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WAR BETWEEN THE STATES--THE CONFEDERATE MILITARY MYTH

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 09:53 am
I began reading history in earnest in 1957 when my grandfather gave me The Outline of History, by Wells. I was certainly not old enough to understand all, or even most, of the implications of that work-but my grandfather helped me along, and I've since re-read the work. My point is that i was hooked at that point. This was during the run-up to the Civil War centennial, so that works on the subject proliferated. There were well-researched, carefully written works of good scholarship; there were newly published or re-published memoirs of participants; there were shabby knock-offs rushed into print to take advantage of the excitement the coming event generated. I found and read Kyd Douglas' wartime memoirs, published for the first time as I rode with Stonewall (imagine my youthful excitement in reading Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants in which he refers to Douglas' manuscript memoirs, and i could say to myself that i was familiar with the work). I read another book, simply entitled Pickett's Charge which was actually both a good tactical history, as well as a policy study of the Gettysburg campaign, and as such, took little notice marches and fights not central to the theme (I tried to google this, but there were too many hits for me to identify the author). I am convinced that Shaara took his Killer Angel's both from this work, which it very nearly plagarizes (I reread it about five years ago) as well as the history of the 20th Maine, which was also published at about that time, and which I had read. By the time i read Shaara's work, however, i had already realized what a humbug and self-promoter Chamberlain was. I read Freeman's R.E. Lee and Lee's Lieutenants, and i read the excellent series by Bruce Catton. Since that time, I've read many others, of which Foote's three volume The Civil War is probably the best (and his Shiloh an excellent bit of historical fiction). At that time I also read a life of John Pemberton, the Pennsylvanian who served in the Confederate Army, and defended Vicksburg against Grant. I read The Rock of Chicamauga, a life of George H. Thomas, which i have reread twice, and which began the admiration of Thomas which has grown with me over the years. I've also read a contemporary life of Nathan Forrest, and William Preston Johnston's life of his father, Albert Sidney Johnston. I've also read more tripe on the subject than I can recall, as well as stumbling across the occasional gems, the names of which currently escape me.

All of this reading has eventually lead me to the conclusion that the war is outstanding for the amount of military incompetence displayed. I intend to address this in two threads, of which this is the first. In this thread, I intend to review the breathtaking operational ineptitude shown by the Southern Confederacy, as well as the high order incompetence displayed by so many of its commanders. Structured, protracted boredom to follow.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 10:18 am
Setanta, I look forward to contributing to your proposed structured, protracted boredom.

And since your Civil War buff-dom dates back to the pre-Ken Burns days, perhaps you can confirm for me that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's fame as the hero of Gettysburg is (at least to my recollection) something of fairly recent vintage. I don't recall anyone making much of a fuss about Chamberlain until the Burns documentary. Before that, more attention was paid to Gouverneur K. Warren, who initially spotted the Confederate movement on the Army of the Potomac's left flank and directed reinforcements to position themselves on Little Round Top. Warren, however, received barely a mention in Burns's documentary, and today he is largely ignored.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 10:34 am
THE WAR BEGINS: The bombardment of Fort Sumter was a military act with a foregone conclusion. Military experts the world over had come to the conclusion that brick fortresses were vulnerable to the improved land and naval artillery then available, and this bombard simply proved what was believed on the subject. However, the North was not supine (although such a contention was used to whip up support after Lincoln reached Washington and began to assemble an army-the opening portion of the contemporary Harper's History of the War of Rebellion begins with a section entitled "Revolution at the North," suggesting that the early Federal failures sparked a "revolutionary" movement among northerners to put down a rebellion and restore the Union). A quick-thinking naval Lieutenant at Pensacola armed his sailors, and with those and a handful of Marines, took and held the naval station there. Although one half-hearted effort was made to invade Florida proper, it did not prosper, and it was not needed. Pensacola was, at that time, the only valuable real estate in Florida, and thanks to this young officer, the Navy held on to it. Florida eventually contributed more than 15,000 men for the war effort, but only a handful served outside the state. Most were militiamen who enlisted, and Pensacola was a stimulus to them-local militias had basically stared gape-mouthed while fewer than 100 Federal sailors and Marines took the naval station, and held it against inept attempts to take it from them. For the rest of the war, almost all of those Floridians remained in their home state, eating up rations, and contributing nothing to the war.

This points to the flaw in Confederate military doctrine, which has been the subject of constant discussion and debate. The basic principle was an area defense (defend every foot of territory) with a tactical offensive (attack the vile invader savagely wherever he appears). Lee, when acting as Davis' military adviser, had encouraged A. S. Johnston to strip troops from the unthreatened Gulf coast to assemble the forces for his attack on Grant's army at Pittsburg landing, demonstrating that Lee, when not actually in command of an army in the field, saw the realities of the situation. This policy meant that the Confederates opened the war with many small forces scattered about their territory, and no clear operational plans or imperatives. Daniel Harvey Hill lead a small force of Tarheels and Virginians into the lower Virginia Penninsula, and defeated a Federal probe at Big Bethel. This is now a disappeared town, and where it was located is currently in the Warwick River (swamp more like) Park in Newport News, Virginia. Hill received an attack behind earthworks in nightmare terrain, and then launched a counterattack which easily drove off the opposition. He then retired again behind his works, to await another display of military stupidity by the Federals, and threw away the opportunity to have made a real difference. The Federals secured Fortress Monroe, giving them a base for the rest of the war, and burned the Norfolk Naval shipyards.

Nathan Forrest raised the first of several highly disciplined, mobile forces, took them into Kentucky, made monkeys of every Federal commander who had the temerity to attack him, and so, was promptly stripped of his troops, and encouraged to raise another force. This pattern was repeated throughout the war, and, although Forrest was a nightmare for Federal commanders in central and western Tennessee, dragooning local boys into his cavalry--he never really made a difference because his efforts were not supported, and he was never recognized by higher level command for the excellence of his naturally-acquired military abilities. But, like Hill at Big Bethel, Forrest's initial small victories made good, patriotic press in the South. I'm sure that most of those who will read this thread are sufficiently familiar with the first Battle of Manassass, a.k.a. the battle of Bull Run, that i do not need to rehearse it here. But i will make a few comments. Pierre Gustave Toutant, known as Beauregard, became nearly hysterical during the battle, which ought to have alerted higher authority that he was not competent for higher command. It apparently did not, because he was put in the position of second in command to A. S. Johnston, which gave him the opportunity to squander the gains on the first day of Shiloh, and, after Johston's death, to lose the battle. Joe Johnston (Joseph Eggleston Johnston) had arrived from the Valley of Virginia, bringing his excellent troops with him, and provided the steadying hand which Beauregard needed. I personally consider him to have been the most competent commander in the Confederate States-but I'm sure few will agree. However, I believe he too often took counsel of his fears, and that he was overwhelmed by the realities which impinged on a mind which was alive to the disadvantages the South faced. There was no pursuit after the battle, even though Longstreet was in command of a fresh brigage (large in those early days, larger than later Confederate divisions, and entire Union Corps), and wished to pursue; Jefferson Davis, who had arrived, vetoed the idea. Privately, men such as Longstreet and Jackson were disgusted by the self-congratulatory mood which prevailed in the face of the opportunity thus lost. Davis, in his role as self-appointed southern military genius, was one of the best friends the North had in this war. Like Hitler in Europe in World War II, the early victories convinced Davis of his own military infallibility, assuring a "mirco-managing" interference which crippled the already feeble efforts of field commanders throughout the south. Lee alone was free of those strictures.

