The strategy of Jefferson Davis (cont.)

Having gone through the top level of Jefferson Davis's strategy, we need to look at the second level.

Joe Johnston can help us with that.

The advanced reader is well aware of Davis's toleration of Johnston's withdrawals. Johnston is not the only general who gives ground in this war but will suffice to illuminate a proposition. With Davis: military necessity trumps potential political gain. Davis generally will not override conditions on the ground in order to score political benefits, despite his overwhelmingly political orientation. But the exceptions test the rule.

We might argue a another principle for Davis: preservation of the force trumps political gain.

So, to Johnston - I have in mind the early war. His army has the incendiary political name of "Army of the Potomac." But Davis allows him to pull back from that same Potomac - losing political points - based on military considerations. Later, on the same basis, Johnston's evacuation of Centreville is tolerated (though the manner of it, with loss of stores, is not). In each case, Johnston's rationale is that McClellan can turn his position.

Recall also that Johnston abandoned Harpers Ferry to Patterson based on McClellan reinforcing Lew Wallace at Cumberland and then potentially turning his position.

If Davis had an issue with these military rationales for giving up forward (political) positions, he did not manifest these through public criticism or punishment of JJ.

At the Warwick line, we get closer to data that might allow us insight into Davis's political calculations. Davis believed Johnston must honor Magruder's prep work with a defense. But there were two sound military reasons to abandon the Warwick line.

(1) Johnston claimed the works were defective - the layout and engineering were wrong.

(2) Johnston and G.W. Smith argued McClellan could turn this line using the USN.

Here, Davis (supported by Lee) rejected (1) as if it were a matter of opinion while failing to recognize (2) at all. This is out of alignment with previous decisions.

Lee had weighed in for Magruder's works as good engineering. Davis - oddly - gave more weight to the Lee/Magruder view than to the views of the men charged to defend the works. He completely ignored the more critical (almost irrefutable) point made by Smith and Johnston that to defend Richmond, you had to get off the Peninsula.

To restate the Smith/Johnston argument: you could lose an army defending Richmond on the Peninsula. I cannot believe that Davis failed to grasp this point. Davis calculated that the political cost of further withdrawal was higher than the potential loss of an army. I believe that the Davis-Johnston-Smith-Lee dialog on the Peninsula certifies Davis's primacy of political considerations in strategy.

BTW, despite egregious Navy failures, McClellan made honest men out of Smith and Johnston on this question.

So, in the early war at least, Davis was unwilling to allow the enemy to approach Richmond beyond a certain point regardless of military cost. In other words, there was a tipping point in the tradeoff between political and military considerations whereby the political again became supreme.

The signals given to Johnston near Richmond were read by Union commanders who then and later overvalued Richmond's significance. Their mistake was to value it as Davis did in 1862. By April 1865, Davis understood that he did not need Richmond.

Just some food for thought...