12/29/2010

To have a Civil War...

To have a Civil War requires deep, possibly irreconcilable political disagreements. To have such disagreements requires political principles and political philosophy; these, in turn, require a particular reading of civics.

The Civic Literacy Program has found that today's elected officials know much less of civics than the already civics-challenged man in the street. Are you smarter than an American Politician? Apparently so.

If politicians don't know enough civics to hold strong opinions, that puts us out of danger of a Civil War, which is good news:

Seventy-nine percent of those who have been elected to government office do not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the U.S.

Thirty percent do not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.

Twenty-seven percent cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Forty-three percent do not know what the Electoral College does. One in five thinks it either “trains those aspiring for higher political office” or “was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates.”

Fifty-four percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Thirty-nine percent think that power belongs to the president, and 10% think it belongs to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Only 32% can properly define the free enterprise system, and only 41% can identify business profit as “revenue minus expenses.”
It would appear we are a long way from a Constitutional crisis of any kind going into the Sesquicentennial.

12/27/2010

New York records online

" ... the New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center is making capsule histories of 360,000 New York Civil War Soldiers available online." That is a lot of data to crunch.

Here are the links themselves:

Roster of New York Volunteers during the Civil War

Annual Reports of the Bureau of Military Statistics, 1864-1868

New York State Militia Officers Prior to 1858

Reconstruction dollars

The next round of presidential dollar coins to be issued might seem interesting to the Civil War collector.

The Sesquicentennial in Arkansas and New York

Arkansas formed an official Sesquicentennial board in 2007; I missed it.

Meanwhile, New York refuses to form one. This article cleverly links New York City's wartime ambiguity with the current ambiguity about any commemorations.

The public historian explains and explains

MG John Walker, CSA, to LTG John Pemberton, CSA, July 4, 1863: "You can expect no help from this side of the river."

Public historian to public, December 27, 2010: "He's saying 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there.' It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."

Question for public historian: might he have really been saying, "You can expect no help from this side of the river"?

12/26/2010

SCV grabs another headline

This is going to be a long, painful commemoration if the SCV keeps cooking up provocations.

There are about 10,000 shallow, sanctimonious prigs in the media who are loaded for bear and are itching to be goaded into dishing out fifth grade civics lessons.

Outrage fatigue, unlike battle fatigue, is not going to set in with these people. Somebody organize a peace commission.

Crazy talk?

I think the fact that we were not Lincoln scholars proved to be an advantage. We rolled up our sleeves without any preconceptions and simply let the evidence take us wherever it led.
What an odd approach.

12/25/2010

OT: Re-enactors I can relate to

This is a history post, though not an ACW post. Please think history and ponder deeply the following.

Forty-two years after the Civil War ended, the first Peking-to-Paris road rally was held. The winner was a car made by Itala. I wonder if any ACW veterans ran that race.

It's become an triannual event. I tend to peruse the the literature issued by the organizers each time beforehand. This year, they offered this suggestion to would-be entrants: your best bet for winning this race would be to buy and kit out an 1920s Rolls Royce. Think about that.

If you are driving a Land Rover, Jeep, Hummer, or some such "off road" vehicle, please read the preceding carefully and consider what it means to you, since anyone can enter this race in any car whatever. If you are in the services and drive military vehicles, give it some additional thought. In 2010, your best technology for winning this thing is a machine created in easy range of Civil War memory.

Nevertheless, this year's results showed 1920s Rollers to be inadequate.

David (picture above) and Karen Ayre came in fourth place with their 1907 Itala. They were beaten by Nicky Bailey and Janek Mamino in a 1918 Buick Roadster. Nick and Janek were beaten by a 1923 Vauxhall OD 23/60. Coming in first were Charles and Nellie Bishop in their 1925 Vauxhall 30/98.

But oh look! There's a 2009 Ford Ranger that did magnificently in 163rd place! Oh, and there's a smashing result for a 1999 Toyota Landcruiser in 165th place! They finished the race. Hooray.

Think I'll go get some fat auto loans so I can buy a craptastic computer-controlled sporty 4WD mud runner to take me to the mall. Just don't ask me to go Peking to Paris.

In 1907 a model car of that year won the race. In 2010, no model car of the current year could dream of winning this race, while hundred-year-old stuff is totally competitive.

It takes a road race to show us how we and market tastes have reshaped technology.

Jonathan Letterman

Under the generally acknowledged great Civil War commanders there is a layer of great Civil War technocrats who tend to be almost as well known, e.g. Gorgas, Dahlgren, Meigs, Ellet, etc.

I don't think Jonathan Letterman, M.D., is well known in this class. I think of him as a gift to the Northern wounded, part of the immense circle of talent recognized and recruited by McClellan. The GBM-Letterman relationship should raise McClellan a notch in the most hostile quarters, I think.

Today's Army has the decency to recognize Letterman above and beyond what Centennial historiography allows, and I commend their material to you.

One fundemental difference between Meade and McClellan was thrown into stark relief by their management of Letterman. See here for material damning to Meade.

Meanwhile, I simply cannot imagine being Southern and wounded without a Letterman or a McClellan to look after me.

12/21/2010

At the crossroads of history (cont.)

Carl Edwards is not the last NASCAR driver who will be recruited for the miniseries "Appomattox." "...according to the show’s website, certain NASCAR drivers will sign on to play certain roles." Another prong in this TV show marketing strategy has also been disclosed: "Among the country artists who will have roles are the members of Rascal Flatts, Dwight Yoakam, Kix Brooks (formerly of Brooks & Dunn), and Laura Bell Bundy..."

The website does us the favor of showing us actors cast against historical photos. Well done!

And is this the first talking film or TV show to portray McClellan? McClellan at Appomattox! Must be like McClellan at Gettysburg (if you remember that meme here) only in 1865. But McClellan is in Nice at that point, IIRC.

Certainly, this must be the first portrayal of Halleck on TV and I have to laugh at the casting of Kevin Farley here. I guess old fish eyes is going to be something of a comedian on the small screen.

The casting department somehow delivers Stonewall, Burnside, McPherson, and AS Johnston to Appomattox, as well as GBM, perhaps through flashbacks.

Most amusing: check it out.

12/20/2010

At the crossroads of history

HBO has passed judgement on the Civil War buff by signing a NASCAR driver, Carl Edwards, to play a Civil War general in a made-for-TV ACW miniseries. I like this comment from their press release (emphasis added):
The connection between the Civil War and drivers who race NASCAR is simple: those values of the Civil War-the patriotism, the spirit of American competition, the regional and national pride that poured forth from and for its heroes-is best exemplified in the American Values and American Spirit embraced today by the NASCAR affiliated drivers and their fans.
That's worth a whole post but let us leave it with the question Grant vs. Lee = The Spirit of American Competition? Kevin Levin owns the meme ACW as entertainment - let him plow this rich quote.

For my part, as an old soldier, I can't help but observe that the daily killed and wounded in our ongoing wars take a back seat in this press release in exemplifying American Values and American Spirit.

If HBO has become a new custodian of American Values and American Spirit and if they get a few things wrong in the Values/Spirit department at first, well, let's stay positive.

Now, Carl Edwards may be a great guy, but he has been chosen to play Gen. John B. Gordon. Question for NASCAR fans: is Edwards the John B. Gordon of NASCAR racers?

I ask because my NASCAR IQ is low. I follow Formula One in a haphazard, desultory way because it is no longer the racing of my youth. The Robert E. Lee of F1 is dead. My cohort, those who went into racing, suffered combat infantry levels of attrition. Maybe higher. They did so knowingly. They are lucky to have a truly great readership to keep their memories alive, as well as a movie or two needing no historical analogies.

How do we compare the race car driver of today with one of 40-50 years ago? Jean Shepherd made an inadvertant comaprison with the John Gordons during one of his radio monologues in 1960: he said that the young blades who had been part of the horsey crowd previously were now all into racing. Gordon may not have been a cavalryman but he exuded a cavalier ethos.

Imagine: a Confederate cavalry that immolates itself for its own (and our) entertainment; or a Pickett's charge around the track; or a life-threatening attempt to excel under peacetime conditions.

Imagine an audience that is not immune from the danger they observe.

How far away from that are we - and Carl Edwards - now? TV distance with accident-proof races and a sanitized ACW history to match.

Pictured right: F1 winner (1955) Juan-Manuel Fangio. He lived by virtue of quitting. See also Jackie Stewart and Sterling Moss. John Gordon did not quit but lived nonetheless.