In the Trans-Mississippi, in August, 1861, a courageous and competent officer, Nathaniel Lyons, took a small Federal force, backed up by German-American volunteers from southern Illinois and the St. Louis area under the command of Franz Sigel, and moved south from Springfield, Missouri. His prospective antagonists were Sterling Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard, and Ben McCullogh, commanding Texas Rangers and Arkansas Mounted Rifles. They had quickly established a charming relationship of insult and incrimination, which had lead to them setting up separate camps in impossible terrain. Had they been inclined to cooperate, which they were not, they would not have been able quickly to come to one another's support. Lyons approached from the North, and, the evening before the battle, gave in to Sigel's demand that he (Sigel) march by a parallel route, and come in on the flank or rear of the confederate position. Lyons managed to arrive in very early morning, and, under the cover of fog, to assemble his troops cross Wilson's Creek (which gave it's name to the battle), and shake out a line. The Missouri State Guard remained sleepily unaware of the threat, and Price seems not to have reacted well to the initial fire fight. The Federal attack prospered, as bleary-eyed Show Me boys tumbled from their tents, and ran off without their weapons. Had Sigel shown up as planned, it would have meant the likely destruction of Price's force. McCulloch took no part, but in his defense, many private letters attest to the deadening effect of the heavily wooded hills in which the southerners were encamped-he likely knew nothing of the fight until it was over. Even without Sigel, Lyons had a good shot at scattering Prices force-but he was fatally wounded, the attack faltered, and the Federal forces fell back due to a lack of effective leadership. Sigel, who was a good leader, if militarily clueless, was nowhere to be found. Price did not pursue. When McCulloch suggested pursuit, and an occupation of Springfield, Price refused, as he did not intend to take orders from the Texan. The squabbling continued, rations began to run out, and both forces fell back into Arkansas, because it was no army, had no transport other than regimental wagons, had no commissary, no quartermaster, and no plan. The best opportunity of the war in the Trans-Mississippi was wasted.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 10:41 am
Joe, the Chamberlain myth was created after the war by Chamberlain himself. His brigade commander, Col. Vincent, deserved credit for the placement of the troops, and none of the efforts of the 20th Maine would have been of any use, had not the rest of the brigade behaved equally as well. Vincent was killed, and submitted no report of the action; Chamberlain hurried to submit an after-action report. Colonel Oates, who commanded the southerners who attacked Vincent's brigade, also disputed Chamberlain's claims. But Chamberlain was made a hero in Maine, and eventually became Governor. He touted his heroism at every turn, and the Grand Army of the Republic (the civil war era American Legion) backed him up. His own officers privately disputed his version of events.

Basically, Chamberlain claimed that he ordered a bayonette charge which scattered Oates' forces. His officers and men, however, relate that the men of the center company in his line asked for permission to advance bayonettes so that the dead and wounded scattered between the present line and their original position could be recovered. When the companies on either flank saw this company advancing the bayonette, they took it as orders which had not reached them, and, basically, the private soldiers and junior officers launched a spontaneous bayonette charge which caught Oates' troops completely by surprise and scattered them. Oates himself commented that from his vantage point, it appeared that the "attack" of a single company, at first an apparently quixotic act, lead to a general "privates" assault, for which he was not prepared. Given that he could have mended his own reputation by agreeing with Chamberlain's version, and looks worse in the face of the account he himself gives, he gains more credence as a witness by the cui bono test.

Good lookin' out, Boss, please contribute as much as you like.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 10:43 am
I forgot to add, in regard to your question, that Burns and others have recently resurrected Chamberlain's specious claims to fame, beginning with Shaara's novel. A clear case of everyone, Shaara and Burns most importantly, taking the work of others, and conflating it without having vetted the information first.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 12:02 pm
Setanta wrote:
This points to the flaw in Confederate military doctrine, which has been the subject of constant discussion and debate. The basic principle was an area defense (defend every foot of territory) with a tactical offensive (attack the vile invader savagely wherever he appears).

I don't see too many instances of this type of strategy. The Confederates (either through necessity or prudence) pretty much conceded large areas to the North. The area of Virginia near the Potomac, much of what is now West Virginia, practically all of Kentucky and much of Missouri -- all of these areas were taken by the Union in 1861 and held for the rest of the war.

Setanta wrote:
This policy meant that the Confederates opened the war with many small forces scattered about their territory, and no clear operational plans or imperatives.

Well, at the beginning of the war both sides didn't have much of a clue.

Setanta wrote:
This pattern was repeated throughout the war, and, although Forrest was a nightmare for Federal commanders in central and western Tennessee, dragooning local boys into his cavalry--he never really made a difference because his efforts were not supported, and he was never recognized by higher level command for the excellence of his naturally-acquired military abilities.

Forrest certainly excelled at what the Germans would call "Kleinkrieg" -- small-scale skirmishing and raiding. On the other hand, I have never seen anyone argue that he was fitted to command anything bigger than a division. To that extent, the South probably made the best use of Forrest: to have given him a "battlefield" command would have been a waste of his unique talents.

Setanta wrote:
Pierre Gustave Toutant, known as Beauregard, became nearly hysterical during the battle, which ought to have alerted higher authority that he was not competent for higher command.

I have never heard this before.

Setanta wrote:
It apparently did not, because he was put in the position of second in command to A. S. Johnston, which gave him the opportunity to squander the gains on the first day of Shiloh, and, after Johston's death, to lose the battle.

I wouldn't be so hard on Beauregard. I don't think he lost Shiloh so much as Grant won it.

Setanta wrote:
Joe Johnston (Joseph Eggleston Johnston) had arrived from the Valley of Virginia, bringing his excellent troops with him, and provided the steadying hand which Beauregard needed. I personally consider him to have been the most competent commander in the Confederate States-but I'm sure few will agree.

I believe that others would also agree. J.E. Johnston has always received favorable press among historians.

Setanta wrote:
There was no pursuit after the battle, even though Longstreet was in command of a fresh brigage (large in those early days, larger than later Confederate divisions, and entire Union Corps), and wished to pursue; Jefferson Davis, who had arrived, vetoed the idea.

What battle is this? Certainly not Shiloh.

Setanta wrote:
Davis, in his role as self-appointed southern military genius, was one of the best friends the North had in this war.

I am no fan of Jeff Davis, but this is a bit harsh. After all, Davis had served in the Mexican War and had been Secretary of War: he had at least some military experience.

Setanta wrote:
Like Hitler in Europe in World War II, the early victories convinced Davis of his own military infallibility, assuring a "mirco-managing" interference which crippled the already feeble efforts of field commanders throughout the south. Lee alone was free of those strictures.

This may be a bit dramatic. Davis didn't "micro-manage" the war, although he certainly had a good deal to say about the way the war was waged.

Setanta wrote:
The best opportunity of the war in the Trans-Mississippi was wasted.

It's true that this may have been the best opportunity in the Trans-Mississippi theater (although a Confederate victory at Pea Ridge would have been even better), but it still wasn't a very good opportunity. The war could never have been won in the Trans-Mississippi: at most, a Confederate offensive in the aftermath of Wilson's Creek would have drawn a few thousand more Federal troops into the region and away from the Western theater.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 03:37 pm
I'll answer this in detail later, not now. But i would point out that my remark about a pursuit was in the paragraph concerning first Manassass, and therefore referred to Longstreet's plea to be allowed to make a pursuit. I completely agree with the assessment about the Trans-Mississippi--its only value was to "keep the door open" for the war materials which Texas might be able to provide. The United States Navy, and, eventually, the fall of Vicksburg assured that this was never an important factor in the war. I'll deal with the Pea Ridge fiasco later.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 06:18 pm
O.K., here we go:

Quote:
I don't see too many instances of this type of strategy. The Confederates (either through necessity or prudence) pretty much conceded large areas to the North. The area of Virginia near the Potomac, much of what is now West Virginia, practically all of Kentucky and much of Missouri -- all of these areas were taken by the Union in 1861 and held for the rest of the war.


