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.

No comments: