7/31/2008

Conspiracy theory 4: "Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview"

The story so far: With the election looming, the government begins a roundup of civilian conspirators operating as "The Sons of Liberty" putting them before military commissions answering to Stanton's friend and appointee Judge Joseph Holt.

Felix Stidger, an infiltrator of the conspiracy, recalls in his memoirs that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute all the conspirators, in other words, there were (in modern parlance) unindicted co-conspirators at large.

Judge Holt, in a report to Stanton on the results of Rosecrans's and Carrington's investigations into the conspiracy, notes the same; he also conflates the Sons of Liberty with a New York organization calling itself "the McClellan Minute Guard." He further connects the mish-mashed Sons/Guard with what he calls "the McClellan interest" and indirectly with McClellan himself. He promises "military surveillance" over the unindicted.

Given the intensity of feeling, Holt's prediliction for blurring distinctions, and the opportunity to destroy a perceived opponent of Lincoln, did Holt and Stanton broaden the category of unindicted co-conspirators beyond what what the investigation produced or the law allowed? Did they use the existence of unprosecuted conspirators to persecute political enemies not connected to the Sons?

The following letter is unknown to Civil War historians, although it has been in plain view among the McClellan Papers forever. Only Stephen Sears has ever mentioned it and that in passing, in paraphrase, in brief, in his Young Napoleon biography. He seemed puzzled by it and eager to move on.

We, on the other hand, have enough context to consider it in the fullness it deserves. It was supplied to McClellan's literary executor for possible inclusion in the posthumous McClellan's Own Story but was not used.

From Reel 60, The McClellan Papers, microfilm edition: a letter from Edward H. Wright to George Ticknor Curtis. Col. Edward Wright was the son of Gen. Horatio Wright and a former aide to General McClellan:
Dec. 28 1886
Newark

Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of the 23rd in reference to an interview with Gen. McClellan at his home on Orange Mountain about the time of the Presidential election in 1864 at which interview you were present, I hasten to make the following statement.

The interview was not on the day after the Presidential election but about nine o'clock on the morning of the 29th of October.

On the evening of the 26th of October at a late hour Gen. McClellan, with some friends, called on me at my father's house, bringing with them a message from Pinkerton, the chief detective of the War Department, asking for an interview with me at either Philadelphia or Baltimore and stating that he had information in reference to the approaching Presidential election which he was unwilling to give to any of McClellan's friends but myself.

I was to go to Philadelphia and await a visitor at the Continental Hotel. In case of no one appearing during the day, I was to leave by the night train for Baltimore go to Barnum's Hotel and remain there till recognized.

In pursuance of these instructions I left on the morning of the 27th for Philadelphia and while there called on Dr. John McClellan meeting Gen. Andrew Porter to whom I stated my business.

No one calling for me at Philadelphia I took the night train for Baltimore, and soon after reaching there on the following morning I was accosted by a stranger and conducted to a house some blocks in the rear of the hotel, where I was left alone in the front room of the second story.

In a few moments Pinkerton entered the room.

The first statement he made was that a conspiracy to assassinate Mr. Lincoln existed among the friends of McClellan, that every one of the conspirators was known and watched and on the slightest movement on their part all would be arrested and hung.

I asked him for the names of these men.

He mentioned the names of yourself, Colonel Key, Mr. Belmont [campaign manager for Buchanan and Douglas, leading backer of McClellan] and my own name with those of others I do not recall.

I treated his statement as an absurdity, and asked him if he had anything else to say.

He then said he was a friend of McClellan and wished to serve him in every way he could. That McClellan and his friends might as well give up the fight; that the elections would be carried for Mr. Lincoln by such majorities as they wished; that Pennsylvanians would give any majority they called for, that with the exception of New Jersey, about which they cared nothing, every state would give Mr. Lincoln its vote, and it would be seen to that the majorities would be so overwhelming as to prevent any further opposition. That the attempt to get the soldiers' vote for McClellan would not be allowed to get beyond control. That the election was already settled, and that McClellan and his friends would get into serious trouble if they did not abstain from further action. That Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview, and that it was with a desire to befriend McClellan and save him from possible trouble that he had employed him (Pinkerton) in the matter.

After further conversation on these subjects, I took train for my home, reaching there on the morning of the 29th and reporting as soon as possible to Gen. McClellan at Orange when you were present.

Gen. McClellan treated the conspiracy nonsense as I had, and said he would not insult any of his friends by repeating such a charge to them. The information did not have the slightest effect on him or his friends. I was agreed that my interview with Pinkerton should not be spoken of to anyone.

I knew Pinkerton as the chief of the Detective bureau at the Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac while I was serving as an aid of McClellan. I believe he was honest in his assertion of friendship for McClellan, that he knew the desperate men in control of Washington and had their secrets, that he feared the zeal of some of McClellan's friends might be used by his enemies as an excuse for his arrest and trial by the pliant courts, and suborned witnesses of Stanton.