Secession Ball

That Secession Ball to be held tonight has triggered gushers of printer's ink. The results are not worth reading.

The real meat of the anniversary of South Carolina's secession is not something newspaper hackery is going to be able to serve its readers. We can however list the uneaten courses here:

(1) What are the distinctions among celebration, commemoration, and observance?

(2) Are there such things as intergenerational guilt and virtue?

(3) Do state names themselves confer political or historical continuity?

(4) What connection does a modern succesor state have with its annihilated predecessor?

(5) If Reconstruction is long over, can you be "unreconstructed"?

If the standard of discourse is higher than portrayed here, send me the links and I will post them.

12/08/2010

Euclid and the geometry of Lincoln studies

Look upon yon works of Foner, ye Lincolnians, and despair!

If I had a Lincoln blog, that would be my motto. And yet, every so often a work comes out that tells the cynic, "There may be something to this Lincoln stuff." Something beyond Fonerfare, Holzergrams, and the "comprehensive review of mostly familiar material."

As a D-level geometry student, I saw enough light in this subject to appreciate that it developed through an orderly system of argumentation; it was an extension of the rhetoric courses we took; it stood at the seam of math and language and reason. It set my future taste in maths, steering me towards such as George Spencer-Brown, matrices and vectors, and other practical and sensible verbal-numerical explorations.

David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, an attorney and mathemetician respectively, propose with force and conviction that Euclid provided a rhetorical framework in which Lincoln operated. The analysis is concrete and impressive and the authors present diagrammatic (and tabular) evidence of the origins of Lincoln's powers of discourse.

Their book, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, thus adds something new to Lincoln studies. The broader question is whether Lincolnians, numbed by Foner, Holzer, McPherson, Goodwin, etc., give a damn about the origins of Lincoln's argumentation or any other particular. To many of them, Lincoln appears of whole cloth: indivisible, totemic, sui generis.

Any project breaking Lincoln into bits and pieces for analysis is therefore going to run into a wall of silence, I think. Frank Williams, an establishment figure, wrote the introduction to this work, but he's a bit idiosyncratic, surely an exception.

Lincoln = self-made genius or recycler of influences? This is not a question for 2010 and thus this beautifully written, elegant work by Hirsch and Van Haften is something like a 1940s Borzoi book, not only in quality and treatment but in terms of the point at which it stands historiographically.

Parallel texts, Euclid's and Lincoln's, present powerful evidence of derivation. This entire book is an argument about derivation. Can the guardians of Lincoln's pop imagery welcome extensive, decades long evidence of close derivation? Or is not Lincoln pop culture's man-who-invented-himself-at-each-stage-of-life?

If Lincoln showed that anyone can become president, there is no room in our culture for a codicil that he must first master Euclid.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a critic at New Art Examiner, the air was rife (in that context) with questions of "To what extent does this work [abstract painting] using geometric form retain its importance in light of the ideology-sensitive work being done today ..." The ideologically sensitive work surrounding Lincoln today has the power to bend light into shapes Euclid could hardly describe.

This is an excellent book with great notes, full biography and a fine style. Given the time, I'll post a review of it on its own terms and in its own context. It deserves no less (but it will likely get much less).

Potential post overload

Oddly enough for a quiescent blog, I have accumulated more ideas for posts than can be executed in short order. Please stand by and I hope to reward your interest.

12/07/2010

WaPo discovers our level

It didn't take long - just a few weeks - for the WaPo's fresh new Sesquicentennial section to descend to the lowest common denominator of Usenet level ACW discourse. Enjoy the comments!

Meanwhile, dig this WaPo review of Eric Foner's latest. The self-parody leaves me with nothing to mock:
The value of Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial" lies in its comprehensive review of mostly familiar material; in its sensible evaluation of the full range of information already available about Abraham Lincoln and slavery; and in the deft thoroughness of its scholarship. "The Fiery Trial" does well what has already been done before "but ne'er so well expressed."
This review could represent a fair summary of what the legion of regurgitators thinks of itself.

One outlier issue here is "deft thoroughness of its scholarship." These summarizers of secondary sources and purveyors of well-worn analysis are engaged in literary work ("ne'er so well expressed") while modeling some sort of imaginary scholarship mantle for their ignorant but adoring public. Take on the writer label, dear scribblers! Wear it proudly! It's no disgrace.

I think many believe that rewriting historical stuff becomes "history" by virtue of the subject matter handled, and their handling makes them "scholars."

Imagine a scholar who has never had an original thought or insight, never pieced together primary sources to uncover new patterns, or repudiated widely-held but erroneous views. Were the monks who copied manuscripts scholars? Scholars of chirography perhaps.

On the other hand, in the context of a discourse so low as that of WaPo's battle flags, Foner and company might scale up to the level of "scholar" by comparison.

12/02/2010

Scott's Operational Art (link list)

These are the posts referring to Winfield Scott's operational art as demonstrated in his two coordinated offensives of 1861:

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/28/2010): How ACW writers and others misunderstand and misapply Clausewitz's concept; a suggestion that Scott be studied as a corrective.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/29/2010): Shows that the mutated Clausewitzian construct "concentration in time" has been further bastardized by adding the Jominian idea of interior/exterior lines and proposes Scott's first coordinated offensive as a way to recast the analysis into something internally consistent and useful.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (9/30/2010): A recap of Scott's first offensive with emphasis on how much better it was served by coordination than by simultaneity.

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (10/01/2010): Chronology (in context) of Scott's first coordinated offensive; demonstrates coordination as a superior principle to simultaneity.

Scott's operational art (10/05/2010) - Review of the complexity and dynamics at work in Scott's first coordinated offensive.

Scott's operational art (10/06/2010) - Describes the fruits of Scott's victorious first coordinated offensive in terms of benefits and how these influenced the second offensive.

Scott's operational art (10/08/2010) - Sketches stark differences between Scott's second coordinated offensive and his first.

Scott's operational art (10/21/2010) - Analyzes the fundamentally mistaken concepts Scott tried to implement in his second offensive and by which his subordinates were judged.

Scott's operational art (12/01/2010) - Reviews failures of Scott and Patterson in the Valley during Scott's second offensive with an emphasis on military management.

Scott's bad example to Lincoln - lists hypothetical lessons learned from Scott's 1861 campaigns that seem to inform Lincoln's subsequent military thinking and behavior.

Scott's bad example to Lincoln

Having traveled this far in the analysis of Scott's late-career, early-ACW operational art, we would be remiss if we did not consider the effects on Lincoln of this primary schooling in war.

It is in no way fair to hold Winfield Scott responsible for lessons mislearned by Lincoln, nevertheless I have long felt that Lincoln's bizarre military management owed much to misapplying what he thought he saw during Scott's two offensives, the first of the war that he could observe from headquarters.

Like one of Konrad Lorenz's newborn ducklings, Lincoln was (I think) "impressed" at the right moment in his learning curve with a lot of "wrong" data.

This is obviously speculative but I have found it convincing and useful over the last 15 years. We all agree that Lincoln was a learner and we should agree that Scott's example offered lessons. This is a list of things Lincoln (I believe) might have surmised as reflected in presidential decisions taken later in '61 and '62:

(1) Campaigns can be run from an office in Washington using telegraph, mail, and couriers.

(2) To be more effective than Scott's conditional orders, movements need a time peg: synchronization.

(3) The relief of high commanders deserves no contingent preparation and no coordination.

(4) A single failure offers sufficient grounds for summary dismissal of high commanders.

(5) The state of a force can be adequately surmised from reports and letters.

(6) The state of ground can adequately be surmised from maps.

(7) Subordinates can appreciate the commander's intent at great distances with minimal input.

(8) Logistics is not much of a factor in campaigning.

(9) There is no military reason for one force to get away from another without harm.

(10) Harm inflicted offers more political benefit than the bloodless taking of strategic points.

Scott did not mean to set a military example in his first offensives - that's not my charge - he made accommodations given his condition, lack of staff, and a few personal (non-military) predilictions. They represented expedients that inadvertently set a horrible example for the new president. Scott compensated for his own accommodations and expediencies with a store of military knowledge the president did not have.

I wonder if each point here speaks for itself or if illustrations of Lincoln's decisions need to be recapitulated.

12/01/2010

Scott's operational art (cont.)

Scott's second coordinated offensive was launched without regard to regimental-level expirations of enlistment terms.

The force structure provided to Patterson to wage his part in two offensives was allocated from War Department resources by Scott himself. He knew what he was doling out and his principal staff officer, Townsend - as an assistant adjutant - should have been especially concerned with personnel matters. The idea that the make-up of Patterson's command could have surprised Scott or Townsend boggles the modern mind.

