6/30/2010

Take a stand against co-mingling!

James McPherson makes the case against a Gettysburg-area casino using language from his early career as a race relations historian:
What we think of when we think of Gettysburg is that it is part of a great trauma in the United States that ought to be respected, not contaminated, by this kind of business ... Those people coming to the area to see the battlefield will be commingled with those engaged in the mindless jerking of handles of slot machines. It's bizarre and wrong.
Give Freud some credit, people.

6/24/2010

Richard F. Miller

Was browsing at lunch in Borders and saw Harvard's Civil War had been released in paperback and was selling out at a Virginia store. Good for author Richard F. Miller!

Afternoon toil was followed by a drive home, coincidentally listening to the audiobook The Education of Henry Adams, marvelling at the Harvardian Adams' review of the British intervention threat of September - November 1862, comparing his memories in the U.S. legation with the documentation that emerged postwar. ACW historiography at its very best.

Got home, got an email tip that Richard has a blog, saw that he had a post on Petraeus.

As Shakespeare or Milton or Chaucer once noted, How 'bout them apples?

My view of Petraeus differs from Richard's - I see him as the captive of a corrupt, bloated, broken system, one that he did not try to reform by leveraging the prestige of his Iraq service. This could be a harsh read - after all, his deadliest arch-enemy, Gen. Casey, still runs the army and is his boss. (Bumper sticker idea: "Ask me about my deadly, arch-enemy boss!")

Daily Beast had an excerpt today on Petraeus's commissioning which helped me focus a long-simmering general resentment. Thank you, Beast.

After my commissioning in the infantry, my rank was backdated by the Army so that I would not outrank a certain West Point cohort, matriculating a week or two later. Petraeus was in that cohort. Not to pull a Joe Johnston or anything, but these matters have a strange power to irk. Good to have a specific face to associate with that irksome backdating. (Insert Chaucerian expletive here.)

Petraeus did an admirable thing before commissioning. He chose Infantry as his branch. This is a point that counts for much with me. Further, we, in that day as newly commissioned infantry officers, had the illusory and futile option of volunteering for Vietnam assignment ... to later be told that they didn't want infantry there any more. If he so volunteered for that then, even better.

I'll set aside my pettiness to pull for him.

Meanwhile, hooray for Richard Miller and for Richard's new book. And for compound coincidences like these.

6/22/2010

Generals who faint

General David Petraeus was in the news in mid-month when he fainted during a CCW-type of hearing.

The thin, youthful-looking general is a documented fitness buff, doing multiple runs per day and other strenuous exercise. (Bumper sticker seen on the car of a marathon runner today: "My sport is punishment in your sport.")

General Petraeus will be 58 in November. General Mansfield was 58 when he was killed in battle. Mansfield, shown right, had not fainted up to that point, at least not on the record. He is the oldest looking general I have ever seen. The Civil War reader, first encountering Mansfield, asks, "What the hell?" The newspaper reader, encountering Petraeus, thinks "How youthful and fit."

Petraeus and Mansfield. One slogs around all day in Maryland or Virginia mud, heat, and frost in heavy boots and wool clothing as a kind of daily fitness program; the other mans a desk in Floridian air conditioned comfort between inspections, briefings, and rounds of self-imposed exercise.

None of this is intended to slight Petraeus but to make the point that one can run, jump, exercise, whatever, and it will not change that one is 58 years old. Fainting or worse are possible. Forget about 60 being the new 40. Mansfield was remarkable - exceptional - and no basis for broad army policy.

Joe Hooker was our fainingest ACW general but his faints were accompanied by blood loss and concussion. Remember how you thought he was a geezer in the summer of 1862 at 47 years of age? That's 11 years younger than Petraeus, 11 years older than McClellan.

And speaking of older generals, how old do you make Lee in the summer of 1862? He was 55, three years younger than Petraeus. Lee - another exception and no basis for policy.

In J.F.C. Fuller's book Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure, he names three pillars of generalship: courage, creative intelligence, and physical fitness and he attributes all three to "the attributes of youth rather than middle age." He does not find courage and creative intelligence among middle aged officers as a rule, and he would be dismayed at the current leadership of the U.S. military.

