed interpretations of McClellan's actions, but that doesn't mean for him that any interpretation other than his own might possibly be true: "McClellan was said . . . despite all his faults to have been the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had, yet on the evidence he was inarguably the worst." I take Sears to mean that he has examined the evidence and there is no possibility that his interpretation is wrong: McClellan was the worst commander the Army of the Potomac ever had. No other argument is supported by the evidence.

Sears goes on to write, "The historian James Ford Rhodes once wrote that 'no man can go unscathed if his acts are interpreted by his innermost thoughts.' However true that may be, history can be grateful that in George McClellan's case it is these innermost thoughts so well expressed in the full record of his letters and other writings, that finally reveal the measure of the man."

Sears tells us he intends to use only primary sources as his evidence but in the previous paragraph he quotes Rhodes whom Harsh in his "On the McClellan-Go-Around" tells us was "one of the first professional Unionist Historians." Harsh in this article discusses the evidence available. There were people interpreting McClellan's "cautiousness" in different ways. Most of the troops who fought under him appreciated what they interpreted as his prudence, but once historians began to take him up they adopted, apparently without exception, the Unionist scenario, which Harsh defines: "the Civil War was a national tragedy and [they] regret its length and cost, they assume that the war might have ended sooner and are usually impatient with its slow course and quick to criticize delays in its prosecution. Understandably, Abraham Lincoln towers above all others, for the story is told virtually from his own viewpoint. His greatest problem was to find a general who would win the war for him. He suffered through a sorry lot of candidates until at last he found Grant; whereupon the doom of the Confederacy was sealed. Kenneth Williams' five volumes, in which Lincoln Finds a General, is simply the most extended statement of [the Unionist] interpretation."

Harsh's article, which appears in three different places I am aware of is still (though written in 1970) considered instructive in regard to the direction of Unionist studies. Since the Unionist scenario is in its advocates point of view the "inarguable" one, one must apply a very negative interpretation to McClellan's decidedly non-Unionist-scenario actions. John Codman Ropes was one of the earliest Unionist interpreters. He wrote in 1887, "McClellan is seen to live very much in a world of his own making."

"Seven years later [1894] James B. Fry wrote that "the General had been the victim of a messianic complex. McClellan labored under the delusion that it was his 'mission' to save the nation . . . and that 'hallucination' blinded 'him to the obligations and influences which governed him at other times.''

Harsh writes that if one constructs this Unionist story starting with its end, namely with Lincoln at last finding a General who would doggedly fight until victory was achieved, then any earlier General who didn't fight as Grant did was by definition deficient. [Harsh doesn't say this but the "Unionist Scenario" sounds quite a bit like the "Lost Cause" in reverse. Lee was very like Grant except he ultimately lost. Longstreet (another friend, if memory serves me of McClellan) was very like McClellan in wanting to maneuver and keep casualties on both sides down.]

[The earliest version of what became Harsh's "On the McClellan-Go-Around" is the first chapter of Joseph Harsh's doctoral dissertation. It an be found at]

Unless there is something out there of a comparable nature, Ethan Refuse has written the most comprehensive treatment of McClellan that does not assume the Unionist Scenario.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Joe Johnston at the Peninsula

We have considered the Peninsula Campaign from McClellan's standpoint. Let's turn now to McClellan's opponent and see how he was viewing McClellan's activities:

[From page 141 ff of Joseph E. Johnston, A Civil War Biography by Craig L. Symonds] Davis and Johnston were arguing. "Davis insisted that a policy of concentration was both politically and logistically impossible. Johnston therefore accepted what he saw as the only available option, which was to adopt a defensive role and attempt to defeat the Federal army when it again invaded Confederate soil. Johnston disapproved of the strategy, but he perforce accepted it. From his perspective, he bore a double burden: he confronted a vastly superior enemy army, and was undermined by an unsympathetic, frequently hostile, administration. He was, in his own mind, a martyr to Davis's lack of vision."

P. 143: "Fearing that the Federals would pounce upon him if McClellan discovered his true weakness, Johnston tried to deceive his old friend by erecting elaborate fortifications north of Centreville and arming them with so-called Quaker guns . . . the ruse worked largely because McClellan was cautious by nature and did not want to confront the rebel army directly if he could find a better way.

