When you can tell a book by its title

Out in paper today: The Antietam Campaign, an essay collection.

Would you buy a book with that title? Or would you read the title as a foretaste of catastrophic analytic failure by its editor?

You might even wonder if there were enough books on the Maryland Campaign already, but then you'd be making the same mistake Gary "Stop the Madness" Gallagher made when he but the kibosh on more Stuart at Gettyburg publishing.

Gallagher happens to be the editor of this Antietam "madness" by the way.

A few years ago in a Usenet post not indexed on Google Groups, Brooks Simpson recounted how he had been solicited to contribute to this collection. He thought he was telling an anecdote complimentary to Gary Gallgher. He said he (Brooks Simpson) proposed to show McClellan had reason to pause after Antietam and that Gallagher, emphasizing strong disagreement with such an idea, encouraged the essay's submission anyway.

An editor with strong opinions allows a much-published author and scholar his own view. Oh, how impressive.

Assuming that Simpson's piece would be the only reasonable offering in this project and still suffering indigestion from the collection of rants that comprised Gallagher's first "Antietam Campaign" collection, I decided to give this title a pass. I stopped the madness. Now I'm counting on one of his friends to tell Gallagher why there never was anything called "The Antietam Campaign."


Everyday leadership psychosis

Today's lesson for MBA wannabes, free of charge:

(1) You are training to be a middle manager, not a leader.

(2) The day-to-day demands of your job will prevent you from developing into a leader in almost any sense of the word nor is it ever likely you will be perceived as one. Nothing you study can change that. It's not you, it's the job.

(3) Visiting a battlefield does not entitle you to put yourself in league with a Hooker or Lee. Resist the temptation. Think of yourself more as the leader of some mule train off in the distance.

(4) Having a strategy discussion after two hours of guided tours will not make you a leader. It relates more to being a camp follower or newspaper reader.

(5) Nothing learned on a battlefield tour maps back to your day job as a middle manager. Except one thing, that managers are not leaders.

If the tour helped you understand the unbridgeable chasm in circumstances between men willing to risk death on orders from a leader and the doings of a manager in your little work unit, then the trip will have been well worth it.

So stop talking about "leadership." Thanks.

McPherson's next book

Will it be a synthesis of the prevailing wisdom? A collection of old book reviews? Or new writing with fresh insights? Its title is to be Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. It will be out in plenty of time for the Bicentennial (October 7) and a major publisher has staked this effort: Penguin. McPherson is giving Kentucky collegians a preview of the material on March 5.

If any Cincinnati rountablers venture down to Louisville to give this the freshness test, I'd be pleased to hear from them.


The ever-expanding franchise

The Anything but Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum continues to expand its many non-Lincoln franchises.

It seems as if the officers of this institution have given up on Abe altogether.


The Davis bicentennial: slow going

Plans are creeping along for the Jeff Davis bicentennial. Notice this (emphasis added):
A bill to establish a commission "for the purpose of organizing and planning a celebration in recognition of Jefferson Davis' 200th birthday" easily passed the House, only to die in the Senate appropriations committee.
Don't think Rick Beard's "Civil War 150: The Sesquicentennial Initiative" made it that far. And unlike the Sesquicentennial, Jeff's at least got a webpage.

(Ted Savas noticed this story too.)

It's like Gettysburg out there

Oh man.
None of India's [cricket] batsmen made a big statement in the middle, yet everyone came with his own Gettysburg address.

"We had three heated RVs to treat [bike] racers, and they were overflowing. It was like Gettysburg out there."

"...if degrees of ugliness were battles in the Civil War, Kirsten would be Gettysburg."
Meanwhile, this little Gettysburg joke appears to trail reality by five years.

Comparing rail power in war (cont.)

We see from Victory Road the Rails two reasons that military business was so odious to Southern railways.

First, the Montgomery Convention set rates that could be charged for government business. I assume they were not particularly generous rates and being fixed at the outset of an inflationary economy, they must have been destructive.

Second, more damaging, the Rebel government was directed to pay for rail services in bonds not cash.