I have already noted the large number of troops who spent the war doing nothing in Florida. The states of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri also contributed little to the armies in the western theater (actually, the "center") and in the east. We've discussed Wilson's Creek and its "non-aftermath." The repeated attempts of the Confederacy to carry the war into Missouri were a needless distraction. On the occasion in which Price did cross the river to operate against Grant in Mississippi, the effect was important. However, the application was wanting. Had the South really wished to use it's resources in the Trans-Mississippi effectively, they would have largely abandoned Louisiana, and completely abandoned Missouri (that they abandoned it de facto is not a consideration, Van Dorn and Kirby Smith both hoped to re-enter the state). The best use to which those troops could have been put would have been to keep open a line of communications, and to reinforce Johnston, and, later Pemberton and Joe Johnston. The entire Pea Ridge campaign was a wasted effort--not because of the bungling of the battle itself, but because of the lack of those by then relatively seasoned troops when Johnston moved against Pittsburg Landing--they had been ordered to join Johnston. When Johnston did move on Grant, his army was very siginificantly reinforced by troops which had been sitting idle on the Gulf coast--many of the survivors of those regiments returned to those posts and contributed nothing to the defense (such as it was) of Corinth, Mississippi, nor to Price's campaign against Corinth and Iuka a few months later. For all of her contribution to the war effort, the state of Georgia gave far less than she could have done, and large numbers of militia, which lacked training military basics, and completely lacked campaigning and battle experience, were brushed aside or ignored by Thomas and Sherman when they invaded that state. Governor Brown sat in Milledgeville issuing meaningless instructions to non-existent military authorities with (so i've read) 40,000 stand of muskets, and a similar number of new uniforms, and (once again, reportedly) millions of issues of rations. When Sherman finally approached Savannah, the more than 5000 troops which had lazed the war away guarding an essentially unthreatened coast skeddadled the first time they were fired upon.

I've already noted that Joe Johnston was, in my never humble opinion, the best the South had. It was he who abandoned northern Virginia, and that began the long slide of his reputation in the South. I believe that he did so in unseemly haste, and left behind irreplaceable materiel--a mistake he never repeated. West Virginia was lost to McClellan in the only campaign in which he ever showed any aggressive spirit. The original commander, Robert Selden Garnett, was the first General officer killed in the war. His death doomed a defense which likely would have been ineffective at any event, due to a lack of troops and material support. Lee's subsequent efforts to get W. W. Loring (Florida's other dubious contribution to the war effort), John B. Floyd and Henry Wise to cooperate in his Cheat Mountain campaign against Rosecrans proved such a miserable failure, that Lee was tagged as "Granny Lee" thereafter. It was not until the Seven Days that Lee was able to rehabilitate his image with the southern public. West Virginia was not abandonded, it was lost, plain and simple, and the efforts to retake it were a fiasco.

Kentucky was never actually a part of the Confederacy, but Crittenden, who was in the process of organizing a real army, with ordnance, commissary, quartermaster and provost departments, hoped to make it so. All went to naught when Thomas routed his field commander, Zollicoffer, at Mill Springs, in which battle Zollicoffer was killed. Crittenden had planned to take the war in to Kentucky, but was instead obliged to abandon significant stores (he did try to destroy as much as possible) and large numbers of draft animals. Thomas had not only thoroughly drubbed the Confederates, he effectively destroyed the one good opportunity A. S. Johnston had of forming a conherent force in the eastern portion of his area of responsibility. Both sides had at first hesitated to enter Kentucky, so as not to alienate the population. But in a camp near Louisville, thousands of Unionist Kentuckians, in the command of a naval Lieutenant, had almost run out of rations, and feared for their safety in an area of mostly Confederate sympathies. However, based on a contention that Confederates had entered the state between Cadiz and Jackson, in Calloway County, the Federals rushed to occupy Paducah, and George Thomas was sent to take charge of the camp outside Louisville. Kentucky was never really an issue in the war, although both sides fretted much about it, and laid their respective plans. The Texan expedition into New Mexico was another example of the waste of resources--those men could better have been employed in the eastern portion of the Trans-Mississippi, or across the river. Although i undertand that this is not a "proof" of the validity of the opinion, i am not alone in believing that the South squandered her resources in a futile "area defense."

Quote:
Well, at the beginning of the war both sides didn't have much of a clue.


I'd not argue with that--however, many of those forces were never concentrated in the South, whereas intelligent Federal commanders moved to a concentration of forces, albeit, usually in response to the pleas of paniced northern Governors.

Quote:
Forrest certainly excelled at what the Germans would call "Kleinkrieg" -- small-scale skirmishing and raiding. On the other hand, I have never seen anyone argue that he was fitted to command anything bigger than a division. To that extent, the South probably made the best use of Forrest: to have given him a "battlefield" command would have been a waste of his unique talents.


Yes indeed, what the French have long referred to as la petite guerre. I don't that he would have excelled beyond the level of division commander, a role which he did fulfill admirably at Chickamauga--but he did show that he could effectively use a large force at Brice's Crossroads; the defeat at Tupelo was not one which crippled his force, and he successfully withdrew, a difficult undertaking at any time. I was mostly referring to the many times when he had raised a mobile force, trained and equipped them, and seasoned them in his constant raiding in western Tennessee, only to have them taken away. (Old Joe Wheeler's cavalry by the end of the war were almost entirely Forrest veterans.) In fact, his intelligent use of artillery (he even managed to sink a U.S. Navy vessel on the Tennessee River in Alabama), and his sure grip on his troops whether in fast-moving fire fights or slug-fest battles suggests to me that his talents were wasted--as he was a former slave trader and "self-made" man, i've always been convinced that a snob factor was important in that circumstance. Forrest did manage to tie up considerable Federal resources; as the South could not hope to win the war militarily, anything which could have been done to make the burden onerous to northerners and protract the struggle mitigated in their favor. But they were largely in the grip of a "one big battle fanatasy" from which neither Lee nor Davis are to be excepted.

Quote:
I have never heard this before.


I've run across something similar (Beauregards shakey nerves during first Manassass) in many sources. I do have one at hand, James I. Robertson, Jr.'s Stonewall Jackson, a biography which i highly recommend as the best i've read. The following is from page 260 of the paperbound edition, and can stand for a type of the sorts of comments i've read:

Robertson wrote:
He began issuing orders and counter-orders with almost reckless abandon. Units were soon rushing here, there, and back to here. Jakson had difficulty in unravelling successive directives to support Bonham in the center, to support Colonel P. St. George Cocke's brigade on the far left, and to support both Bonham and Cocke simultaneously. Beauregard's aide, Colonel Alexander Chilsholm, had the embarrassing task of alerting Jackson of each desired movement. Jackson glossed over it in his official report. His only comment was, "These instructions were executed in the order in which they were given."


Robertson footnotes the passage as follows: "22. Chilsholm's unpublished official report is in A. R. Chisholm File, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Generals and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men, RG109, NA [RG109 means Office of the Confederate Secretary of War, 1861-1865; Letters Received, in the National Archives]. For verification of the confused movements of the morning, see OR [you know that one] 2:488-89; B&L [Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, a 19th century periodical, of which you are probably also aware], 1:205; Edwin G. Lee to Aunt Mary, Nov. 18, 1861, William Fitzhugh Lee Letters, Western Historical Manuscript Collection."