P. 145: "At the meeting on February 19, most of the cabinet members sat, watched, and listened while Davis spent hours questioning Johnston about the situation of the army and its future. Davis had accepted the idea that an attempt to defend everywhere was doomed to failure, and that to hold Richmond it would be necessary to pull the army back closer to the capital. . . Despite these lengthy discussions, Davis and Johnston emerged from the meeting with different conceptions of what had been decided. It was neither the first nor the last time they would leave a conversation with opposing views of the outcome. On this occasion, Johnston believed that it had been agreed 'that the army was to fall back as soon as practicable.' Davis was equally certain that it had been decided to hold on until a withdrawal became absolutely necessary. . . ."

"Johnston returned to Centreville satisfied that Davis had approved a withdrawal, and that the timing was left entirely to his discretion. En route to Manassas, however, an acquaintance approached him to ask if it were true that the cabinet had debated an evacuation of Centreville the day before. Johnston was distressed by the lack of security, and he asked the friend where he had heard such a rumor. The answer was even more distressing: from the wife of a cabinet member. Johnston began to think that he should pull the army back before the rumors also reached McClellan's ear, and he also silently vowed never again to trust Davis and his advisers with military secrets. . . When two weeks later, on March 5, J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry patrols reported a significant increase in Federal activity across the river, Johnston concluded that the long-awaited Federal offensive was about to get under way, and he issued the necessary evacuation orders. . . Davis was not pleased. The president had continued to hope that despite all that had been said at Richmond, somehow he could come up with the reinforcements that would enable Johnston to assume the offensive. . . .”

Davis continues to be unhappy with Johnston for having abandoned Centreville too soon and issues orders restricting Johnston's authority, and "The day after Johnston abandoned Centreville, the Federals marched in to take possession of the town and the important nearby railroad junction of Manassas. . . ."

"On March 18, continued Federal activity convinced Johnston to take the next step and move the left wing of his army to the south bank of the Rapidan. . . Johnston's new position was the best defensive line in northern Virginia. . . ."

"Whereas Johnston believed in concentration of force, even if he had to give ground to achieve it, Lee wanted to meet the enemy as far from the strategic center as possible. Three days after Davis endowed him with overall command, Lee wrote to one officer that 'It is not the plan of the Government to abandon any country that can be held.'

"This disagreement had immediate repercussions, for a second Federal army under Major General Ambrose Burnside had appeared off the coast of North Carolina and was threatening Roanoke Island and the city of New Bern. Johnston considered this a relatively unimportant sideshow, but Davis and Lee were concerned about all Federal initiatives, and the president wanted Johnston to dispatch Longstreet's division to North Carolina. . . [Johnston of course protested. Davis insisted that some force should be sent and eventually allowed him to send Holmes's two brigades instead.]

P. 148: "With the dispatch of these reinforcements, Johnston's army on the Rappahannock dwindled to only 23,000 while Magruder's on the peninsular grew to 31,000. Johnston believed that such dispositions threw away the advantage of interior lines. Instead of using the advantage to concentrate Confederate forces against first one and then the other of the Federal armies, Davis and Lee apparently intended to contest the issue at both places simultaneously. As a result, neither Confederate army was sufficiently strong to be confident of success. . . ."

P. 150 Johnston eventually get's Magruder's force as a "fourth division, the men under Johnston's command now numbered some 55,000 'effectives,' and may have reached as many as 70,000 -- by far the largest army the Confederacy had yet assembled, but still less than two thirds the strength of the Federal army it faced. . . ."

I wish historians wouldn't leave the impression that the attacking force had the advantage if it had a numerical advantage like the one described above. The rule (all?) Civil War Generals used was that the attackers needed to outnumber defenders in entrenched positions three to one in order to have a chance of success. McClellan's 100,000 does not exceed Johnston's 70,000 by three to one. So with 55,000 - 70,000 men Johnston is perfectly willing to let McClellan attack if he will. Johnston's one worry is that McDowell will arrive to reinforce McClellan. If McDowell's army arrives then Johnston has no hope.

P 152: ". . . Irvin McDowell, the man whom Johnston's armies had routed at Manassas, was just north of Fredericksburg with perhaps another forty-thousand. If those two armies combined north of Richmond, no force the Confederates could assemble could possibly stand up to them. As Johnston read the situation, the Confederacy needed to concentrate all of its forces -- his own, Huger's, Ewell's, even Jackson's if possible, along with whatever reinforcements could be garnered from the Carolinas -- and defeat McClellan's army before McDowell arrived. Every day that passed was crucial, for it brought McDowell and McClellan closer together.