Regiments of variable shelf-life, having been assigned to Patterson's command by Scott, Patterson himself seems to have lost track of his own enlistment expirations. I find no mention of this issue by him in his correspondence until he is well into the second offensive. He discovers his problem in mid-operation and raises the alarm in shocked tones after unsatisfactory exchanges with Scott over his (Patterson's) aims and orders.

Patterson thus conveys a sudden ignorance of his assets in the midst of an already equivocal performance. His apparent surprise is as stunning as Scott's own primitive error, and making it weirder (as with Scott), Patterson's principal staff officer is an assistant adjutant (Fitz John Porter) whose main concern as a staff officer is men, pay and enlistments.

Patterson's operational lead, MG George Cadwalader (right), had a unique state/federal commission, the federal part of which was due to expire immanently. Again, there is no correspondence showing Patterson aware of the fact or seeking clarification of his subordinate's status.

Cadwalader's federal commission expired before the end of operations. After some days operating as a federal commander without legal authority, he and Patterson learned second hand that Cadwalader's commission had been allowed to lapse. With no provision made for a replacement and with Cadwalader's boss unable to plan for a rational reassignment of duties (out of ignorance, personal and induced), Scott himself incurred this serious risk ... needlessly.

The same news regarding Cadwalader - not orders, not a letter - informed Patterson that he himself had some days previously been relieved in favor of Nathaniel Banks. The news seems to have come with Banks' arrival at Harpers Ferry. This is a remarkable turn of management that is never commented on in discussing what has devolved historiographically into a shriveled prune misnamed The Bull Run Campaign.

Scott's first offensive against Harpers Ferry flourished under complexity and attention to many moving parts. It was executed by Patterson and Cadwalader, with support from Stone, and cinched by McClellan's threat to Johnston, an event outside the scope of Scott's original conception.

Scott's second offensive collapsed under the combined weight of plodding simplicity and terrible staff work. Had McDowell won his battle, it would not have erased the stain from Scott's management of the Valley force.

It may be worth picking through the relevant chronology and correspondence in a wrap-up post.

We should also follow up with a brief recitation of all the bad - tragic actually - lessons Lincoln appears to have learned watching Scott at work.

Perhaps, continuing analysis of Scott's military art, we can also amuse ourselves in the course of a few posts looking at the myth of that much-ballyhood Anaconda Plan (a choice piece of vaporware ardently promoted by clueless pop historians).

More to come, then.

11/23/2010

New York's Sesquicentennial

New York's Sesquicentennial can be summed up in a quote: "It's a shame."

Meanwhile, do you see the pattern emerging in entertainment news (including the WaPo with its Sesquicentennial section)? The Sesquicentennial is being privatized and as a for-profit venture.

11/21/2010

"Lincoln" stirs

The film project "Lincoln" has bestirred itself. The movie was originally slated to appear in the Bicentennial of 2009 based on a long-forgotten work by the notorious plagiarist D.K. Goodwin.

The absurd choice of Irishman Liam Neeson to play Lincoln was resolved in classic Hollywood management style, the actor being set aside like a can of beans (read past this headline). No word on the genius pick of Sally Field to play Mrs. Lincoln.

The script seems done. No mention of the screenwriter's debt to the underlying book by D.K.G. - instead, it appears he compiled 18 notebooks of his own to get a grip on the material.

This screenwriter uses "messianic" in connection with "Lincoln." Do you think it will be preachy?

11/17/2010

The Sesquicentennial as a top 10, how-to, what's hot-and-what's-not, sexiest man alive, Oscar winning occasion

Harry says "Wa-Po Historians Declare How the Sesquicentennial 'Should' Be Observed." That pretty much sums up these pieces.

Note that these WaPo-styled Civil War "bloggers" (unlike actual bloggers) get writing assignments from an editor.

The people who were asked this question (how to conduct the Sesquicentennial) by their editor have been positioned for a long time to answer the question in their own way and on their own hook without goading; to volunteer their names and labor and money; and to pitch in (a la Eric Wittenberg) to advance Sesquicentennial organizing and events. It's odd to see this WaPo set of "bloggers" so late in the game stepping off the train to cast into our benighted Civil War circle a few coins of advice.

Even for the most pompous hacks bedeviling Civil War literature, the pose is unnatural because the question of how should a thing be done is much more common in the world of the Washington Post than in the fractious world of Civil War history. The WaPo's business model is to tell its readers right from wrong, salad fork from dessert spoon, jazz from blues. This manifests itself in endless lists (best this, best that), countless recitations of expert opinion on any topic under the sun, and a firm, guiding editorial hand to keep readers from ever reaching stray conclusions. This is what people buy the paper for, how they use it.

I had asked earlier, rhetorically, for whom this new Sesquicentennial feature is intended, and I wonder if it is especially aimed at the non-ACW reader (the WaPo consumer) who feels the need to have authoritative (if second-hand) opinions upon the august occasion of a Sesquicentennial.

11/16/2010

Marszalek has spoken

As long as the new WaPo Civil War section trots out the name-brand hacks, we'll have no shortage of blog fodder here.

For instance, see this piece by Marszalek, in which he instructs us on how to correctly hold a Sesquicentennial. It's worth a quick Fisking.

What then can the Sesquicentennial do?

Note: The Sesquicentennial is not an agent, actor, corporation. Is this a literary device?

Those organizing it ...

Note: Who or what is organizing "the Sesquicentennial"? Is this another literary device?

Those organizing it can let it be known that they want everyone included. "Lost Cause" interpretations must be put aside...

Note: Isn't that a contradiction?

... and the true history of the four year event and the Reconstruction period which came from it must be presented.

Note: The true history! Everyone will be included in celebrating "the true history." What kind of mind works this way?

If there is a reenactment, it must include black and white soldiers and civil populace.

Note: This is quite a rulebook emerging. He should number the rules so statute breakers can be cited by paragraph. I like the contingency "If there is a re-enactment" during the Sesquicentennial. Wonder if there will be any?

Conversely, African Americans can take control of their central destiny in the Civil War.

Note: Past and present seem to be mixed up here. Anyway, this sentence is followed by a series of directives that African Americans are to execute during the Sesquicentennial. This beloved genius concludes,

It is about time that truth shine forth.

Whew! About time!

Thank heavens for pop history writers who can settle the truth for us and then issue the relevant commands.

You might like Mike Musick's piece better: he calls for "Renewed support for scholarly editions of significant documents" and "some observations that will not be welcomed by my friends in academia. Military history, for all its problematic aspects, ought not to be banished from our remembrance of what was after all a war."

Have coffin, will travel

Public history struggles to convey what it does not understand, and the results are always grotesque.

11/09/2010

11/08/2010

The Washington Post's Sesquicentennial

The Washington Post has started a major, recurring advertising supplement to its newspaper called Civil War 150 with an associated website. The paper copy is different from the electronic version in a number of ways, especially in being richer in advertising and poorer in content.

Yesterday a kind of man-in-the-street question was asked of six "expert panelists" in the print edition; today a seventh opinion appears online.

Also, the online edition collects and aggregates Civil War news on an ongoing basis.

The "names" and "opinions" featured are those of the inevitables - writers and teachers without historical sensibility, without a feel for new work, and without curiosity. That being the case, I was intrigued to see four out of the six panelists say that Lincoln's election started the war; a fifth went further saying actually many more contingencies than that were at play; a sixth waffled. Is the beloved Centennial theme of the inevitability of war dead now?

The paper edition featured prominently a piece about Edward Ayers (buried in the online edition) and tried to convey, in a few hundred words, Ayers' respect for complexity and the underlying data. Recognizing this to be the inverse of Centennialism, they set Centennialist-in-chief James McPherson on him and McPherson's comment speaks volumes - about McPherson:
"I was never able to grasp what he was driving at there," McPherson says. What else is history but the imposition of pattern, order - in short, a story - on a universe of seemingly random and interconnected events? McPherson asks.
This is quite a good mission statement for hamfisted hackery and when you consider that the "order" referred to here is being surmised from secondary sources, you have a vivid picture of this genre of "historian" at work.

The WaPo's normal audience is a frivolous bunch, skimming the topics of the day, revelling in "what's hot," collecting restaurant recommendations, and investing great credit in whatever approved authority tells them about the events of the day. It helps to think of the WaPo roughly as the newspaper equivalent of a Ken Burns documentary and I expect the two share the same audience.