Meanwhile the railroad's vendors wanted payments in cash, not bonds, which Victory shows lost the Southern railroads considerable railroad grade steel on the open market. In fact, the bond-earning railroads were competing against the cash-paying Rebel government for all commodities in those markets.

And so, when we find, as we did, Pemberton bargaining down the price paid for standby railcar service to the level of cost, we understand that cost, lousy a deal as it is, will be paid for in bonds that mature in the middle/distant future

We also start to share some of the sensitivity felt by Robert E. Lee, who limited Pemberton's displacing of cash-paying railroad customers with dead-head sentries up and down the overloaded daily runs of the Charleston & Savannah.

Interesting to note (in Railroads of the Confederacy) the Provisional Government dropped tariffs on railroad steel in February 1861 only to impose a 15% tariff on it a month later.

Apparently, they felt the railroads were growing rich enough on government bonds (paid to cover government-set service rates) to afford a premium on the steel they needed to keep trains running.

Politically, these outcomes show a railroad business with insufficient influence in Montgomery and Richmond. Militarily, they box the South's railpower into an early version of the procurement spiral of death.

Earlier posts here and here.


Stealing the General

Russell Bonds has written a wonderful attempt at the "definitive" account of what is often called "The Great Locomotive Chase." In Stealing the General, he has garnered (on Amazon) an average of five stars for s 28 reviews. That is as remarkable a fact as the act of the New Yorker having reviewed a Civil War book at all (this one, in fact). "Magnificent" from the Wall Street Journal is probably worth a glass of champagne as well.

This is, necessarily, a narrative but one extremely rich in detail and at 464 pages not suited for a quick flip-through in the tub. I have not yet gone through the trove of endnotes yet but look forward to it. There is plenty of meat here for the analyst.

I don't mean to frighten the narrative fans peeking at this blog - this read is no chore - Bonds writes so well you wonder what the hell Georgia Law Review read like when he edited articles there.

Railroading my metaphors, I view this as a successful experiment in freighting narrative history. Joseph Harsh is the extreme example of how much load a narrative can bear and still reach the station. Russel Beatie comes next with a better balance but a bias towards extreme data loads. Russell Bonds by comaprison is a fast freight train. If you love Harsh and Beatie, as I do, Bonds' single volume will in no way annoy you with the usual narrative "fast track" disdain for data and the reader's need to inspect and weigh. This is a solid read that - falling into the wrong hands - is also "maginificent" storytelling.

Bonds paints an nice miniature of General O.M. Mitchel, mentioning that he worked at the same railroad as Banks, McClellan, and Turchin. Mitchel preceded them but that certainly got the imagination turning and is worth a post soon. I'll be also returning to General in snippets in connection with the release Vital Rails later this week.

Meanwhile, there's free reading to be had over at the publisher's lovely website. To quote Hunter Thompson, buy the ticket, take the ride.

Reviewing is hard work

The press release opens with:
The battle of Belmont was the first battle in the western theater of the Civil War and, more importantly, the first battle of the war fought by Ulysses S. Grant.
The book reviewer opens with:
The battle of Belmont--the first battle in the western theater of the Civil War and the first fought by Ulysses S. Grant--is elucidated here...
See for yourself.

He's homeless

... but he treasures his Civil War antique.

The "greatest theologian" - Lincoln?

In the current issue of First Things, author Andrew Ferguson explores Lincoln's religion and summarizes with a quote from David Donald, something like "I have no idea."

Over at HNN Lincoln author Vernon Burton asks if Lincoln was not "the greatest theologian of the 19th century..." meanwhile he has a formum with no posts.

If this is supposed to be one of those refreshing debates on Lincoln that will characterize the bicentennial, let's connect the debaters.

Royal Tenenbaum's museum

Kids donate their Civil War diorama to museum. Museum "dismantles" diorama for spare parts, claiming "inaccuracies." Museumspeak: "To vilify us for the diorama when we had a useful future for it is inappropriate."

Reminds me of a movie. Gene Hackman, playing Royal Tenenbaum, is asked by his children how he liked their 10th birthday party play. "I thought it was unrealistic," he answers.


Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas has redesigned his site: have a look. His style differes from Kunstler & Co., and he stresses Western themes. I see some small traces of Pyle and N.C. Wyeth and - in the color and seasons - some A. Wyeth (esp. this). He's an original, nonetheless.


Carman in March

Joseph Pierro notified me that the new publication date for Carman's manuscript will be March 14.


Public history and Baudrillard

Just stumbled across the incredible news that a $100 million dollar 35,000-sq ft vistitor center will be built next to the Vietnam memorial in Washington - at ten times the original cost of the monument itself.

A totally unnecessary, gratuitous project is born. Or is it gratuitous?

Journalist Steven Knipp has a very interesting take on this: these are remedial learning centers. He gets support from a planner who says
"What's going to happen in two generations when we have a whole society of people for whom the wall is just a list of names?" she asks. "Without knowing their personal sacrifices … it's just a wall with names on it."
May already be that.

The thing that intrigues me is that the government doesn't just inform, it seeks to stimulate interest in an existing historical site with a visitor center. The Center provides the rationale for why you stopped. It reinforces the "buy decision," to use an old marketing meme. Moreover, the visit can mean nothing to the kinds of numbers sites seek to attract without a center.

One difference, however, between a war memorial and say Mount Vernon is that the visitor's center at a memorial won't just inform, it is going to cue the emotional reaction of the visitor. It's going to help the tourist simulate "appropriately." The confused tourist will feel twinges of artificial grief.

Baudrillard could have had visitor centers in mind when he wrote: "The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory." The map here is the visitor center - a map that brings forth the experience of the memorial (or battlefield).

If I can augment a quote from Felluga Dino's Baudrillard page: "There is no longer any distinction between reality [battlefield, monument] and its representation [visitor center experience/information]."

As for other kinds of representation preceding the reality, Knipp quotes a teen visitor to the National Mall: "This is where they made that Forrest Gump movie!"

Levine speaks

From the crawl at the George Tyler Moore web site:
At 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 23, 2008, The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University will sponsor a presentation by the winner of the 2007 Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship Dr. Bruce Levine, J.G. Randall Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Levine will offer an overview of [his] book in the Visitors Center of the Antietam National Battlefield.
The book in question is Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, released late in 2005. It was reviewed on H-Net and touched on in Kevin Levin's blog. Johnny Whitewater gave the volume an extensive going over on Brett Schulte's blog.

"Suffering" is a hit

Republic of Suffering is a hit; six editions to make a 50,000 unit print run. I have to laugh, however, at the description "It is a highbrow hardback ..." It is an extremely simple book, written at the junior high level with almost zero analytic content - a typical nonfiction bestseller, in other words. More on that soon.

The Bush family as slaveowners

The Walkers (as in GHWB) appear to have owned slaves until 1838. Not sure I understand this sentiment:
The heirs of slaveholders are not responsible for the past; but in a better world, they would be accountable for that past.

A serious Bicentennial effort

... over at C-Span.


Top ten figures from American history

Curious data from USA Today:

1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%2.
2. Rosa Parks: 60%3.
3. Harriet Tubman: 44%4.
4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%5.
5. Benjamin Franklin: 29%6.
6. Amelia Earhart: 25%7.
7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%8.
8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%9.
9. Thomas Edison: 18%10.
10. Albert Einstein: 16%

Hat tip to Wretchard.


The Savas Beatie Atlas Series

For many of us, this would be the preferred way to read military history. At least the first pass.

The American Heritage book division, and one its editors (incl. Stephen Sears) understood this but never implemented to the standard of Maps of Gettysburg.


From multipurpose to any purpose

The public sector's cultural value system holds multipurposing as a bedrock value.

In this day of excess, of ratcheting everything up to the next level, the more extreme form of multipurposing becomes any-purposing.

Enter Rick Beard, director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM). Beard has recently staged shows featuring turn-of-the-century posters, a fashion night, and he is currently mounting a tribute to a 20th Century Springfield race riot. Beard says, "“We’re about Abraham Lincoln every year, every day of the year.”

I'll drink to that. With my Abraham Lincoln shot glass.
State Historian Schwartz said that in a gift shop containing everything from obligatory shot glasses to a $6,000, hand-crafted replica bed, the most popular items sold are the books.
The books speak to the single purpose institution. The glasses to multipurposing and entertainment. Entertainment is "obligatory".