"Lee, too, believed that it was essential to keep the two Federal forces apart, but he believed that McDowell could be lured away by diversions in the Valley and in northern Virginia. In this hope, he had ordered Ewell's force at Fredericksburg to march to Jackson's support in the Shenandoah Valley. This nearly trebled the size of Jackson's army, but it also meant that the only force between McDowell and Richmond was a single brigade of some 2,500 men under Brigadier General Charles W. Field. If McDowell failed to take the bait offered by Jackson's maneuvers, he could march virtually unhindered to Richmond. Risky as it was, Lee's strategic view predominated in Richmond because Lee had Davis's ear and Johnston did not."

P. 156: ". . . Johnston was aware of Jackson's potential value as a decoy, but Lee did not inform Johnston of his plans or actions. The result was that Johnston never had an accurate picture of the location and strength of the forces beyond those under his immediate command."

P. 158: "Johnston had backed himself up to the very outskirts of Richmond. The enemy was within seven miles of the Confederate capital; Federal soldiers in their camps could hear the bells in Richmond chime the hours. The army's morale was at its nadir -- men feigned illness or simply walked away from their posts. The administration was making efforts to bring troops from other parts of the country -- especially from the Carolinas -- but it might be too late. The crisis was at hand."

So ends Symonds chapter on "The Peninsula." Not only were Johnston and McClellan friends before the war but they seem to have similar styles and they also seem able to read each other pretty well. Interestingly their superiors have no intention of leaving them alone to fight it out. Lincoln and Davis both interfere. Davis won't let Johnston concentrate a sufficiently large (by Johnston's standards) army to defend Richmond, but that doesn't matter because Lincoln is falling for the ruse Davis and Lee initiated.

If we only read McClellan's critics then Johnston's fear isn't going to make any sense. What are you worried about, Johnston? McClellan is slow, inept and in popular opinion, an idiot. Just stop retreating and smash the bugger. But Johnston, still considered by some to have been the greatest of the Confederate generals knew better. He knew McClellan personally, knew he had a near genius intelligence, came out second in his West Point class and studied warfare enormously. Maybe that made a McClellan cautious: if you can imagine everything an opponent might do; then what is the wisest thing for you to do? As we have seen, another very smart well-read General, Sherman, had that same problem to such a degree that it crippled him. McClellan wasn't crippled but he was, as every historian tells us, "cautious."

In the days Lincoln "cautious" was understood to be unacceptable. And yet we can understand i retrospect that McClellan's army wasn't truly ready to face Confederate forces. It was assembled, marched and trained, but it wasn't filled with veterans and Lincoln wasn't quite accurate when he earlier told McDowell that the Confederate forces were as inexperienced as his own.

If we take C.C. Adams argument in Our Masters the Rebels, A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861-1865 (and apparently Thomas Rowland in his George McClellan & Civil War History does to some extent) the Confederate forces had a psychological edge over their Northern counterparts. Adams on page 95 refers to McClellan's autobiographical narrative McClellan's own Story: McClellan believed "the Southern troops were better disciplined . . the slaveholders formed an aristocracy 'to whom the poor whites were, as a rule, accustomed to defer.' Hence, the two classes experienced little trouble in slotting into their wartime roles as officers and privates. 'Discipline was thus very easily established among them.' In the North, on the other hand, the officers were not always 'intelligent gentlemen; . . . and in these cases the establishment of discipline presented far greater difficulties.'"

". . . There is also some contemporary evidence that McClellan distrusted the reliability of his own men . . . To some extent, McClellan's fears about the reliability of his troops were justified. He was correct in saying that among some regiments good material was spoiled by poor junior officers. . . ."

"The reason is clear to a man McClellan's class and background, the South, defined as an aristocracy, would naturally have a better disciplined and more effective army than the democratic North where individual rights were allowed to get in the way of military priorities.

"But for McClellan, the military weakness for a democracy at war was demonstrated most critically not at the level of the private soldier but at the highest rank: the civilian leadership. . . ."
Did the Confederacy have a psychological advantage over the Federal forces? I have read others saying that, but only in the East. Out West the Confederate forces were facing mid-westerners with no sense of Confederate superiority.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rafuse on Lincoln & McClellan’s antebellum politics

On page 78 of McClellan's War, Rafuse quotes Lincoln in an 1854 speech to say, 'Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved.'

