“The James: River of Lost Opportunities”

Edwin Bearss recently gave a talk called “The James: River of Lost Opportunities.”

Bearss did a good thing by shining the spotlight of noncooperation on the U.S. Navy in the James. (If you want more on this, to the extent of self-induced seasickness, seek out Rowena Reed's Combined Operations in the Civil War.)

I hope he did not play at even-handedness, blaming the Army in any way for not cooperating with the Navy, for that way lies bosh. The Peninsula Campaign was conceived as an amphibious landing project with large helpings of naval bombardment; this was minuted in conversations which were removed from Navy archives (Rowena Reed spotted the gaps). This first Richmond campaign inadvertently became an overland event in which all the perceived "failures" have come to rest on the shoulders of the army in the form of one George B. McClellan.

Three cheers for restored perspective.

But Bearss and I part company over the notion that the loss of Richmond in 1862 "might have put the Confederacy beyond life support.” With Davis, a Cabinet, some die-hard generals, plus loads of territory to relocate in, life support was abundant in 1862.