Thu 31 Mar, 2011 12:18 pm
In another thread, FM suggested that i start a thread about the American civil war, as the 150th anniversary is upon us now. He suggested that i wait until April, but i decided to do it now. Both so i won't forget, and because the war started over 150 years ago, already. On January 8, 1861, state troops from Florida, having already secured the surrender of other Federal facilities, called upon the garrison at Fort Barracas near Pensacola, Florida to surrender. The nominal commander, Winder, was not present, and he eventually served in Confederate forces. In his absence, Lt. Slemmer of the United States Artillery, not only refused the summons, he had the men of his company fire over the heads of the mob, who recalled pressing business they had in town. Slemmer then spiked the guns at Forts McRae and Barrancas, blew up all the black powder he could not remove, and withdrew with his company to Fort Pickens in harbor. So, by April, the party was well under way.
Please post your thoughts, questions, or goofy remarks here in honor of the sesquicentennial of the dolorous event.
Since I'm not well enough to write a response to you, I will offer some history that I find to be important.---BBB
Disintegration: election of 1860
John C. Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States under Buchanan.
Sectional strife rose to such a pitch that the Democratic Party's national convention in 1860 led directly to a schism in the Party. Buchanan played little part at the national convention, meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The southern wing walked out of the convention and nominated its own candidate for the presidency, incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge. The remainder of the party finally nominated Buchanan's archenemy, Stephen Douglas. When the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a near certainty that he would be elected.
As early as October, the army's Commanding General, Winfield Scott, warned Buchanan that Lincoln's election would likely cause at least seven states to secede. He also recommended to Buchanan that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. After Lincoln's election, Buchanan directed War Secretary Floyd to reinforce southern forts with such provisions, arms and men as were available. Nevertheless, through no fault of Scott or the President, Congress had since 1857 failed to heed both men's calls for a stronger militia and had allowed the Army to fall into deplorable condition. Scott himself had previously advised the Senate that "to move any substantial number of troops from one frontier to reinforce another would invite instant attack on the weakened point".
With Lincoln's victory, talk of secession and disunion reached a boiling point. Buchanan was forced to address it in his final message to Congress. Both factions awaited news of how Buchanan would deal with the question. In his Message (December 3, 1860), Buchanan denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the federal government legally could not prevent them. He placed the blame for the crisis solely on "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States". Buchanan's specific solution to the crisis was that Congress, in coordination with the state legislatures, call for a constitutional convention which would give the people of the country the opportunity to vote specifically on an amendment to the constitution regarding the slavery issue. There was no ability to agree on this approach as a solution to be pursued.
From a series of 4 anti-secessionist political cartoons. Boo-Peep represents the union. The 7 lost sheep are the 7 slave states. The dog "Buck" represents lame-duck President Buchanan and his inability to get the states to return to the Union.
South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, followed by six other slave states, and, by February 1861, they had formed the Confederate States of America. As Scott had surmised, the secessionist governments declared eminent domain over federal property within their states; Buchanan and his administration took no action to stop the confiscation of government property.
Efforts were made by Sen. Crittenden and others in Congress, which were supported by Buchanan, to reach a compromise, but failed. Failed efforts to compromise were also made by a group of governors meeting in New York. Buchanan employed a last minute tactic, in secret, to bring a solution. He again attempted in vain to procure President-elect Lincoln's call for a constitutional convention to give the citizens a popular vote on slavery and other issues. Lincoln declined, at least partially in deference to his party and its Chicago platform.
Beginning in late December, Buchanan reorganized his cabinet, ousting Confederate sympathizers and replacing them with hard-line nationalists Jeremiah S. Black, Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Holt and John A. Dix. These conservative Democrats strongly believed in American nationalism and refused to countenance secession. At one point, Treasury Secretary Dix ordered Treasury agents in New Orleans, "If any man pulls down the American flag, shoot him on the spot." The new cabinet advised Buchanan to request from Congress the authority to call up militias and give himself emergency military powers, and this he did, on January 8, 1861. Nevertheless, by that time Buchanan's relations with Congress were so strained that his requests were rejected out of hand.