Rafuse goes on to write, "Lincoln's failure to obtain election to the U.S. Senate in 1855, however, led him to conclude that anti-Nebraska forces in Illinois would not accept leadership from a conservative Whig who remained open to any form of cooperation with slaveholders. Reluctantly, Lincoln abandoned the Whigs and joined the new Republican Party."

Then on page 79 Rafuse writes: "Upon joining the Republicans, a new argument began to appear in Lincoln's rhetoric that gained greater prominence in the aftermath of Dred Scott and the Lecompton controversy: that national policy must be directed toward the 'ultimate extinction' of slavery. Then, when the need arose to draw a clear line between himself and Douglas in 1858, Lincoln began to express his opposition to slavery's extension into the territories in moralistic terms. In his celebrated 'House Divided' speech and throughout the 1858 campaign, Lincoln made the morality of slavery the centerpiece of his appeal to Illinois voters."

"By embracing the Republicans, taking a 'no compromise' position on slavery's expansion, and arguing that opposition to slavery was a moral imperative, he had from McClellan's perspective abandoned the Whig tradition of moderation and compromise. . . ."

McClellan was a Douglas man and on page 82 we read, "Douglas took Southern threats seriously. Convinced the Union was in danger, he traveled to nearly every state in the Union urging voters to reject the voices of extremism and rally around his candidacy and the Union. After state elections held in October indicated a Republican victory was almost certain in November, he went South and pleaded with Southerners to accept Lincoln's election and warned them of the consequences if they should act on their threat to leave the Union. It was to no avail. After Lincoln's victory in November, seven states, led by South Carolina, would leave the Union."

Further down Rafuse writes, "Ever since Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency triggered the secession of seven states from the Union, Americans have wondered why they could not resolve their differences over slavery peacefully in the 1860s. In twentieth-century scholarship, debate over the causes of the Civil War generally revolved around the question of whether the war was an 'irrepressible' conflict between irreconcilably different societies or, as argued by 'revisionist' historians, the work of a generation of 'blundering politicians' who created a needles war. Not surprisingly, the generation that fought the war also debated its causes. The lines of debate that dominated their thinking on this subject were established during the war and driven by the desire of each side for vindication. Northerners argued that the war was fought to defend republican institutions against a wicked rebellion; Southerners argued that they were defending their rights against Northern tyranny."

Comment: I frankly have not encountered Americans wondering "why they could not resolve their differences over slavery peacefully in the 1860s." Quite the contrary, the Americans I've encountered in discussions recently seem ready to fight the war all over again. For the last paragraph quoted above, Rafuse provides the following references:

"Historiography on the causes of the Civil War is discussed in Pressly, Americns Interpret Their Civil War. If the writings of the two leading contemporary scholars of the Middle Period, James M. McPherson and Eric Foner, are any indication, a Nationalist interpretation with a pro-Northern flavor is presently ascendant in contemporary scholarship. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 27-31, 37-41, 51-58, 89-103; . . . Foner, 'The Causes of the American Civil War: Recent Interpretations and New Directions,' and 'Politics, Ideology, and the Origins of the American Civil War,' in Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War, 129-44."

I would be interested in finding out which historians are arguing that the Civil War was the work of "a generation of 'blundering politicians' who created a needless war," for perhaps those Historians could tell us what might have been done to prevent that war.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japan's divergence from China

On page 27 Reischauer writes:
"The period of greatest learning from the continent lasted from the late sixth century until the middle of the ninth, but then a subtle change began to take place in the Japanese attitude toward China. The prestige of all things Chinese remained great, but the Japanese were no longer so anxious to learn from China or so ready to acknowledge Chinese superiority. After three centuries of borrowing, elements from the Chinese system had become so thoroughly familiar to the Japanese as to have taken on a life of their own. There existed, at least in the capital district, a cultured society with its own political and social institutions, pattered of course after Chinese models, but changed to fit Japanese needs by conscious experimentation and slow, unconscious modification. The Japanese were no longer a primitive people, overawed by the vastly superior continental civilization and eager to imitate anything Chinese. Japan was reaching a state of cultural maturity that made it ready to develop along its own lines. The emphasis shifted from borrowing more new things to adapting and assimilating what had already been acquired.

