A bridge too far for Stonewall (3/3)

We started this series with a link to a news story about a group in West Virginia trying to get backing for something like a "Romney Campaign" trail. "What is the Romney Campaign?" one might ask. The trail backers wanted to answer that question for the public and came up with a summary of events that could easily have come out of Robert G. Tanner's Stonewall in the Valley where Tanner calls out a "Romney Campaign" in a substantial section.

If you read Monday's interview, you know that Russel Beatie also presented extensive information from the Union perspective on many of the same events in Volume II of Army of the Potomac without referring to a "Romney Campaign." (We even had some fun here comparing a few details in the two accounts.)

Let me propose that there was no Romney campaign. Tanner needs such a term to make tidy literature and Beatie, I think, scorns it as a dubious piece of nomenclature.

Generally, the side on the offensive not only has the initiative, but in working the initiative, sets up a narrative framework that often results in a naming convention through later retelling. Think of Henry Halleck's Corinth Campaign, a simple example. Objective, Corinth. Beauregard is defending Corinth, so there is even a nice symmetry, a specious "fairness" to the naming convention. Likewise Vicksburg.

This symmetry is something of a mania in Civil War history. For postwar political reasons, this had to be or the side with the greater number of offensive actions - the Union - would have produced a prepondernace of Union-driven names for campaigns. In McClellan's first Richmond campaign, for example, McClellan has the initiative, the Rebels are passive/reactive, Richmond is the objective, but the moniker attached to this episode is the Peninsula Campaign, a neutral beauty that reduces the matter to some fighting that happened in a certain geographical area. The same logic seems to have produced the "Red River Campaign," which should rightly be known as the "Shreveport Campaign."

You see my assumption: the geographic objective set by that side that is on the offensive is the natural campaign name. Where this is not the case, I look for hanky panky.

Jackson's failed attempt on Hancock might have been called the "Hancock Campaign." That would resemble the naming logic of "Gettysburg Campaign." But Jackson failed at Hancock and he succeeded in occupying Romney as a consolation prize. If you call it the "Romney Campaign" he is a winner. "Hancock Campaign" makes him a loser.

Was Hancock his objective? Readers have erroneously written to tell me Romney was. No one knows. All we do know is that Jackson and Loring waged a winter offensive and it covered certain ground.

Stonewall proposed to his government in November '61 to borrow Loring's command to secure Romney as a base for northward offensives but - after a wait for Loring - went to Hancock instead in January. He disclosed his intentions to none once his winter offensive began. Hancock - feint or failure? The word "Romney" never crossed Jackson's lips and he wrote no more about it after November. His commanders had no hint of his intentions on the march.

Naming this the "Romney Campaign" overlays an assumed objective on top of undisclosed intent. It tips the already dubious "fairness" impulse in naming way over the line and makes this an exercise in Jackson PR.

Moreover, the command situation in the North is symmetry-defeating. Romney was on the eastern edge of Rosecrans' command. Lander's command was a small strip of territory on either side of the B&O Railroad track. And Lander borrowed troops from Banks' more easterly Valley command. Jackson was stepping on a number of bunions in his operational space. Thus, Jackson-centered storytellers tend not to mention commanders facing Jackson above regimental level - their readers would be needlessly confused.

So about those markers along Jackson's route. What would be wrong with "Jackson's First Independent Campaign"? The same tourists who don't know anything about a "Romney Campaign" cannot object to learning a different name... especially if it is simple and true. At the same time, we could all dodge the bad history that gives us a "Romney Campaign."