3/16/2015

Savior generals

It's not an adequate rebuttal to counterinsurgency doctrine but Col. Gian Gentile's polemic Wrong Turn has three very interesting memes relevant to our little world: "the bad general," "the better general," and "the savior general." His method of debunking these pop culture archetypes is to document the underlying and pervasive continuity (in policy and practice) between the "bad," the "better," and the "savior."

One wonders if the germ of this idea came from Civil War readings.

3/12/2015

Atlanta's numbers (cont.)

Andrew Wagenhoffer wrote in to mention that Steve Newton wrote about Johnston's retreat numbers in North & South ages ago. "I found some talk on the article on the Armchair General." Here's a snip from that board:
There was an excellent article in the April 2000 (Vol 3, No.4) North/South magazine that did just that. The name of the article was "Formidable Only in Flight: Casualties, Attrition, & Morale in Georgia" by Steve Newton. Steve does an excellent job of breaking down battlefield casualties, missing soldiers, losses to sickness, & readmissions amongst both Federal & Confederate armies. "Under Johnston's leadership the average daily casualty rate was 195 casualties per day for 73 days; under Hood this average increased to 375 casualties per day for 47 days. Although daily averages only show general trends over weeks & months, it is evident that the Army of Tennessee suffered signficantly more casualties over a much shorter period under Hood than Johnston."

Where things break down for the Confederates is in the hospital & recovery phase. The Federals were MUCH better at getting men back to the battlefield than their Confederate counterparts. For the Confederates, the really telling part is not casualties TAKEN, but in casualties INFLICTED. While Johnston in 73 days of combat generates nearly the casualties that Hood does in 47, the Yanks take 20,000 LESS casualties due to the battlefield & sickness under Hood than Johnston. Hood takes greater casualties faster & inflicts less damage than Johnston.
These numbers need more scrutiny; one may have to repair to eBay to get a copy of the issue in question.

How to communicate

Just came back from a company meeting in which we were urged to begin communicating with each other at a (lower) level such that "even a New York Times reader could understand." Seriously. It was a comment on reading levels made without malice.

I often think on these same lines when I see discussion of complex issues reduced to one syllable words.

3/07/2015

Atlanta's numbers

Crimes against numbers, being the special mark of the Civil War historian, always catch my eye.

The question of Johnston's strength during the Atlanta campaign and at the point of relinquishing command to J.B. Hood is a controversy of which I have been innocent until drawn in by an aside in Stephen M. Hood's new book The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood:
...Johnston had declared that during his May and June operations in North Georgia his army had lost 9,972 men, killed and wounded, in his infantry and artillery. Many subsequent writers had contented themselves with simply repeating what Johnston had written and even had ignored the restricted nature of the general's own statement ("killed and wounded," "infantry and artillery," "May and June"). In fact, if one adds other known losses and makes reasonable estimates of deserters, stragglers, men lost as prisoners, men lost to sickness, casualties in the cavalry, and losses in the 1-17 July period, one gets a different picture. Johnston's losses then total about 25,000.
Russell Bonds has a comment on Johnston's tallies in his War Like the Thunderbolt:
Johnston only counted enlisted men armed on the front lines as "effectives," while adding every orderly, cook, staff officer, and teamster west of the Appalachians to the Federal total ... In short, Johnston's reports compared apples to oranges - Confederate "effectives" versus Union "aggregate present" - and then compounded the problem by undercounting the apples and overcounting the oranges.
This useful criticism does not get us to a larger picture of relative strengths, so I turned to another new book, Robert Jenkins' To the Gates of Atlanta: From Kennesaw Mountain to Peach Tree Creek. Its Appendix C, "Estimated Strength of Hood's Army," puts the handover at 44,400. The unit breakdowns show figures such as 4,00, 2,000, 1,000 and, not surprisingly, they come from the OR. The OR does not say who made this estimate, why or how, nor the  excessive resort to zeroes. This is not to single out Jenkins because we often see historians who cite the early information of the OR in preference to the refined data and analysis that come later.

Have a look at this article from Battles and Leaders published lifetimes ago to see the kind of rigor that would be useful if we could ever train historians to take an interest in figures. Note that the authors say "between April 30th and June 10th, [Johnston must account] for at least the following men available for battle," namely 84,328. Subtracting Stephen Hood's estimate of 25,000 lost en route to Atlanta and we come somewhat near to the Battle and Leaders authors' reckoning for Gen. Hood's new command: 65,032.

"Somewhat near" because contemporary accounts also feature an abundance of zeroes. Among the Lost Papers is another estimate made by a Kentucky regimental surgeon who writes to Gen. Hood that "... it was estimated, from despondency and our retrograde movement, the army had lost between 17,000 and 20,000 men by desertion ..." [Emphasis added.]

There is a lot of work to be done here.

Stephen Hood's book opens another door to a related matter, of which I had not heard. Bragg writes Hood on December 17, 1865:
My recollection is perfectly clear ... In addition to the Army of Tennessee, then at Dalton, the General Commanding was offered for an offensive campaign, Polk's Corps from Mississippi & Ala., Longstreet's Corps from East Tennessee, and a sufficient number from Beauregard's command in S. Carolina & Georgia to make up 75,000 effective infantry. The Cavalry with these commands numbered at least 10,000 and the artillery 6,000, total 91,000. Besides the effectives so reported there were not less than 15,000 able bodied men bearing arms but reported on extra duty such as clerks, cooks, mechanics, laborers, teamsters &c, &c. One half at least could at any time be placed in battle without impairing the efficiency of the army.
I have always considered it a great misfortune that the generous offer of President Davis was not promptly accepted, and the campaign energetically undertaken. To furnish the means all other armies were for the time being to be subordinated to the Army of Tennessee.
This is gist for an alternative history and suggests the outnumbered JJ may have been outnumbered by his own choice.

---

p.s. Johnston was no stranger to spin. For details on how Johnston falsified his report on Fair Oaks, see Cliff Dowdey's The Seven Days.

3/05/2015

The Comte de Paris on the climax of McClellan's second Richmond campaign

During a recent stay at the Union League Club in New York, I found an original edition (are there newer ones?) of the Comte de Paris' History of the Civil War in America. There is a digital edition somewhere, no doubt, and perhaps I could have read read it on a tablet in a dirty taxicab, but better to browse in a beautiful setting (shown above).

McClellan's second Richmond campaign promised a solid win. The largest-ever AOP had concentrated against Longstreet in the Piedmont near Culpeper-Warrenton, while Jackson's isolated, distant, scattered command scrounged Valley supplies beyond the mountains (the passes of which had been blocked by commands posted by GBM).

While acknowledging the advantage McClellan developed, the Comte speculates on alternative outcomes:
Jackson and Lee, who had a thorough knowledge of the situation, had certainly projected some bold movement upon McClellan's rear similar to that which had proved so successful against Pope ... but they were playing a very dangerous game.*
Strong statements but History lacks notes. Why did the author think Lee had thorough knowledge and a certain plan?

Russel Beatie, perhaps alone among ACW historians, used the Comte's unpublished papers in writing his Army of the Potomac series. Is the answer in those papers?

---
* Vol 2, 554-555

2/12/2015

ALPLM hits the wall

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the management of which has long been derided in this blog, now faces reorganization driven by the Illinois legislature. A new report makes interesting points:
* "The library has been unable to maintain its professional staff and to make necessary investments in digital technology"

* "The museum’s famously innovative exhibitions, created a decade ago, are in need of a major reinvestment"

* "The lack of a professional culture is acutely evident at the State Historical Library"

* "... maintaining the status quo for ALPLM governance is untenable."
The place has been a patronage sink made ludicrous by its pretensions. Will separation from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency fix that?