"A contributing reason for the lessened interest in learning from China was the political decay that became marked in the T'ang dynasty as the ninth century progressed. In 894 it was decided not to send a proposed mission to China because of the turmoil in the land.

"Merchants and Buddhist monks continued to travel between the two countries, but there was a decided lessening of contact between them for the next few centuries, and the resulting increase in Japanese isolation hastened the cultural modifications already well under way in the islands.

"One of the clearest signs of increasing divergence from Chinese patterns was the development during the ninth and tenth centuries of an adequate way of writing Japanese. . . ."

There is some contact from Chinese Buddhist monks during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) and then no mention of Chinese influence. On page 113 Reischauer indicates a time when even the contact from Chinese monks was prohibited, "Japan's more than two centuries of enforced isolation . . ."

Did the periods of reduced contact with China followed by a period of enforced isolation comprise enough separation for Political Scientists to declare Japan a separate civilization? Apparently.

Consider by way of comparison Elizabethan England. Who of us today reads and enjoys Shakespeare. I do from time to time but I have to work at it. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616. Hamlet was written about 1602. If we subtract the date of Hamlet from the publication in Foreign Affairs in 1993 of Huntington's article Clash of Civilization we have 391 years.

Now let us pick up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It was first published in 1478. I have read annotated editions of the Canterbury Tales but there is no reading it without help, either a glossary or some training. We don't speak the same language as Chaucer, and he wrote his Canterbury tales a mere 515 years before Huntington wrote his article. The beginning of the Sung Dynasty (960, when there was no contact except by visiting monks) to the burning of the British legation in 1863 was 903 years.

And then bear in mind that there was no separation of the people of Chaucer's day to the people of today. They merely continued on as British and then sent their children to such places as Australia, Canada and the United States. But we have most things in common. We haven't, any of us, become a clearly distinct people. During World War II there was much talk about the former colonies of Britain rising to their support. Australia and Canada did it more readily than the U.S. but we finally showed up as well. China has nothing like that with Japan. As Reischauer notes, they don't even understand each other's language.

I am just speculating here. I never saw any reason to challenge what the political scientists said about Japan being a separate civilization. In fact if it came down to their having to choose between China and the U.S. in war, I would be surprised if they didn't choose to side with us. Korea I'm not quite so sure of.

Huntington's concept involved the theory of the "Core" state. Thus, Russia is the Core State of the "Orthodox" Civilization, and the U.S. is the Core State of the "Western Civilization." In cases of big trouble the other nations in a Civilization look to the "Core State" to solve the problems. But can anyone imagine Japan looking to China to solve its problems?

Japan as a separate civilization

I was in a thread on the causes of the American Civil War when in an aside I mentioned Samuel P. Huntington. A fellow replied to me and we got totally off track. He had no respect for Huntington whatsoever and began listing his sins. One of them was that Japan should have been grouped in the same "Civilization" as China.

Huntington can't really be blamed for the classifications since he announced in the beginning of his Clash of Civilizations that he was accepting some classifications widely accepted by Political Scientists but he has been blamed anyway, particularly by those who have read about Clash of Civilizations but not read the book carefully.

I was in Japan years ago and developed an interest in their history. I moved a lot of my books on Japan to the garage to make room for my ACW library but I did find Japan, the Story of a Nation by Edwin O. Reischauer. What he writes on page 7 seems to support the making of Japan a separate "Civilization."

"Japan . . . is culturally a daughter of Chinese civilization much as the countries of North Europe are daughters of Mediterranean culture. The story of the spread of Chinese civilization to the peoples of Japan during the first millennium after Christ is much like the story of the spread of Mediterranean civilization to the peoples of North Europe during the same period. But the greater isolation of the Japanese from the home of their civilization and from all other people meant that in Japan the borrowed culture had more chance to develop along new and often unique lines. . . Although geographic isolation has made them conscious of learning from abroad, it has also allowed time to develop one of the most distinctive cultures to be found in an area of comparable size. Take, for example, things as basic as their traditional clothing, their cuisine, or their domestic architecture and the manner in which they live at home. The thick straw floor mats, the sliding paper panels in place of interior walls, the open airy structure of the whole house, the recess for art objects, the charcoal-burning braziers (hibachi), the peculiar wooden or iron bathtubs, and the place of bathing in daily life as a means of relaxation at the end of a day's work and, in winter, as a way of restoring a sense of warmth and well-being -- all these and many other simple but fundamental features of daily life in traditional Japan are unique to the country and attest to a highly creative culture rather than of simple imitation.