After the death of Johnston at Shiloh, when Beauregard took over, the Confederates pushed the Federals to the top of the bluff overlooking Pittsburgh Landing. Johnston had repeatedly said in the hearing of many witnesses that the assault must not let up until the Federals had been driven into the river. At that point, only an inpromptu battery of about 16 guns defended this last Federal position of the day. "Bull" Nelson, with his massive 10,000 man division from Buell's Army of the Ohio was still two or three hours march away. Lew Wallace with the third division of Grant's army was more than an hour away. The veteran bridgade commanded by a Colonel Jackson, from the First Corps of the good Bishop Polk was drawn up and prepared to assault the position. Beauregard was complacent, and ordered the brigade to stand down. He was a man of mercurial temperament, and swinging from a blase diffidence to outright, loud panic. He didn't deal at all well with the assault of Wallace and Buell's troops on the second day. I would counter that Grant did not so much win the battle, as that Beauregard failed to win it when it was within his grasp--he did not reach. Now you've gotten me off track, and served up one of my favorite incompetents before his time was due in this thread.

Quote:
I believe that others would also agree. J.E. Johnston has always received favorable press among historians.


Well, i come from a Southern tradition, one in which he is all to often given short-shrift, and has frequently been accused of being only fit to conduct a retreat. I would also suspect the praise of northern writers, as he would appeal to them on the basis of having retreated so often. I personally feel that he was to often paralyzed by an acutely realistic assessment of his situation. When "Granny Lee" was proposed as a replacement for Johnston after Seven Pines, a great deal of dismay was expressed in Richmond. But one officer (Harry Heth i believe, but don't quote me) replied "Why the man's very name could be audacity!" And certainly Lee's audacity coupled with an almost religious devotion on the part of many of his troops and most of the public of the South carried him very far indeed. It also carried far more down home boys to the grave than the Confederacy could afford. Overall, i rate Joe Johnston much higher than i do Lee, but, like Grant, Lee was exactly the man wanted by his nation for the job at hand.

Quote:
I am no fan of Jeff Davis, but this is a bit harsh. After all, Davis had served in the Mexican War and had been Secretary of War: he had at least some military experience.


and

Quote:
This may be a bit dramatic. Davis didn't "micro-manage" the war, although he certainly had a good deal to say about the way the war was waged.


Davis commanded a regiment of voluteers in Mexico, fighting with Taylor. He showed admirable courage in the maelstrom of street-fighting in Monterey, and kept his boys well in hand. He became Secretary of War as a reward for his considerable political influence in the election. He is notable for only two major acts in that position: he engineered the establishment of the Second United States Cavalry, and then handed the regiment to his friend, whom he admired greatly, Albert Sidney Johnston, who had found himself out of employment after the Republic of Texas entered the Union, and his services were no longer required as the Texan Secretary of War; the second was to send Johnston after the Mormon's in 1852 (?, i think the year is correct--i do all of this from memory, except where i've quoted Robertson). There is nothing in Davis' military career to suggest the he either was or was not qualified for high command level. There is much in his conduct during that war to suggest that he was not. He feuded publicly and bitterly with Joe Johnston and Braxton Bragg--two of a half-dozen of true army commanders who ever served him. While Lee was at his side as military advisor, he often deferred to the only military opinion he respected other than his own. Lee's strongest suit in "personnel management" was his tactful ability to handle touchy subordinates--he did much to soften the effect of Davis' tantrums and wild schemes. When Lee replaced Joe Johnston, Davis was left to his own devices. He frequently issued operational orders directly to commanders who were subordinate to Bragg or Johnston. He frequently sent troops somewhere entirely different than the destination to which their army or theatrer commander had ordered them. The decision not to pursue McDowell after first Manassass was decidedly Davis', and i will quote one more passage from Robertson on that topic (here he refers to what is likely an apochryphal claim that Jackson offered to take 10,000 men and capture Washington, while leading cheers for the President--something totally out of character):

"Two points in the story are indisputable. Jackson--perhaps alone among all Confederate leaders--had a full appreciation of the extent of Southern victory at Manassass, and he afterwards spoke of the Confederate failure to follow up the success as one of the greatest mistakes of the war."

This statement by Robertson has the ring truth to me, as well because of Jackson's eagerness to pursue Pope's army after second Manassass, a battle in which less relative damage was done to the Federals (greater casualties, but veteran troops withdrew in good order), and one in which his command had suffered far greater punishment. The affair at Chantilly, Virginia doesn't deserve much attention as a military event, but it certainly demonstrates the eagerness Jackson always displayed for hanging on an enemy, and exploiting any success as fully as he was able. I've already noted Longstreet's offer to pursue, and i would note that i've read in many reliable sources that he was disgusted by what he saw as lame excuses for holding him back.

All in all, i am obliged to disagree, and to assert that Davis (except for the era when Lee was at his side) micro-managed the war on every occasion which was presented him.

That was fairly exhausting. Allow me to express my gratitude to you for intelligent comment on a topic which i suspect won't otherwise get much attention.
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 07:04 pm
Well, I'm here reading, and thank you both.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 07:05 pm
Cheers, Boss . . .
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2003 07:34 pm
I haven't read a fraction of what you both have, plus you seem to have wonderful memory banks. Setanta, really, thank you very much for posting this.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 12:05 am
Setanta wrote:
I have already noted the large number of troops who spent the war doing nothing in Florida. The states of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri also contributed little to the armies in the western theater (actually, the "center") and in the east.

A lot of this is due to the nature of the Confederate nation. I've often commented that founding a federal union on the basis of secession is sort of like founding a religion on the basis of atheism. Since every state had a great deal of control over its military contribution (far more so than was the case in the North), military strategy was frequently subordinated to parochial political goals. Georgia's Governor Brown was (as you point out) particularly egregious in this respect, but all southern states were guilty of this kind of obstructionism.

Setanta wrote:
Had the South really wished to use it's resources in the Trans-Mississippi effectively, they would have largely abandoned Louisiana, and completely abandoned Missouri (that they abandoned it de facto is not a consideration, Van Dorn and Kirby Smith both hoped to re-enter the state).

Abandoning Louisiana would have been impossible, for the reasons I stated above.

Setanta wrote:
West Virginia was not abandonded, it was lost, plain and simple, and the efforts to retake it were a fiasco.

I imagine that West Virginia would have been extremely difficult to hold, even if the Confederates had conducted a model campaign. It was on the wrong side of the mountains, and the populace was hostile to Virginia's tidewater aristocracy.

Setanta wrote:
Kentucky was never really an issue in the war, although both sides fretted much about it, and laid their respective plans.

Certainly it was not much of an issue after 1862, but the Confederates had hopes of holding it in 1861 and had hopes of retaking it in 1862.

Setanta wrote:
The Texan expedition into New Mexico was another example of the waste of resources--those men could better have been employed in the eastern portion of the Trans-Mississippi, or across the river. Although i undertand that this is not a "proof" of the validity of the opinion, i am not alone in believing that the South squandered her resources in a futile "area defense."

The New Mexico expedition can only be understood in light of the politics of the era. There was a widespread notion that slavery could not survive if it was confined in the "Old South." Southerners feared this confinement, Northerners (like Lincoln) counted on it as a means of ending slavery gradually. So the New Mexico expedition was a way (albeit feeble and militarily unwise) to assert a kind of Southern expansionism.

Clausewitz said that "war is politics by other means." It's useful to keep this in mind when trying to understand some of the more "inexplicable" moves in the war.

Setanta wrote:
I'd not argue with that--however, many of those forces were never concentrated in the South, whereas intelligent Federal commanders moved to a concentration of forces, albeit, usually in response to the pleas of paniced northern Governors.

That was probably the result of a combination of political factors (the central government had more control over its forces) and a superior rail net.

Setanta wrote:
Yes indeed, what the French have long referred to as la petite guerre.

Bien sûr

Setanta wrote:
Forrest did manage to tie up considerable Federal resources; as the South could not hope to win the war militarily, anything which could have been done to make the burden onerous to northerners and protract the struggle mitigated in their favor.