Therefore, I'm curious as to whom the editors think (and you think) comprises the audience for a section like this. My guess is buffs rather than WaPo regulars. Civil War 150 hangs on the answer, and it will be interesting to see this section evolve.

11/04/2010

Barton museum

An unknown derelict D.C. building is reclaimed for history and a Clara Barton museum is planned.

Reminds me of a few decades ago, when the state government of New Jersey planned the demolition of Dorothea Dix's apartment in the State Hospital's Main Building in Trenton. My father was able to rescue a few period doorknobs before the wrecking ball struck.

10/21/2010

Scott's operational art (cont.)

In his first coordinated offensive, Scott gave leave to McDowell to move south in terms of orders, objectives, timing etc., just as he did Patterson in the second offensive.

The correct orders to McDowell and Patterson in their supporting roles should not have been to make a demonstration or attack (on their own terms, opportunity permitting) but rather for the supporter to interpose his forces between Beauregard and Johnston. This would have put Patterson on ground east of Johnston and McDowell west of Beauregard in the two early war offensives.

Geography and history make hash of this ideal because the Manassas Gap railroad ran behind the two Confederate positions. The road to mutual reinforcement ran due south, then east or west, not due east or west from the respective defensive positions. To practically interpose between the positions, the Union army would need to go way way south first, a logistic and tactical impossibility, given the starting positions.

This is a way of saving that the correct, textbook solution was not available to McDowell or Patterson's armies. Interposition due east or west of the enemy, which was within their means, had no effect on rail use for reinforcement.

Now, follow this. Unless I am in error (Harry can correct me), Johnston's use of the railroad was a surprise. Proof: in an exchange with Patterson (in the OR), Scott gives him the condition during McDowell's offensive, that should Johnston move towards Beauregard, Patterson is to follow along the Virginia side of the Potomac, using the canal to supply his forces.

This is not a contingency that envisions Johnston moving along the way southerly Manassas Gap railroad by steam or sinew, is it? It seems to suggest Scott envisioned Rebel forces joining by northerly roads such that following the river would be following Johnston's army en route to Beauregard's positions. Scott envisions Johnston moving more or less due east of his defenses.

So, Scott's orders in the two offensives to the "distractors" are in both cases theoretically wrong even though, had right orders been issued, it would not have availed him due to the railroad's location. The orders were wrong in terms not just of the ideal but in terms of the land movement options Scott envisioned for the Confederates.

Johnston's assumption of the defense in Winchester put him in marching distance of a railroad connection. It was a far enough away march that it obscured the potential connection to Union analysis. It was southerly enough that interposition by Patterson was impossible, had Johnston's railway ride been suspected or envisioned.

Hattaway and Jones took some trouble to explain why Civil War armies could not be destroyed, or even seriously hurt during a retreat after battle. Johnston was not retreating after battle; he was evacuating a position. To stop an evacuation through offensive action seems both theoretically and practically impossible in a Civil War context.

This makes nonsense of the contemporary criticism of Patterson that he "could have" [fill in the missing accomplishment of your choice]. He had the wrong orders from Scott based on a false concept of the enemy's options and potential - no basis for a plan or a result. Contemporary people were down on Patterson because they did not know you can't fix an enemy army in place that is evacuating (not with ACW means and methods); and these critics willfully disregard that Johnston's rail movement occurred far beyond the reach of Union forces. (Look at the map at the distance of Winchester to the railroad and picture the options for a wagon-bound enemy.)

It seems sad that so many modern historians have never moved beyond the limited, in fact asinine, opinions of that day and moment but here we are. Welcome to Civil War history!

There is an indubitable point to be made that Patterson set himself some goals or objectives and failed to meet them (and later characterized them as mere contingencies, not ends). As was said of a friend of mine in a performance review, "He failed to meet even the low standards he sets for himself." I think Patterson might have met some of those modest goals he set for himself, if not for two pre-emptive blunders he committed in mid-campaign.

These are nearly inconceivable in scale, yet never mentioned as errors in Civil War histories or held against Patterson; both tie into Scott's failure in the second offensive end game, at which point we'll conclude this thread.

10/20/2010

10/14/2010

Into the Sesquicentennial

Tennessee's Sesquicentennial Committee has unveiled a Sesquicentennial license plate. They say proceeds will go to counties to fund Civil War Trails signage. Can the state really earmark funds this way? Or is this the typically careless talk of a professional journalist?

In my previous experience, the only way this could be done is if the general budget today contains a line item for Trails signage based on projected income from estimated license plate sales. Otherwise, the money goes into the general fund with the potential for future allocation.

Besides which, why commit all the funding from your sole Sesquicentennial revenue source to a single project unless you're expecting just a dribble in funds?

In other state news, Pennsylvania continues to impress.

10/12/2010

The Sesquicentennial at Charleston

Of all possible Sesquicentennial sites, Charleston's events require the most thought and care. Are we celebrating secession? The bombardment of a puny federal garrison? The role ancestors played in precipitating a national tragedy?

Do we delight in revolution or counterrevolution?

Which side represents which part of that?

Here is what passes for an answer:
South Carolina can claim a huge chunk of the Civil War anniversary tourism dollars if it is first out of the blocks in December and does it right, state leaders were told Monday. [...] "We better, because Virginia will," said Eric Emerson, director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
We expect state historians to grapple with the big questions and Emerson has apparently given this one a lot of thought. It is good for governments to have their house historians, is it not?

Emerson also (fortunately) speaks a language that today's press release driven one- and two-syllable communications professionals can well understand, because they aptly headlined their Emerson-related news article "Civil War can bring big bucks." We don't need to wait 150 years to celebrate directness and clarity, so thanks for that.

Meanwhile, the locals are out in front of the state with their own plans [emphasis added]:
Some of the other efforts being promoted locally include concerts around the Fort Sumter 1861 bombardment anniversary in April, and a "star shell" flare being shot over the fort timed to the attack.
Will there be cheering? Why? Symbolizing what?
Emerson said it is important for all corners of the state to begin pressing its story of how the war affected men and women, white and black, young and old. "Start focusing on 'that' thing that can draw people to 'that' town," he said.
What do you have when you have "pressed the story" of how people were affected?

This is shaping up to be another exercise in government-backed nihilism, dominated once again by a certain ideology of nihilism called heritage tourism.

The lack of financial support is the silver lining in all this.

10/08/2010

Scott's operational art (cont.)

In his first coordinated offensive, Scott deployed a machine of many parts and the enemy was duly confused. It helped, too, that the enemy had sought to evacuate Scott’s main objective as the offensive unrolled.

Now, in his second offensive, Scott was simplifying. Stone and Wallace were joined to Patterson. Butler kept quiet. McClellan was rendered irrelevant by orders keeping him from joining Patterson. The overachievers – Butler, McClellan, Wallace, and Stone, were thus sidelined. There would be only two pistons in this machine, Patterson’s and McDowell’s.

McDowell had completely failed to occupy or “amuse” Beauregard in the first offensive. There was no inquiry or reprimand for McDowell: after all, Harpers Ferry fell and there was a healthy “redundancy” in the number of distractions presented the foe.

Now, in this offensive, there would be no distractions and both columns had to succeed. They were given difficult tasks. Each would have to fight a battle and win (Patterson’s was optional but always immanent).

No good plan requires 100% success from two underachievers, yet here was Scott boxing himself in.

The mark of this campaign is that Patterson’s mission was both incorrectly formulated by Scott and incorrectly understood by Patterson. I don’t mean this in the conventional sense conveyed by pop history (here we have arrived at another early war surprise gleaned by reading the sources). Patterson’s failing to occupy Johnston is of secondary importance at most. More on this in another post.

A second mark of this campaign is given in two planning failures of catastrophic and immediate effect. These are never discussed in Civil War histories and their stunning effects are glossed over by authors as if they were simple matters of everyday campaigning.

Scott’s failure to correctly conceive and frame Patterson’s role in the campaign and his improper reaction to two monumental staff blunders recast his offensive from a coordinated one at start - with leeway to adjust to circumstances - into a simultaneous one in which his underachievers had to overdeliver with exquisite timing.

More on this soon.

10/07/2010

Perspective

Those whose Civil War reading makes them exceedingly wrathful towards Banks, Bragg, Butler, Fremont, Hunter, Johnston, Polk, Pope, McClellan, McDowell, etc., would do well to study the modern generals (every one of them) as depicted in Woodward's new book Obama's War.

A modern perspective might mellow some of that Civil War harshness.