Before Buchanan left office, all arsenals and forts in the seceding states were lost (except Fort Sumter and three island outposts in Florida), and a fourth of all federal soldiers surrendered to Texas troops. On January 5, Buchanan sent civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston harbor, a conspicuously visible spot in the Confederacy. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the ship, which returned to New York. Buchanan, having no authorization from Congress as requested, made no further moves to prepare for war.
On Buchanan's final day as president, March 4, 1861, he remarked to the incoming Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man."
I have transferred this from Snood's thread, in which FM and i were discussing the denial of southerners and southern sympathizers about the true cause of the war (slavery) while alleging that it was about states rights.
The "Lost Cause" myth was so pervasive that it is often accepted by northerners as well as southerners. After the war, Lee was offered and accepted the job of President of Washington Collge, which is now Washington and Lee University. One of the young men that followed him there was William Preston Johnston, son of Albert Sidney Johnston, who was the highest ranking Confederate General, and who died needlessly of a minor wound at Shilor because none of his staff understood the use of a tourniquet.
W. P. Johnston had many conversations with Lee, and recorded them (his impressions of them at least), and these with a few other random memoirs of young men who gathered there constitute Lee's memoir legacy--he did not otherwise leave any memoirs. In the Johnston version, it is obvious that Lee's recollections served to alter the narrative of events to his point of view, which was free of self-criticism, and couched in the "gentlemanly" terms which he was famous for using in describing the enemy in that war.
After Lee's death (1870), Jubal Early, who had never gotten along particularly well with Lee during the war, began to tour the South presenting lectures on the excellence of Lee's military skills on what passed for the rubber chicken circuit at the time. He was so successful that he even toured in the North, which was, apparently, sufficiently forgiving to participate in the hagiography of Lee.
At the end of the war, there were many cogent criticisms of Confederate strategic and tactical doctrine, one in particular by a Federal staff officer who described their failures most succinctly. Basically, the South stood on a strategic defensive, determined to defend every square foot of ground (leading to incredible stupidity such as the 15,000 troops who languished in Florida throughout the war, while the North resolutely ignored the state). Tactically, they attacked the Federal armies relentlessly wherever they found them. Sometimes this made sense, but often it made no sense at all.
In 1982, two gentlemen from the University of Alabama published Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage. It's the first time that i know of that anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line faced up to the failures of Southern arms. I don't really recommend the book, for two reasons. The first is that they often fudge the numbers without needing to do so. For example, in their analysis of the battle of Shiloh, they show casualties for Grant's Army of the Tennessee for the first day of battle, while showing his total strength including the 21,000 troops who arrived from Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio overnight between the first and second days--failing to include Buell's casualties. That makes Grant's casualties appear to be much smaller than they actually were. (The third division of Grant's army, commanded by Lew Wallace--author of Ben Hur--had not been engaged on the first day, and along with Buell's divisions, that was the force that counterattacked on the second day, so, as attackers, they initially lost heavily before Beauregard's army broke--Beauregard took command after Johnston bled to death.)
That was unnecessary, because even when you compare the casualty rate of Johnston's army to Grant's, the casualty rate of the Confederates was still higher, both proportionately and in absolute terms of total casualties. Given that Johnston brought about 45,000 troops, and Grant's eventual re-inforced army numbered about 60,000 or more, the truth would have been a much stonger argument for their thesis than the doctored figures. I quickly lost respect for the authors when i saw them playing fast and loose with the numbers.
The second objection i had was that they spent so much of the book prating about the Scotch-Irish values of the South, and how that was what condemned them to the ruinous tactical doctrine. I was unconvinced. Nevertheless, as i have said, it's the first time i've seen anyone from the South acknowledging their most signal and disastrous failure.
Not long after the war, an officer who had served before Richmond and in every major campaign until he lost his leg at Gettysburg, Theodore Ayrault Dodge, was approached by the Massachusetts Military Historical Society to present a paper on the Chancellorsville campaign. It was so well received, that he worked it up to book length and it was published to a very successful sale. He also wrote A Bird's Eye View of Our Civil War, the best short work (very short) on the subject, in my never humble opinion. He became, arguably, the best American military historian of the 19th century, publishing works on Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustuvus Adolphus and Napoleon, among others.
