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)