10/06/2010

Scott's operational art (cont.)

In his first coordinated offensive, Scott showed a Jominian streak that would take quite a long thread to explore. There was also visible a level of daring and complexity reaped from long experience. Here, in late spring of 1861, Scott makes the overland campaigns of later years look stupid by comparison.

At the end of his first offensive, the main point had been gained with the threat of a combination against inferior forces. Dangerous movements on multiple axes had compelled the enemy's decision to evacuate. Some movements succeeded, some failed; enough were put into motion that the failures might not influence a positive outcome.

Scott had stocked his main column with extra forces to enable it to fight a major battle to gain Harpers Ferry. Another force fought its way across what is now Western Virginia near to the decision point. Another force fought through Maryland to the crossing for Leesburg, Virginia. Alexandria was occupied. A push out of Ft. Monroe was defeated while a push from Washington fizzled.

The campaign might make a nice example in Jominian study, with forces operating on exterior lines for military advantage. Perhaps a misunderstanding of this campaign "inspired" Lincoln's misguided 2/22/62 order.

Let's try now to pass from the Jominian to the Clausewitzian. Scott did not know Clausewitz but we can still do some analysis. What political objective or purpose did the campaign serve?

The taking of Harpers Ferry closed off the Cumberland Valley, securing Patterson's Department of Pennsylvania, making Harrisburg safe, Gov. Curtin calmer, and gaining control of high profile federal property at a railroad chokepoint. It also opened the possibility of additional major military developments.

But politically, it was "low yield."

Let's consider the other potential objectives in this campaign from the political standpoint.

Grafton - The fall of Grafton unlocks western Virginia for the establishment of a loyal Virginia, dealing serious political damage to the secessionist state and general Rebel government.

Suffolk - The defeat at Big Bethel forestalls this. Its total potential, politically, might have been to spread fear and demorilization in the enemy capital. This would have been the maximum political upside.

Centreville - McDowell could not organize his demonstration toward Centreville in time to help Patterson. Had Centreville fallen in the course of that or had it been abandoned without a battle, the benefit would have been to force retirement of the provocatively named enemy "Army of the Potomac," transforming it into an army of the Rapahannock.

Edward's Ferry - The political effect of Stone's victories was to secure another state government - Maryland - from embarassment by roving Confederate forces.

As mentioned yesterday, Beatie discusses in some detail the next steps considered by Scott and Patterson after this first campaign, especially their idea of advancing far enough down the Valley to place an army behind (under, south of) Richmond, thereby forcing evacuation of the South's Potomac positions.

Place yourself in Scott's shoes, considering your next land offensive. The highest value project available, politically, is the forcing of an evacuation of the Potomac line. Defensively, the highest political priority is protection of the capital which implies the collection of all available forces there, rather than at HF or Ft. Monroe.

The means available to gain the largest political prize are indirect - a Valley approach by Patterson, McClellan, and maybe Stone - or direct - an assault on Centreville from Washington, Centreville being the nexus for supply and reinforcement of the Potomac line.

The table has been set by political (Clausewitzian) priority; Jominian principles then dictate that the force collected around Washington should be applied against the foe closer to home on shorter (exterior) lines with less distance (less risk) from the Union base of operations (DC).

And so, thanks to theory, there is a cetain predictability to Centreville becoming the principal target in Scott's second coordinated offensive of 1861.

10/05/2010

Scott's operational art

Looking over the summary account of Scott's first coordinated campaign, given in the last few posts especially, there are some aspects of Scott's operational art worth considering.

He puts McClellan into play vis a vis Grafton the same day he orders Patterson to take three key locations in Maryland (May 24). Long also dates Mansfield's taking of Alexandria to this day. From Joe Johnston's position in Harpers Ferry, there is now going to be a flurry of activity to his front, east and west. As McClellan's columns approach Grafton, Patterson approaches HF, and Butler (apparently on his own initiative) seizes Newport News with an amphibious landing. (This last is out of Johnston's area but a good damper on Richmond forces that might be sent to Alexandria or HF.)

This light show is intended to dazzle an uncertain opponent occupying the single point Scott wishes to take; its antecedents are in his conquest of Mexico, where Patterson, McClellan, Scott, and Cadwalader last combined. In the next pulse, Scott, the chess player* orders Patterson to HF, Stone to Edward's Ferry, and Butler to Suffolk. The orders are nearly "simultaneous" but the timing is left open. More noise to overload the defenders. More opportunism, too.

Three days later, Wallace, detached from McClellan's column at Grafton, is sent by McClellan and/or Kelley to Cumberland to occupy that objective on Patterson's behalf. Wallace, on his own initiative, attacks and occupies Romney VA en route. Opportunism in spades.

Wallace becomes nervous in Cumberland, however, repeating requests for reinforcements. Patterson declines to help him but reports McClellan as sending a second regiment there. This Cumberland business may be the decisive act of the entire campaign. The critical element is McClellan's occupation of the place, for if Patterson had taken it as ordered, it would simply be part of Patterson's advance.

But Johnston gives his rationale for abandoning HF as fear of McClellan joining Patterson - a fear only Wallace's arrival could have incited. Advance guard? McClellan on the way? Makes military sense and represnts the worst case scenario. Scott has put things in motion in order to make your own luck - and here the payoff is rich. We see this in Mexico as well.

It is possible that Johnston is lying about his motive (Cliff Dowdey makes him a remarkable liar), and that he used McClellan as a rationale for abandoning a position he simply did not want to defend, as would later happen on the Potomac and Yorktown lines. The effect is the same, though.

Moreover, Johnston's scenario could have played out; the door is not closed on this outcome until McClellan asks Scott to join Patterson on June 16th and Scott answers "no need." This is the day after the evacuation, so we can say Joe J anticipated a different answer from Scott.

By the way, why did Scott say that? Given that McClellan had in hand no urgent tasks directed by the chief, why? I have some possibilities in mind.

(1) Scott had another operation/combination in mind in the near future and needed McClellan where he was.

(2) Scott had given Patterson enough forces and support to accomplish his mission and would join Stone to Patterson if needed.

(3) Scott was self-consciously limiting his span of control to reduce "noise" on himself such that the forces integral to his plan were the ones he communicated with frequently. (Scott did not direct Butler after Big Bethel or McClellan after Grafton.)

If this third point is true it suggests Scott appreciated the idea of what we now call a theater of operations (I like "theatre" better but this spelling may annoy you). If we consider that the geographical space in which operational objectives are realized represents a theater of operations, then Scott may have viewed Butler and McClellan as peripheral to that theatre where McDowell, Stone, and Patterson were central.

And if this is accurate, Scott shares the credit Clayton Newell bestows on McClellan, that of inventing the concept of theater of operations during his western Virginia campaign.

So much for (3). If you want to explore point (1) above, give Beatie's Army of the Potomac Volume 1 a read. It's fascinating and reports that Scott and Patterson envisaged the follow-on to HF as being a thrust down the Valley to a position behind Richmond that would forceBeauregard's evacuation of the Potomac line in favor of a Rappahannock line or worse. I infer Scott may have seen McClellan as more useful for that potential plan if he stayed where he was.

Patterson's Valley objective was, of course, displaced by the Centreville objective in the planning of Scott's second coordinated offensive, which may be worth a few posts as well.

The Harpers Ferry offensive presented Lincoln with a number of seriously misleading indicators, to the great detriment of the Union cause. He saw a major campaign controlled, actually well run, by telegraph and mail. He saw subordinate commanders coordinating, helping each other, and acting in harmony. He saw initiative, promptness, aggressiveness, and luck pay off. What he did not understand is that these dividends were reaped because the entire command structure (minus Butler and McDowell) dated from the Mexican War and/or had strong personal relations. Once this team broke up results would change.

Furthermore it seems that Lincoln could think himself able to control the war by telegraph by watching the example set by Scott. The genesis of this Lincolnian conceit came early and I blame Scott for it.

* Scott once played legendary chess prodigy Paul Morphy, lost, and made a scene. Morphy was then a child and unknown.

10/04/2010

Post-heroic Warfare

It's a seminar.
...the idea of the post-heroic condition of contemporary western societies has had and continues to have a large impact on both strategic thinking and operational practice.

10/02/2010

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (cont.)