Reading Dodge's account of the Chancellorsville campaign was an eye-opener for me. Every other account of the campaign, including those written and published in the North, have been written from Lee's and Jackson's point of view. Dodge, of course, does not ignore what Jackson accomplished (before being mortally wounded)--after all, he was present in the rear of Hooker's army when the Confederates came screaming out of the woods at a largely unformed line of green German and Polish troops. But reading that book (i was just ten or eleven years old) clued me into the sort of distortion of history which can arise from bias, and a hagiography such as has arisen around men like Lee and Jackson.
If one looks at Lee as objectively as possible, not only does one see his warts, one can see that these were flaws fatal for the success of the "Lost Cause." Lee was one of the finest natural campaigners that the USMA ever produced. But that's about all that can be said for him. My two serious criticisms of him are that he was profligate of the lives of his men, and he completely neglected basic staff work. This can best be seen in the Seven Days. Before looking at that, though, let me recount the reminiscence of an English observer, who, asking Lee about the "genius" of his campaigns (remember, genius did not then mean what it means to us), says that Lee replied that he lead his army to the place at which he intended to fight, and that he believed that he had then done the whole of his duty, and left the conduct of the battle to his general officers. The one time when he broke that pattern--at Gettysburg--was the Army of Northern Virginia's greatest disaster (arguably, the greatest disaster after the Seven Days).
Since this is only tangentially germane to this thread, i'm going to copy this to the civil war thread, where i will look at Lee's performance in the Seven Days.
On the last day of May, 1862, McClellan was driving closer and closer to Richmond, but his army was divided by the Chickahominy River, which at that time of year had swelled with rain water. Joe Johnston, who commanded the Confederate army before Richmond, therefore determined to attack, and at the battle known variously as Seven Pines or Fair Oaks, he stopped the Federal advance. But the battle was inconclusive (Johnston's plan was very complicated, and relied upon a coordination his commanders did not achieve), and Johnston was wounded. Jefferson Davis replace Johnston with Lee, who was then acting as his military adviser.
Lee had suffered an humiliating failure in western Virginia in the first year of the war, and had come to be called "Granny Lee" as a result. He had then been sent to coast of the Carolinas and Georgia to survey the defenses (Lee had been an engineer officer from the time he left the USMA until the Mexican War). There, he made the troops take spades and actually do some honest to Dog physical labor. Grumbling that that was the kind of work slaves did, they called him "the King of Spades." Davis knew his worth, and appointed him his military adviser, and for reasons which will always remain unknown, Lee was the only general officer to whom Davis listened, and with whom Davis did not argue. (Davis was himself a graduate of the USMA, and had served with great distinction in Taylor's army during the Mexican War.) Lee gave very good advice to Davis and his army commanders while in that capacity, and then apparently forgot all his good advice when he took command.
While McClellan had been slowly and cautiously driving up the Virginia Peninsula from Fortress Monroe toward Richmond, Thomas Jackson had been campaigning in the Valley of Virginia. He managed not only to achieve some difficult objectives, he made monkeys of the Federal commanders sent against him, and ended the career of John C. Frémont, whose career was already on the skids. Wrapping up his campaign, on Lee's orders, he moved the Army of the Valley toward Richmond.
Johnston was wounded, and Jackson was the rising star of the Confederacy. Albert Sidney Johnston's army had been defeated at Shiloh in April, and he had bled to death. He had been considered by most southerners, including Jefferson Davis, to be their greatest general. Things were looking grim for the South. Harry Heth was talking to a gentleman in Richmond one day just before Joe Johnston was wounded, when Lee rode by. The civilian gentleman sourly remarked that there went Granny Lee. Heth responded "Why, his very name might be Audacity." That was true--and it is about the best thing that can be said of Lee as an army commander.
Jackson had ridden on ahead, and after his weeks of hard campaigning, he was exhausted. He had no maps of the area in which he was to campaign, and he had sent his topographical engineer off to make maps in the Valley and the Piedmont. He arrived to join Lee and his general officers just a few days before the Seven Days began. He said little, and observers, using 20-20 hindsight, said that he looked tired and uninterested. Lee provided him no maps, and did not even provide a liaison staff officer. The first major criticism of Lee is his staff work. It would not be proper to say that his staff work was poor--it was non-existant.