There's a good deal of truth in that, but it was not the kind of strategy favored by military commanders or political leaders of the era.

Setanta wrote:
see OR [you know that one]

I have actually read a good deal in a few select volumes of the OR.

Setanta wrote:
I would counter that Grant did not so much win the battle, as that Beauregard failed to win it when it was within his grasp--he did not reach.

Let's take a look at the big picture. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Union positions for a very good reason: Johnston's army was outnumbered (and as the first day wore on it became even more outnumbered): its only chance of winning was to surprise the enemy and rout it. Johnston's initial successes, however, did not carry through the rest of the day -- and that doomed the attack even before Johnston was killed. With the Southern momentum stalled at the Hornet's Nest and the Peach Orchard, Beauregard only reached the heights overlooking Pittsburg Landing at around 6 p.m. In other words, Beauregard arrived there at dusk with an exhausted army, facing an opponent that refused to turn tail and run. I, for one, don't fault him for halting the attack. As it was, the Confederates did better than they could have hoped for: their only chance for success was if Grant had acted like McLellan did in the Peninsula. He didn't, and that was the cause of the Southern defeat the next day -- in my humble opinion :wink:

Setanta wrote:
Now you've gotten me off track, and served up one of my favorite incompetents before his time was due in this thread.

Sorry about that.

Setanta wrote:
Well, i come from a Southern tradition, one in which he is all to often given short-shrift, and has frequently been accused of being only fit to conduct a retreat. I would also suspect the praise of northern writers, as he would appeal to them on the basis of having retreated so often.

I don't think that's the case at all. I think it has more to do with the high regard that the troops held for Johnston, as well as his far better handling of the army in 1864-65 than had been the case under Hood.

Setanta wrote:
I personally feel that he was to often paralyzed by an acutely realistic assessment of his situation.

I think that's extremely close to the truth.

Setanta wrote:
There is nothing in Davis' military career to suggest the he either was or was not qualified for high command level. There is much in his conduct during that war to suggest that he was not. He feuded publicly and bitterly with Joe Johnston and Braxton Bragg--two of a half-dozen of true army commanders who ever served him.

Are you saying that Bragg was a good commander? Oh, we're gonna' have a tussle, I reckon!

Setanta wrote:
The decision not to pursue McDowell after first Manassass was decidedly Davis'...

There is a tendency to criticize victorious commanders for not pursuing a defeated enemy (I know, because I once was one of those persons who firmly believed that every commander was an idiot for not ordering a Napoleonic pursuit after a battlefield victory). Yet pursuit is a very dangerous, very risky move, and can only be done with fresh mounted troops. In general, Civil War battles ended up with victor and vanquished equally exhausted, and there were very few mounted troops on either side. I no longer blame commanders for failing to follow up their victories (although I make an exception for Meade after Gettysburg).

Setanta wrote:
All in all, i am obliged to disagree, and to assert that Davis (except for the era when Lee was at his side) micro-managed the war on every occasion which was presented him.

I am willing to be convinced, but I'm not quite there yet.

Setanta wrote:
That was fairly exhausting. Allow me to express my gratitude to you for intelligent comment on a topic which i suspect won't otherwise get much attention.

Hey, this is fun!
0 Replies
 
Oblivion
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 01:25 am
I apologize i'm to tired to read all that. Robert E Lee, Jackson, Beauregard, cleburne and others were great generals. HOwever through my readings I agree with your assertion that in general the chain of command was incompetent for the southern armies. Many battles that were lost by the confederacy could have been won if the chain of command had simply followed the orders of Lee.


Oh....and lets not forget that jefferson davis was completely incompetent at being president.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 06:30 am
Good ripostes, Joe, but i'll have to come back later. I will note that i think you make my point for me about an area defense. The political nature of the Confederate states did not allow them to make intelligent decisions such as abandoning Florida and Louisiana militarily. I understand the political motivation of many of their operations, even the more quixotic ones. I think it serves to point up the faults of the system which did not allow for the efficient use of military resources.

In an article which D. S. Freeman wrote before his great works on Lee and his officers, he noted that the southern Confederacy was doomed by its very nature. It is an interesting article to read, because it entails criticisms which did not find their way into R. E. Lee and Lee's Lieutenants. Perhaps an acute sense of what would appeal to his reading public influenced him, i couldn't say . . .
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 08:58 am
Setanta wrote:
I think it serves to point up the faults of the system which did not allow for the efficient use of military resources.

I think we're in the "zone" of agreement here. Maybe our terminology differs, but we're probably on the same page.

Setanta wrote:
In an article which D. S. Freeman wrote before his great works on Lee and his officers, he noted that the southern Confederacy was doomed by its very nature.

I haven't read any of Freeman (or if I have, it has been so long ago that I've forgotten), but I think that hits the nail squarely on the head.

In order to avoid you having to recount the entire history of the Civil War, Setanta, let me just offer a few general comments on the topic of Southern strategy, and then we can discuss specifics:

1. The South arguably had an easier task in defining its war aims than did the North. The South was looking to gain independence, whereas the North had to come up with a justification for keeping the rebellious states within the Union. Any Southern military strategy, therefore, should have had that simple political goal as its objective.

2. Having said that, I think the South failed to develop a coherent strategy that aimed at that goal. In large part, the failure was purely political. As I mentioned above, the whole "states rights" thing was inimical to centralized military planning, which was crucial if the South was to have had any hope of success. In that respect, the South lost the war before the first shot was ever fired at Sumter.

3. As a group of states seeking independence, the South had a good example to follow: the American War of Independence. In that war, the Americans, in effect, wore down British resistance rather than winning any large-scale battles (with the exception of Saratoga and Yorktown). The British weren't defeated militarily, they were defeated economically and diplomatically. So the South could have had a chance (albeit a slim one) if it had adopted the kind of strategy used in 1775-83: (a) wear down the North; (b) make the conflict so costly that Southern independence became an acceptable alternative to a protracted war; and (c) find friends abroad to support the South either militarily or diplomatically. I think the South tried, on occasion, to practice (a) and (b), but did so inconsistently. Its efforts to find friends abroad was, on the other hand, an unmitigated disaster.

4. Ultimately, the South's best hope for victory was embodied in one man: George McLellan. Not because of his plodding, inept generalship, but because of his candidacy for president in 1864. The South had to get a Democrat elected to replace Lincoln, who was implacably opposed to Southern independence. But the South did not have a military strategy that complemented this political goal. And once Lincoln was re-elected, the game was over: there was absolutely no chance thereafter for a Southern victory.

There -- that should give you something to ruminate on.

[edit: I should have said "Ultimately, the South's best hope for victory was embodied in one man: George McLellan. Not only because of his plodding, inept generalship, but because of his candidacy for president in 1864."]
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 10:05 am
Chew the cud i will, Boss, but i'll wait until this evening for a detailed reply. I like that you've laid out your assessment like that. I have one comment on the topic--Viscount Palmerston vehemently hated the United States, and Louis Bonapart, the self-styled Napoleon III, had vast ambitions to use French military might for his personal glory and French expansion. This likely lead southerners to a false impression that they might expect help from that quarter. However, the mill workers of England and France, even though many were thrown out work by the strangling of cotton imports, were great admirers of Lincoln, and solidly behind his concept of preserving the union and ending slavery (it doesn't matter that the latter was likely a false impression, it still moved the working class of both nations). I haven't the least doubt that Palmerston would have done all he could for the South, had the political climate allowed it, which it definitely did not. Napoleon III eventually, of course, allowed himself to be cozened into supporting the attempt to put a European monarch on a Mexican imperial throne.