Nazdrovia, as John Turchin would say..

Shhh ... Lincoln Prize awarded

Very few stories out there on this, so consider yourselves lucky: The Lincoln Prize has been awarded and they have split the purse between a Lee book and a Lincoln/Douglass tome.

Google News has three items on it and the Prize webpage has not been updated since February of last year. Guys, split next year's prize between an author and publicist, okay?

Your honor, I object

Meet the National Park Service, mock litigators.

Given the state of Civil War history, I would make no irreversible decisions based on a "panel of experts."


"Who hath ears to hear, let him hear"

We have the curious situation of academics, professors in the humanities, who write about the Civil War era and yet are baffled by contemporary allusions to the Parables of Jesus.

First we had David Donald recording Lincoln's allusion to the parable of the talents without understanding what a talent was and that Lincoln used a saying of Jesus to allegorize the fates of his father and uncle. King James, Matthew 25:28-29 "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Unto Mordecai it was given. The primogeniture laws helped.

Now we have Drew Gilpin Faust, in Republic of Suffering, stymied by the parable of the prodigal son. Empasis added:
When Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. rushed to Maryland fearing his son dead after Antietam, he described the combination of hope and terror that must have been shared by many who traveled to the front in search of kin. When in spite of his worst fears, he found the young captain alive, the father characterized his shifting expectations as in some profound sense a shifting reality: "Our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."
Holmes senior actually responded with a readymade. Perhaps he could find no more adequate response than King James, Luke 15:24, "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Characterizing a shifting reality - definitely not in his own words.

I admit to being stumped by many Shakesperean and Biblical allusions out of the mouths of Civil War personalities but the parables are writ large into the general culture down to this day. It is curious that the many readers of Donald's and Faust's manuscripts could let these mistakes pass.

Meanwhile, are we all up-to-date on our Dickens? I could never stand him and beg to be excused for missing any and all Dickensian allusions. Here, Civil War authors won't let us down. Ever. Whenever someone in that day writes or says "waiting for something to turn up" a modern editor or author rushes in to remind us that this is from Mr. Micawber (David Copperfield). In a comparable annoyance, any reference to ingratiating behavior and our authors rush in to inject mention of Uriah Heep.

Attention ACW authors: Dickensian references made by Civil War personages are throwaway lines, the equiavlent of mouthing advertising catchphrases for a cheap laugh. They are not enriching anyone's speech or deepening conversation. You can let them be. We won't miss them.

The flip side of this residual Dickensmania is the absence of similar authorial interventions on behalf of Shakespeare. When the ACW personage utters or writes a Shakesperean line, the Civil War author is persistently silent. That's fine - the quality of the references remain "pop culture" and are generally superficial. It's just weird that Dickens appears to be the storehouse of all contemporary culture for Civil War authors.

A final literary annoyance, and this continues to gall me year after year: it's about excerpting a grandiose phrase or line and slapping it on a book to do duty as a title. Since such a title has zero informational value, the subtitle must tell all.

On the lower end of the scale are the pragmatic, nearly sensible phrases like No Disgrace to My Regiment. On the upper end keep the seasickness pills handy:

Terrible Swift Sword
Battle Cry of Freedom
The Longest Night
To the Gates of Richmond
Landscape Turned Red
Beneath a Northern Sky
Go if You Think It Your Duty
Cry Havoc!
The Women Will Howl
Waters of Discord
Love Amid the Turmoil
A Fierce, Wild Joy
Well Satisfied with My Position
Blood, Tears & Glory
Forced into Glory
But There Was No Peace
The Hour of Our Nation's Agony
Both Prayed to the Same God
Burn the Town and Sack the Banks
As If It Were Glory
Earthen Walls, Iron Men
Struggle for a Vast Future
To Honor These Men

These are not normal turns of phrases in the speech of the Civil War era. These represent excess. Given titles like these, can I trust such an author to hear the faint voice of history under some mountain of primary material?

"What curious eye doth quote deformities?"