I believe Mr. Lincoln always felt kindly towards McClellan, and desired to befriend him as far as political necessities permitted.

Very respectfully yours,

Edw. H. Wright
Next:
Analyzing the letter and building a timeline

Previously
:
"The McClellan interest"
Rosecrans discovers a plot
Conspiracy theory
General Wool writes a letter

Images: top, Wright, bottom, Pinkerton

7/30/2008

Conspiracy theory 3: "the McClellan interest"

As Rosecrans's agent runner, Major Hays, wrapped up his 1,000-page report on the Missouri conspiracy, General Henry B. Carrington, spymaster for Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee was hitting paydirt for the first time with a mole named Felix Stidger.

On May 4, 1864 when he joined the secret services, Stidger had never even heard of the Sons of Liberty (or their predecessors, the Knights of the Golden Circle). By June, he was esablished a principal officer of their Indiana chapter, fully conversant with their aims, members, and network, reporting regularly to Carrington. In his 1903 memoirs, Treason History of the Order of Sons of Liberty (available on Google Books), Stidger says that prior to his rise within the order, Carrington had been having no luck: "no man in the employ of the Government had ever been able to get farther into the Orders than one or two of the lower degrees, the members of which never came in communication with the leaders ... [and] were never informed of any of the details..." (Emphasis in the original.)

Stidger gave the federal authorities a close view of the conspiracies hatched by the Sons; one book credits him for the advance warning Seward gave New York authorities of the 1864 plot to burn Manahattan. (Stidger had actually couriered the relevant information between Jacob Thompson, the CSA spymaster in Canada, and his controllers in Richmond.)

In his book, Stidger not only names names, he prints pictures of the conspirators, leading men in Indiana public life (his work was Indiana-focused). And although he places Clement Vallandigham at the head of the Sons nationwide, he painstakingly separates him from the violent plots, the planned burnings, the uprisings, the liberation of Rebel POWs, and so on. He pins these on a man named H.H. Dodd, the COO of the Sons.

McClellan makes but one appearance in Stidger's book. Recounting a meeting between Vallandigham and the Sons' leadership, in which they are drawing up planks for the platform of the Democratic convention, Stidger quotes Vallandigham as so pleased with the planks he says, he "would be willing to accept McClellan, or any other man as the Presidential Candidate on it [the platform]." This puts McClellan in the role of troublesome outsider neutralized by the platform ... but we have no sense of whether this was reported at the time or understood by the men who may have received such information.

Stanton's Judge Advocate General (Joseph Holt) was so pleased with Rosecrans/Hays and Carrington/Stidger, he named them in his official report, "On the 'Order of the American Knights,' alias, Order of the Sons of Liberty," issued on October 8. Blending the information he received and heralding the commission trial of Dodd, Holt stressed the military nature of the Sons and gave some figures:
The numbers of its members in the several States has been differently estimated in the reports and statements of its officers. Thus, the force of the order in Indiana is stated to be from 75,000 to 125,000; in Illinois from 100,000 to 140,000; in Ohio from 80,000 to 108,000; in Kentucky from 40,000 to 70,000; in Missouri from 20,000 to 40,000; and in Michigan and New York about 20,000 each.
Holt brings up McClellan's name, echoing an appelation found in Rosecrans's letter to Lincoln cited in the previous post:
The "McClellan Minute Guard," as appears from a circular issued by the Chief Secretary [of the Guard] in New York in March last, is organized upon a military basis similar to that of the order proper. It is composed of companies, one for each election district, ten of which constitute a "brigade," with a "Brigadier General" at its head. The whole is placed under the authority of a "Commander-in-Chief."
Holt notes that this "Guard" "would seem to be a branch" of the Sons, adding
as the Chief Secretary of this association... stated in June last to a reliable witness ... "those who represent the McClellan interest are compelled to preach a vigorous prosecution of the war, in order to secure the popular sentiment and allure voters."
And so Holt, in an official communication to Stanton, links "the McClellan interest" inferentially to a violent, revolutionary conspiracy while using the paraphrased words of an informer to characterize McClellan's own pro-war stance as a dissimulation "to allure voters." All this on the eve of an election.

Holt concludes ominously that
The greater part of the chief and subordinate officers of the order, and its branches, as well as the principal members thereof, are known to the Government, and where not already arrested, may regard themselves as under constant military surveillance.
Remember this phrasing; we will see it again.

In his memoirs, Stidger makes note that the commissions needed witnesses and that he was the key to many of the cases brought against the Sons; where they lacked a Stidger, the prosecutors would not bring charges, he says. This suggests two sets of books - prosecutable conspirators and non-prosecutable associates: indictable and unindictable co-conspirators, as it were. This may be the meaning of Holt's words. Or, Holt may be taking an even broader view of "guilt by association."