Under Petraeus, directing the Iraq war, we find Ray Odierno, 56. Under Petraeus, directing the Afghanistan war, we find Stanley McChrystal, 55. At the top, this is an army of Mansfields. We love Mansfield but is this a good thing?

If we look at the ages of Union field generals that we once considered "old," a comparison is interesting (all summer of 1862):

Hooker - 47
Sickles 42
Meade - 46
Kearny - 47
Butler - 43
Grant - 40

On the Rebel side:

J Johnston - 55
Jackson - 38
Beauregard - 44
Longstreet - 41

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, turns 64 in October. Army Chief of Staff Casey is 62 next month.

BTW, General George Washington wrapped up his war at Yorktown at the ripe old age of 49.

Old Union generals: now think of the oldest you can.

Scott was 75 before retirement. He got out of the way relatively fast. Mullen is not going to reach that standard, fortunately, nor John Wool's 77 (in the summer of 1861). Wool stayed around and, as Beatie shows in livid colors, spent the spring and summer of 1862 old man style scheming and fussing at McClellan.

Mullen is the age of Edwin Vose Sumner in '62. Whatever you think of Sumner now, your first reaction to him was that he was a freak of circumstances from whom little might be expected.

Mullen is a year older than the sedentary John Dix was in summer, 1862. Dix was valued as a political general who also commanded volatile military jurisdictions (Baltimore, New York). He was an exception by definition.

Fuller made allowances for age in peacetime leadership, suggesting some sort of organized transition to young generals in time of war. If that were even feasible, it could not happen because at the highest levels, this modern army leadership will never willingly leave peacetime cultural norms.

Fuller: "In war, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the evil effects of age upon generalship, and through generalship on the spirit of the army."

(Petraeus picture from an unidentified UK newspaper. They give out fewer medals there and seem intrigued by ours.)

6/18/2010

Carman's Maryland Campaign

There are now two editions of Ezra Carman's study of the Maryland Campaign after years with none.

By way of introduction, here are a few glittering generalities.

Joseph Pierro's work came out earlier. It is in one volume, which I find handy, but the size is a little unhandy at 11.1 x 8.4 inches and the type size is one point too small for geezers. There are no photos or maps. The footnotes are minimal (but not too stingy), source-oriented (tracking some of Carman's sources) or strictly informational. Pierro seems to have defined his role mainly as transcriber of the notes and clarifier of the odd reference or quote - in other words as a restrained or even minimalist editor making himself useful to the reader/researcher on the edges of that major effort, transcribing and delivering a famous source document.

Thomas Clemens' work is out last month and is in two volumes (the first just now), which with Amazon's discounts, will still be cheaper than Joseph Pierro's somewhat expensive edition, discount matched against discount. Two volumes are less handy, however, than Pierro's singleton. The trade HB size of 6x9 is more comfortable; the type size is roughly the same as in the Pierro's work but there is a smidge more leading which makes reading somewhat easier. There are photos, including many of the battlefields, and some attractive, fascinating maps. Clemens took up the transcription burden, as did Pierro, but is richer in his notes. He gives slightly more sources for obscure Carman quotes and statements; he corrects errors made by Carman; he points out authorial self-contradictions; and he even pauses occasionally to argue with the author, which I dislike in principle but appreciate in these specific cases.

A word on Carman, and this is unfairly broad but conveys my sense: Carman's perspective was that of an active, committed Republican veteran who happened to appreciate McClellan.

He processed Republican editorial pages of the war into a framework that could hold his research together in a narrative - it's a framework that still informs our basic understanding of the Maryland Campaign and Antietam.

Further, he has been so relied on by historians that his views are already fully assimilated into our current "understanding." The sole surprises Carman may deliver involve his mitigations and rationalizations of standard issue Republican damnations of GBM. (That may be no fun for you, but it intrigues me.)

In sum, Carman may not surprise much and the book buyer may feel he has been left with the picked over bones of a Thanksgiving dinner instead of a rich feast.

This is where Clemens (right) comes in. Where Pierro is the editor as deliverer of archival material, Clemens is the editor-as-critic. In my view, the unique familiarity we readers already posess with the content of Carman's manuscript puts Pierro's approach at a disadvantage. We need a full, historiographic critique to accompany the publishing of Carman's famous manuscript.