2/11/2015

James McPherson's favorite books and authors

In a New York Times interview, James McPherson recently identified some of his favorite authors and books. I thought I'd add some fun links to the names below.

Best ACW book ever: Allan Nevins' Ordeal of the Union. (Scroll down to the sixth para where Nevins plagiarism is discussed.)

Favorite ACW biography: "Jean Edward Smith, Grant. (See my posts, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).*

"Most important military history ever written": John Keegan's Face of Battle.

One of "the best historians writing today": Eric Foner.

In the "first rank of military historians": Craig Symonds, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthar.

Happy reading!

----
* Smith and McPherson make beautiful music together:

McPherson: "He may have been an alcoholic in the medical meaning of that term. He was a binge drinker." [BCOF P 588]
Smith: "Grant was a binge drinker. In a clinical sense, he may have been an alcoholic." [Grant P. 231]

McPherson: "For months he could go without liquor, but if he once imbibed it was hard for him to stop." [P 588]
Smith: "He could go for months without a drink, but once he started it was difficult for him to stop." [P. 231]

McPherson: "His wife and his chief of staff John A. Rawlins were his best protectors." [P 588]
Smith: "For the most part, Grant remained sober, protected from alcohol by his adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins, and especially by Julia." [P. 231]

Smith can also make Catton's dead prose come alive!

Catton (Grant Takes Command): "Grant saw more of the fighting here than he did in the Wilderness because the country was more open."
Smith (Grant): "Grant was able to witness more of the fighting at Spotsylvania than in the Wilderness because the terrain was more open."

Catton: "During the afternoon he saddled up and rode out to several points where he could watch the fight for the tip of the salient."
Smith: "During the afternoon he ordered his reliable pony Jeff Davis saddled and rode out to several points where he could observe Hancock's troops fighting at the tip of the mule shoe and Wright's assault on the west angle."

Catton: "It seemed to him that on balance things had gone well and that evening back at headquarters he sent Halleck a wire summing up his impression [quotes wire]."
Smith: "On balance, Grant thought things were going well. Back at headquarters that evening he wired Halleck [quotes and paraphrases wire]."

Catton: "On the evening of May 11 Grant had sent Julia an optimistic message [quotes message]."
Smith: "Later he wrote Julia he was well and full of hope [quotes message]."

The passing (cont.)

I shared some thoughts with Brooks Simpson and his readers on how the old guard's views will be carried on into the future (see comments).

2/10/2015

My, how history rhymes

"If he lacked the flexibility to suffer fools gladly..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"One of the adjectives that is usually applied to President Davis is the word 'austere'..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"He appears humorless..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: July 1846--December 1848, p vii
Lynda L. Crist, Mary S. Dix, 1982

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
Battle Cry of Freedom, p 429
James McPherson, 1988

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era, p 363
James McPherson, 2003

"He did not suffer fools gladly ... Davis could be austere, humorless and tediously argumentative."
Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief quoted in reviews
James McPherson, 2014

---

(p.s. If anyone knows who these fools are whom Davis did not suffer, please drop a line.)

2/07/2015

Low Davis content in "Jefferson Davis"

Began reading Jefferson Davis, Confederate President by Hattaway and Beringer, which came out in 2002.

Reading and reading, I got angrier and angrier. The book is really a general history of Confederate military operations, many of these operations undertaken with no Davis input. No Davis strategy, no Davis decision trees, no Davis work habits, no Davis routine interactions, no business style, not even superficial analysis of this presidency: this is what the authors deliver. They supply 5-10% Davis content at most and no more than 15-20% presidency content.

Expect a handsomely bound Civil War primer that treats its real subject, operations, hurriedly and it's pretend topic, the Davis presidency, not at all.

2/03/2015

The passing

A friend writes,
Just saw news of Pfanz’s death, and was thinking about Civil War history and generations of historians:

I guess you saw Harry W. Pfanz just died (age 93). Albert Castel died in November (age 86).

Stephen Sears is 82. McPherson is 78. James I. “Bud” Robertson is 84 or 85. Ed Bearss is 91. William C. Davis is a spritely 68, but just retired.

Are we now, fully and finally, in the age of Simpson, Rafuse, Grimsley, Symonds, Woodworth, Carmichael, Hess, et al.? And if so, what will they do as they seize the wheel? With their power to shape history? Will we see new and powerful analyses of battles and leaders and logistics and politics, or just blog posts about social history and latter-day “controversies” like the Confederate flag? How many of those guys are working on major books at this point? Do we have anything to look forward to?

(Then there’s the threat of Michael Korda and the like. Don’t get me started.)
Your thoughts, dear reader?

1/14/2015

New Lincoln resettlement document

This undated blog posting refers to a new find: a resettlement agreement signed by Lincoln that puts freed slaves in what is modern Belize. I had heard of these plans but had no idea they reached the point of government-to-government agreements.

History is full of messy details which writers take pains to eliminate.

12/11/2014

World plagiarism study

At first this article surprised me with the benign estimate of America's scientific plagiarism. You could be forgiven for mistaking the USA for a beacon of integrity if you did not notice this bit of methodology:
The final check is a computer program that compares the paper's text with the text of every other paper already published on arXiv.
Emphasis added. Excluded: books, paywalled papers, unpublished papers, lectures. The limits of this check are so obvious, that it's a wonder any significant cheating was discovered at all. But is this kind of thing at least useful for a snapshot?

We need much more such policing in Civil War history and social science generally. There is the problem of plagiarizing others and then of plagiarizing one's own work.

Academics have the luxury of blaming graduate assistants for their crimes but others are not so lucky.

And although an Allan Nevins could confidently steal Fremont research from an unpublished paper, one wonders at the mentality of a pop culture celebrity who thinks his theft from a recent issue of the New Yorker would go unnoticed. Hell, who among his TV fans reads at all?

Thieves. A friends' house was burgled in the night and the next day, he found the stolen stuff scattered around the garden, under bushes and in the driveway. It made no sense. He asked the police, "Why?" He received a look of scorn. "These aren't rocket scientists, you know."

Plagiarists: not rocket scientists. Not even garden variety scientists, really.

11/27/2014

Books

This post is to acknowledge some of the many review copies received here over the last year even though most fall outside of my competence and interest. I'll give the same comments you would receive if we were browsing in a bookstore.

Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War is by Michael Adams whom you may know through his Our Masters the Rebels, a book I thought interesting and worthwhile but as a "speculation" (author's characterization) it seemed to me to go too far. This new work looks to be a corrective the general run of airbrushed history, compiling the miserable squalor of the soldier's daily grind with the plight of civilians and veterans. There are war crimes too: "Evidence exists that, as the war went on, Union authorities deliberately reduced the ration" allowed to CSA POWs. This is the kind of remark that demands a little more exploration. So too do many hit and run observations: Thomas's "preference for winning through superior deployment;" "Many officers also failed to register that defensive firepower had shifted the tactical advantage...;" "Billets remained unclean." There is a tendency to footnote generalizations instead of argue them.

The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War is a collection of essays under a title that suggests more focus than the assembled content possesses. Here we have King Cotton, atrocities, immigration, Gone with the Wind, quite the grab bag. The essay that attracted my interest especially was "Nurse as Icon," examining Florence Nightingale's effect on the ACW entirely as a pop culture phenomenon. The leading American nurses appear in Jane Schultz's piece ever so briefly as failed celebrities. This is a remarkable and disturbing way to approach Civil War meanings.