Stidger's success, his meteoric career as an informant, culminated on October 21, 1864, with the start of serial trials by military commission of the many civilians he had been reporting on. He was the key witness against the defendants in case after case. This sensational political circus - foreshadowed by Holt's dark report - set the stage for the secret meeting between Allan Pinkerton and Col. Edward Wright six days later.

Previously:
Conspiracy theory 2:
Rosecrans discovers a plot
Conspiracy theory
General Wool writes a letter

Images, top to bottom: Holt, Carrington, Stidger.

7/29/2008

Conspiracy theory 2: Rosecrans discovers a plot

Having explored the difference between speculative history and conspiracy theory, we are ready to unwind the events - in a safe and sane manner - surrounding the death threat conveyed to George B. McClellan by Allan Pinkerton (through Col. Edward Wright) on October 28, 1864. First, the background parts.

When last we left John Wool, he had written an angry letter to the Army and Navy Journal in September of 1864 denouncing McClellan and a "wide-spread conspiracy" saying "The conspirator[s] have secret associations, whose members are scattered over the land," and "The perils of the Union were never greater than at the present moment." He implicated McClellan in the conspiracy with the comment, "At a future day I may present facts which will substantiate all I have said in regard to this dangerous conspiracy and their convention and their candidates for the Presidency." (Emphasis added.)

Before Wool reached this fever pitch of suspicion, beginning in June of 1864 a series of alarming letters had been sent to Lincoln directly by William Rosecrans from Missouri. Only one of these is readily available online and I post it in full with my emphasis added in bold. This is the synopsis conveying a more detailed report delivered separately by hand running over 1,000 pages.
From William S. Rosecrans to Abraham Lincoln, June 22, 1864: Head Quarters Dept of Missouri June 22. 64

Since Major Hays departure bearing my letter about the secret conspiracy we have been tracing out, we have added much information of its southern connexions operations uses and intentions.

We have have also found a new element in its workings under the name of McClellan minute men.

The evident extent, and anti national purposes of this great conspiracy, compel me to urge the consideration of what ought to be done to anticipate its workings and prevent the mischief it is capable of producing again upon your attention.

Therefore I have sent the report of Col Sanderson with the details of evidence covering a thousand pages of foolscap [roughly legal-size paper] by himself to be carried or forwarded to you by safe hands.

That Report and its acompanying papers, show

1. That there exists an oath-bound secret society, under various names but forming one brotherhood both in the rebel and loyal states, the objects of which are the overthrow of the existing national government, and the dismemberment of this nation.

2. That the secret oaths bind these conspirators to revolution and all its consequences of murder arson pillage and an untold train of crimes, including assassination and perjury under the penalty of death to the disobedient or recusant.

3. That they intend to operate in conjunction with rebel movements this summer to revolutionize the loyal states, if they can.

4. That Vallandingham is the Supreme Commander of the Northern wing of this society and Genl Price of the rebel army the Supreme Commander of the Southern wing of the organization. And that Vallandinghams return was a part of the programme well understood both North and South, by which the revolution they propose was to be inaugurated.

5. That this association is now and has been the principal agency by which spying and supplying rebels with means of war are carried on between the loyal and rebel states, and that even some of our officers are engaged in it.

6 That they claim to have 25000 members in Missouri, 140000 in Illinois, 100000 in Indiana, 80000 in Ohio, 70000 in Kentucky and that they are extending through New York New Jersey Penna Delaware & Maryland.

Besides which prominent & general facts, the names of members mode of operating and other details appear fully showing what a formidable power and what agencies for mischief we have to deal with.

With this synopsis of the Report it is respectfully submitted with the single remark that whatever orders you may deem best to give it must be obvious to your Excellency that leading conspirators like Chas S. Hunt & Dr Reed Shore of of St Louis arrested for being implicated in the association cannot be released without serious hazzard to the public welfare & safety--

W. S Rosecrans
Maj Genl
As history readers, we can beat ourselves up for dabbling in "conspiracy theory" but the principals actually lived it from day to day.

7/28/2008

Reflections on Grant's tomb

Political blogger Mencius Moldbug shares some of his contemporary verse with readers:

Grant's Tomb

Horny-handed scions of the soil,
Loggers, and adult children of oil,
May visit here, and leave their souls.
Confirm them, soldier, in their roles.

Review our million generals of peace,
Braided and squabbling for office.
Award them stars for being bright,
Hard-working, careful, and polite.

Gifts from the gods are gifts to own;
Generals are men. Our gifts are loans.
Blue, bearded Ulysses, our drinker,
Our only patron saint of failure,
I may yet stop by with open hands.
Try and be closed for maintenance.

New books from Holzer and McPherson

The Bicentennial is upon us. Publishers Weekly has reviewed Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson. Get ready for Lincoln's shrewd and perceptive operational advice.