Theodore Roosevelt's mother was a daughter of the Georgia Bullocks. One of his Bullock uncles was the Confederate Navy's agent in England who succeeded in getting a steamship built in Liverpool, and smuggled out of England to become Alabama, briefly a terror of American merchant shipping. A younger Bullock uncle was an admirer of and companion to Raphael Semmes, who commanded Alabama. When Kersarge eventually destroyed Alabama off the French coast, the younger uncle was picked up by an English yachtsman, and, with his older brother, settled down in England, where they both spent the rest of their days. There was a small community of southern agents who went to England and France, full of hopes which time eroded, and political reality blasted. Many remained in communities in which the sympathies of the "upper classes" were with them--but the governments of those nations were unable to intervene because of the political suicide it would have involved in the face of a greater public sympathy for Lincoln. Palmerston positively loathed Lincoln, quite irrationally, as he expressed his hatred before Lincoln even arrived in Washington to begin his administration. The Trent incident is revealing. When the U.S. Navy stopped Trent at sea, and removed the Confederate agents, Mason and Sliddel, the English howled--but, significantly, the Royal Navy did not respond. Palmerston had long held the foreign portfolio, and was notorious for standing down before creditable threats, while liberally using the Royal Navy to bully less powerful foreign governments. To me it is significant that his government never for a moment considered a military response--this despite Palmerston's raging in cabinet meetings. Even he, in his enraged hatred for Lincoln and the entire concept of the United States, knew it was a bad bet. Many historians would likely not agree, and especially English historians--however, i would point out that from 1847 onward, when English and French squadrons off the Mexican coast blustered and threatened, but hauled anchors and sailed away on the appearance of an American fleet, the vaunted rule of the waves was effectively checkmated by the size and thorough professionalism of the United States Navy. My personal view is the Navy does not get the credit it deserves for the difference it has made in our diplomatic position throughout our history--nor for the high professional standards it has maintained throughoug its honorable history.

But, i digress, and i ramble on. More later . . .
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 04:26 pm
I haven't really the time this evening for long responses, so i'll mull your statement on the southern Confederacy longer before replying. However, i do feel that the way you've characterized the events of the battle of Shiloh are very far from accurate, and have wished to respond to that. What follows is a narrative from my head, based upon my reading. So far, apart from mentioning what i've read, and citing Robertson's work, i've avoided providing citations, and, as long as that is not a problem for you, i'll continue in that manner. Were you to require citations for what i am about to write, you'd have to wait awhile, as i don't have the sources available to me here at home.

When Albert Sidney Johnston took command of the western theater, the outlook was awfully bleak. Bishop Polk had been in the field for some time, with mostly Louisiana troops, although there was a good leavening from other states in the region. He disposed of a force of about 10,000 men. His bailiwick was the area to the east of the Mississippi river, and although he had shown himself to be competent enough, he had lacked guidance from either a theater commander or Richmond. Hardee was available, and had spent most of his time assembling troops and setting up drill camps. John Floyd and Simon Buckner were in the field in western Tennessee with a force of between 16,000 and 20,000 effectives (accounts vary widely, and none seems particularly more reliable than another--daily returns were not provided in the casual atmosphere prevaling then). Crittenden in eastern Tennessee had slowly assembled a force, which did not exceed 10,000 men, but his primary contribution was a solid military establishment: a base for operations in eastern Kentucky, with the establishment of a commissary, quartermaster, ordnance and provost department, as well as having assembled transport and draft animals for a much larger force. Although Polk was more flamboyant and self-promoting, and seemed more active (largely marching to and fro to no real purpose, however), and Floyd and Buckner disposed of the largest single force, Crittenden posed the greatest threat, because of the solid foundation he had laid for an active army of not inconsiderable size. As i've mentioned before, Thomas disposed of this threat with his defeat of Zollicoffer at Mill Springs, and a rapidly pursuit (by foot soldiers, by the way) which lead Crittenden to abandon his base, destroying as much of the public property as he was able.

Grant had displayed his battlefield ineptitude at Belmont, but achieved his strategic purpose, and had definitely displayed his activitiy and energy. The fall of Fort Henry was occasioned more by circumstance than anything else--the high waters of the Cumberland had flooded the water batteries, and an extremely lucky shot by the Navy dismounted the 64 pound Columbiad gun which was the center of the fort's defense. The Confederates quickly and wisely abandoned the position, and fell back on Fort Donnelson on the Tennessee. This is not the place to discuss the Fort Donnelson fiasco--suffice it to say that Floyd and Buckner cravenly surrendered after Gideon Pillow had punched an escape route through Federal lines--and Grant with his wonderful sense for good press had sent in his famous "unconditional surrender" message.

Bragg had appeared in the theater to assemble a small force, and Johnston acted upon Lee's sagacious advice to strip the Gulf coast of its idle defenders--these he added to Bragg's command. Hardee combined Buckner's dispirited troops who had escaped from the defeats on the river and the troops Hardee had assembled, and Bishop Polk was called in with his seasoned troops.

Therefore, as Johnston moved out of Corinth in the first week of April, his order of battle was Polk with the first corps, organized in divisions, with many small regiments, but good quality troops. Bragg commanded the second corps, also organized in divisions, and he had mixed troops with some experience with the Gulf coast regiments to form his brigades. Hardee formed his troops into several large brigades, and commanded the third corps. Ad fourth corps was formed and the command given to John C. Breckenridge, former Vice President, failed "Dixiecrat" candidate in the 1860 election, and Kentucky's "favorite son." He also organized his troops into several large brigades. Beauregard had assembled troops at Corinth, and when Johnston arrived form Nashville with Bragg's troops and some stragglers from Crittenden's smashed army, he took command as senior officer on the Confederate Congress's promotion list for General. Grant's diversion at Belmont had served it's purpose of allowing the Federals to establish themselves in western Kentucky and threaten Columbus, Tennessee--Bishop Polk was likely glad to abandon the post.

In nightmarish conditions, Johnston's army advanced from Corinth in heavy weather over bad roads. Arriving at the planned assembly point on the night of Saturday, April 5, some of the advance guard had taken pot shots at what they claimed was a Federal picket, and Beauregard, losing his nerve as usual, begged Johnston to cancel the attack. Johnston was reputed to have replied that he would attack them "if they were a million." An Ohio officer reported the presence of a large enemy force to Sherman, and was basically told that if he were scared he could march his regiment back to Ohio. On the morning of Sunday, April 6, Johnston achieved complete surprise.

Grant's force was emcamped on broken, heavily wooded ground in a rough triangle formed by Snake Creek, Owl Creek and the Tennessee River. To the south, Sherman, with the fifth division of nothing but raw Ohio volunteers held the advanced line to the west. On that line in the center, Prentiss' sixth division, much smaller than Sherman's, held a position with a gap of more than half of a mile between them and Sherman's boys, and with his left hanging in the air. To the rear of Sherman's position the veteran (and badly "bled-down") first division of McClernand had encamped with the two creeks to their rear. East of Prentisses postion, there were no troops; well to the north of that gap lay Hurlbut's fourth division, backed up by William Wallace's second division, which was emcamped between the belt of heavy woods which separated Hurlbut from Prentiss and the bluff above Pittsburg Landing. Several miles to the north of the creeks was the emcampment of Lew Wallace's third division.

As Johnston disposed his troops, Polk held the right (eastern) position, with Bragg in his rear, to march further to the east and come in on his flank when his divisions had cleared the road. Hardee lay in the center of the line, and Breckenridge to the left. Hardee's troops made first contact, and Sherman's division melted away. There were several "friendly fire" incidents, and most of Hardee's troops fell out to plunder the Federal camps. Breckenridge (perhaps unwisely) had held his troops back, advancing very slowly to avoid confusion in the heavy woods. Most of Sherman's division melted away, but he was able to rally some of them long enough for McClernand to get his troops into line behind Sherman's postion. When Hardee was able to get his boys moving again, and Breckenridge came in on his left, the last of Sherman's troops melted away in the swirling, confused fire fight around a small church known as Shiloh Meeting House. McClernand's seasoned troops put up a dogged defense, but were steadily pushed back by the weight of numbers.