Last to Join the Fight: The 66th Georgia Infantry follows the misadventures of this late-war regiment through the famous end-of-war Western campaigns. Generally, the author works his data  into narrative but this book does offer one table and it is fascinating: it shows the individual and parental wealth of the regiment's officers. Of 25 officers listed, only one shows neither personal nor parental wealth; I notice $400,000 on the top end and these are US dollars based on previous census figures.

The 66th Georgia (speaking of which) rates no fewer than 13 citations in Robert Jenkins' The Battle of Peachtree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, an enormous study of 423 pages, not counting rosters, bibliography, notes, front matter, pictures, etc.  Two complaints about the book posted to Amazon address the unit-by-unit storytelling approach and the emphasis given to Stewart's part of the battle. My own complaint is about discouragement. I dread starting a book this detailed on such a specific topic outside of my more familiar reading. It seems an invitation to enter into disputes about which I know nothing. In this case, the treatment of Hood is of a mainstream/neutral flavor and Hardee is found wanting. The author, at least, is not a polemicist, and follows a process of describing actions and results.

Challenges on the Emmaus Road: Episcopal Bishops Confront Slavery, Civil War, and Emancipation offers, as its title says, an Episcopalian  view into the ACW. This does not, however, mean that this big book enjoys a single point of view. The material ranges across time and personalities and the effect is episodic. Our good friend Leonidas Polk figures here, as he ought to, but many others also appear briefly as specific issues come up. There is, for instance, the matter of John Pope's Indian executions, to which Minnesota's bishop objects. An interesting church history.

William Gilmore Sims's Selected Reviews on Literature and Civilization offers the views of a leading Southern critic in short pieces often on books or personalities known to us. Sims is regarded by some as the leading literary figure of that place and time but to those of us steeped in contemporary research, too much of this reads like ordinary newspaper fare. He becomes interesting when pushing outside that range of tone, for instance when savaging De Forest's  ACW novel, Miss Ravenel's Conversion ("the embodiment of all the brutal malignity Northern writers have ever conceived..."). Occasionally, the editors' introductions run longer than the piece itself, as in the review of Carlyle's Latter Day Pamphlets, and sometimes, as in the case of Carlyle, the underlying review is worthless except as a brand-name touch-point for readers and an opportunity for Sims to take another swipe at the North.

 The Devil's to Pay: John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour brings us new work by Eric Wittenberg. We know the author as a cavalry specialist, a Buford advocate and a deep researcher whose treatment of primary sources is exemplary. This volume includes material from new primary sources, with the walking tour following the narrative in an appendix. There are other appendices (among maps, notes and other goodies), including Eric's masterful debunking of "The Myth of the Spencers" in Appendix B. This "Myth" reveals Eric's deep powers as historian, historiographer, researcher, analyst, and critic. If future writers skip this tome, mistaking it for a tour guide only, they will lose a broader understanding the general battle.

On the general theme of tour books, Savas Beatie has released a series of what might be considered to be battlefield backgrounders. These are not guides or map books but rather short, heavily illustrated descriptive narratives. The series includes Simply Murder, the Battle of Fredericksburg; A Season of Slaughter, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House May 8-21, 1864; That Furious Strugle:  Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy May 1-4, 1863; Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor, May 26-June 5, 1864; and No Turning Back,: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May 4-June 13, 1964.

11/20/2014

Election note from '58

On October 6, 1858, The Loudon Democratic Mirror newspaper reprinted an article from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin about the elections occurring in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia:
A Sardinian Election
[...]
The qualifications for a voter, though apparently reasonable to a "European mind," would be so many shackles to a freeborn American. In the first place, a voter is required actually to be born Piedmontais and to reside in the district where he votes.
[...]
Interesting!

11/18/2014

Virginia vintners promote Sesquicentennial

Sorry I did not mention this earlier... a tie in between battlefield tours and nearby wineries.

McClellan's Retreat

A cocktail bar with an ahistorical name.

(H/T to correspondents.)

11/14/2014

Civil War beer

Those who have read Jonathan Wainwright's diary will recall his entering General Burnside's HQ tent and finding it pleasingly stocked with all kinds of ales, porters, wines and ciders.

I thought of this today while reading the October 6, 1858 edition of the Loudon Democratic Mirror in a library near Ball's Bluff. There was a beer advertisement that opens a window into the popular tastes of that time. The ad was placed by Arny & Shin, bottlers out of Georgetown, and the units offered were 12-bottles per price shown. The list below is complete as posted. The numbers are dollars. The bottle shown top right is contemporary with the ad.

Kennett Ale ---------- 1.25
Burton Ale ----------- 1.00
Philadelphia Ale ----- 1.00
XX Ale --------------- 1.00
XXX Pale Ale --------- 1.00
India Pale Ale ------- 1.50
XX Family Porter ----- 1.00
Brown Stout ---------- 1.50
Crab Apple Cider ----- 1.50
Champagne Cider ------ 1.50

If you were going to be an 1858 Joe Sixpack, it would cost you no less than 50 cents per day in a land where $5/week was a decent income.

Interesting that Loudon's significant German population is not represented in these beer styles. Perhaps they were Moravians and therefore abstainers. These English beer styles would be supplanted from coast to coast by the all-pervasive Central European yellow lager after the war.

But what of these beer styles?

Kennett ale seems to have been a strong ale spiced with coriander and chili peppers.

Burton Ale seems to have been strong, dark and sweet and a precursor to today's Baltic porters.

Philadelphia ale is something I could not identify.

XX Ale is probably something we would recognize as similar to a Sam Adams Boston Ale, though as an XX, I assume weaker.

XXX Pale Ale is a style we know well. It's having quite a revival just now.

India Pale Ale, likewise. This extreme form of Pale Ale caters to hop heads and was devised in Burton-on-Trent to help offset the loss of sales in Burton Ale caused by Russian import duties.

XX Family Porter has the most intriguing name. "C'mon, kids! Drink up!" It seems to be an over-hopped porter with the added ingredients of licorice and molasses. This 19th Century recipe lets the fermentation run its course, so the molasses would increase the alcohol content rather than act as a sweetener. At the same time, it's just an XX, so we have unanswered questions here.

Brown Stout:
Here’s a quote from a book called ‘A General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade and Manufactures,’ published in 1810: ‘Porter may be divided into two classes, namely brown-stout and porter properly so called … Brown-stout is only a fuller-bodied kind of porter than that which serves for ordinary drinking. A great deal of this is exported to America and the West Indies.”
Here's a discussion of an 18th Century recipe for brown stout.

Today's beer snobs would be very happy in Civil War times.

----

p.s. A note on the bottle shown here:
The true green bottles pictured [above] are very typical short, squat, mid-19th century beer (ale, porter, stout) bottles with fairly abrupt shoulders and comparatively tall, straight (non-bulging) necks. Mineral finishes are most commonly seen on this style, though occasionally other finishes are present like the blob or oil finish. This distinct shape was and is often referred to as a "porter" or "porter bottle" (von Mechow pers. comm. 2011) and was undoubtedly used very frequently for that early type of beer (and occasionally mineral water); bottles noting that they contained "Porter" or "Ale" via the embossing are frequently seen.

The early example pictured [displays] an overall crudity befitting its manufacturing date of about 1854 to 1856.