In the same omnibus, we have Lincoln President Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860–1861 by Harold Holzer. "Holzer shows Lincoln shrewdly and methodically manipulating friend and foe alike."

Hey, blurb that Mr. Publisher!

Goodwin's speaking fee

We noted here some time ago the amount of Doris Kearns Goodwin's speaking fee. Good to see the mighty New York Times catching up. They have the fee wrong, however, due to a lack of basic research.

Goodwin does not command "up to" $40,000 as reported in the Gray Lady. Her speaker's fee is $40,001 "and up" given the code 6 rating her bureau displays on her page.

The Times rationalizes the size of her fee based on its content: motivational speakers get more.

Ten days ago, Goodwin spoke to a gathering of legislators in Anchorage. She could have spoken out of her rich personal background as an aide to Lyndon Johnson. Topics? Successful transitions from legislator to executive or games executives play with legislators. Instead, she delved into a topic that she admits was new to her when she started writing Team of Rivals. And this is the content served up for a fee that starts at $40,001:
The qualities that made Lincoln outstanding, Goodwin said, should still be the benchmark today: the ability to set aside anger, jealousy and other destructive emotions, in order to make the right policy calls for the country.
By the way, could we not say that the hallmark of the Lincoln Administration was its refusal to set policy? It had no occupation policy, no reconstruction policy, no freedmen policy, no military srategy, no foreign policy; it was a policy free zone driving the generals and cabinet officers and legislators mad.

The larger tragedy is that Goodwin, as a celebrity, has personally met more legislators than anyone in her Alaska conference audience plus she had a ringside seat at the Lyndon Johnson circus. She has original content to share with her paymasters. And yet, she will resort to canned speeches on half-baked historical insights based on her incomplete reading and understanding of material that seems fundamentally beyond her.

Her pay seems an inverse ratio of value.

None too CUIL

Drudge is headlining the debut of a new search engine ("Cuil") staffed with ex-Google programmers. The underlying story speaks of more pages indexed, better search results, etc.

Have a laugh after looking at the results for searching for Civil War blogs.

7/27/2008

Integrated Union regiments (cont.)

Mitch Hagmaier comments:
"If a soldier's envelope did not immediately indicate race, Moss would open his file and carefully examine the documents to search for physical descriptions such as eyes, hair and complexion. If the three criteria were marked as black, she added the soldier's name to her list."

Um, that's a little... loose. How many Greeks and Sicilians with anglicized names are getting counted as black in her list?
My own inference is that those people used "black complexion" the way we do - perhaps a risky assumption.

7/25/2008

Integrated Union regiments

A genealogist hands Civil War historians yet another humiliation. Basic information is again supplied to "experts" in the face of their preferred inferences and conjectures.
"I looked at each of their faces, and I knew that this was brand-new information," said Moss, 76, who in October will release a revised edition of her book The Forgotten Black Soldiers in White Regiments During the Civil War.
Don't expect it to prevail, just because it's data.

Spellbound

A Meade impersonator? A Meade impersonator who fields two hours of questions from a general audience?

7/23/2008

Conspiracy theory

As interested as I am in the connections between military and political figures in the Civil War, I have long held at the top of my "to-do" list a project to "define conspiracy theory so as not to fall into it myself.

It so happens, I am reading a lot of what can only be called conspiracy theory just now and so am in pretty good shape to tackle the question.

First, let's take off the table the narrow Wikipedia-type definition, that conspiracy theory attempts to explain a chain of events originating in concealed causes. On its face, that would be speculative history, not conspiracy theory.

It seems to me that a conspiracy theory is an explanation relying on more than one hypothesis in a construct where the hypotheses inferentially support one another.

So, to use a familiar example, our examination of widespread reports that McClellan was on the field commanding at Gettysburg – that is not a conspiracy theory but a collection of reports tracking rumor dissemination. When we found one or more sources for these false reports, human nature invited us to ascribe motive to the officer spreading the story. Did he get it from somewhere? Misinterpret that someone wanted McClellan to command state militia? Put out a rumor to embarrass Meade and/or Hooker? It's a single choice and the reader should be able to spot it as iffy whether or not we label it "our hypothesis."

The conspiracy theory definition might come in if multiple disseminators were found to have some commonality: they were all enemies of Hooker or Meade … And yet, if we ascribe the McClellan rumors to "enemies of Hooker or Meade" we have still not crossed from speculative history into conspiracy theory until we strip our working hypothesis of uncertainty and begin to regard it, and present it, as definitive. We are making multiple inferences, making them co-dependent, and then proceeding with certainty. The conspiracy theory wishes to substitute for evidence in your evaluations.

So in addition to my definition, there is an operation that has to be performed to make it "conspiracy theory."

The libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used to distinguish between good and bad conspiracy theory. "Good" is a misnomer and of no interest here. He gave an economic example of the problem of "bad" conspiracy theory:
First, he [the theorist] stops with the cui bono; if measure A benefits X and Y, he simply concludes that therefore X and Y were responsible. He fails to realize that this is just a hypothesis, and must be verified by finding out whether or not X and Y really did so.
Lenin, a conspirator himself, summed this up as the who/whom analysis. A variant of this is based on the "present at the same meeting" observation and that sometimes gets expanded to "present in the same city at the same time," and so forth.

Rothbard also noted "the bad conspiracy analyst seems to have a compulsion to wrap up all the conspiracies." Put more generally, one sees conspiracy theory, not recognizing itself as theory, trying to do way too much in the way explanation. Often, the authors, intrigued with their own insight, broaden the analysis and attach all sorts of things that don't belong even in a speculation.

Again, in addition to a working definition of conspiracy theory, we need a statement about conditions of use. I can present a multi-part speculation, all of it circumstantial and co-dependent, and still not have it be a conspiracy theory as long as I maintain the distinction in my mind and yours that we are speculating and I am offering my speculation for review and approval.

Often, instead, the speculator has become confused, considering a multipart, interdependent explanation as "decided" when it is not decided. We see this in politics, in life, and in Civil War history. At this point the real craziness begins as multiple speculative constructs are stacked one upon another. The fruit of this kind of pyramiding can be spotted by its outlandishness, say a La Rouche Democrat, for instance, asserting that the Queen of England runs drugs. There is no straight path to such conclusions.

What this has to do with Civil War history is (to me) interesting. You could generalize what I am about to say into pop history at large. In Civil War history, conspiracy theory can take serial form.

(1) I am currently reading an ACW battle book in which the writer attacks other writers for using force counts different from his own. He has no explanation for how he derived his comparative strengths. His strength numbers are a fixed idea.

(2) He places enormous pressure on his numbers. He uses them to derive opinions about the relative merits of contending commanders, about their efficiency, about their capabilities, and even about their moral character. He uses them to decide how quickly armies can be moved and he assumes all his numbers arrive on the battlefield and in good order. His unexamined number assumptions become hydra heads of forcefully stated misinterpretation.

(3) He takes the conclusions drawn from his number assumptions, about the character and capability of commanders, about opportunity won or lost, about skill, near misses, etc. and spins these up to a next level, into insupportable hard and fast conclusions about how the war should have been run, decisions the president should have made or enforced, generals who should have been hired or fired, etc.

The author stripped away the tentative character of his conclusions about certain numbers to build vertically (or serially) a construct that reaches conclusions as outlandish as "The Queen of England is a drug dealer."

There is another approach to achieving conspiracy theory status is Civil War history. By committing to a narrative and to firm explanations of ambiguous events, the writer digs himself ever deeper into a storytelling pit at the bottom of which lies absurdity. The narrative becomes a machine for generating confusion.

The demands of narrative history have generated surmises that are often not recognized as surmises downstream; when you get to meta analysis of the war, these surmises are then piled up to reach extremely speculative conclusions.

Single speculations serve as waypoints to advance a story line in a certain direction; after a few speculative choices, the narrator becomes committed to a set direction and that now affects his treatment of the next necessary speculation; he becomes ever more committed to a certain line or channel as the writing progresses. Chances are, he also wants to deliver confidence in his decisions, so choices are dressed up as unavoidable conclusions – the equivalent of facts. The reader may not even know he is reading speculation.

At the next level, the meta historian or compiler or aggregator takes these unstable narratives and begins spinning his metahistory. The result can be a highly respectable even prizewinning "conspiracy theory" that helps us misunderstand whatever factual data was offered.

I never tire of telling how Stephen Sears wrote confidently that R.E. Lee got his intelligence from newspapers. When Sears himself found timely newspaper accounts that McClellan found the Lost Order, Sears rationalized away Lee not reading those reports. When an amateur historian discovered additional timely newspaper accounts of McClellan's discovery of the Lost Order, he spent half an article presenting the new finds and half abjectly apologizing to Sears while warning readers not to discount Sears just because of an abundance of contrary evidence.

That would be one true fruit of conspiracy theory. There are many hereabouts.

7/21/2008

Rules for blurbing

Let us "instill intellectual rigor into the rule-free blurbing business..."

A slow publishing season

This will be my 11th summer publishing new book notices in ACW history and I have never seen a slower publishing season: May ended with 29 releases, rather normal; June descended to 10; July will total 12 when the month ends.

7/18/2008

How many Union generals can fit into a podunk town like Galena, Illinois?

Nine, apparently.

Sesquicentennial: another indicator

It was launched in 2005 but it remains a paltry, undernourished thing. It's the National Park Service's Sesquicenennial website. Event news: absent. Press releases: none. Calendar: none.

If the Sesquicentennial is going to have a national (or federal) character at all it will clearly be not through some national commission doing stuff. The only hope for a national commemoration now is via the NPS staging events at its sites countrywide.

Right now, that does not appear likely, if this website is any indicator.