John Brown gets a sesquicentennial

Four states and four counties are preparing for a John Brown sesquicentennial.

The Virginia Civil War commission is involved. Perhaps it seeks to atone for the sins of Robert E. Lee.


Maury's rehabilitation

After extensive negotiations between the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and the Salem Marine Society, the late Matthew Fontaine Maury has been rehabilitated into past membership. It has been a long road:

Philip Chadwick Foster Smith brought up the idea at the annual [Salem Marine Society] meeting, as 18th- and 19th-century portraits of Marine Society members gazed down upon their descendants.

"The room instantaneously erupted into an uproar. Volatile expressions of indignant outrage. Sardonic laughter. Vitriolic explosions of wrath. Boos. Hisses. Bronx cheers," Smith wrote. "'No! No! No! Never! Let it stay that way!'"

The motion died without a second.



The altered state of historical knowledge in Britain:




Hat tips to Bookyards and Baudrillard.

Commanding Grant

This new book explores Nathaniel Banks' great lost opportunity - to command Grant and the entire West.

Reading outside of Centennial mythology, you probably already know that Lincoln gave Banks command over Grant. Here author Stephen Dupree examines what went wrong with that commission.

The far-seeing Lincoln

Where is Harry Jaffa when you need him:
On the eve of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln wrote, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." That statement was more prophetic than even he could have imagined. Last week senior center Mike Martin was dismissed from the basketball team for what coach Puck Smith called "philosophical differences."

The ultimate challenge for park rangers

From the Monitor Center to this.


Lincoln's Hat

It's a program.

Suffering draws to a close

The reviews of This Republic of Suffering are drawing down, with only three pages of links indexed on Yahoo News and Google News.

The intriguing trend noted earlier - of assigning a writer especially to the review - continues. So too, the flip side of that - no syndication to speak of. I have seen but one outlet pick up the Bloomberg piece and none have run with the Washington Post's, New York Times', or Boston Globe's. This may be a side effect of commissioning "special to the paper" pieces, with some restriction on syndication. Not sure.

The sole exception to this syndication comes from the Sol agency which has racked up three reprints, by my count, of a review by its columnist Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri reflects, in her corpus, the tragic effects of freelancing: generating too much copy too fast to pay too many bills. By her own count, she "reads" five books a week and her review of Faust shows the depth of this "reading." Her review treats Suffering as if it were a newspaper account of deaths and dying in the Civil War. She can't get past the interesting and useful information. I'm not sure that's an unfair approach to looking at this tome but it took me by surprise, given the alternate tendency to frame Suffering as an invitation to meditation.

The Harvard Crimson weirdly wraps its own review of the book into a far-ranging news story considering Faust's Civil War writing career; its writer appears fearful of giving any opinion and he thoughtlessly, even cruelly enlists James McPherson and Edward Ayers to comment on Faust's significance to the field of Civil War history. (Among the mistakes of immaturity, publicly "validating" the president of your college is a beauty.)

The Christian Science Monitor states that "It is the struggle for meaning that is at the core of this book." Yet this review fails to examine Faust's strategies for engaging the reader in a struggle for meaning. Perhaps the Monitor sees "meaning" as a problem Faust is supposed to solve for the audience. The review offers a flat, simple recapitulation of a few points in the volume. Thanks be, this critic - the paper's book editor - avoids recapping dust cover copy.

The New York Times has placed Suffering at the top of its "Editor's Choice List." In a single-line the compiler sums up its importance as political and sociological: "The lasting but little-understood impact of the war’s immense loss of life is the subject of this extraordinary account by Faust, who is president of Harvard." Written like a true newshound: Suffering as a civics lesson offered by a distinguished educator. Here another reader successfully avoids Faust's invitation to find personal meaning in her subject.

If the publishing phenomenon of Suffering were to be summarized, this would likely be it: A book thought important by editors and assigned to writers who could not digest the offering. We have a raft of pieces written by people who think this tome is important but cannot quite say why. This is a dilemma constantly facing cafe society: "important" books that are hard to "get." Cafe society favorites like the late Susan Sontag can make a career churning out titles of seeming importance. The reviewer's strategy for dealing with such is to blandly recapitulate some points, indicate importance generally, and move on. Here Faust is reaping those reviewing "chops" - the question remains as to whether she deserves this reaction.

