McDowell-Franklin (conclusion)

And so, in 1861 the McDowell-Franklin skunkworks died from the natural cause of being integrated into the chain of command to execute orders lawfully issued by appointed superiors.

Lincoln's revival of McDowell-Franklin in January 1862 did not recall to council two individual advisors but rather the old team to work as it had worked previously.

Confronted with this pair in a high profile 1862 setting, the conventional historian, deeply polluted with late war biases, either passes over them in baffled silence or pawns them off as random military experts with bit roles in a political crisis. McPherson, in Tried by War, embodies this confusion and aversion when he refers to them as an unlikely duo to sit on a war council.

To those without a grasp of the early war, or Lincoln's management style, they appear unlikely indeed. By now, the reader of this blog should see them as the most likely of all to be invited to into conference after their replacement (GBM) falls ill.

The details of how GBM supplanted them functionally, how he implemented McDowell-Franklin 2.0 must be saved for later. McDowell-Franklin's revival in January '62 was Lincoln's rebooting of serviceable 1.0 software.

Consider the full spectrum of assignments given them in January. These offer a cameo of the team in harness (from Snell):

(1) They are asked in an ad hoc Council of War to describe their favored concept of operations for the eastern Virginia theatre.

(2) They are tasked with meeting bureau chiefs to determine the timing and feasibility of AoP movement on different lines and then report back.

(3) They conduct this research out of offices in the Treasury building!

(4) They return to the Council of War and read a white paper they jointly prepared. They present a joint conclusion: for immediate movement, the land offensive via Manassas is more feasible than a water movement. Blair strenuously objects and...

(5) Lincoln sends them to the bureaus to research water transport.

(6) They present their research jointly to an ad hoc group including cabinet members.

(7) They then present their views and research to a Cabinet meeting that includes McClellan.

McClellan reasserts control, puts paid to their plans, and McDowell and Franklin return to their camps.

McDowell-Franklin was not intended to be a replacement for the general-in-chief (Lincoln was then acting as such); it was again a planning unit under civilian control (this time Lincoln, not Chase) rendering specially directed staff support.

Speculating, I think that without GBM's intervention this would have ended up as did Scott's second coordinated offensive, with McDowell in command of an army advancing on Manassas Junction according to a detailed plan developed by McDowell and Franklin.

(Worth noting: there is on record about this time, Lincoln's idea of having the AoP in front of Washington fixing the enemy while a mobile column, following the line of the Potomac, decamps into the enemy's rear to fight the decisive battle. IIRC, McPherson mentions it in Tried by War. Recall that in Scott's second coordinated offensive, he directed Patterson to implement this scheme after Patterson's regiments began standing down. McPherson credits Lincoln with this operational concept, but the credit is all Scott's, as seen in the series posted here late last year.)

The fascinating thing about McDowell's and Franklin's accounts of this episode is the twinge of propriety that runs through them. This team got religion in 1861 out there in the camps! After their '62 recall by Lincoln, Franklin questions McDowell about their bypassing the general-in-chief, that is, doing to McClellan as they had done to Scott. McDowell troubles himself to give a legalistic rationale but later loses his nerve when presenting to McClellan in cabinet, returning to Franklin's question with self-conscious rigamarole on how such a delicate situation came to be.

McClellan's suppression of McDowell-Franklin redux also marks the political end to his own superior implementation of the Franklin-McDowell paradigm. January 1862 marks the demise of both McDowell-Franklin 1.0 and 2.0. Lincoln here starts to search out 3.0.

But this gets us ahead of the story. We need to see how McClellan improved on the model in the summer of 1861.

With your indulgence, we'll work backwards to that point by first examining the timeline of Lincoln's bottom-out-of-the-tub crisis of January 1862.

(McDowell and McClellan are shown topside in '62; at this point, Hitchcock is being groomed for a third iteration of McDowell-Franklin)


The Sesquicentennial has begun

'Tis the season, I suppose, March 2011. The privatization of the Sesquicentennial proceeds apace, with Turner Classic Movies devoting April to ACW films. Meanwhile, Colonial Williamsburg has started tours I had assumed were long-standing. I shudder to think how that battle is being presented to the public, BTW.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) reintroduced the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission Act, legislation many Americans had hoped to see passed long before now.
I'll call that one DOA.