SCV honors slave

An odd story indeed.

1864 political ephemera

Some nice specimens in one of Rick Beard's show catalogs.

7/16/2008

Strategy rears its ugly head

Interesting to see a presidential candidate promise the country a military strategy.

If Lincoln and Davis taught us one thing it is that presidents will at all costs avoid strategy and the associated commitments, timetables, benchmarks, etc. It would be quite rare today to even find a general in uniform who would commit to a strategy, so attuned to the political leadership are they. (Petraeus may be one-of-a-kind.)

Roosevelt had an evolving strategy and he kept it top secret; Nixon campaigned on a "secret strategy" that he would not disclose; Wilson fought a war without even a whiff of strategy; Johnson's "strategy" was body count; and Truman gave up strategy with the Chinese intervention.

On the other hand, Lincoln and Davis were happy to talk about strategy anytime, anywhere and this news story may be closer to that activity than to a real commitment.

7/15/2008

The other "General" Pickett

Before there was Arlington National Cemetery, there was Congressional Cemetery which holds the remains of Alfred Pleasanton, Henry Benham, William Emory, and the spymaster William Wood, among the Civil War notables.

One of the more interesting residents, however, is the Confederate John T. Pickett, styled "general" though not listed as such on CSA rosters. By the age of 41, when the ACW broke out, Pickett had served in the Hungarian revolution of 1848; he had filibustered in Cuba with the Round Island expedition of 1849; again, with the Lopez expedition of 1850; and he was enrolled as a colonel in the aborted Quitman filibustering expedition of 1854.

Oddly enough, the Confederates seemed to have used him exclusively for staff work.

7/14/2008

Notes on Pope and McClernand

Orville Browning, in a letter to Lincoln, takes a nice swipe at John Pope before allowing Napoleon Buford, in an excerpted letter, to take shots at McClernand and his father-in-law. From the Library of Congress collection:

From Orville H. Browning to Abraham Lincoln, September 24, 1861

Quincy, Ills. Sept 24. 1861

Mr. President

Nothing but the most earnest solicitude for the safety of the Country, and grief at its present condition, would induce me again to trespass upon your time and patience.

But I feel as if it were my duty to address you, even at the hazard of your displeasure, and though the only result may be to annoy you.

I am not easily dispirited, and thus far have kept high in hope, and have exerted myself to the utmost of my ability to infuse hope and spirit into the people. But this morning, I confess, I am somewhat despondent. The storm which overhangs the Country seems to be intensifying in strength, and spreading farther and farther its devastations.

Last night from twelve to fifteen hundred men arrived here from Lexington -- prisoners of war discharged upon their parol not to serve again during the war. Seven hundred more of them are to arrive to day.

They consist of Mulligan's Irish Brigade, and Tom Marshall Cavalry.

They all surrendered to Price. Arms, ammunition, horses, equipments, clothing, provisions, every thing was captured. They were stripped of all except the clothing they had on, and sent here a disorganized mob without an officer among them.

This morning telegraphic communication with St Jo is again interrupted. The wires have been cut, and what the condition of the road is we can not learn. The probability is that the track and bridges are again being destroyed, and that in a day or two more all Northern Missouri will again be over run with rebels. We have no forces there, and none here to send there. Pope was sent up to take command. He passed over the road from Quincy to St Jo and back again, and did nothing, and then left.

Between ourselves, and confidentially, he is, in my opinion, of no account as a general. There ought to be some competent man to take charge of all that part of Missouri north of the River. Had this been done in the beginning the rebellion there would long ago have been suppressed, and many lives and many hundred thousands of dollars would have been saved to the government.

Things in this State are in rather a deplorable condition. The troops at Cairo are neither armed, nor clothed nor fed as they should be. There are broken Regiments at Springfield, in the same condition, and two half Regiments in camp here, without arms, doing nothing except living at the cost of the government. They have been here for weeks, and are no more fit for service now than they were the day they enlisted. I have just received a letter from Col [Napoleon B.] Buford whose Regiment is at Cairo. He requested that I should regard it as strictly confidential, but notwithstanding that I copy a few extracts, and beg you to read them. His Regiment is in better condition than many others. He says

"When my Regiment was assigned me I was asked by friends of Genl McClernand if I had any objection to being placed in his Brigade. I answered no, I came to obey orders. I was informed by him that his quarter master, Capt James Dunlap, his father in law, had contracted for better clothing, arms and equipments than any other Illinois troops.

"I have been in command a month. The Regiment is of fine material -- farmers sons from the 4th Congressional District, and good officers -- but we have not yet been half clad -- poorly fed, and 863 men armed with three kinds of muskets 740 in all, and of different bores -- the ammunition not fitting 240 of the muskets, they being old, Tower English muskets. They do to drill with, and I am making the most of them.

