Howard's Torpedo, Part II

All of this may be rendered moot by a bigger problem: there is no evidence to support the notion that Meade replaced Doubleday as commander of 1st Corps as a result of Hancock’s dispatch. The timing of Meade’s dispatch to Slocum, requesting him to forward 6th Corps division commander John Newton to replace Doubleday, might suggest that Meade made this decision upon learning of the death of John Reynolds, not upon the later receipt of Hancock’s dispatch. Meade certainly did not like Doubleday. In a letter to his wife on 1/23/63, Meade wrote “Doubleday has been assigned to the [Pennsylvania] Reserves, which is a good thing for me, for now they will think a great deal more of me than before.” It’s difficult to believe that Meade would have made such a critical decision at such a crucial time based solely on the word of Howard, especially if Meade, as the author of the North & South article asserted, considered Howard a “weak reed.” This reminds me of the story of a man named Achem and his razor…

After the war, Howard’s writings were complimentary of the performance of 1st Corps at Gettysburg, and he claimed to have been unaware of any controversy regarding “aspersions” cast by him upon Doubleday and his command until he read of it in the Comte’ de Paris’ history. He denied the allegation, and challenged anyone to support it. The author of the North & South article, when asked for some sort of support for his assertions in a subsequent letter to the editor, provided an 1874 Doubleday statement that Howard told Doubleday that he feared Meade would “relieve him on the spot” on July 1. I’m still trying to understand the leap.

When documents fail us, behavior patterns may be used to indicate what may have happened and why. To this, supporters of the Torpedo legend sometimes resort. Howard was critical of certain of his men after the failures of his commands at Antietam and Chancellorsville, and during the Battle of Gettysburg he reportedly told other officers that he was dissatisfied with the behavior of his 11th Corps. But none of these instances point to any tendency on Howard’s part to blame another’s command for the failure of his own.

Another tactic is to assail Howard’s morality: his reputation as a devout Christian is well established. And we all know that devout Christians are hypocrites. Therefore, Howard’s espousal of morality is evidence of his amorality - ergo, he would think nothing of smearing another to save his reputation. But among his fellow officers, many of whom were critical of his abilities, it seems Howard’s character was highly regarded.

Finally we get down to the nitty-gritty: results. Good arguments can be and have been made that Howard, at least up to and including the Battle of Gettysburg, was not a very good general. Therefore, he is fair game for criticism, regardless of any sound basis for the criticism. (A recent discussion on this topic on an online discussion forum devolved into criticism of Howard for having never ordered a counterattack during his career – which may be true but offers no insight into the Torpedo incident). Howard is of course not alone in this regard. But it is just piling on.

A man once said that truth is anything that is said loud enough and long enough. The truth of Oliver Otis Howard’s “torpedoing” of Abner Doubleday during the Battle of Gettysburg has been “established” by this method, and very little else. Does a lack of evidence prove that the story of Howard and Doubleday did not happen as it has been passed down? No. Anything is possible. But a nationally recognized author made what appears to be a statement of fact in a respected periodical, and cited a source. It is perhaps inevitable that some future writer will cite this same article as a source for the perpetuation of the legend.

Call me crazy, but I think we all deserve better than that.