9/09/2014

An antidote to Easter Bunny history

On Sunday I spoke with a business owner who takes his employees on outings once or twice a year. He had no idea I was interested in Civil War history much less that I was an ACW contrarian.

On Friday, instead of a seminar "where people fall backwards and are caught," as he put it, he took his staff to the nearby Antietam battlefield for a staff ride conducted by the Army War College Foundation (apparently in exchange for a donation to that charity). He couldn't stop talking about it.

As I probed with questions about the tour, each answer surprised me. The guides had an interesting view of the causes of the war that they shared with their audiences. They had a fully developed economic perspective, and their political view of Lincoln was one that a mainstream reader would have found difficult. They offered something like 360 degree views of strategy and tactics deeply intertwined with personalities, political struggles, political economy, and skulduggery. It was an escape from the readymade world of easy answers. I could paraphrase the fascinating specifics but coming from me, it would be third hand stuff.

This War College tour was not the history you get through headphones, my informant told me. "I can't stand Santa Clause history," he said, adding (perhaps unfairly) he would never take a battlefield tour with battlefield park staff. Once you get into that consensus-driven mainstream, that "Easter Bunny" stuff, all the richness and detail is lost to future generations, he told me with great force.

This must be quite a program. In its effect it resembles evangelism for big H History.

9/08/2014

Confederate Tide Rising and Southern strategy

Steve Woodworth compiled some reviews of Joseph Harsh's Confederate Tide Rising that give glimpses of what might be a Confederate strategy. This may whet the appetite of those not familiar with this work. I have an alternate view which I will recap in a future post.

Meanwhile, as President Obama prepares for his big strategy speech on Wednesday, he might consider the wisdom of the 17th Century Book of Five Rings:
The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

9/05/2014

Confusion about strategy

When President Obama recently said "We don’t have a strategy yet," political reporters became obligated to define "strategy," which (predictably) they refused to do (in any story I've seen).

Leaving "strategy" to the imagination of the political class, it could mean "objectives," "tactics," "general intentions," political or military posture, or "frame of reference."

To the military history reader, strategy refers to an outcome based on overall goals, with intermediate objectives, timetables, possibly means, and pre-selected milestone events (as needed). Such a reader might imagine WWII in the west: North Africa landings, Sicily, Italy, France; likewise the island hopping in the Pacific culminating in a home islands invasion.

We cannot, however, reasonably expect any politician anywhere to ever adopt anything like what we would call strategy. This makes the idea that Obama was "speaking our language" absurd. Whatever the "gaffe" was in making his statement, we can assume it was not military or strategic because politicians do no strategy, politicians do contingency.

I have said it before:

- Any strategy is death to political control of the military. It puts the politician at the mercy of events, ends and means having been decided and posted to the court of public opinion.

- There is a long list of inhibitors that guarantee strategy cannot be formulated or adopted.

- "He means to win the war by strategy" - biggest laugh line of the Civil War.

What about Roosevelt's war strategy, unfolding as it did? North Africa, specifically Operation Torch, was the military's desperate, improvised reaction to Roosevelt's non-negotiable demand that the European Axis must be engaged by American troops in 1942. It was pick a front and go. After Torch, Sicily was clearly opportunistic and with the fall of Sicily, the second opportunity of Italy promised a political effect against Mussolini: this was low hanging fruit. The decision to invade of France was a political football that remained in play into early 1944. After accepting the conditional surrender of Vichy in Africa and Badoglio in Italy, unconditional surrender suddenly became unconditional - a policy that would govern strategy or the absence of strategy to war's end. Note to political pundits: policy is not strategy.

In the Pacific, the same pattern emerges. The Navy's war was haphazard and self-directed. The Army's war, under MacArthur, followed the general's strategy for returning to the Philippines (one new book showing how MacArthur obtained incremental buy-in from Roosevelt in the absence of a presidential strategy).

And of Korea, Vietnam, the post war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the less said the better.

Since WWII, the political control of the military has so deeply affected the military's culture, our generals and admirals are at a complete loss as to what strategy is. They cannot seem to transcend the political bubble. Here are the comments of the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs on "strategy" (emphasis added):
Yeah, I will say up front that normally we talk about ends, ways and means mostly during the budget season, when the means become the prominent feature in strategic discussions.

The other way we talk about strategy throughout the year is choices and consequences. You know, we are blessed as a nation to have, you know – we have multiple options in how to deal with issues, in ways that some other countries – most other countries around the world have far, far fewer options.

[...]

And then the other interesting thing about strategy, to me, is whether it’s best to define an end state and then deliberately plot a series of actions to achieve that end state. That’s the traditional thinking, by the way. You identify the end state and then you back plan from that and you chart a course with milestones to decide whether you’ve got it right or not; or whether the world in which we live today actually is one where, kind of like the Heisenberg principle in physics, where you should touch it and see what happens.
To understand how confused the general can be about strategy, consider these pop culture assertions:

- Strategy is operational excellence
- Strategy is is perspective, position, plan, and pattern
- "Strategy is that which top management does that is of great importance to the organization"

And yet, Google's top-of-search gives all the presidents, policymen, and policy executors what they need: strategy is "a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim." This definition is surprisingly close to what military readers think of as strategy, not that we should raise our hopes that others will agree with us. Because strategy is clear and actionable and measurable and it succeeds or fails, this must be poison to politicians. President Obama will adopt no strategy. Neither did Lincoln or Davis.

8/26/2014

Civil War soldiers: measurably smarter than us

You might also ask: can I match my wits against any Kentucky 8th grader of 1912?

Probably not.

8/12/2014

Lincoln bric-a-brac: some ideas

It's the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty and the various writings on the subject, from scholarly papers to marketing analyses, miss the really big point about this little emblem. Hello Kitty was and is a floating signifier. So,
Hello Kitty doesn’t have a body of film work or comic strips that define her character in a meaningful sense such as Mickey Mouse and Snoopy. She is like a mirror, reflecting back any desires or feelings you project upon the character
Hello Kitty was and remains content free. This helps me understand why Lincoln's face adorns so much product.

For the broad masses, Lincoln suggests no more than "good guy" or "president whatever." At the same time, the hat and beard are "branded." The Lincoln image offers manufacturers a royalty free, license free trademark.

Hello Kitty went through stages.
In 1962, Shintaro Tsuji, founder of Sanrio, began selling rubber sandals with flowers painted on them. Tsuji noted the profits gained by adding a cute design to the sandals and hired cartoonists to design cute characters for his merchandise.
This early phase in Hello Kitty's development seems to be where things are with the Hello Abe franchise. Hello Abe has had much time to go beyond this point but remains in plastic sandals, as it were.

In summary, Lincoln imagery offers free branding. The buyer projects something from within onto the meaningless but "cute design" of Lincoln's image. A transaction results.

It has taken me a long time to work this one out.

8/10/2014

Wipe out

Over dinner a few years ago an historian, whom you know well, told me about a frustrating incident.*

He had drafted a book about an event with controversy surrounding Lincoln's involvement. After exhaustive research and his typical just treatment of sources, our author decided he could not solve the controversy and ended the work with an open question.

He had asked a famous ACW author (again, known to us all) to comment on his final draft. Here was the frustration. The celebrity historian, an expert in selling his own books, told him that one could not end things on an open question, one absolutely had to take sides. It was imperative. Our author had weighed the evidence and found no clear answer but he was strongly urged to settle questions for the reader.