When Johnston had attacked, a nervous McClellan had transferred troops from north of the Chickahominy River to his main force south of the river. This left Fitz John Porter on McClellan's right with a large corps, but still only about somewhat more than a tenth of the army. Destruction of Porter's corps would have been a heavy blow. Jackson was once approached by a young staff officer with bad news. That young man began by saying: "General, i fear that . . ."--and Jackson interrupted him to say: "Never take counsel of your fears, son." McClellan not only took counsel of his fears, he positively worshipped them. Allan Pinkerton, who was providing "intelligence" for the Army of the Potomac had told him there were 200,000 southern troops in and around Richmond. McClellan was eager to believe that, and the battle of Fair Oaks convinced him of it--would southerners really attack him if they were outnumbered? (Of course they would.)
So, when John Ewell Brown Stuart (nobly called him "Jeb" in his lifetimme) pulled off one of his stunts, with Lees consent, and "rode around McClellan," he was not only a darling of the southern press, but it tipped off even the rather clueless McClellan that his right flank might be threatened. Until that time, his supply base had been at White House on the Pamunkey River, in the rear of Porter's corps. Stuart's stunt convinced him that that base was threatened, and he began moving his base to the James River to the south of his army. Porter was a good deal quicker on the uptake than McClellan, and immediately began preparing his corps to retreat should it prove necessary.
Lee's plan was not as overly complex and Johnston's had been, but given the lack of basic staff work, it was too complex. He did not even have maps prepared of the campaign area. Instead, he vaguely looked around for young Virginia officers and cavalrymen who were familiar with the area, and assigned them as guides to the various divisions. The plan was that Jackson would advance to the southeast, with his right flank on the Chickahominy River, and as he cleared the crossings, the other divisions of the army would cross the river and join the attack on Porter's corps, and eventually on McClellan's entire army.
McClellan actually struck first, on June 25. He launched an attack on what was roughly the center of the Confederate defenses, against Huger's division, with the intention of covering Porter's withdrawal. Porter had actually started his trains (the wagon trains carrying his supplies) for the rear, but wisely kept his men in line until the trains should have cleared the rear. McClellan's attack turned out to be a fiasco, for which inexperience is probably the most reasonable cause to adduce, since McClellan's plan was sound, and his brigade commanders (especially Joe Hooker) were competent. A raw North Carolina regiment attacked with perfect parade ground precision (probably just because they didn't know what combat would be like) and scattered the center of the Federal advance as they were toiling across swampy ground.
That was the situation into which Lee's attack was launched. Jackson was very literal minded, and expected complete and unquestioning obediance, and gave it too. His orders had been to march to the sound of the guns, keeping the river to his right. That was precisely what he did, but in the early afternoon, he halted his column, badly disorganized by the heavy wilderness aspect of the ground they were crossing, but largely because Jackson heard no guns, and was trying to get in touch with Alvin Powell "Little Powell" Hill or Lee.
Hill was also waiting for the sound of the guns, only he was waiting for Jackson's guns. He was to have cleared the Federal pickets from Mechanicsville, and then crossing the river with Longstreet and Daniel Harvey Hill in support, to attack Porter's position on Beaver Dam Creek. He grew impatient, and decided to launch the attack without orders, which meant he went in without the support of Longstreet or D. H. Hill. He repeatedly attacked Porter's corps of almost 15,000 men, dug in behind field fortifications on the edge of Beaver Dam Creek, with his division of somewhat more than 10,000 men. The "fog of war" was the only thing that saved him. Porter, a highly competent officer (with a talent for gossip and therefore ruining his own career), assumed, reasonably, that he would not be attacked by an inferior force coming in unsupported, so that Hill's boys, after horrible slaughter, were able to limp away. Jackson, of course, immediately began moving to the sound of the guns, but it was all over but the shouting and the sun was going down before he got near Beaver Dam Creek.