Public history strikes again

The public historians, who think no travesty is beyond the pale if even one child develops a passing interest in what they imagine to be history, have outdone themselves again. They are tweeting the Civil War, passing the anguish and heartbreak of real people through the frivolous medium of 140-character gossip technology.

Don't be afraid of history kids! It's intuitively obvious to the most casual of users!

How can we convince these people to stop evangelizing until they come to terms with history within themselves? They are avid apostles of some cargo-cult version of a deep and complex discipline, one demanding introspection, self-correction, and cultivated discernment.

In a similar vein, PBS is Internet-streaming "The Civil War" in a sacrifice invoking the technology gods for a ratings boost. Maybe they could just do fresher, better programming?


McDowell-Franklin (cont.)

Amidst the hatreds, the envy, the gossip, the vituperation, the self-pity, and the curdling contempt for fellow officers, one single light that shines through Phil Kearny's letters to his wife is William Franklin: his capacity; his potential; his intelligence; his raw talent. I have long used Kearny as my window into the Franklin phenomenon during the ACW.

Grant, in 1864, made an issue of restoring Franklin to command because, I believe, Franklin had the gift of impressing people, new acquaintances as well as those who knew him for years. He eventually disappointed Kearny as he would McClellan, Banks, and Grant. All seemed to agree though, that Franklin was special, and in a strange ageing of his West Point social scene, Franklin remained "at the top of his class" long after graduation through most of his prewar career.

On some level, Franklin impressed Chase. McDowell would be the senior partner of this Treasury Department duo, but Franklin was not unwilling or unloved. McDowell and Franklin were not a shotgun marriage - they had chemistry and accomplished major military tasks together under Chase.

My hunch is that Franklin affected McClellan's decision to retain McDowell after Bull Run. We also have McClellan preserving McDowell-Franklin as a team in spring of 1862 (corps commander/division commander) and McClellan giving McDowell the largest corps and the most decisive mission in the 1862 Richmond campaign. Again, my hunch is that this is partly Franklin's doing. When the I Corps was withheld from his command and McClellan suspected McDowell of intriguing for an independent role, we have documentation showing Franklin intervening with McClellan to defend McDowell.

When Lincoln forced McDowell onto the unwilling Scott as deputy and department commander, hiatus arrived for the McDowell-Franklin skunkworks, which was then planning an advance on Centreville. The plan went public, and legit, with both men assuming proper military roles within a defined, legal military hierarchy. Lincoln thus made honest men of them and Chase lost his military advisors.

The best known McDowell-Franklin incident comes later and is of little moment to their partnership but of major significance to McClellan. I speak of that famous Cabinet meeting in January '62, the bottom falling out of the tub, etc. To the garden variety ACW historian, McDowell and Franklin have been summoned to a cabinet meeting to help decide what to do during McClellan's sickness. This kind of historian sees no special point in such a choice of advisors. It's as if two random officers were chosen by lot to give an opinion and go home. But no one steeped in the early war can miss the overpowering significance of this pair in these circumstances and this setting advising the president and cabinet following an invitation from Chase.

You have to be obtuse to miss the point, but obtuse is something ACW historians do especially well.

McClellan was not so himself. McDowell-Franklin, lately just a couple of blocks in a military org chart, were suddenly on the point of revival as an ad hoc, defacto military high command reprised to offset the shortcomings of yet another general-in-chief. This time it wouldn't be Scott they routinely bypassed. GBM evacuated his sick tent to attend the meeting.