BTW, where Joseph Pierro has a dust jacket showing establishment blurbs (hello again McPherson, Davis, Bearss, Wert), Clemens has blurbs from the cool kids: Hartwig, Hoptak, Petruzzi, Rafuse. He is in fact a very cool kid himself. He comes to Carman with "attitude." We need that here.

The drawback to Clemens' Carman is not that he intrudes upon the material but that he does not intrude enough. It's not that his notes and comments are too many but that we want much more. Pierro has delivered us the manuscript; from Clemens we want more commentary than is supplied.

An alternative division of labor might even have been, Pierro = manuscript in book form; Clemens = commentaries in book form.

For my taste then, Clemens' edition is the edition that I want, despite some frustration.

Examples and details next installment.

6/17/2010

The meaning of November, 1864

It does not seem we will ever run out of authors to claim that President McClellan would have made peace with the Rebels, for the Centennial fades slowly.

Thus, small forward movements in Centennial doctrine, tiny concessions to opposing views, tend to miss the broad readership set in its ways, raised on that historiography hardened by 1965.

When a Centennialist like John Waugh tests the boundaries of doctrine in his election account saying that McClellan would not have made peace by any means, it passes over the heads of other Centennialists who blurb his dust jackets; over the heads of his mass market readers; and over the heads of new authors working in those venerable traditions established by American Heritage so long ago.

Personally, standing outside this much-lauded award-winning school of thought, I would have guessed that reading Southern letters and diaries might cast light on the events of 1864. The Rebel reactions to McClellan's nomination are uniformly dour. But the Centennialists seem to use these sources to scavenge battle anecdotes only.

Likewise, a reasonably attentive review of Governor McClellan's New Jersey days would have revealed a principled intractability fiery enough to incinerate all bridges to his political sponsors.

Understanding Governor McClellan the way I do, it is not possible for me to envision a Democratic lever long enough or strong enough to move peace onto President McClellan's agenda in 1864/65.

Lately, the less rote historian has tended to split the difference with me on 1864. Thus, McClellan personally was for "unconditional surrender" but one doubts his ability to resist party pressure from the doves. I find this thin stuff in light of GBM's political dealings during wartime and after.

We cannot blame a contemporary Southerner for holding views uninformed by McClellan's wartime political dealings and post-war political career. The following is from Faith, Valor, and Devotion: The Civil War Letters of William Porcher DuBose. I would say, if you are an historian today and presenting these views and conclusions - those of an 1864 soldier - as your own, you are slacking. Seriously so!

DuBose splits the difference:

October 8, 1864
[...] With regard to the condition of things at the North, after McClellan's letter of acceptance I began to think his election would probably be less desirable than that of Lincoln.

I regret the absence of any battle-related anecdote here but would ask the Centennialist to read that sentence again anyway.
There is no doubt that he is sincerely & honestly for the Union at all hazards, by war if no other means. We have nothing therefore to hope from him; he is no more our friend than Lincoln is. But if there is nothing to hope from him, there is something to hope from his party which may control him when it gets into power. And the change cannot hurt us; it may benefit us, therefore I am for McClellan. I think Lincoln will be elected but it is by no means certain.
If we cannot transcend this analysis after 150 years, then we don't need history, or more precisely, Centennial history.

6/16/2010

Commanding Lincoln's Navy

If you cannot get past the title of a book, it's a good hint that much more aggravation is in store. If the author is Stephen Taaffe, that's yet another solid indicator.

I cannot get past the idea of "Commanding Lincoln's Navy." Anyone even reasonably well read in this field is entitled to debate whether it was Fox's Navy or Welles' Navy. Lincoln does not even remotely enter into the picture.

I'm shouting. I must be aggravated.

One of the best bits of Welles' diary is where he ruminates about flag officer selection and the difference between the Army and Navy. He says that if Stanton emulated his and Fox's care and effort in selecting senior officers, the war would be on another footing altogether. Stanton's neglect of officer development and selection marks him as a failed secretary, in Welles' eyes.

This is another way of saying that the Navy made its own successes; other observers noted how Lincoln left Welles be.