"Japan's cultural distinctiveness has perhaps been accentuated by its linguistic separateness. Although the Japanese writing system has been derived from that of China and innumerable Chinese words have been incorporated into Japanese in much the same way that English has borrowed thousands of Latin and Greek words, Japanese is basically as different from Chinese as it is from English. Its structure is strikingly like Korean, but even then it appears to be no more closely related to Korean than English is to Russian or the Sanskrit-derived languages of India. Possessing a writing system more complex than any other in common use in the modern world and a language with no close relatives, the Japanese probably face a bigger language barrier between themselves and the rest of the world than any other major national group."

COMMENT: It seems to me I can keep this thread in the realm of history because the Political Scientists making up the classifications of "Civilizations" were basing them upon most of the things Edwin Reischauer mentions in his history. He doesn't mention religion, but even there we have the Shinto religion that doesn't have an equivalent as far as I know in Korea or China. And though Buddhism arrived from India through either Korea or China (I don't recall which) it was transformed into Zen and Nicheren if I recall correctly and was not left as it was in India or China.

So the Political Scientists looked at Japan's history, language, culture etc and couldn't see fit to put it into the "Sino" Civilization.

I don't know to what extent anyone here is familiar with these matters but just looking at the histories of Japan and China, if you had to decide to place Japan with China (meaning it is too close in all those things described above to leave it separate) or leave it as a separate civilization, what would you do?

Direction of McClellan historians

I realized later that I hadn't been clear in my previous note.  By presenting the arguments of Rowland, Harsh and Rafuse we will be presenting the views of academics that are part of the erosion of the "pop history" you refer to. And by being "quiet" I didn't really mean silent. I meant that they wouldn't be presenting a Sears view as blatantly as those who've been popping in recently without having read all the previous dialogue.

I have the latest book on Hood on order. Hood is another one I don't believe has been given a fair shake. When we look at the numbers and the fact that Hoods forces were being subject to severe attrition we wonder why he (and I wonder) and Lee kept on with that style of warfare, but that is what Davis wanted. He hated Johnston and his style. I often think that if Johnston and Longstreet had been conducting the Confederate ware their army would have been much more numerous in 1865. But apparently the South needed Lee/Jackson/Hood type victories to feel that they were winning, and Johnston wasn't going to give them those. What Johnston could have done was hung on much longer than Lee did and perhaps sapped the North's willingness to continue fighting -- sort of what the North Vietnamese did against us in that war.

I'm thinking it wasn't McClellan's style either, and the North needed (as opposed to "wanted") victories more than the South did. Lincoln was pushing for them before the Army was capable of providing them.

And then I'm wondering about the "conciliation." Lincoln obviously thought that might work when he ordered up 75,000 men for 3 months, but at some point, probably after First Manassas, he realized that wasn't going to work.

But could it have? It seems as though McClellan held onto the conciliation hope much longer than Lincoln did. And apparently there were those who thought he still held that hope when he was running for president -- until he clarified his position.

As to someone thinking McClellan was the best general the North had, Lee may have thought that. We have a quote from someone, maybe not a rock-solid quote, saying that Lee said that. Rowland certainly doesn't say that. After defending McClellan from Sears accusations he ends up saying that perhaps McClellan was only mediocre, but he doesn't deserve Sears' criticisms.

I keep saying "Sears" but Rowland mentions others who are equally critical of McClellan. I haven't read the Williams but I did read Glatthaar. Rowland does an especially good job, it seems to me, in criticizing the psychological theories for McClellan's fighting more like Johnston than Lee (my paraphrase).

In looking at Rafuse's "Acknowledgments" I found a few names I recognized. I didn't know Rafuse studied under Joseph Harsh, but that doesn't surprise me. Hattaway is prominently mentioned, but further down I see the name of William G. Piston whom I read on another general who has been severely criticized, Longstreet. We have had a few here who believed in the "Lost Cause" ideas without wanting to call them that. "Can't I" one of the said "think the same thing about Longstreet that the Lost Causers thought without being influenced by their thinking" (my paraphrase). "No," I argued.