Throughout that day's debacle, Lee did not ride to the scene of the action, nor attempt to take any hand in the conduct of the battle. His own staff officers and couriers remained with him, and he was not even aware that Hill had gone in unsupported and without orders until one of Hill's staff officers arrived to learn why Hill was not being supported. Longstreet and D. H. Hill eventually joined A. P. Hill's useless attacks, while Jackson, who had been ordered to march to the sound of the guns, and had done so, but had not been ordered to join Hill's attack, and had not done so, ordered his little army to bivouac.
Later, Lee only mildly questioned Hill, and as Porter was seen to be retreating, decided that Hill's attack, although costly, had been successful. Porter, of course, was withdrawing as he had planned to do all along, and congratulated himself (not unreasonably) on bloodying the southern nose while getting way rather lightly. McClellan was panicking by now, though, because even with weeks of warning, he had not yet shifted his base, and unlike Porter, he was unprepared for the event. Huger and "Prince John" Magruder had "demonstrated" in front of four corps of McClellan's army, convincing McClellan that an avalanche of the alleged 200,000 Confederates war coming down on his "little" army. He had about 120,000 men, to the roughly 90,000 Confederates, 30,000 of whom remained in the trenches protecting Richmond--basically Lee was attacking at one to two odds. Indeed, his name might well be audacity.
Far from being concerned by his officers' performance on June 26, Lee was convinced that everything was going according to plan, and that they were inflicting a serious defeat on McClellan. McClellan abetted the impression by his panic, and by Porter's withdrawal. Porter was the only Federal officer who kept his head, and he was falling back completely according to his plan. Lee did not send out a single staff officer to look at the battlefield or to report on Porter's movements, and all that he learned about the day's fight he learned from staff officers sent to him by Longstreet and the two Hills. Jackson, who had marched to the sound of the guns as ordered, didnt' send any report to Lee, as he had, in his own opinion, done as he had been ordered.
Confederate casualties on that day were more than five times greater that Porter's casualties.
Lee's plan was to continue the attack the next day. His entire contribution to Jackon's movements was to send a young cavalryman who was familiar with the ground to lead Jackson forward. McClellan had ordered Porter to halt his retreat and hold Gaine's Mills at all cost, while he prepared to withdraw the other four corps of his army to the new base on James River. Porter set up another punishing defensive position, and the Confederates attacked him all day. First A. P. Hill launched another attack at Beaver Dam Creek, to find a token force had been confronting his division all night. He followed Porter's rear guard through Boatswain's Swamp, at considerable cost, and began attacking Porter's salient at Gaine's Mills. At first Longstreet hesitated to join the attack, because he had been told to await Jackson (same script as the day before), but he eventually decided he couldn't allow Hill to continue to attack unsupported, and he sent in George Pickett's brigade--Porter's men chewed them up and spat them out. Eventually, D. H. Hill joined the attack, to equally inconclusive results.
Where was Jackson? He was wandering all over Hell's half acre. The courier Lee had sent him finally found his little army at Spring Green Church (where he wasn't told he would find him), and began leading them to the southeast. As the sounds of the guns began to fade, Jackson finally stopped the column and demanded to know where there the courier was taking them. He said he was taking them to Cold Harbor, as he had been ordered. Jackson objected that the sound of the guns had been to the south and was now to the southwest, to which the courier replied that that was Old Cold Harbor, he was taking them to New Cold Harbor, and nobody had told him any different. Once again, no Confederate officer had a map of the ground, even though Stuart had pulled off his stunt weeks before. Incredibly, Jackson, who arrested more officers in that war than any other officer, and who arrested A. P. Hill on more than one occasion, allowed the insubordination to pass, because the courier was on Lee'st staff.