The author of this book owes a great deal of explanation for its title. On the other hand,
I’ve got kids in private school, so anyone who can beg, borrow, or steal the requisite cash ought to own Commanding Lincoln’s Navy.
Brilliantly motivating little speech. Who can doubt there will be much here for scholars?

6/15/2010

"Shovel ready" ACW projects

If stimulus money could go to this project, one wonders how the funding was arranged and why major ACW parks under federal control were not (are not, will not be) shovel ready. This may look like good news but it points to a scandal.

6/14/2010

Winfield Scott in 2010

More on the theme, "Civil War readers are much harder on historical figures than contemporary figures." As you can tell, this irks me.

Consider that if you thought that this nation and its military were at war in 2010, you might glean insight from a recent tidbit from theArmy Chief of Staff from Defense News:

Q: What are your priorities in the next year?

Gen. George Casey: The first priority is embedding the enterprise approach in the institutions and the structure of the Army, and the undersecretary of the Army has really taken the bit in the teeth here. And again, we've been working on this enterprise approach since 2008, and I think we're going to, by the first part of next year, redo the documents governing the structure of the headquarters and the major commands to align them up with this approach and to basically institutionalize that.

The second most important thing that I'm working on with Gen. Martin Dempsey is the revision of our Capstone Doctrine and our Training Doctrine. We published them in 2008.

Is there anyway to shoehorn Winfield Scott into an equivalent response? What would that look like?

Q: What are your priorities in 1861-62?

Winfield Scott: First, we've been working really hard on a condensed version of the Delafield Commission report and hope to have that distributed down to unit level in the coming months. We also have some excellent translations of Jomini in the pipeline and these should find their way to field units before the year's end.

The second most important thing is a revision of Hardee's Tactics, which were previously published but need to be updated.

We are not the same people, by a long stretch.

One joy of Civil War reading is communing with the people we are not.

Southern strategy in a nutshell

Atlantic blogger:
I don't want to overstate this, but I suspect going into the war, no small part of Southern secessionist ideology was built on the ability to kick ass, and that ability being decisive.

6/13/2010

6/09/2010

Carman reviews are coming

Sorry for the delays.

CSA vs USA intelligence: a problem shunned (2/4)

We have been considering the intelligence and counterintelligence disparity between North and South in the early to mid-war. It is a given, and every reader knows this, that McClellan felt deeply that his side was compromised by an effective Confederate espionage system. His counterintelligence methodology - to withhold information –is well known among ACW readers.

The historian deals with this by folding McClellan's beliefs and actions into a narrative of undue or inappropriate suspicion, and in extreme cases, paranoia. Some historians subject their readers to the shock treatment of showing McClellan withholding info from none other than Lincoln (gasp) - even though today such withholding from the president is routine and expected (it's called "need to know"). The deep reader may even remember Lincoln's pledge that he would not inquire into Grant's plans late in the war.

As I said earlier, however, Rebel foreknowledge of McClellan's plans (pre-Maryland) is validated in many Confederate letters and memoirs contemporary with those plans. In a new book, The Bravest of the Brave, the Rebel company-grade officer (and eventual general-to-be) Stephen Dodson Ramseur(right), has just passed into regimental command when he discusses McClellan's plans at a level of detail well worth comment.

Ramseur, having penned these insights into McClellan's grand strokes, makes me wonder, given the standard of Rebel intel, and given the dissemination of this information all the way down to Ramseur's level, whether the quoted text presents McClellan's plan in its fullest, most accurate form. In other words, has a Rebel given us the fuller story of GBM's first Richmond campaign?

Why ask?

Beatie says – it is worth considering this – that McClellan was truthful but that he took the truth only as far as it needed to go (after which your inferences could take over). I think I have that right.

A more neutral way to put this is that in his surviving post-war writings and comments, McClellan's representation of his own plans is stunted and usually (IMHO) to his own disadvantage.

Tim Reese spent a brilliant couple books on this, analyzing the commander's intent at South Mountain and Crampton's Gap. When you understand what McClellan was attempting in the battle of the gaps, Tim said, your jaw hits the floor. (Mine did.)

