"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.


"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.


"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.


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.


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?


"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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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).


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?


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.

Infantry doctrine

Have been immersed in infantry doctrine again for the first time in 40 years.

Civil War officers compensated for the lack of American doctrine by reading Jomini, McClellan's Delafield Report (Grant notably ordered it upon his colonelship), and Hardee's Tactics. This was not enough, for even where there are uniform, nationally approved and taught principles, consistency of views, aims, and results are difficult to obtain.

I was reminded of the fruit of American doctrinal poverty in the 1860s while reading about American infantry doctrines circa 1917. I think this little polemic about WWI era doctrine matches Civil War circumstances perfectly. It comes from a PhD dissertaion:

It produced infantry that attacked in linear formations of the decades gone by. It produced infantry that only knew how to attack straight ahead.It produced infantry unfamiliar with its normal supporting arms. It produced infantry willing to be killed in straight-ahead attacks because it knew no better.
This helps explain something to that tourist at Antietam who asked a tour guide (was it Mannie? I forget) "Were these people [the fallen] stupid or what?"

I can help here, because I myself was stupid and instinctively prefer stupidity in all things infantry.

In this recent reading, there was a shudder that went up my spine on recognizing my own training in the 1917 material. The gist of it is, at squad or platoon level, we were taught, doughboy style, ACW style, that job one was to achieve local fire superiority by bringing more rifles on line bearing down on the opposition faster than the enemy could bring his rifle fire down upon us. This was flavored in my day by including organic weaponry beyond just rifles, but it was the same principle. It was rooted in self-reliance, the weapons at hand, and any "easy access" auxiliary firepower that might be not too difficult to arrange; hence, the pervasiveness of this simplicity in the ACW, WWI, and Vietnam.

The imperative of (organic) firepower superiority is like a building block upon which other edifices can be built. It is linear. It is limited.

If the training and doctrine do not go far enough, then the basic doctrine of fire superiority is all that infantry is left with. They will be "stupid or what."

The human element, too is worth mentioning. I joined the Army to avoid the technical services (USAF, Navy). I joined the infantry to avoid the technical branches (artillery, armor, signal, etc.). My ideal was leg infantry and I was deeply annoyed at being assigned to a mechanized unit. Hated radios, codebooks, motor pools, etc. This is the human factor in infantry. We were, as a friend put it, "a proud but simple people."

Petain's immortal formulation, which Pershing so hated, is America's current Army infantry doctrine: Artillery conquers, infantry occupies. "Artillery" now refers to all centrally controlled and applied firepower. Fire superiority is a network-dependent orchestration of an insane number of external assets applied via GPS to positions satellite spotted, White House approved, and politically palatable.

I read about these kids calling in air strikes on snipers a block away and cannot relate. They call on surgically applied artillery: no part of my world. Drone aircraft: you're joking? "Force protection" - what the hell is that?

Mine was the stupid infantry, which helps me with my ACW reading. I feel an affinity.

Let's see, where were we

Ah, yes...