Jackson did not arrive at Gaine's Mills until after 4:00 p.m. Pickett's boys attacked again, with John Bell Hood's Texans on their left--the arrival of Jackson on Porter's right flank assured the collapse of the defense, and Porter suffered his worst losses in the entire campaign. It was the closest thing to a victory which Lee had in the entire Seven Days, and Confederate casualties were still more than a thousand men greater than Porter's casualties. Meanwhile, the intrepid McClellan hunkered down, biting his nails, and praying that his 60,000 men could hold out against Huger and Magruder. Magruder was known as "Prince John" Magruder in "the old army" because of his love of amateur theatrics. He played it to the hilt, marching and countermarching, launching one feint after the other, and sending horsemen to the flanks with bugles to convince the Federals that even more rebels were about to attack him. It worked a treat--McClellan was frozen in position, and made no move to attack, or to send troops to support Porter. Despite having his line broken, the irrepressible Porter used his one fresh division to convince the Confederates that he was about to counterattack, while his trains crossed the river. By four o'clock in the morning, after somewhat more than two days' hard fighting, Porter had badly bloodied the southern nose, and had gotten his entire force across the Chickahominy, including all his supplies, while facing almost 60,000 men with just under 15,000. Gaine's Mills had badly punished his corps, but the Confederates would never catch up with him again in that campaign, and he had successfully fought the toughest fighting retreat of the war.
Porter was a competent officer who understood his job. The first task of any commander in retreat is to get his wounded and his trains out safely. This he did, and then he burned the bridges over the Chickahominy. He did this while the survivors of his corps were still north of White Oak Swamp. One might consider that nearly suicidal, but his job in that campaign was to protect McClellan's right flank, and that's just what he was doing. He had with him two topographical engineers from the Coast and Geodetic Survey (ancestor of todays' NOAA), and he sent them out to find fords over White Oak Swamp. This they did just before midnight, and by 4:00 a.m., they had successfully lead the remainder of Porter's corps through the swamp. The next day, Jackson arrived at White Oak Swamp, and spent the entire day bridging the swamp, while Federal artillery played Old Harry with his engineers and sappers. Once again, no one had scouted the area, and, in fact, Jackson and his staff sat on a knoll above the fords which Porter had used to extricate his corps.
I won't rehearse the rest of the campaign, which was suitably bloody and futile. The last ugly note of the campaign was the failed assault on Malvern Hill. The Federals had more than 100 artillery pieces on the hill, with infantry dug in in front of them on the slope of the hill. Confederate batteries would race up, unlimber, fire a few shots and be blown to hell by the concentrated fire of the Federal artillery. Late in the day, Lee sent forward an attack, which was based on D. H. Hill's division, which had suffered least in the fiasco of the first days of the campaign. None of the Confederates got any closer than 200 yards from the Federal field fortifications; Hill commented: "It wasn't war, it was murder."
For the North, it was a terrible blow to morale, and McClellan was on his way out, although he would have one more opportunity to display his spectacular incompetence. For the South, although they had suffered about 20,000 casualties to McClellan's roughly 15,000, and although stunned by the heavy casualties, it was a tremendous boost to their morale. As it turns out, the departure of McClellan eventually proved a good thing for the Army of the Potomac. The glorification of Lee and Jackson eventually lead to the destruction of the southern war effort, although at the time southerners became convinced that their troops were invincible.
Lee had shown the audacity that Heth had credited to him. But that's the best that can be said of him. He had no maps, he sent no one out to scout the terrain and prepare maps, he made no effort to supervise the battle or to keep in constant touch with his commanders, and he sacrificed a third of his attacking force in killed, wounded and missing. He never improved his staff work, and if Jackson had not had an excellent topographical engineer, then they likely would never had had any maps of the ground over which they campaigned. He also continued to throw his troops at the enemy in a profligate manner. Lincoln always said he needed to find a man who understood the numbers. When he appointed Grant, he had that man. In the Wilderness campaign, from Fredericksburg to Richmond, Grant's army suffered about 60,000 casualties. He got 90,000 replacements. Lee's army suffered about 30,000 casualties--he got 15,000 replacements. Grant understood the numbers, and he ground Lee's army away to nothing. When Lee finally surrendered in 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia had melted away to fewer than 10,000 men
So, Lee, for all his campaigning skill and audacity, never did basic staff work, and although his own correspondence and his advice to other commanders when he was Davis' aide show he understood the numbers, he was profligate of the lives of his men. It is even more incredible that he didn't do staff work, given that he made his military reputation in Mexico as Winfield Scott's chief staff engineer, which means it was his job to scout the terrain and prepare maps. Nevertheless, he holds the highest place in the American pantheon of military commanders. Never let anyone tell you that propaganda cannot be wildly successful. Even in the North, Lee is revered as a military commander. He doesn't deserve that reputation.