The story reminded me of an interview with another celebrity author, James McPherson, in which he said that it was the job of any history writer to tie up loose ends for the reader. He was referring to the loose ends of evidence, not doing more research. IIRC, McPherson made it the historian's core mission to order the chaos of incomplete and contradictory primary material.

We are not speaking here about an historian telling the reader what evidence he, the historian, finds most compelling and why. No, these two best-selling authors called for writers to develop conclusions that go beyond the evidence.

This is not small beer. It renders history a fable. A fable offers a moral. We pass from history to literature.

The second tier of pop history writers willingly draw morals from conclusions to which they are not entitled. These morals are then recycled into derivative works, to "juice" the narratives, sort the good guys from the bad, to stage manage "characters" who play their "roles" to narrative perfection.

Notice the business books that draw "lessons in leadership" from Civil War pop lit. These "lessons" purport to be drawn from history, but they are drawn from the morals of fables.

I was reminded of this by a recent mass mailing advertising a Gettysburg-based program that trains executives.**

Lessons drawn from fables: can history be more diluted? Yes.

A reader sent this quote from a new Sherman biography, Fierce Patriot:
Let me propose an admittedly unconventional but useful analogy--big-wave surfing. Not nearly so many die as in war, but it does happen. . . . So surfers have learned to cooperate, take turns, share the waves. This too is the way of war.
More, via Amazon:
Streaking down the face of a monster breaker, attached to your board by nothing more than a coat of wax, agile feet, and an awesome sense of balance, and then leaning in at precisely the right instance at precisely the right angle that will send you rocketing out from under just before the whole thunderous mass comes crashing down - or being buried in the attempt - that is the essence, the whole point, of everything else. The parallel with military strategists shouldn't be missed.
Literature here has moved beyond fables and morals. It can use these to build ever newer metaphors, one on top of the other, until all is so far abstracted from history that the record is completely wiped out.

We wind up with "product" that actually destroys history.

--
* As this was a private talk, I should not mention names.
** Note that the boss isn't flattering someone with a mandatory leadership course. You wonder about the people sent to these courses.

5/14/2014

The "Maleficent Ecology" of Civil War history

From Baudrillard's essay "Maleficent Ecology":
By producing highly centralized structures ... by remorselessly condensing down functions and models, we are transforming all the rest into waste, residue, useless relics.
How much Civil War history has been transformed into "waste, residue" by the prevailing narratives and the huckster authors who haunt this corner of the nonfiction world?

5/06/2014

Copperhead, the film

Bill Kaufmann and Tom Woods discuss the Kaufmann/Maxwell film Copperhead and make a few interesting points. I paraphrase and summarize:

Woods: Do we not today use "The North"* as a foil** against "the South"*?

Kaufmann: The greatest anachronism in an historical film is to have a character reflect 21st Century ideas and values.

Woods: The Liberty Party received 2% of the vote before the Civil War. But if you talk to people today, that's not a radical party because we're all behind the Liberty Party now.

These are summaries and paraphrases, I repeat, and the context of their discussion is modern political Libertarianism in places. Unfortunately, the scant treatment of these kinds of insights spotlights the limits of radio-podcast-video discussions.

(Note: I'm not sure the audio link will stay active beyond a few more days)

--
* as a construct
** in the sense of thesis/antithesis

5/01/2014

You know you want a Lincoln bobblehead

The big question around Lincoln bobbleheads is always **which** Lincoln bobblehead to buy.

Maybe a Memorial bobblehead is the thing. 

What is it about Lincoln that affects people such that his image must be tamed, mocked, lampooned, and generally made "user friendly"? 

4/28/2014

The Ryan plagiarism scandal: an historian to the rescue

Someone with a good grasp of the material noticed that Professor Vanessa Ryan's Thinking Without Thinking in the Victorian Novel contained copied passages (see the table here)

The perp says she did a mea culpa,
Ryan said she took immediate action, notifying her publisher, her department chair, other colleagues and the scholars improperly cited in her book.
This "immediate action" came in August 2013 after an anonymous tipster turned her in to the university. Having been discovered, she became terribly sorry. Nevertheless,
Kate Flint, a Victorianist who is familiar with Ryan’s work, and who is chair of the department of art history at the University of Southern California, said that Ryan’s response to the allegations demonstrates her academic integrity.
Now, if you will take a few minutes to read the table linked in the first paragraph, you can map your own impressions against these defenses of Ryan's actions (this again from Flint):
...the case demonstrated how easy it could be – even for the brightest young scholars – to accidentally mix their words with others’ after hours, days, and even years spent in libraries covering vast amounts of material. In time, she said, Ryan’s case might even be used a “lesson” for up-and-coming graduate students.

“Any of us could do this,” she said. “It’s a really, really unfortunate, even tragic case of somebody who has done something unwittingly they should not have done being made to pay far more than people usually are.”
Flint's defense, in a nutshell is that

(1) Ryan acted with integrity by stepping forward after being exposed as a plagiarist

(2) She accidentally "mixed her words with others" (the table shows no mixing and the sources did not even get a biblio entry)

(3) Any of us could accidentally become plagiarists at any moment (tragically!)

(3) She should not pay "more than people usually" pay for this action, whatever that means.

It's disturbing that a history professor would make such a defense. Given her attitude toward sources and "accidents," one would hope another anonymous tipster would now go through Flint's books with an eye towards attribution.

Ryan was exonerated by an investigative troika brimming with collegiality. They let her off with rationalizations. The Brown student newspaper:
The committee’s final report, delivered ... and approved ... in November, stated that though Ryan’s book contains plagiarized material from other sources, the plagiarism in question “does not rise to the level of misconduct.” “While, as a result of these mistakes, my book uses words from other scholars’ writings without attribution, the substance of the ideas in the book is my own,” Ryan wrote to The [Brown Daily] Herald.
Keach and 12 other faculty signed a letter protesting the investigation's outcome.
“Everyone I talked to in the English department understood that document [the troika's report] to be saying that research misconduct included plagiarism, that plagiarism is a form of research misconduct,” [Professor William] Keach said. “Therefore any judgment that a faculty member’s work contained errors that were plagiarism but not research misconduct was a kind of category mistake. It was contrary to the logic of the University rules.”
"Category mistake"? Or rank immorality?

In reading any mix of my writing and the writings of others, I can recognize others' passages. I may not be able to place the source, but I know when I see others' material. Either Ryan did not read the proofs or perhaps the book was assembled by helpers in a process too embarrassing to explain.

4/03/2014

Guest Post: Closing remarks on McClellan's telegram from Maurice D’Aoust

Closing remarks from Maurice D’Aoust:

I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Sears has failed to respond to the evidence presented in my last rebuttal surrounding the phantom “idnight” in McClellan’s September 11th message to Halleck.  I must, therefore conclude that he concedes no “idnight” exists either on the microfilm copy or on Mr. Thorp’s digital rendering of the message.  I was also gratified to see Mr. Thorp's comment in this regard.  Mr. Thorp has conducted some extensive research surrounding McClellan’s September 13, 1862 telegram to Lincoln and I would encourage him to share his findings at this time. 