Receipt of Rafuse McClellan's War


I received Ethan Refuse's McClellan's War today, but it hardly seems fair to jump right into his anti-Sears arguments, or to present what I perceive to be his approach which is to present arguments that refute Sears when a couple of people have just posted pro-Sears assertions on this thread. Pro-Sears people who pop into this thread (without reading earlier notes) are going to be at a disadvantage, for the thread started with Sears, i.e., Sears' To the Gates of Richmond. That book along with his biography George B. McClellan, the Young Napoleon established Sears as the McClellan expert for many years. Sears wrote The Young Napoleon in 1988 and To The Gates of Richmond in 1992. Do his arguments still hold up?

We find that there has been a turning away from Sears by more recent historians. The people writing about McClellan today, at least the ones I've encountered, don't seem to be taking the negative Sears view about McClellan that was so popular 20 years ago. There are just too many reasons not to. As to an enumeration of those reasons, I'm a long way from being an expert but Thomas Rowland is one. He has addressed Sears arguments in his George B. McClellan & Civil War History, in the Shadow of Grant and Sherman, published in 1998.

It wasn't as though there was no one else out there presenting a view different from Sears. Rowland referenced the article "On the McClellan Go Around" by Joseph Harsh which criticizes anti-McClellan views on McClellan circa 1970. And Rowena Reed wrote Combined Operations in the Civil War in 1978. In it she examines McClellan's Peninsula campaign and finds his Joint-Operation plans quite good.

And then just today I received McClellan's War by Ethan Rafuse, published in 2005. I'm fairly new to McClellan but it seems to me that the Sears view has been effectively superseded; so anyone popping into this thread with Sears-type assertions is going to be saying something awkward whether he realizes it or not. Does anyone agree with Sears at this point? Probably, but on this thread they are mostly, if they have been following the mounting evidence against Sears, quiet.

McClellan’s attitude

Yes, McClellan's writings indicate that he had a very bad attitude. I have a problem with that as well. Rowland and Harsh ignore those writings and look at what he actually did. I can appreciate that as producing a more favorable view of McClellan, and if his plans and plans for carrying out his plans are as good as Rowena Reed is purported to describe then a bad attitude might be tolerated, and maybe if that is the case it should have been tolerated a bit longer by Lincoln.

As to McClellan's purported "unreasonable" request for more men, I see most often that McClellan's critics think a slight number advantage ought to be enough for him, but everything I've read indicates that the attacking force is at a numerical disadvantage and so needs many more troops if it is to over-run entrenched defenders. How many more?

On page 210, Rowland writes. "The technology of war had shifted the tactical advantage to the defender. The standard for Civil War engagements now called for three attackers against a single defender. If the defenders were supported by entrenchments, breastworks, and artillery, the ratio increased to five to one."

I'm sure McClellan never had a five to one advantage, but did he ever even have a three to one advantage? If not perhaps his shrieks were not utterly irrational.

McClellan and the Peter Principle

Someone commented that McClellan was an exemplar of the Peter Principle.

I think I have been wrestling too long with such matters as why McClellan would send such embarrassing notes to his wife to reduce him to a Peter Principle graduate. You may be right, but I had another thought that might explain him. If one reads his history one finds that he was extremely smart as a child. When he was sent to Sevastopol as an observer he spent his spare time teaching himself Russian and translated a 300 page book -- for sport. It does not stretch the imagination to believe that whenever he walked into a room, he was usually the smartest person there.

We know we should not think of ourselves more highly than is appropriate, but if we are really the "smartest person in the room," what purpose is served by assuming that we are not? But then McClellan moved to a new room. He looked at a President who had little formal education, who used homespun stories and maxims, and he assumed he was in a room like all the others he had been in. Perhaps one of the largest mistakes McClellan made was in underestimating Lincoln. With Lincoln in the room he was not the smartest person there, but McClellan had been taught formally and perhaps he wasn't equipped to properly evaluate a self-taught genius.

Gouverneur Warren was another general who was usually the smartest person in any room he walked into, but he thought lightly of Meade, Grant, and then to his regret, Sheridan.