It might appear that I am picking on Archer Jones because of my focus on his leading example of "concentration in time" - Lincoln's idiotic order directing simultaneous advances on all fronts on 2/22/61. Consider, however, Jones' pairings that serve as follow-up examples:
Banks moved in late March [1862] just as Buell moved to reinforce Grant at Pittsburg Landing, McClellan's siege of Yorktown began two days before Shiloh, the fall of Corinth occurred two days before the Battle of Fair Oaks, and Buell's advance and Bragg and Kirby Smith's Kentucky campaigns took place simultaneously with the summer operations in Virginia.
Oddly - and honestly enough - Jones recites the pairings and then disavows them as unplanned - they "occurred fortuitously and not as a result of any plan," a phrase McPherson missed when he blindly cribbed Jones' Civil War Command and Strategy to write a couple of bad books in which he assigned Lincoln (and himself) the credit for the Jonesian construct of "concentration in time."

Nevertheless, after the disavowal, in his own book, Jones continues to explore this principle at some length theoretically and he uses it - as theory - in the rest of Command and Strategy as a conceptual yardstick for operational effectiveness.

On this basis we can hold him accountable for the error of prizing simultaneity over coordination.

10/01/2010

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (cont.)

The theme of this post is that coordination is a superior principle to simultaneity and thus the idea that the coordinated offensive serves a Jominian purpose better than simultaneous offensives.

The temptation is to go off on a tangent on Scott's operational art, demonstrated in these first and second offensives, but I am not going to do that here. Will let the first offensive timeline speak for itself and hope its message is audible to the late war reader.

Scott's management is highlighted in bold. The effects of Scott's management are show in italics. Comments are [in brackets]. The rest is interesting noise and context.

May 23. Virginia votes for secession. (The CW Day by Day, Long)

May 24. Scott asks McClellan, in Ohio, if he can move against Grafton. (OR)

May 24. Butler reports his arrival at Ft. Monroe. (OR)

May 24. Scott orders Patterson to push into Hagerstown, Frederick, and Cumberland. He then modifies the order making Cumberland's taking optional. (OR)

May 26. McClellan sends three column into Virginia. (Long)

May 27. The Dept. of NE Va. is created under McDowell. (OR)

May 27. McDowell seizes Alexandria. (OR)

May 27. Butler seizes Newport News in an amphibious attack.

May 30. McClellan's column under Kelley takes Grafton. (Long)

June 1. Scott orders Patterson to advance on Harpers Ferry. He says, "I will make a demonstration beyond Alexandria." There is no deadline.

McDowell's cavalry probes Fairfax County. (Long)

June 3. McClellan's victory triggers the "Phillippi races" in Virginia. (Long)

June 3. AG Townsend asks McDowell to estimate the composition of a column "to be pushed toward Manassas" "say in four or five days to favor Patterson's attack on Harpers Ferry." (OR) [Note the flexibility!]

June 4. The Union navy shells Pig Point on the James River.(Long)

June 4. McDowell answers Townsend proposing 12,000 infantry, two batteries and 6-8 "companies" [sic] of cavalry advance on Manassas. (OR)

June 6. McClellan asks Scott for permission to muster in Virginia regiments. (OR)

June 6. Butler proposes to attack toward Norfolk. (OR)

June 7. The Union navy blockades Apalachicola, Fl. (Long)

June 8. Tennessee votes for secession. (Long)

June 8. Scott orders Patterson to Harpers Ferry without specifying a date. Scott orders Stone to Edward's Ferry opposite Leesburg as a "diversion" that "may be turned into an effective cooperation, without specifying a date. (OR)

June 9. Butler undertakes a night march against Big Bethel. (Long)

June 10. AG Townsend, on Scott's behalf, directs Butler to attack Suffolk - without specifying a date. Butler attacks Big Bethel in daylight. (OR)

June 10. Stone fights his first battle en route to Edwards Ferry (Long).

June 13. Townsend advises Scott that Stone is on the march and that on the 17th or 18th, McDowell will start his advance against Manassas. (OR)

June 13. Lew Wallace drives Rebels out of Romney, Va., with a regiment of Zouaves detached from McClellan's command and attached to Patterson. He then continues his march to Cumberland, his objective. (OR)

June 13. Johnston communicates his lack of confidence in holding HF for the CSA. (Long)

June 14. Fitz John Porter, Patterson's senior staff officer, coordinates Stone's movements with Patterson's. (OR)

June 14. AP Hill captures Romney as Wallace leaves to complete his march from Western Va. to Cumberland, Md. (Wiki)

June 14. Stone fights another battle at Seneca Mills, Md., en route to Edwards Ferry. (Long)

June 15. Patterson's forces advance on Williamsport and Martinsburg. Patterson says he cannot cross the river to take HF until the 19th. (OR)

June 15. Johnston evacuates HF. He says he fears a union of Patterson and McClellan. (Long)

June 15. Stone fights another battle at Conrad's Ferry en route to Edwards Ferry. He takes Edwards Ferry. (Long)

June 16. McClellan tells Scott he hears Patterson is "checked" at the Potomac in front of HF and offers to advance from western Virginia to join Patterson. Scott tells him there is "no need." (OR) [We will explore this interaction in a future thread on the concept of theatres of war.]

June 16. Patterson (actually his combatant commander, Cadwalader) takes HF, which has been evacuated. (OR)

June 16. Patterson reports to Scott that McClellan has sent a regiment to aid Wallace at Cumberland. (OR)

June 17. Stone fights yet another action at Conrad's Ferry.

June 19. Pierpont named governor of (loyal) Virginia. (Long)

9/30/2010

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (cont.)

Archer Jones, whom we've been discussing, follows ACW writing conventions in treating Bull Run as a singular major event - in all its splendid isolation - that follows the fall of Sumter. It is but an element of Scott's second coordinated offensive of 1861.

The general plan for ACW authors seems to be cover Sumter's capture, mention some fooling around, and then describe the first really big battle, Bull Run; after Bull Run, place the reader in a quiet antechamber to await the next really big battle while waterboarding him with page after page of McClellan's time-wasting preparations until the reader comes to hate GBM as deeply as the author does.

This convention is terribly unjust to the hitory of the early war.

In Scott's first coordinated offensive, in June of 1861 (before Bull Run), the intention of which was to capture Harper's Ferry, he conceived of a successful plan in which Patterson would advance on the main point after being reinforced, while McDowell threatened Centreville with an advance of 12,000 infantry, while Stone advanced on Edward's Ferry menacing Leesburg. This personally directed triple threat was markedly enhanced by peripatetic, undirected activity on the periphery by McClellan in western Virginia and Butler in easter Virginia around Fort Monroe.

Scott commanded and coordinated Stone, Patterson, and McDowell in the offensive - the OR is rich with this material - but we have no orders or correspondence to show whether he issued offensive-related instructions to Butler and McClellan. On the contrary; nevertheless, as mentioned, they played a lucky supporting role, as will be seen.

Here's the point, though: Scott's management of this first offensive exactly satisfies the underlying Jominian dynamic of Archer Jones' "concentration in time" without lapsing into Lincoln's jejeune simultaneity.

There's no common start time for the three columns. There doesn't need to be. Scott's attacks and demonstrations are specifically designed to offset the reinforcing advantage offered by the defenders' interior lines while their timing is left flexible as long as a distraction effect is achieved. We'll look at some orders to see how Scott did this.

We'll also look at a timeline surrounding the first offensive to see how much noise was generated to overload enemy analysis. Stone, did spectacularly well in the noise department while McDowell's demonstration fizzled completely. In the second coordinated offensive, the situation reversed, with Patterson fizzling, McDowell achieving lift off, and Stone static.

The Scott experience shows us that offsetting the advantage of interior lines is a function of offensive coordination NOT simultaneous movement.

"Concentration in time" as reformulated by Jones is therefore the false solution to a Jominian (not Clausewitzian) problem.

For those unfamiliar with the early war, the intense chronology around these offensives should be an eye opener. I'll run the chronology in the next post.

9/29/2010

"Concentration in time" and the ACW (cont.)

Outside of Civil War studies, the term and idea “concentration in time” is credited to Clausewitz. Within Civil War studies, “concentration in time” has been deeply colored by Archer Jones’ formulation.

In Clausewitz’s Vereinigung chapter, the illustration is given of Napoleon’s Russian invasion. Napoleon deploys all of his strategic assets in one stroke: he does not stage an invasion in phases nor as piecemeal forces become available over time. And he has one aim: by advancing on Moscow, he will force a battle in his favor such that peace can be dictated from the occupied capital.

Jones’ first example of concentration in time is Lincoln’s order for simultaneous advances on February 22, 1862. This entails multiple forces, moving on multiple axes, in pursuit of multiple objectives, none of them decisive, none of them “politics by other means.” This is almost the opposite of what Clausewitz envisions by Vereinigung.