Likewise, Joseph Harsh's Maryland campaign books again show McClellan in a light where intentions, analysis and execution far exceed what GBM was interested in claiming for himself afterward. There are more examples of this but in our celebrity-starved culture, we wonder who would sell himself short and why?

I myself have tried to shed light on McClellan's second Richmond campaign in this blog, which I believe is at the root of Lee's and Mosby's identical postwar evaluations that McClellan "by all odds" (their words) was the best Union general.

Anyone reading GBM's papers is struck by the fact that after the war, he gave up the historiographical battle. After the fire destroyed his "secret history," he hung up his spurs. "Own Story" is not ultimately an exercise in self-advocacy although it is rich in criticism of political figures. GBM lost interest in the war and was never interested in defending himself other than in presenting what documentary evidence already pointed toward his intentions and actions.

I think McClellan felt it unseemly to go beyond the record to make claims about ultimate plans or schemes.

McClellan's postwar reticence looks extreme until compared to Lee's. I would not stoop to call Grant's or Sherman's memoirs "rationales " but they are babbling brooks compared to the still waters GBM left behind. McClellan did not elaborate much on his plans post-war.

There is a wonderful letter to the editor of a Philadelphia newspaper in the McClellan Papers. The writer, "Baldy" Smith was responding to a McClellan obituary. At this point in his life, Gen. Smith, portrayed by historians as a GBM critic, had come full circle and was again a GBM admirer. What he told the paper's readers was about GBM's attitude.

Smith and McClellan were riding a trail on the Peninsula. The landings were underway, the battles yet to come. Smith confronted McClellan on his situation: he had been demoted, humiliated, was being abused by politicians and cabinet; where is the response? McClellan answered that victories delivered from this point on would be the most powerful response he could deliver and that he would gain the victories.

His post war emphasis – aggravating as it may be for many – remained the same; and in lieu of explaining the plans that failed, McClellan explained the political decisions that failed the plans.

This is the root of his political commentary.

But let's get to what Ramseur says:

May 21st, 1862

My Dear Brother,

[Material removed. Predicts the destruction of Halleck's army near Corinth.]

In Virginia, I fear the prospect is not so bright. In fact, I verily believe that unless this Gen'l Johnston attacks McClellan in the next seven days, we will be forced to evacuate Virginia. And why? McClellan is now waiting only long enough to organize his grand attack on Richmond. Give him seven days and he will have McDowell to join him with 25,000 men. He (McClellan) will send 25,000 men to the south side of the James, there joined by 30,000 men from Wool (at Norfolk) and 15,000 from Burnside's army will form a column of 70,000. This column will then threaten our Right flank, cut off communication South, and operate in conjunction with McClellan's main army of 140,000 (at least) or 170,000 (at most). At the same time, we will be pressed by Fremont with 35,000 men & Banks with 40,000 men in N.W. Virginia. Suppose they unite to overwhelm Jackson with his 30,000, drive him back upon Richmond, or, which I believe is the plan, if they hold him in check until Richmond falls, what will become of him? Now I believe the only way to avert all these evils is for Johnston with his 80,000 to attack McClellan with his 150,000 & drive him back to Fort Monroe. This alone can save the evacuation of Virginia!

6/02/2010

Obama's "corps commanders"

This week we see Admiral Farragut's successor, who has never yet found a problem with an easy solution, at last find something with a really quick and simple fix. Having knowledge of his president's preferences and having a calendar showing election day 2010, he is able to cut this ancient, awful Gordian knot in one stroke!

Not even his very own Joint Chiefs of Staff - made for consultation - were consulted, so quick and sure was his decision. There having been no "council of war," the Joint Chiefs were actually moved to write and sign a letter of complaint against their admiral and boss addressed to the political opposition! (McCain in the Senate)

This beats even the extraordinary affair of Lincoln's corps commanders.

Previously, I thought it astonishing that Lincoln would hang four Republican corps commanders around McClellan's neck, intimate to them his desires for an overland campaign, and then ask them to vote McClellan's watery Urbanna plan up or down in a council of war.

Here, the positions are inverted, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs rushing through "an easy answer" unplateable to "the corps commanders" who then appeal to the president's foes for relief.

So, indeed, the past isn't even past and it's getting wilder every day.