On the other hand I have encountered individuals who were purported to have genius-level IQs but their actions didn't exhibit a commensurate level of common sense. They had a "potential ability" that was extremely high, but when they attempted to apply that ability, they failed. I might be tempted to think McClellan was in that category, but Rowland and soon-to-arrive Combined Operations in the Civil War by Rowena Reed argue that not only was McClellan's strategy really quite good, but he had the right idea in regard to application as well. I wouldn't term it "back-stabbing"; which implies an intent I don't find in the superiors and subordinates that failed McClellan at critical times, but his "application," judged by the plans he attempted to carry out, was good.

And yes, McClellan was very much a political general, but he wasn't alone in that. A lot of generals were appointed for political reasons. Many had powerful contacts in Washington and the same sort of thing was true on the Confederate side.

Gadamer and Collingwod on McClellan and Johnston

As to why we come to a subject with our minds already leaning one way or the other, the references are Hans Georg Gadamer who wrote Truth and Method and Philosophical Hermeneutics, and Roger Collingwood in his The Idea of History.

As we grow we learn through experience and we don't, none of us, keep a good record of the lessons that caused us to form our opinions. If we write history, or study it as we should, we make ourselves aware of our "preconceptions." Collingwood said we each have a "constellation" of them.

What this means is that when it comes time to voice an opinion, we realize that it is highly unlikely that we will be doing any original thinking. There are lessons and influences in our background that govern or "tend us" toward a particular point of view. People who insist that all their ideas are original, are just being naive.

As an example, years ago I was speaking to a new hire in, I think, KC-10 Engineering and she decided one day to give me her philosophy. After very little I recognized the ideas of Jean Paul Sartre and asked her what it was of his that she had read. She denied having read anything and had no idea, she told, me of what he believed or taught That sort of reaction is quite common. If ideas are "out there" as a "climate of opinion," then people pick them up without realizing where they came from.

In the matter of the Civil War if someone expresses a particular view of Longstreet for example and it reflects the ideas of the "Lost Causers" one must understand that this person has been influenced by them whether he realizes it or not.

Someone who admires Grant and doesn't really care about Generals who didn't win the war probably isn't going to like McClellan very much. A reader has to go way out of his way to find the arguments that support the idea that McClellan was a better-than-average general with a lot of superb qualities who was learning his craft under a critical administration who wasn't willing to give him the time to learn. As partial support for this idea we can look at what Grant and Sherman were doing while McClellan was in his military hot seat. Grant was drinking too much and Sherman was going bonkers. But they did it a long distance from the capitol and were given time to learn from their mistakes.

If there is good evidence that McClellan wasn't as bad as his chief detractor Stephen Sears argues, then what does that say about Sears as an historian? Historians as Collingwood argues need to understand and acknowledge their preconceptions. Was there something in Sears' background that made it difficult to accept McClellan as a decent general?

People reading this who haven't read Collingwood are probably going to point to this or that thing that McClellan did or didn't do, but look across the street at the Confederate side. What was an equivalent leader, Joseph Johnston doing at about the same time? The same thing. Yeah, will come the rejoinder, and Johnston doesn't have a good reputation either. That's true and it is also true that Johnston has many admirers who think he was the best general the South had. The South, they argue, should have kept Lee on Davis' staff and let Johnston learn his craft in the field. Johnston wouldn't have run the south out of men the way Lee did.

The Petersburg Siege

On page 202 of George B. McClellan & Civil War History, Rowland writes that McClellan's movement up the Peninsula toward Richmond "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!'" [Rowland's references for this paragraph are Steven H. Newton, Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond, 242-55; Douglas Southall freeman, Lee's Lieutenants 2:47-48; Walter F. MCaleb, ed., Memoirs of John H. Reagan, 109]

So did Grant's cornering of Lee at Petersburg comprise a siege? Yes, according to Brian Holden Reid who on page 219 of his Robert E. Lee, Icon for a nation, wrote, "The siege of Petersburg imposed an unbreakable defensive caste on Lee's strategy. . . The siege of Petersburg resembled other great sieges of the mid nineteenth century in retaining an open flank."

On page 517 of Jefferson Davis, American, William Cooper wrote, "Lee dreaded this static warfare, which he considered extremely dangerous to his cause. Even before he crossed the James, he remarked that if he were forced to withstand a siege, then his ultimate defeat would be a matter of time.

COMMENT: Did Lee's opinion about getting caught in a siege change between 1862 and 1864-5? I see no evidence of that. He still thought the result would probably be disastrous for the Confederacy, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to fight to the bitter end.