I will post my own review of Suffering. I had, based on the publicity materials, expected a superficial, generic, and highly derivative work and will explore those issues here later in the week.

Previous Suffering recaps here and here.

Edward Ayers' review in the Chronicle of Higher Education is subscription-only and therefore not linked here.

When publishers take liberties

It can get this ugly...

Next level of madness: "It has come to our attention that the market has been flooded with books attributed to my authorship..."

The Bicentennial cometh...

... this seems to be the level of discourse you can expect. Not to mention this.

Meanwhile, from the backlash-to-come department, Time gives us a gentle preview by asking what's wrong with Lincoln authors?

A Gettysburg tour for women

Let's rate this a long shot.


A teenager's Civil War

Student journalist does history:
"... the battlefield receives 200,000 visitors a year to reminisce about the battle of Stones River..."
How well I remember it.

"President Lincoln desperately wanted a victory to help boost the popularity of the Emancipation Proclamation...

This victory in Tennessee has caused me to rethink the rights of man.
... so the battle began and ended three days later..."

There was quick turnaround on those Lincoln wish lists.
"After being defeated, the Confederacy retreated as the Union went on to win Chattanooga and Atlanta, which ultimately led to the Union Army's victory in the Civil War."
That's finger-lickin' good fast-food history.

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date"

Venerable forms of self-aggrandizement and in-group strengthening pursue us through the very gates of the Internet itself:
"The Rosenzweig Prize will be awarded annually for an innovative and freely available new media project that reflects thoughtful, critical, and rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history."
I think that means
We will decide what is thoughtful, critical, and rigorous and only those projects that meet the approval of our committee will be honored.
The crusade has begun. Inroads into the trackless realms of unapproved history web pages are being cut. Domestication of outlaw bloggers has begun. Little gold medal gifs for those who play ball are being smelted.

They are going to sort us out at long last.

Why don't these people do something really useful, something in their realm of competence, like starting a scholarly history journal? Their prize panel could be used to do the honest work of vetting journal submissions - while the public decides for itself what is "thoughtful, critical, and rigorous."

Ultimately, this old school logrolling, power-grabbing, and self-adulation is just not new media friendly.

You've got credibility issues, prizeboy.

Parks and police

Two stories:

Artifacts looted from national parks

Park Police Rebuked For Weak Security.


Comparing railpower in war (cont.)

The first question for the commander using the national rail power for war, as we saw in this post, is "Can you get anything done using the railroad?" We saw Lee struggle with the task of using a single railroad company's assets to post sentries along that railroad. We saw Pemberton negotiate contingent/emergency use of a railroad's assets to protect that railroad from its own imminent destruction. Not an encouraging picture southward.

We know the contemporary Northern railroad companies were fighting for government contracts, that is, to be of government service. We saw in the South that both parties sought to avoid putting the railroad in government service. So we have a disparity that transcends track gauges, rolling stock inventory, miles of line, and numbers of locomotives.

Now we come to the second question determining use of railpower in war: "What would you like to do with your railpower?" There is a connection to the first question in that this also has shades of managerial capacity coloring it. Lee and Pemberton were limited to extremely simple imaginings - posting sentries and defending the line itself - which (basic as they were) still pushed the managerial envelope to the breaking point of their circumstances.

So there are managerial constraints on "how would you use your rails." A bigger constraint is doctrinal. As long as Lee and Pemberton were operating in a department that included the length of a single railroad, in this case the Charleston & Savannah, their limits were managerial and one-dimensional. Where multiple railroad companies are active in a department, the military management issue becomes multidimensional in its difficulty. Further, imagine railroad companies operating across departments - the department structure imposes more levels of complexity. We are now seeing difficulties that transcend the North/South divide.

The most striking use of rail in popular Civil War literature involves Johnston's intervention in Beauregard's battle with McDowell. I think people look at that and read into it all the railpower potential it offers, which is a mistake.