"Quarter Master Dunlap is the author of our lack of clothing. His promises all fail. He is too old, and his contracts are for poor instead of good clothing, judged by the results. It has been difficult to preserve discipline under daily disappointments

"Could you not get my Regiment detached so that I might be armed and equipped &c."

The events in the West, of the few past weeks, have not only disheartened the people, but gone far to demoralize them, and it is now a hundred times more difficult to arouse any true feeling of patriotism than it was a month ago; and enthusiasm is dead.

Is there no remedy for these evils?

We brave soldiers who have been induced to volunteer, to give up the safety and repose of domestic life, and sacrifice all the endearments of home, by the highest and noblest impulses of patriotism, are being every day sacrificed, and the Country hopelessly ruined by the multitudes of infamous rogues who crowd the offices, and get the contracts.

There are, no doubt, many honorable exceptions, but it is still true that a great many, perhaps a majority of those who have got into the quarter masters, and commissary department are men without principle or patriotism, and who hang upon the skirts of the army only for the purposes of plunder, and who would be perfectly willing to see the government overthrown when it shall be no longer worth plundering.

I dont fear the rebels. We can manage them, and put the rebellion down, if we can only save the government from overthrow by the strifes, and contentions, and corruption, and rascality in our own ranks.

There are individual instances within my own knowledge which I might mention, but I forbear.

Now Mr President, you know that I would forfeit my life before I would trafic in the misfortunes of my country for my own individual profit and advantage, or for the profit and advantage of any friend I have on earth. You know that I belong to no clique, and have the interest and advancement of no man in charge.

You know that I am neither asking nor seeking office or contract for myself or any one else, and that what I say to you is said from the sincerest desire for your fame and success as President, and for the true good and glory of the Country.

And I assure you most solemnly that unless a change soon takes place in the condition of public affairs, the spirit of the people will be broken down, and the government irretrievably overthrown. I do not show despondency to any one else. I do not publicly find fault, but always speak with a confidence and hopefulness which I confess to you I am ceasing to feel.

In some way or other, and by some means or other, an end must be put to the wholesale plundering of the government and people which is going on, and villany driven from its coverts, and our soldiers fed, and clothed, and armed, or we are ruined past all redemption

As ever truly your friend

Browning

7/10/2008

It's today's talk of the town

Chicago decorates a wall.

E-books grow hyperlinks

It was inevitable.

But the mass market is not at this point yet. (Hasta la vista, nonfiction narrative!)

7/08/2008

Grigsby's leaders

We read to understand history but the game designer needs not only to understand but also to convey that understanding in game design.

In Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States, despite (too) many housekeeping decisions in the administrative and logistics areas, leadership stands at the heart of the action; the player delegates control to leader tokens whose inaction, action, and outcomes determine the course of the game.

A simple approach to this is, as in the old board games, would be to assign one or two values to a leader token and perhaps work in some dice rolls to mix things up a bit. Grigsby’s is very much a board game, compete with references to (computer) dice rolls, but the construction of leader tokens here touches new levels of complexity in terms of classes of characteristics. Then, the complex interaction of superior and subordinate leaders adds an additional layer of complexity. The player can – as in chess – spend hours analyzing a position and the leaders managing that position. I don’t spend less than an hour on a single turn, for instance, although it could be taken in less than minute. The Civil War simulation as ship-in-a-bottle. (One turn represents a month.)

Not to recap the manual, but the leader token has classes of attributes. It has a certain combat capacity (various defense, offense ratings), training capacity (varying by combat arms branch), administrative ratings, and a variable Grigsby calls simply “rating” which I call span-of-control. This span represents the maximum number of units subject to the token’s control. It can rise or fall based on events and outcomes. At the start of the war, the Union simulation ranks the Scott, McClellan, Fremont, and Butler tokens near the top with an immense gap down to the next level (McDowell). The McDowell-level tokens have to accrue a lot of experience to achieve Scott, McClellan, or Fremont spans-of-control, which makes it difficult to sideline those other leader tokens. Occasionally a new leader will appear; Burnside, interestingly, is positioned between McDowell and Scott. So too is the Banks piece. The Grant piece appears near this intermediate position while Sherman’s avatar arrives on the bottom end of command capability near the McDowell rating.

This seems to offer an interesting insight; span-of-control values divorced from other values can produce leader tokens capable of directing large armies into situations where the leader’s other characteristics fail or are barely adequate. Your army in front of Richmond could be under your Butler token who butts his head against the wall of a smaller force led by a less controlling general who has high defensive values.

But it’s not that simple because the player controls some of the token characteristics through the conferring of positions and rank. There are two theatre commander positions open at any given time and four army commander positions; if a token lacks sufficient rank for an appointment, the player can promote (award stars) - which costs political points. Thus, your Banks and Burnside tokens at the start could be useful army commanders but lack enough rank for the appointments. They’ll accrue rank “naturally” over time or you can jump them for a painful political price. The same is true of the Grant piece. Once you make such a decision, you’ll have to fire an incumbent, which also costs political points. The game generates death and illness among tokens, so you will have a “natural” opening occasionally.

