Unison and history

NPS historian David Lowe is using a GPS system to help him map eight miles of running battles between McClellan and Lee in Loudon County, VA, with the intent of protecting 4,000 acres of battleground; this land covers the opening stages of McClellan's second Richmond campaign.

(Other battlefields and marching sites in this campaign lie farther west, where McClellan successfully sealed up the surprised Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley parallel to his advance through Loudon).

The centerpiece of this new preservation effort involves the battlefield at Unison, then called Union (a defiant bit of naming by local Unionist Virginians).

The people wishing to preserve the site are trapped between the facts of McClellan's advance and a Centennial doctrine that states nothing happened after Antietam.

As the preservationists themselves belong to the broader Centennial culture they face the thorny issue of advancing ideas that undermine their favorite authors, their own understanding of the war, and the matter of confronting a doctrine that overrules historical evidence of any magnitude that fails to comply with storylines and typecasting.

Thus we see (in Wikipedia) that the battle at Union/Unison "refers to a series of American Civil War cavalry skirmishes," not battles, much less a campaign, and that "Although driven from the field in individual engagements, Stuart accomplished his mission to delay the enemy and screen the movements of the retreating Army..."

To translate that from Centennial-speak, McClellan drove Longstreet south and east away from the sealed-up Jackson separating them further each day of advance thus precluding one wing from helping the other, without being seriously hindered by Stuart.

(By the way, Stuart's correct position in this campaign would have been between Longstreet and Jackson, opening some sort of communications, testing the passes McClellan had sealed, doing anything to permit a Stonewall march to Longstreet's aid before McClellan pounced on Longstreet. Stuart failed and McClellan succeeded. GBM's battle to smash Longstreet opened the evening of GBM's relief. Longstreet was saved by Burnside, not Stuart.)

I mention the Wikipedia piece because this is the false world our preservationists live in and have to deal with. The article reporting Lowe's efforts, for instance, has to address the strange matter of a McClellan advance, an affront to typecasting, and handles it cleverly:

The battle started in Philomont, continued through the heart of Unison and ended in Upperville. It occurred when Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, on the direct order of President Abraham Lincoln, pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces after the bloody Battle of Antietam.
So you have Lincoln credited with ordering an advance; McClellan advancing mindlessly into a "series of skirmishes" or a "running battle," and it's all just a footnote to Antietam, nothing more than a belated pursuit straight down the road where Lee lies.

Notice here that skirmishes have been promoted to battles. If you cannot change the approved storyline, you won't get preservation status from context but rather from matters of degree. Expect skirmish inflation to be the first tactic deployed to ensure significance and recognition. These will be rendered battles in the belated pursuit after Antietam. This narrative strategy can conform to the Centennial meme of "too late, too little."

Lincoln showed, with his arc and chord messages, that he wanted McClellan to interpose between Richmond and Longstreet, i.e. with his back towards Richmond, his face towards the Shenandoah Valley, his supply line in unprotected north-to-south free fall. McClellan confronted Longstreet on a north versus south axis instead, with the possibility of interposing himself between Richmond and Longstreet after the heavily-outnumbered Longstreet's defeat. Hattaway and Jones have dissected the correspondence and understand the discussion. The garden variety Centennialist never moved past Lincoln's urgings to pursue after Antietam and envision the arc/chord correspondence as some sort of pursuit discussion.

Lincoln entered these discussions embracing a pursuit fallacy but he finished arguing campaign strategy. Most Civil War historians cannot see the difference.

Numberless historians have since erroneously applied Lincoln's intent after Antietam (not updating it with Lincoln's campaign intent) and substituted that for the commander's intent in opening operations against Lee. This is a primitive, doubly erroneous analytic error and therefore unforgiveable.

McClellan had conceived and implemented a classic campaign for the defeat of the ANV overland and in the field. But the preservation effort around Unison must conform to misconceptions, enshrined in endless Centennial reiterations, to the detriment of historical truth and preservation both. I wonder if the context of these battles will ever be "interpreted" according to McClellan's campaign plan by an NPS tour guide in my lifetime. Battles (or skirmishes) as part of an Antietam pursuit will be the party line that nourishes tourists.

How I wish these lands could be saved on the basis of true history, not elaborate falsehoods.

Photo: Re-enactors on Unison Rd.