Throughout our debate, Mr. Sears has stated his case in support of the 12M version of McClellan’s September 13, 1862 telegram and I have stated mine in favor of the 12 Midnight document.  I will not re-hash things in these, my closing remarks. Any who wish to know Mr. Sears’s or my views have now simply to go back and read our various exchanges on this site.  As for McClellan’s sent copy, I’m certain that, if ever found, the document will be time-marked 12 Midnight.  The evidence is simply too overwhelming for it to have not been so marked. I would suggest to Mr. Sears that a jury of our peers has already begun delivering its verdict and I am referring to Dr. Tom Clemens’s and Mr. Scott Hartwig's respective works in which both of these prominent historians support the 12 Midnight scenario. In closing, I’d like to thank Mr. Sears for the opportunity of publicly debating this very controversial matter. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to Dimitri Rotov for hosting the debate on Civil War Bookshelf. 

-- Maurice D’Aoust

Guest Post: Gene Thorp offers "A brief clarification for Mr. Sears"

I would like to state clearly that I did not and do not agree with Mr. Sears that finding McClellan's original Sept. 13 Trophies telegram is theonly certain way to settle the time-stamp issue. If it can be conclusively shown that McClellan did not receive the Lost Order before noon, then it would also mean that he could not have reported it to Lincoln at noon.

The misrepresentations from Mr. Sears below about what I have and have not written on this subject are truly astounding. They are generally as accurate as his claim that the word "Midnight" on the Sept. 11 telegram is somehow written under the Official Records stamp.

Sincerely,

Gene Thorp
Washington Post Cartographer

Guest Post: Stephen Sears' second postscript on the McClellan telegram

Stephen Sears  offers this Postscript II on the McClellan telegram and the Lost Order:

In a phone conversation with Gene Thorpe some time since, he and I agreed that the only certain way to settle the question of the sending time of McClellan’s telegram to Lincoln on Sept. 13 was to have McClellan’s original sending copy. Did he time-mark it 12 M (noon) or 12 Midnight? For my Papers of McClellan book (1989) I searched for this elusive sending copy, and I know Mr. Thorpe has too. No luck so far.

The whole matter therefore comes down to what happened starting at 2:35 a.m. on Sept. 14 at the War Dept. telegraph office in Washington. In the absence of McClellan’s sending copy, the primary copy of the Lincoln telegram is the operator’s received copy. I maintain he did his job capably. That is, he correctly copied McClellan’s 12 M time mark on the file and carbon copies and on the copy for Lincoln. Someone added “idnight” to Lincoln’s copy. As explained earlier, by the logic of the case I believe it was the president himself. I further believe, knowing George McClellan as I do and knowing the situation on Sept. 13, he would never have sent his exuberant Lincoln telegram at midnight, an hour after his dark and gloomy 11 p.m. telegram to Halleck.

Mr. D’Aoust claims the War Dept. operator did not do his job—for some inexplicable reason (and not for the first time) he changed McClellan’s 12 Midnight time-mark to 12 M on the file and carbon copy and the Lincoln copy. Then an unidentified someone added “idnight” to the Lincoln copy, but not to the file and carbon copies. Then between 11 and 12 o’clock that night, a very worried McClellan abruptly became exuberant and composed the Lincoln telegram.

None of this—the dolt operator, a hyper General McClellan—makes sense to me. Despite being accused as a fabricator of facts, I think the facts supporting a noon telegram are correct and relevant.  And that’s really all I have to say on the subject. If there is a jury out there, I’d like to hear their verdict.

-- Stephen Sears

4/02/2014

Guest Post: The McClellan telegram, a response from Maurice D’Aoust

Maurice D’Aoust submitted the following in response to Stephen Sears's March 30th post. "Once again, for ease of reference I have addressed each of Mr. Sears’s points individually."

SEARS:  To argue that McClellan’s Sept. 13 telegram to Lincoln, announcing the finding of the Lost Order, was sent at midnight rather than noon, Mr. D’Aoust offers two supposed proofs demonstrating that the Lost Order did not reach McClellan in time for him to telegraph Lincoln at noon. A third supposed proof, by Gene Thorp and laid out in an appendix to the post, attempts to show how a telegram sent at midnight was erroneously labeled noon in the records, and what lesson is to be drawn from that.

D'AOUST:  How can Mr. Sears possibly refer to two primary source accounts confirming the 27th Indiana's 12 noon arrival as "supposed" proof?  The first of these proofs is from a Battles and Leaders article, (vol. 2, p. 603) in which Silas Colgrove writes "The Twelfth Army Corps arrived at Frederick, Maryland, about noon on the 13th of September, 1862. The 27th Indiana Volunteers, of which I was colonel at that date, belonged to the Third Brigade, First Division, of that corps."  The second primary source is from Antietam chronicler Ezra A. Carman when he writes, "Williams Corps arrived near Frederick and halted about noon, very early noon, and this agrees with the recollections and papers of this author."  See Thomas G. Clemens, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol. 1: South Mountain, p. 280 in this regard. Then there is the evidence contained within the message itself surrounding the taking of Catoctin.   I'll reserve my comments regarding Mr. Thorp's evidence until later in this response.    

SEARS:  The heart of the matter is this: Just because no sending copy of the Sept. 13 telegram in McClellan’s handwriting has been found—and I have looked long and hard, far and wide—Messrs. D’Aoust and Thorp and their advocates say the dispatch was tampered with or messed with in the telegraphic process. I say the telegraphic process worked just fine (except for unavoidable delay) and exactly as it was supposed to. 

D'AOUST:  Absolutely no one suggested Lincoln's copy was "tampered with" or "messed with."  These are entirely Mr. Sears's words.  As I've already stated, the time stamp was amended by someone in order to correct the telegrapher's "12M" error.  The evidence confirms that whoever amended the document was absolutely correct in doing so.

SEARS:  To begin with, I find no factual, confirmable evidence disproving the telegram was sent at noon, so, obviously, the Lost Order reached McClellan before noon. But Mr. D’Aoust persists, and his evidence deserves a hearing. He claims the 27th Indiana did not get to where the Order was found in time for Corp. Mitchell to do the finding before noon. But Charles B. Dew, writing in the Journal of Southern History, used the Samuel Pittman papers to show that Silas Colgrove, the 27th’s colonel, carried the Lost Order to Twelfth Corps headquarters, last stop before it went to McClellan, before noon. Pittman was General Alpheus Williams’s aide, identified the Order’s handwriting as authentic, and is a sound witness. Ezra Carman heard from the courier (urged by Pittman to ride fast) who delivered the Order, saying he left for army headquarters about 9:30 a.m. (No reliance can be placed on Jones’s regimental history of the 27th Indiana. It is riddled with errors, such as the canard that Mitchell was illiterate.)

D'AOUST:  The "confirmable evidence" that disproves the telegram was sent at noon has  been there all along for Mr. Sears to find. He has simply chosen to ignore it. The evidence confirming the 27 Indiana did not reach Frederick until noon is comprised of two primary source accounts from two participants who were there when these events took place. As for Charles B. Dew's article, I assume Mr. Sears is referring to Dew's "How Samuel Pittman validated Lee's 'Lost Order' Prior to Antietam: A Historical Note" in which, as one reviewer puts it,  "Dew uses Stephen Sears and James B. McPherson's books to synthesize a description of the event."  Is this the article Mr. Sears is referring to? Ezra Carman, considered to be the foremost expert on the Battle of Antietam and who was also present when these events took place, had this to say about Pittman's account: "[i]n this he was evidently mistaken, accounts generally agree that Williams Corps arrived near Frederick and halted about noon, very early noon, and this agrees with the recollections and papers of this author."  Have either Messrs. Sears or Dew bothered to investigate Carman's conclusion on this matter or have they simply chosen to deem Carman a liar? For that matter, why do they also completely discount Colgrove's Battles and Leaders 12 noon account?  Finally, should two sources (Carman's and Colgrove's) not trump one (Pittman's)? Tom Clemens, editor of a three volume work on Caman's papers, has confirmed to me that Carman received no such correspondence from anyone purporting to be the courier.  In fact, it does not appear anyone truly knows who the courier was, there being several theories. I must now make a point of obtaining a copy of Jones's "error riddled" book and wish to thank Mr. Sears for that heads up.             