Now comes the complexity. The capacity to act is represented in a leader token “gaining initiative” and then passing some of that capacity for initiative to subordinates. This is managed through the computer “rolling dice” three times on three factors. No initiative, no movement. With care and cunning, the player can form at least one high-initiative team to manage an active theatre. Under these leaders, the player will want cherry-picked subleader tokens with better offensive ratings.

Interestingly, the player will not want theatre commanders with middling administrative ability. These fellows rarely gain initiative. This is the debilitating factor in making the low-admin-rated Fremont token useless in developing campaigns (an interesting touch). Initiative depends in part on high admin ability.

Initiative results not only from “die rolling” but from the interaction of leaders on different levels. You can really get lost in this. Some combinations work as expected – Halleck over Grant – others can surprise or disappoint. And they filter down to new combinations at the lowest level. With the computer generating random sick leave, combat deaths, convalescence, and natural death, you may have trouble getting and keeping optimum leader combinations. There is also an historical record bias here, so I dare not risk my Mansfield in too many attacks if I want to keep him. On the other hand, I once kept Scott’s avatar "healthy" throughout one entire war.

A final level of complexity involves the leadership, the chain of command, actually feeding units into battle. Having gained initiative, the army leader may occasionally have his entire roster of subordinates also gain initiative. Off he goes into the attack, but for reasons not clear, he is never able to send 100% of the subordinates into combat; likewise the defender never uses the full defensive force. These levels of use are also helped or hindered by commander traits independent of initiative. Moreover - and I find this curiously realistic - the weight of an attack or defense builds serially, unit by unit, as each becomes engaged in sequence.

Control issues are therefore front and center in the gaming experience.

In a previous post, I mentioned the political scoring that determines victory. Leader tokens have political ratings; the Union player totals the ratings of his appointments in the theatre and army command slots to receive a political point bonus each term. These political point allocations are interesting and reasonable. Hardfighting, competent nobodies – like George Meade – keep the player from earning the very necessary political capital that offsets point losses from defeats, setbacks and war weariness. If you could have six Butler tokens, despite the combat values, you would consider the option for the political dividends.

Watching the effects of the “talent pool” you have organized operate through the game is rather like reading a Justice League type of comic book in which the peculiar superpowers of each hero are brought to bear. The Dix token is valuable – you wish you had more, for the Dix avatar, with a broad span of control and a high infantry training rate, turns out trained troops very quickly. The Union General Edward Morgan’s token has a startling good combination of political, administrative, training, and combat values with a large span-of-control to boot. I tend to want this avatar in as high a position as his rank will allow as fast as possible before the program kills him off in battle or with illness.

Purists will not like some gameplay tradeoffs. For uniformity, the North uses the South’s rank and grade system. Cooper (CSA) and Meigs (USA) can wind up in combat which seems odd. The concept of “theatre commander,” invented by McClellan against Lee in Western Virginia, was not institutionalized as here represented. And the limit on army commands (two per side) is arbitrarily restrictive.

Grigsby has clearly and neatly simulated the difficulty Lincoln is thought to have faced in managing appointments - and getting offensives - while avoiding the primitivism of the Centennial historian’s pigeonholing or psychoanalyzing commanders. Had he followed the Centennialists, his tokens would have had just one or two defining characteristics. This richness he makes is doubly interesting because he named his selectable software scenarios after works by Catton, Sears, and McPherson. He read their books, paid homage to them in naming his scenarios, then went about quashing their grotesque oversimplifications by means of an interesting game design.

The broad, ongoing revision of the ACW canon embraces even the world of play.

7/07/2008

Jaffa as template

Lew Lehrman is now templating Harry Jaffa. Probably necessary since Jaffa's student Guelzo has turned to talespinning and since he now rejects this sort of thing as non-history.

Must say, however, the Lehrman project looks painfully simpleminded.

Champion Hill documentary

He spent $120,000 to make it, premiered his Champion Hill film and concluded (based on audience reaction?) it "needs polish."

At least we get to meet Sid Champion V.

The meaning of the Fourth

The Fourth of July - a time to proudly display Gettysburg dioramas.

C'mon and celebrate

It's not just the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009 - it's the bicentennial of President James Buchanan's log house in Donelson, Tenn. "The [preservation] association has already held several special events for the [house's] bicentennial," we hear.

1809. You got your Lincoln. Your Jeff Davis. Your Buchanan log house. Heritage tourism is going to multipurpose the hell out of next year.

7/02/2008

Games abound

France's Aegod released their game "American Civil War" a year ago; now we have Gary Grigsby's "War Between the States"; and today I learn that Russia's Totem is developing "Ironclad" - a Civil War navy game. We'll never get any reading done.

7/01/2008