Polk had plunged forward into the woods without much regard for the heavy ground. His command quickly broke down, and Prentiss' division might have stood longer, but for two factors. Prentiss had ridden off to his right at the first sound of firing, leaving his command leaderless; on the left of Polks line, the Crescent Regiment, in blue uniforms, had been the victims of a heavy fire from Hardee's green troops. As they reeled back from that fire, they were fired on by troops of their own division. The few federal troops who had been rallied into a line saw the incident, took the Louisiana boys for troops coming to their support, and uncoiled their refused flank--which allowed the Crescent boys to pour a murderous fire into their flank and rear just as they received the shock of Polk's main line. The sixth division melted away as fast as had the fifth.

When Polk's troops finally burst from the woods, they immediately compromised the flank of McClernand's division, and he fell back at for at least a mile and a half to find good ground on which to reform his line. Prentiss had returned in time to see his command dissolve, and although he rallied some of the troops, his best commanders had already been shot down or captured. He fell back with a handful of troops toward the belt of heavy woods to the front of Hurlbut and William Wallace, along the southwest side of which ran a sunken road behind a peach orchard. At this point, Polk fell back a short distance to reform his regiments and dress his line, and Bragg, whose troops had not yet been engaged, came up to take over the advance. Hurlbut seems to have temporarily lost his nerve, and withdrew his division. A few of his troops, most notably an Illinois regiment with repeating rifles, advanced and joined Wallaces line. At this point, in a brief lull of desultory skirmishing, Wallace was hit by a musket ball which would eventually cost him his life. When he was carried off, many of his troops, although experienced in the bitter fight with Pillow at Fort Donnelson, began to head for the rear. Prentiss managed to rally his few survivors and those of the second division who had remained in the line, and the fourth division troops who had joined him despite Hurlbut's orders to fall back.

Now came the infamous "Hornet's Nest." Bragg is certainly one of the biggest assets Grant had at his disposal. McClernand had finally reformed his line, and Hurlbut had come in on his left, but they were both more than a mile from the firing line, and to the right of Prentiss' position. Bragg assured a lively slaughter by sending his big brigades into the fight, one at a time, without support. Eventually, despite horrific casualties, his troops prevailed form the sheer volume of the fire they delivered. (The wizzing of musket balls became so constant, that both sides dubbed the area the Hornet's Nest.) Prentiss finally surrendered, with about 2000 men left, most of whom were wounded. Johnston sent his personal physician to see to the wounded, and a few minutes later, was struck behind the knee by a spent musket ball. It did little damage, but it opened a wound which bled profusely. With all four of his corps reorganized, and Yankees being sent to the rear, he ordered a general advance. A few minutes later, he fainted from loss of blood. No one of his staff officers had even a rudimentary knowledge of the use of tourniquet, and Johnston bled to death from a trivial wound.

When Polk's and Bragg's troops rolled out of the woods behind the Hornet's Nest, Hurlbut found a force on his flank as large as the one Hardee and Breckenridge were advancing against McClernand's division. Although he behaved well, and did his level best to retreive the situation, his boys began to slip to the rear, and soon were in full flight. McClernand's troops tried to retreat in good order, as they had admirably done all day, but were soon overwhelmed. Those who ran from the first division needed have felt no shame, they simply gave way before what was now an irresistable force. At this point, we reach the situation which i earlier described in which a battery of about sixteen guns with no infantry supports defended the bluff. The Confederate corps commanders had now all been made aware that Johnston was dead, and Beauregard had assumed command. Polk, fool that he was in so many ways, nonetheless understood what Johnston intended, and offered his only fresh brigade for a final assault. Beauregard ordered them to stand down, and lost the best opportunity of the war.

Your comment about troops arriving all day mystifies me. Lew Wallace had begun to march to the sound of the guns in the morning. Being a thorough commander, he had already scouted the approach marches to the main encampment, and was on the road to the Owl Creek bridge. Grant had sent orders for him to march to the landing, which is more or less what he had already decided to do. But Grant's staff officers berated Wallace for the route he had chosen, telling him he would come out in the rear of the Confederate army (which sounds to me like the place he was most wanted). Wallace's private correspondence, and the reports of his officers stress the arrogant and high-handed manner of Grant's messengers. Wallace enquired if they expected him to turn his division in the road. They replied that that was precisely what was expected of him, and that he was to march to the landing, by the river road. Wallace's third division did not arrive until well after nightfall.

Halleck had ordered a concentration of forces, and Don Carlos Buell had responded by spreading his less well experienced troops in an arc to protect his base, and then proceeded with 21,000 of his best troops in an incredibly fast forced march to join Grant. A book was recently published entitled Ambrose Bierce's Civil War, a collection of his personal accounts, and in which the ascerbic author describes the march--he was a participant. He also describes the advance against Beauregard on the second day. "Bull" Nelson arrived with 10,000 men late that evening.

None of these troops were available to Grant on the first day. The balance of forces was (roughly) 42,000 Confederates and 45,000 Federals. However, subtract Lew Wallace's 7000, who did not arrive before nightfall, and Grant disposed of 38,000. The nature of the terrain, and the complete surprise which Johnston had achieved allowed him to fight and defeat Grant's divisions one at a time. He had accomplished a situation (partly by luck) in which he constantly enjoyed a local superiority of force. Had he lived, or had Beauregard honored his plan, it is difficult to see how the Federal army, thousands of unarmed men huddling under the perceived safety of the Navy's guns, could have withstood Jackson's final assault. Beauregard screwed the pooch on this one, there is no doubt in my mind.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 08:53 pm
Setanta wrote:
However, i do feel that the way you've characterized the events of the battle of Shiloh are very far from accurate, and have wished to respond to that.

That's quite possible. I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on the Civil War, so a lot of what I say is based on memory, a few basic reference works, and some scrounging around the internet (and I'll be relying on this battle chronology for much of what I say here).

Setanta wrote:
What follows is a narrative from my head, based upon my reading. So far, apart from mentioning what i've read, and citing Robertson's work, i've avoided providing citations, and, as long as that is not a problem for you, i'll continue in that manner. Were you to require citations for what i am about to write, you'd have to wait awhile, as i don't have the sources available to me here at home.

I promise, Setanta, the only time I'll ask for a source is when I'm interested in reading it myself.

Setanta wrote:
A few of his troops, most notably an Illinois regiment with repeating rifles, advanced and joined Wallaces line.

You're not talking about the Illinois 7th, are you? I didn't think that any regiments (other than perhaps cavalry with carbines) was equipped with repeating rifles until at least 1864.

Setanta wrote:
Polk, fool that he was in so many ways, nonetheless understood what Johnston intended, and offered his only fresh brigade for a final assault. Beauregard ordered them to stand down, and lost the best opportunity of the war.

The Confederate attack was launched at around 7 a.m., although the troops had been marching and deploying well before then. The soldiers had been fighting almost continuously since that time, sometimes in appallingly bad conditions. The fight at the Hornet's Nest lasted for six or seven hours, and Prentiss only surrendered the position at 5:30 in the afternoon. By then it was close to nightfall (remember, this battle took place in early spring). The Confederates mounted one last assault at around 6 p.m., but were repulsed. Beauregard, as I see it, had a decision to make: risk a twilight assault against a well-defended enemy position with exhausted troops (who had been fighting for close to twelve straight hours by that point), or call off the assault, assume defensive positions of your choosing, and wait for the Union to make a move on the next day. Frankly, I don't fault Beauregard for taking the second option. He was in command of the better part of the field, he could spend the night making defensive preparations, and -- as far as he knew -- Grant would retreat from the field under cover of night (most other Union commanders would have done exactly that) and Beauregard would be acclaimed a genius and a national hero.