Jones makes the purpose of this simultaneity the negating of the defender’s advantage of interior lines. The defender enjoys an economy of movement when shifting force from point to point on interior lines of defense (to offset any attacker’s local superiority). Simultaneous attacks (“concentrations in time”) can prevent a shift by creating multiple challenges at once to the entire line of defense.

The deep reader recognizes interior and exterior lines as Jominian conceptions that have nothing whatever to do with Clausewitz. Simultaneous attacks on local objectives made by divided forces to offset the advantage of interior lines for purely military gain have nothing to do with Clausewitz on any level whatever.
What Jones has mistakenly done is taken the clarity of Clausewitz’s writing on concentration in space and then distilled, through Jones’ own dialectic and some inference, a unique parallel concept regarding time based on just one Clausewitzian nugget: the “at once,” the simultaneity.

The result is so highly idiosyncratic, to say the least, as to make ludicrous James McPherson’s claiming this formulation as his own, as he has done in two recent books and an article. McPherson, as he did so often in Battle Cry, misunderstands the sources he reads, so that in his new work, Archer Jones’s genesis of “concentration in time” with Lincoln’s 2/22 order becomes a full-blown Lincoln dictum, a veritable hallmark of Lincoln’s ongoing management of the war. Jones, in giving more examples after February 22, 1862, cites pairs of events that happen close in time without actually giving Lincoln any credit for orchestrating them; indeed, how could he? Their synchronicity is interesting but he wisely ascribes them generically to the Union. (This seems too much, BTW, if you consider the paper trail linking, or not linking, these pairs of events.)

Jones credits Clausewitz when introducing “concentration in time,” at the high concept level, but then develops his discussion without further reference to him. Thus, it’s possible that Jones is presenting his own riff on the germ of an attributed idea without intending to represent these as Clausewitz’s own.

If we take this Jonesian formula for simultaneity in a Jominian framework, we need not credit Lincoln for first use, but rather (with caveats), Scott.

I keep promising discussion of Scott’s coordinated offensives and will finally arrive at these next.

9/28/2010

"Concentration in time" and the ACW

I don’t know the German etymology of Konzentration, but Clausewitz does not use the word in his 1832 expositions on what we now call “concentration in space” and “concentration in time.”

The third book of On War has two chapters that interest us here, Sammlung der Kräfte im Raum and Vereinigung der Kräfte in der Zeit. I would render these “Assembly of forces in space” and “Unification of forces in time.” Note that the modern German would use Konzentration in the sense we use it ourselves to render the chapter titles Konzentration der Kräfte im Raum, etc. Clausewitz seems not only to be making a distinction between his two “concentrations” but also among concentration, assembly, and unification.

“Concentration in time” is a somewhat new English rendering, possibly early 20th Century, possibly via Jean Colin (though this Frenchman would have given the term its Gallic form not an English coinage.)

After the chapter on “Space,” what Clausewitz discusses in "Time" is mainly its comparative effects on force (esp. via attrition) at both the tactical and strategic levels. He labors through many words to bring forth three germane points:
… in Strategy we can never employ too many forces, and consequently also that they must be applied simultaneously to the immediate purpose …

… it cannot be an object to make time an ally on its own account by bringing troops [at the strategic level] successively into action …

… all forces which are available and destined for a strategic object should be simultaneously applied to it; and this application will be so much the more complete the more everything is compressed into one act and into one movement.
Clausewitz appears to have had in mind here the invasion of Russia by Napoleon, i.e. the application of all strategic forces to a single theatre, rather than the simultaneous application of force in multiple theatres.

This latter appears to be derived, not original with On War, and Archer Jones’ analysis operates within that derivation.

Next: Theatres and Scott’s application of Clausewitz’s Sammlung.

9/27/2010

Joseph Harsh, historian

"Woe to you if he considered you a member of what he referred to as the 'American Heritage' school of Civil War history!" - Ethan Rafuse

Joseph Harsh's death was reported while I was offline. You know how I feel about his work.

His death notices appear in a perfunctory, minimalist Washington Post obit; in a Centreville community paper; in Harry's Bull Runnings; in Tom Clemens' blog here and here; and in Civil Warriors under Ehan Rafuse's signature here. Harry has some recent photos on his site.

The scarcity of obituaries is ridiculous and a good index of the low, corrupt standards of Civil War history and the broader ACW readership. Harsh's Maryland campaign trilogy self-conciously sets a standard for campaign histories that very few books will ever reach, even over infinite time, no matter how many monkeys find publishers, grab typewriters, and begin flailing.

Over the decades, I noticed that no book touching substantively upon McClellan failed to cite Harsh's essential essay, "On the McClellan-Go-Round," which probably earned him more recognition than his opus.

He died at a chronologically young age (in his sixties). That is a warning to us all to complete our projects. His planned telling of the Maryland Campaign from McClellan's perspective, thus, is not done to my (selfish) regret. Perhaps, given the paucity of obits, it would have made no difference historiographically at this point, although it would have delighted the "real audience" of deep readers.

This was an author who respected the deepest readers and showed it in his research, insights, and prose. I wish that audience were larger than it is so that he could have his due.

9/24/2010

The vandals

There are books in your library in the category "what would you do without it"?

Rowena Reed's Combined Operations in the Civil War is irreplaceable to me. It's deep; it's scholarly; its opinions are pervasive, rich and pungent; it's a powerful invitation to change one's whole view of the war. It's re-readable and referenceable. It's everything I want from a classic.

So what kind of person would assemble a potluck collection of forgettable essays on the same subject and then title it Union Combined Operations in the Civil War? On April 10 such a book was issued. Shame on Fordham University Press.

It's amazing to me the contempt in which Civil War readers are held.

Here's a hack who cranks out at least one naval retelling a year who assumes he can steal the title of Reed's famous book, then wave it in the face of his own reading public with no one the wiser.

What the hell do they know beyond what I tell 'em?

Meanwhile, over there is Dave Eicher in Longest Night who thinks he can take Thomas Livermore's numbers and losses, decimal for decimal, and none of his readers will notice.

Over yonder is Jean Smith in Grant cribbing great long passages of Grant narrative from blockbuster books without expecting the ghost of a chance of the reading public noticing the duplication.

And most glorious in his always eminent prize-worthiness, here is the greatest living McPherson lifting whole sentences out of Archer Jones without a citation for his portrait of Lincoln as commander, then taking key concepts from Clausewitz, spotlighted by Jones and Hattaway, without mentioning Clausewitz. And indeed, what McPherson reader ever on his life would have read Clausewitz or Jones or Hattaway and Jones?

Do you see the pattern here, BTW? It is the Centennialist who seems most likely to defame and insult his own readers. It is the consolidator, the summarizer, the repackager "at work."

And we continue to reward them.

How is this different than knocking over Civil War gravestones?

9/23/2010

"Concentrations in time"

In his 1992 classic, Civil War Command & Strategy: The Process of Victory & Defeat, Archer Brown explored (the properly credited) Clausewitzian idea of "concentrations in time" as it developed in the Civil War*.

Brown says there,
Concentration in time early became a firm principle of Union strategy... The first attempt at concentration in time came in the winter of 1862, when Lincoln issued his order for all armies to advance on the same day.
I want to explore this mistake at length, particularly as it pertains to Winfield Scott's first and second coordinated offensives of June 1861. Will post the first installment this weekend.

*James McPherson's taking of this material from Brown and Clausewitz without credit was explored in an earlier series of posts.

9/22/2010

Federal strength at Gaine's Mills

Looking through my notes made years ago, I found this letter from Randolph Marcy to his son-in-law dated July 5, 1865 (from reel 36 of the microfilmed Papers of GBM.) They address each other, BTW, as "My Dear Marcy" and "My Dear McClellan," which is endearing, don't you think?
Marcy, of course, was chief of staff of the AoP and this exchange is private, after the war, and meant for no one's eyes but their own:
I have just read Lee's report of the seven days fighting in which he speaks well of you but makes several misstatements. For instance he says that we had greatly superior numbers on the East side of the Chickahominy at Gaines Mill when one of their own writers admits that they had 67,000 after Jackson came up, while we only had, if I remember right, about 35,000.
This is one of those odd instances where memory roughly corresponds with ACW "common knowledge."

Wikipedia gives the number of Federals engaged as 34,214 and Rebels as 57,018: David Eicher's Longest Night is given as the source. If you go to Longest Night, the numbers are unsourced and appear on page 288 of the hardback. You would think, readers would want to know where numbers come from but his notes address other matters than strengths and casualties.