SEARS:  Next, Mr. D’Aoust claims that McClellan’s telegram, saying the Catoctin range was in Union hands, could not have been sent at noon since that feat was not accomplished until 2 p.m. There is, however, cavalryman Pleasonton’s 11 a.m. dispatch to McClellan (McClellan Papers) saying he is “4 miles west of Frederick” at the Catoctins. That was good enough for McClellan to add that extra bit of good news to his noon telegram to Lincoln.

D'AOUST:  Fact: Catoctin pass was not taken until 2 p.m.  Fact:  In his 12 Midnight telegram, McClellan correctly informs the President that he has possession of the Catoctin pass being that, by then, he truly was in possession of it. Not so at noon. Mr. Sears suggestion that Pleasonton's 11 a.m. dispatch was "good enough for McClellan to add that extra bit of good news" to a supposed 12 noon telegram to Lincoln is an entirely unsubstantiated, if not preposterous, fabrication on his part and is undeserving of even the slightest consideration.    

SEARS:  To repeat, if there is demonstrable proof—as I contend there is—that the telegram was sent at noon, all arguments that the Lost Order could not have gotten there “in time” are nulled.

D'AOUST:  And what demonstrable proof does Mr. Sears offer? 1. An Official Records stamp on the 12M War Department copy. The same stamp as is found on the clearly erroneous September 11th telegram to Halleck.  2. A preposterous and entirely unsubstantiated fabrication with which to counter the Catoctin reference. 3. One account (Pittman's) with which to contradict two others (Colgrove and Carman) regarding the time of the 27th Indiana's arrival.  Mr. Sears must know that postulation and fabrication do not cut it as far as "demonstrable proof" is concerned. Hard, primary source evidence is what is required and this I have provided as support for the 12 Midnight telegram.    

SEARS:  Finally, Messrs. D’Aoust and Thorp appear willing to rest their case on . . . well, quicksand. That is, McClellan’s Lincoln telegram was sent at midnight; that the belief it was sent at noon is due entirely to a  Washington War Dept. telegraph operator who was a dolt, who made repeated blunders that have muddied the historical waters ever since. I, on the other hand, find the man entirely capable. He did his job exactly as he was supposed to do and expected to do.

Mr. Thorp displays a McClellan-Halleck telegram sent Sept. 11—two days before the Lost Order telegram—that he claims is time-marked by McClellan 12 midnight. But that dolt of a War Dept. operator marked it 12 M instead of 12 Midnight as he was supposed to do and required to do. Now, that’s not just one major mistake, that’s two major mistakes, perhaps three: 1) Not writing down the time-mark as sent; 2) writing 12 M, the flat-out wrong abbreviation for midnight; or 3) somehow misreading midnight as meridian or as noon and therefore rendering it 12 M, telegraphese for noon. The Official Records compilers saw 12 M and for emphasis rendered it 12 noon in OR 19.2:252.

D'AOUST:  Apparently, Mr. Sears has had a change of heart since writing those last words and I am referring to his "A Mystery Solved" postscript in which he now suggests that the telegram to Halleck was, in fact, time marked "12 Midnight" (something Mr. Sears previously
argued McClellan would never ever do.) He is also suggesting that the telegraph operator did transcribe it as "Midnight" but that the "idnight" portion was covered up by a  "stamp wielder" resulting in the OR compilers misrepresenting the time mark as "12M" in the OR. Mr. Sears claims that the "idnight" is clearly visible in the National Archives microfilm and that it is even visible in Mr. Thorp's copy. I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Sears is seeing things and say this for several reasons.  Firstly, I've looked at Thorp's "illustration" and see absolutely nothing after the M (see the attached blow-up of that section of the telegram.) What I do see is the down-stroke of the letter "g" from the word Middleburg above.  That down-stroke  extends down into the area of the stamp and is clearly visible.  Why can I see this under the stamp and yet I can see no other writing?  Why is that?  Because there is nothing else there.  Secondly, Mr. Thorp has confirmed to me that he personally viewed the same microfilm as Mr. Sears did in the National Archives reading room and that he made a digital copy from that very same microfilm.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Thorp looked the image over very carefully and never saw any "idnight."  But wait, there is more.   Based on that phantom "idnight" under the stamp, Mr. Sears now claims the telegrapher "faithfully copied the sender’s time-mark 12 Midnight" and that "the War Dept. operator was entirely competent on Sept. 11."  Let' now watch Mr. Sears's case sink and ultimately disappear beneath the quicksand.

While at the National Archives Mr. Thorp, was, under the watchful eye of two National Archives staff members, given the opportunity to view and actually hold Halleck's received copy of the September 11th telegram and there is even a picture of him holding the document for all to see.  And what time-stamp did the "competent" telegrapher specify on Halleck's copy?  . . .  "12M"!   So much for Mr. Sears's "A Mystery Solved" theory.  So where does that leave us?  With a "sent" copy clearly marked 12 Midnight and a received copy clearly marked 12M.  Conclusion, the telegrapher failed to faithfully copy the sender's time-mark and did so again two days later. 

SEARS:  To stay with the Sept. 11 telegram, it’s in a dispatch book in the McClellan Papers. (The McClellan-Lincoln telegram, not an official message, is not recorded in a dispatch book.)  This telegram is not in McClellan’s handwriting; he did not break telegraphic protocol by writing 12 Midnight on it. It was dictated (it’s a routine message), and McClellan cannot have read it or he would have seen it corrected from 12 Midnight to standard 12 or 12 p.m. on the copy. (It’s in the proper chronological order in the dispatch book.) As noted in my earlier post, McClellan was careful about telegraphic protocol.

D'AOUST:  As mentioned above, Mr. Sears in his "A Mystery Solved" postscript, has now changed his mind regarding McClellan not breaking "telegraphic protocol by writing 12 Midnight on it [the September 11th telegram to Halleck.]" 

SEARS:  Next, Mr. Thorp would have us believe this same dolt of an operator two days later did exactly the same stupid thing! That is, on Sept. 13 he deciphered a second 12 midnight telegram from McClellan, made the same series of blunders for whatever reasons of his own, and turned it into a 12 M telegram. Then “somebody” at the telegraph office “corrected” the operator’s 12 M copy made for Mr. Lincoln by adding “idnight” . . . but for whatever reasons of his own did not similarly correct the office file copy and carbon.

D'AOUST:  Well, yes, that is exactly what Mr. Thorp would have us believe and in this he is absolutely correct.  Halleck's received copy proves conclusively that the telegrapher did precisely that on September 11th.  As for the September 13th 12 Midnight telegram, the evidence is overwhelming in proving that the telegram could not possibly have been written at 12M and therefore, that the telegrapher did make "the same series of blunders" and turned that message into a 12 M telegram.   Thankfully someone caught the error in time and added the "idnight" on Lincoln's copy.

SEARS:  I cannot find a single confirmable fact in this scenario. It’s pure speculation, and I have to say, simply beyond bizarre.