Setanta wrote:
Your comment about troops arriving all day mystifies me.

Well, I didn't say they arrived "all day," I said that they increased as the day went on. Wallace's division and Buell's troops arrived after nightfall, but they arrived before midnight. So by the end of the day the Federals had more troops on the battlefield than they had at the start of the day. That was my point.

Setanta wrote:
The balance of forces was (roughly) 42,000 Confederates and 45,000 Federals. However, subtract Lew Wallace's 7000, who did not arrive before nightfall, and Grant disposed of 38,000.

But did Johnston know that Wallace was not going to make it before nightfall? Wallace, after all, was encamped only about four miles from the battlefield; even a leisurely march should have seen him arrive in an hour. Johnston, no doubt, thought that he would be facing Grant's entire army that day.

Setanta wrote:
Had he lived, or had Beauregard honored his plan, it is difficult to see how the Federal army, thousands of unarmed men huddling under the perceived safety of the Navy's guns, could have withstood Jackson's final assault.

The "perceived" safety of the naval guns? From what I've read, the gunboats were highly effective in providing enfilading fire on the Confederate right flank. Did I miss something?

And you mean Johnston's final assault, don't you? Jackson wasn't at the battle of Shiloh.

Setanta wrote:
Beauregard screwed the pooch on this one, there is no doubt in my mind.

I remain filled with doubt.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Sep, 2003 10:02 pm
When i wrote Jackson, i was referring to the commander of the brigade which had been ordered up for the assault on the Federal position at the top of the bluff. Johnston, was, of course, dead by that time.

Yes, i believed that was the Seventh Illinois Volunteers, but i did not use the name, as i was sufficiently uncertain of my recollection. I also believe their weapon was the Henry rifle, but hadn't said as much, due to the same uncertainty.

As far as what Johnston may or may not have known, i refer you to his remark about his intention to attack without regard to the numbers of his opponents. I also refer you to my remark that he had enjoyed local superiority throughout the day, which is the intention of any commander who hopes to launch a surprise assault on an enemy of about equal size (something which it is likely Johnston did know). The absence of Wallace was simply something which mitigated in favor of Johnston's original plan. I refer you to the eventually fatal wounding of Thomas Jackson at Chancellorsville--although Jackson did not, of course, command that army, nevertheless, Lee's attack continued, and an attempt was to be made to execute Jackson's planned night attack, but Powell Hill had been wounded as well, and the corps was left temporarily leaderless. The plan of the attack which Jackson had laid out to his staff the night before, prior to his wounding, was executed with James Ewell Brown Stuart in command of the Second Corps the following day. I understand that Beauregard now had the authority to carry out any plans of his own--i submit that he erred greatly in not pursuing Johnston's plan to the uttermost, he ought to have known the stakes. However, this thread is about military myths, and i more specifically cited high-level incompetence. On a review of Beauregard's entire career in high military command, i level that charge at him.

All that i have ever read of the effect of the Navy on the Army of the Mississippi is that they harrassed the right, Bragg's and Polk's troops constantly throughout the night. I would make the following observations on your critique of the possibilities of an assault at the end of the day. This standing down under those circumstances was certainly not in the tradition of agressive American commanders. Scott fought the English until he was wounded at about midnight at Lundy Lane in Upper Canada in 1814. The few hundred sailors and handful of Marines who were all who stood between Packenham's Penninsular veterans and Washington at Bladensburg, Maryland in 1814 fought until after nightfall. Taylor's troops fought doggedly until after dark in every engagement in which the Mexicans offered that kind of resistance, and Scott's army fought and marched through the night on many occasions, most notably during the battle of Churobusco, fought after the bulk of the army had crossed the Pedegral, an ancient lava flow which offered a treacherous landscape--and they traversed it in a driving rain, only to go into the attack with but a few hours rest. You'll note that i've also already criticized Davis' decision not to pursue after dark at first Manassass--and i disagree that cavalry is necessary to a successful pursuit. This was poor thinking on Beauregard's part, in my opinion, and a weak response to a situation which cried out for the gamble. I haven't the least doubt that Longstreet would have persisted, witness his attacks until well after dark at second Manassas. I haven't the least doubt of Lee, Jackson, Alvin Powell Hill, Richard Stoddart Ewell, John Bell Hood, Sterling Price, Richard Cleburne, Gideon Pillow, Nathan Forrest or Lafayette McLaws being willing to continue the assault in such circumstance. An old firebrand like Isaac Trimble or Cadmus Wilcox would likely have needed restraining to prevent either of them from leading the attack personally. Daniel Harvey Hill might well have taken a musket and joined the line just as he did at Antietam. All in all, i feel that Beauregard stacks up badly in comparison with other officers in the Confederate service, and especially with those who had long experience of leading the troops at the point of attack.

You mentioned how exhausted the Confederates likely were, and you implied that the Navy could have been very effective. I would counter with the proposition that once on the top of the bluff, the southerners would have been beyond the elevation of the naval guns, and had they descended to the landing, where Federal estimates place 10,000 or more men, largely unarmed, the Navy could not have directly shelled, for the safety of their own soldiers. The most effective thing the Navy did, and it was crucial, was to shell Beauregard's army all night as they tried to sleep in a drenching rain.

My other comment, as regards the condition of the troops, would point out that Col. Jackson's brigade had not been engaged, tired though they may have been and i would remind you of something which Thomas Jackson is reputed to have said at Chantilly, when an officer complained that his men's cartridges had been wetted by the incessant rain: "The enemy's cartridges are just as wet as yours, give them the bayonette." The Federal defenders above Pittsburg landing had been at the dance just as long as their foes, and history is replete with examples of men much more severely tried who made the final effort. And Shakespeare gives it to us so poignantly in Henry V: "Once more into the breach, dear friends . . ."

You may dispute my degree of condemnation of Beauregard, and continue to assert that a final assault would not have succeeded. But we can never know, because Beauregard was certainly not the type of an aggressive American commander.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Sep, 2003 08:30 am
Setanta wrote:
This standing down under those circumstances was certainly not in the tradition of agressive American commanders.

I'm not very familiar with the instances that you cite, but night attacks are extremely risky moves -- regardless of the number of times they had succeeded in the past. Napoleon, I believe, launched one night assault in his entire career (at the siege of Toulon). I think the example of Stonewall Jackson being shot by his own troops at Chancellorsville while reconnoitering for a possible night attack is testament enough to the dangers attending such a venture.

Setanta wrote:
I would counter with the proposition that once on the top of the bluff, the southerners would have been beyond the elevation of the naval guns, and had they descended to the landing, where Federal estimates place 10,000 or more men, largely unarmed, the Navy could not have directly shelled, for the safety of their own soldiers.

I simply can't believe that the Union troops were largely unarmed. All that I've read says that the Confederates launched a final assault around 6 p.m., which was repulsed by the Federals. If those were unarmed men repulsing a Confederate attack, they must have been truly ferocious unarmed men.

Setanta wrote:
You may dispute my degree of condemnation of Beauregard, and continue to assert that a final assault would not have succeeded. But we can never know, because Beauregard was certainly not the type of an aggressive American commander.

Now hold on there, Setanta: I never asserted that the final assault would not have succeeded. I said that, given everything that he knew, Beauregard could not be blamed for his refusal to order that final assault. To be blameworthy, one must say that Beauregard omitted doing something that he should have done. I can't say that the assault would have definitely succeeded (nor can you), so I cannot say that Beauregard should have launched the assault. And I'm happy to leave it at that.
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