But the deep reader recognizes these as exact matches for Livermore's estimates (Eicher gives them as facts) from the Numbers and Losses. Oddly, Livermore is not mentioned in this work except as the author of the memoir, Days and Events, without reference to Numbers and Losses - and Eicher repeatedly uses Numbers and Losses throughout his work without crediting Livermore. The result is what we have here: some chump posts them to Wiki as if they were Eicher's own calculations, none the wiser. Welcome to Civil War history, a brilliant field of scintillating scholarship!

Without digressing into Eicher's gross misconduct, it seems more interesting to speculate how Marcy's memory could line up so closely with Livermore's figuring.

I think we have to understand that as chief of staff, Marcy's was a muster roll view of data, just as Livermore tweaked that same data to come up with his own totals.

I think the federal number here is high unless absentees and shirkers are accounted for, but that is hard to do on a rule of thumb or estimate basis. For that, anecdotal evidence is needed and anecdotal evidence does not always filter up to HQ.

Well worth a ponder.

9/21/2010

Listen to the speakers

Russell Bonds is coming to the Gettysburg-Sharpsburg area this weekend but I lack details. Tom Clemens is speaking on Ezra Carman on October 10 in Hagerstown (details here). James McPherson, whom some of you love (tragically), will be guiding tours around Richmond in fall, though again, I lack details.

Is this not the sorriest event post ever?

Update: RB says, "I'm speaking at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Lancaster/Strasburg PA on Saturday night. Details here."

9/20/2010

Northern Sesquicentennial boards

My (not very thorough) count of Northern Sesquicentennial commissions yields four - one each for New Jersey, Pennsy, Indiana, and Ohio. The North is lagging the South, as might be expected.

The commissions as formed may have different roles which are defined by legislatures or perhaps gubernatorial fiat. Advisory? Event organization? Fundraising?

As a former long-time arts organizer and festival producer, I can tell you that we of that ilk have only one criteria, one role, one function in mind for boards, commissions, and advisors. We expect money from them, a lot of money, fast, with as few strings as possible.

The idea of stocking a board with friends, family, politicians, colleagues, impoverished authors, etc. is nonsense from this standpoint and thus, to me, every Southern Sesquicentennial board so far formed seems to have failed my little arts test. I don't know anyone from my arts days who would not laugh at these boards and the amateurs who assembled them.

New Jersey

New Jersey seems to have opted for that now well-trodden Southern Sesquicentennial path. The best thing about their committee is Joe Bilby, whom his fellows have deigned to make webmaster of their site. Hey Joe: there's a picture that seems to be out of alignment. Fix it and thank you for your contribution to ACW history.

The committee chief is the chairman of the board of the state historical society. This is an inevitable appointment BUT seating him at the very head of the table is the surest sign of political neglect and ACW activist truancy. A vibrant ACW scene would never tolerate such a thing past the first meeting.

On the other hand, this whole effort has the smell of a self-organized unfunded project put together by the committee itself, in which case good luck to them. Sincerely! As an expression of official state interest, this board fails; as a private intitiative it deserves sympathy and support.

Ohio

I have been following the Ohio Sesquicentennial through Eric Wittenberg's blog, with again, the best thing about that body being Eric. The group appears to be formed without state funding which puts more pressure, I think, on forming a board of fundraisers.

Indiana

I give you the official website and ask you the favor of finding the board members on this url. In fact, write me and tell me this is not the most inert placeholder of an organization you have ever seen.

Pennsylvania

The governor of Pennsylvania appoints a heavyweight fundraiser to the Gettysburg Foundation and his Sesquicentennial effort, though coordinated and led by historical societies, has funding too: from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The planning partners, as they are called, include several funded entities. This is not optimal but it is good, even if its key project seems underachieving.

p.s. Allen Guelzo has his own roundup of Sesquicentennial committee news here. He concludes (no laughing, please)
But the greatest challenge of the Sesquicentennial will be how to synthesize the Civil War's "old" story of battles-and-reunion with the Civil War's "new" story of race and gender.
One of the comments on this piece notes the creation of an ad hoc national "Coalition for the Civil War Sesquicentennial." Apparently it
... now includes fourteen institutional members, drafted a statement of purpose and management plan and recruited a supporting Council of Scholars (the nation’s pre-eminent Civil War historian James McPherson is one of three co-chairs). Our aim is to urge the Obama administration to create a presidential commission on the Sesquicentennial (to review the Coalition proposal visit http://www.aaslh.org/documents/CivilWarCoalition.pdf).

9/19/2010

The map - what is it doing there?

Nothing dresses up a Civil War book like a gorgeous map or two but I often ask myself, what is it doing there? Is it functioning as a sketch, a diagram, or a true statement of dispositions, times, and routes?

A sketch - a rough visual display of information to help the reader locate the narrative in a spatial framework.

A diagram - an abstract statement of relative positions at relative times conveying an abstract sense of progress made over time.

A true statement - an accurate record of location, frontage, and movement across a map accurately representing roads, woodlines, streams as of that date.

The more detailed the map, the more uneasy I become. The responsible historian has footnoted in his narrative every odd fact, statement, or quotation needing support, but here I am in front of a visual display of hundreds, even thousands of pieces of information lacking a single note or explanation.

How did we arrive at that depiction of Cheatham's front line as of 2:00 pm?

As the editor of an ACW battle book, I would not have the guts to venture beyond diagram, as defined above. If I ran maps, I would run disclaimers where I decided the limits of information were.

On the other hand, a painstaking mapmaker could write quite an interesting book entirely about his maps and how they came together. Why hasn't that ben done?

9/18/2010

The decisive battle doctrine

The advanced reader knows that you can get quite a good history book, in terms of research, new revelations, presentation, historic sensibility, and the thing can be completely wretched in terms of its military science.

This is a given in Civil War history where the reader must make such allowances or dial down the number of readable books to a very low total.

One of the easiest tipoffs that we are dealing with a naif is jacket copy that proclaims the decisiveness of a battle in a book covering that battle. I don't mind being argued into the position that a battle was decisive, but I cannot remember an instance where the author makes the effort. The author tends to make a few strong claims and then moves on as if case closed.

Author Russell Bonds is bothered by decisiveness run amok and wrote recently,
I started thinking--is there a more overused term than "decisive" for Civil War battles? You can Google the name of just about any CW battle along with "most decisive" and come up with a bunch of hits where people call a battle "the most decisive battle of the war." Often it's done, ahem, for book marketing purposes. . . .

Gettysburg? Of course. Too many to quote.

Antietam? Yep. (Castel: "probably the most decisive battle of the Civil War from a political standpoint.")

Champion Hill? Yes. (Foote, Vol. II, p. 372) ("there was fought what one western-minded historian called 'the most decisive battle of the Civil War.'")

Chickamauga? Yep. ("One of the bloodiest and most decisive campaigns of the Civil War." Cozzens)

Nashville? Yes (Stanley F. Horn, "Nashville--The Most Decisive Battle of the Civil War" - Civil War Times, 1964)

Sabine Pass? You got it! Decisive!

It may depend on your definition of "decisive" - do you mean that it decided the strategic outcome of the campaign? (Vicksburg). Or that it was really, really lopsided? (Nashville). Or some other criteria?

Article discussing the various definitions of "decisive" here . . .

We could excuse the authors if their book pitches got translated into dust jacket copy but there is generally continuity between the inside and outside.

As children, we were taught the significance of the Battle of Trenton in very precise terms: it restored the morale of the army and Congress; it enabled additional fund raising and recruiting.

The modern Civil War author by and large does not deliver that clarity. He has usually ingested, through pop culture, a deep and abiding belief in the (militarily) decisive battle and his writing is colored by this unexamined prejudice.

A second kind of error, influencing the first or standing alone, is that of making military evaluations exclusively through contemporary eyes. In this mistake, the author gives full credit to the military science and utterances of of the participants, as if history did not actually happen and we have nothing to learn from it. In Northern histories, this can take the shape of getting swept up in Lincoln's ignorant, barely intelligible opinions. In Southern histories, it can take the form of crediting Bragg's or Davis's critics.

The really useful thing to know about the Civil War is how it ended. It ended (a) because Davis could not establish a new capital and (b) because his cabinet could not get to Texas or Cuba set up a government. That puts contraints on "decisive," like it or not.

The question of decisiveness then, whenever it occurs before June 1865, is what outcome could possibly have brought our known war-ending events to occur ahead of their time.