D'AOUST:  It is a confirmable fact that the September 11th telegram was time-marked 12 Midnight as evidenced by the sent copy.  It is also a confimable fact that Halleck's copy has been erroneously time-marked 12M and again I refer to the image of Thorp holding that very document.  That there is no writing whatsoever behind the "copied" stamp on the erroneously deciphered War Dept. copy of the September 11th message to Halleck which is also a confirmable fact.  Anyone who looks carefully will see nothing after the "M."  It is also a confirmable fact that Lincoln's copy of the September 13 message is time-marked 12 Midnight.  The evidence supporting the 12 Midnight time-mark are also confirmable facts.  What am I  missing, I ask Mr. Sears?  

SEARS:  What actually, factually happened at noon at Frederick was this: McClellan was handed the Lost Order, delivered by a courier from General Williams and Lieutenant Pittman at Twelfth Corps headquarters, confirmed as authentic by Williams’s covering note. It was a Eureka! moment for McClellan. The scales fell from his eyes. He finally knew what to do. He had before him a telegram from the president, sent at 4:10 the previous afternoon (McClellan Papers), reading “How does it look now?” He promptly replied, time-marking his telegram 12 M, for meridian or noon. 

D'AOUST:  Close but no cigar. What actually, factually happened shortly before 3 p.m., at Frederick was this: McClellan was handed the Lost Order, delivered by a courier from General Williams and Lieutenant Pittman at Twelfth Corps headquarters, confirmed as authentic by Williams’s covering note. It was a Eureka! moment for McClellan. The scales fell from his eyes. He finally knew what to do. He had before him a telegram from the president, sent at 4:10 the previous afternoon (McClellan Papers), reading “How does it look now?”  McClellan being too busy with critical military matters waited until late that night, at Midnight, to be precise, before responding to Lincoln's inquiry.  For all we know, the telegraph was still down that afternoon and evening thus preventing McClellan from writing earlier. Then again, McClellan was in the habit of writing such messages late in the night. In any event, he replied to Lincoln's message at Midnight, hence why the message was time-marked 12 Midnight.   

SEARS:  What actually, factually happened in the early morning hours of Sept. 14 in the War Department telegraph office was this:  A perfectly competent operator routinely took down McClellan’s Sept. 13 12 M  telegram to Lincoln, labeled it received at 2:35 a.m. [14th], made one copy and carbon marked 12 M for the office, and one marked 12 M for the president. When Lincoln was handed the telegram and saw the 2:35 a.m. received time, he figured two and a half hours about right for a telegram to reach him (not knowing of the telegraphic delays), and altered 12 M into 12 Midnight, no doubt for clarity in understanding events. It’s an essentially simple story. It meets McClellan’s telegraphic protocol, meets the professionalism of the War Dept. telegraph office. And most of all, it meets the confirmable facts.

D'AOUST: What actually, factually happened in the early morning hours of Sept. 14 in the War Department telegraph office was this:  A not so competent operator took down McClellan’s Sept. 13 12 Midnight  telegram to Lincoln, labeled it received at 2:35 a.m. [14th] and arranged to have it delivered to the President.  Someone, we will never know who, having realized that the time designation was wrong, added the "idnight."  As part of the clerical function, a War Department copy and carbon copies were subsequently made, all erroneously marked 12M.  It’s an essentially simple story. It meets all logic and most of all, it meets the confirmable facts (the two accounts re the 27th Indiana's arrival time and the Catoctin aspect and finally, Messrs. Thorp's and Clemens's discovery re the September 11th message to Halleck.) 

SEARS:  (And no, Mr. D’Aoust, I did not “suppress,” as you accusingly put it, the Lincoln Copy when I saw it some thirty years ago. I left it right where it is, in the Lincoln Papers and microfilm, for all to see and ponder.)

D'AOUST:  One definition of the word suppress includes " To keep from being revealed, published, or circulated."  I'd say that pretty well fits the circumstances.  That is not to suggest that Mr. Sears is in any way guilty of any malicious act but having said that, he, at the very least, owed it to his readers and to history to immediately reveal the existence of the Lincoln copy.  It was simply too controversial of an issue for it to have been left  "right where it is."  I know this, most who read this exchange will know it, and even Mr. Sears must know it.   

SEARS:  Here is a transcription of the McClellan-Lincoln Sept. 13 telegram. It needs to be considered in this context. On Sept. 12 McClellan writes his wife he can’t figure out where the enemy is or what he is doing. Then just before noon on the 13th (after a warm welcome by the ladies of Frederick), he is handed the Lost Order. Immediately, in obvious excitement, he telegraphs the president. For George McClellan, this is positively giddy. Then compare this with McClellan’s 11 p.m. telegram to Halleck, (OR 19.2:281-82, too long to transcribe here). It is a very sober document. He is facing 120,000 Rebels led by Lee in person, aiming for Pennsylvania. He expects a “severe general engagement tomorrow. . . . I have the mass of their troops to contend with & they outnumber me when united.”

D'AOUST:  The McClellan-Lincoln Sept. 13 telegram needs to be considered in this context. On Sept. 12 McClellan writes his wife he can’t figure out where the enemy is or what he is doing. Then just before 3 p.m. on the 13th he is handed the Lost Order. Almost immediately, he sends a copy to Pleasonton with instructions to confirm its contents.  Pleasonton returns one and a half to three hours later with a quasi confirmation. By 6:20 McClellan has formulated his plan and issued his orders to Franklin.  I've already commented on how Mr. Sears is reading too much into the variances between McClellan's messages to Halleck and Lincoln that night. 

I submit that it is beyond imagining that McClellan could have sent the September 13, 1862 telegram to Abraham Lincoln at 12M and that it is time to permanently dispel that myth.

To the President                Hd Qrs Frederick Sept 13th 12 Midnight

     I have the whole Rebel force in front of me but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform but with Gods blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be severely punished for it. The Army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Cotocktane. I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to cooperate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln.
         
     Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well and with Gods blessing will accomplish it.

              Geo B. McClellan

3/30/2014

Guest Post: The McClellan telegram, A Postscript from Stephen Sears

Stephen Sears writes:

A mystery solved.

In my 3/30 guest post I discussed Gene Thorp’s reporting of a McClellan to Halleck telegram of Sept. 11 that bore a 12 Midnight time stamp (pictured in the D’Aoust post of 3/26) but which appears on the War Dept. telegraph operator’s copy as 12 M, i.e., noon. It is printed in the Official Records as 12 noon. This operator’s blunder, according to Mr. Thorp, was then repeated on Sept. 13 in the McClellan to Lincoln telegram, that is, changing McClellan’s supposed time mark 12 Midnight to 12 M.

While I pointed out the falsity of this theory in my last post, I can now add the final proof of that falsity. To double check, I looked up on the National Archives  microfilm the Washington operator’s copy of the Sept. 11 telegram to Halleck. In fact the operator faithfully copied the sender’s time-mark 12 Midnight. But postwar the Official Records compiler placed his “Copied” stamp squarely over the “idnight” of that 12 Midnight time mark.  All that shows is 12 M. And since 12 M is standard for noon, in the printed Official Records (19.2:252) it runs as 12 noon. This can be seen in Thorp’s illustration, and more clearly on the microfilm.

In other words, the War Dept. operator was entirely competent on Sept. 11. The error was made by the Official Records’ stamp-wielder. Now that we know the operator was doing his job on Sept. 11, it’s safe to say he was also doing his job on Sept. 13, when he rendered McClellan’s 12 M telegram 12 M on Mr. Lincoln’s copy and the file copy and carbon.


-- Stephen Sears