Johnston, in his report of 10/14/61, says he assumed a position in the Valley based on an intention to frustrate McClellan's joining with Patterson (Scott actually frustrated that junction). This put him near a rail junction. When the federals seized Romney - Johnston thought this was McClellan's vanguard - Johnston sent two regiments by rail to drive them out. We have no details on the railroad aspects of this small operation but we can assume that the project prototyped miliary/managerial interaction in the Dept. of the Shenandoah in a way that could be replicated on a larger scale.

Johnston was ordered by Richmond to join Beauregard. This was not an operation he conceived of himself, he was told to do it. In the course of coordinating with his fellow department commander to the east, Johnston was offered the plan of going around Beauregard's Army of the Potomac to a position on its right. He rejected this - we can surmise how expensive in time in would have been - in favor of his own plan that delivered men by rail to a junction near the Army of the Potomac. Given no other evidence, I am crediting Johnston with the idea of using the Manassas Gap RR in a Romney-writ-large project. His engineer, Whiting, seems to have been the officer in charge of the relevant arrangements.

Let's consider what's special in this case. First, Johnston did a good job of imagining a use of the road in his sector (relieve Romney); then he enlisted railroad management for the short project, and at the end of the operation he had the beginnings of an apparatus for railroad/army collaboration in his department. Second, Johnston used his railroad experience to deliver a larger force to Beauregard. In this he crossed department lines (problematic itself in normal circumstances). Note that he debarked his forces near the end of the continuous Manassas Gap RR line; this eliminated the need for multi-road coordination and simplified his management challenges.

In sum, Johnston operated in a way so as to reduce to the absolute minimum the amount of managerial friction that use of the railway entailed; his circumstances enabled this and though he crossed department lines, he did so in a way as to incur no additional complexity. What would have happened if halfway to Manassas Junction, the ownership of the line changed? Would he have shouldered the difficulty of additional negotiation and coordination? Or just debarked halfway and marched the rest of the distance? Johnston deserves some credit but the rail move from Piedmont to Manassas Junction was a misleadingly simple problem to solve.

I mention departments here to bring us back to the question of "What would you like to do with your railpower?" To do something across departments involves multiple railroad companies and perhaps even some of those beloved, much-ballyhooed technical issues like track gauges. It also includes the requirement to think operationally.

In his book Lee vs. McClellan, Clayton Newell argued that Lee could not prevail over McClellan in western Virginia because McClellan was an operational thinker and Lee was not - and given the scale of their departments, operational thinking was key. Newell goes so far as to credit McClellan with the invention of the concept of "theatre of war."

I mention this because the modern reader generally and inherently understands, McClellan-like, the matter of operational scale and is prone to read that into the culture of Civil War generals where it does not exist. This limitation is a matter of imagination and habit and the externalities of departmental armies.

To use railways strategically might involve moving men from one region to the next over an indeterminate period of time. We have examples of that and it involves decisions at the War Department level with coordination made by special staff not necessarily associated with a departmental army.

To use railways tactically might involve pushing heavy ordnance around.

To use railways operationally, as at Bull Run, one would need to envision delivery of men and cars at the point of necessity across departments in sufficient density and with sufficient cohesion so as to strike a blow at the right moment. This is to place immense managerially and administrative demands on virtually staff-free general officers who tended to be entirely focused on their own departments. Being in a practical sense virtually unimaginable, operational railpower additionally bumped against the cultural limits on imaginations that were not inherently "operational" in scope.

There is a wonderful illustration of army/railway cooperation in Russell Bonds' new book, Stealing the General. The Union soldiers who steal a Rebel locomotive (the General) in Georgia, do so in the midst of a military encampment of at least three regiments. The car is even guarded by military sentries who are evaded. When the hijacked car pulls out of the station, railroad employees themselves attempt to chase it on foot with no effort at all made to enlist the surrounding army for help. One employee rides a horse seven miles in the opposite direction to reach a telegraph office where he can ask railroad management for instructions. (The instructions are to bring a locomotive back to the station and carry soldiers in pursuit of the General.) The disconnect between army and railroad cannot have been greater.

Against this background it seems extravagntly weird to compare railway potential in terms of miles of track and other technical issues.