Historians have a hard time understanding McClellan's behavior at that meeting. Again, the deep reader of early war history sees easily what McClellan is doing. He is re-establishing himself with Chase as the principal Ohioan military asset in Chase's orbit; he is publicly displaying confidence in the wisdom and judgement of his political patron (Chase) by vouchsafing unique information not available to Lincoln and the chain of command; he is displaying loyalty and fealty to the man aiming the two gun barrels of McDowell and Franklin at his position and future. He is giving Chase - publicly - leverage over Lincoln and the rest of the cabinet. What baffles historians is actually a bravura performance that sends the dual menace back to the dusty blocks of a static organization chart.

Given the threat that McDowell-Franklin posed to GBM, it is another tribute to Franklin's occult charm that as 1862 developed, McClellan turned on McDowell but not Franklin.

The reprise of McDowell-Franklin in 1862 casts light on their earlier role and is worth a brief look.


McDowell-Franklin (cont.)

At the very end of President Buchanan's term, Montgomery Meigs made a political effort to have William Franklin replaced by himself as engineer for the Capitol dome. Meigs succeeded and Franklin was moved to oversee Treasury Department construction. This completed a cycle in which Franklin had earlier replaced Meigs.

Franklin's political lineage begins with his recommendation to West Point by neighbor (and Congressman) James Buchanan. He had a high level of political visibility working on the dome during the Buchanan Administration but seems not to have been at all politically active.

With the departure of Buchanan from government, Franklin seamlessly acquired a new, more active patron and collaborator in Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. Franklin was always at hand while supervising construction at Treasury and in his vast assumption of military responsibility, Chase needed germane advice.

In his biography of Franklin, Mark Snell paraphrases our old friend Timothy Reese: "...within days after Sumter's capitulation, President Lincoln personally appointed the three man committee ... Lorenzo Thomas, Major McDowell, and Captain Franklin." This committee was to design a "new organizational structure" for the army. Lincoln put Chase in charge of this matter. This is the formal beginning of McDowell-Franklin, which would in no way be limited by a single task or charter.

Lincoln's patented outside-the-chain-of-command shenanigans appear here to be on full display and are worth a couple of quick remarks. Recall that the War Department was divided by Calhoun's reforms between an operational side, headed by the senior general, and a bureau side, headed by individual bureau chiefs. Army organizational design is here a bureau matter and by putting Lorenzo Thomas in the mix, Lincoln ratifies that publicly. Rather than another example of Lincoln's anarchy, this is a piece of good order, except for Chase's involvement. The anarchy follows the order, however, when Thomas absents himself from most or all of the meetings and when McDowell-Franklin becomes an operational planning center used by Salmon Chase for all sorts of activity "owned" by Winfield Scott.

There is a sketch of McDowell in Whitelaw Reid's Ohio in the War that includes a summary of the full-bore chaos in a nutshell. Where it says "McDowell" or "the major," substitute McDowell-Franklin:
The major was consulted about almost everything - about the calls for troops, the assignment of regular officers, the number of generals needed for the new troops, the organization, pay - in a word, about the multifarious details of a complex military organization ...McDowell had for a time, perhaps, the most potent influence exercised by any of our military men.
Reid unconvincingly states that McDowell had the full support of Scott in this. This is true only insofar as the orderly appointments go, such as Lincoln's committee. Scott was a stickler for good order, chain of command, frequent communication from his subordinates as to what was going on, and acting within charter. In the wildly informal hurly-burly of the Lincoln Administration, McDowell, in his ever-shifting activities, should have been sending a stream of updates back to Scott and/or Cameron. There are none in the record and their possible existence is not hinted at by what is in the record.

McDowell-Franklin was a rogue unit taking on ad hoc assignments that belonged in military channels. It was an extra-legal, extra-military action team under the control of Salmon Chase occasionally consulted by Abraham Lincoln. McDowell-Franklin prototyped the long-term bypassing of General Scott and the Secretary of War in planning and executing military projects. If the secret plan to relieve Fort Pickens was the one-off prototype for this kind of subversion, McDowell-Franklin offered an institutional model.

Of McDowell's political origins we have written earlier. In sum, he was the relative of Republican Ohio Gov. Dennison, who wanted him to command Ohio's troops; he was a known Republican abolitionist; he was sought out by Chase from the moment of Chase's arrival in DC (Reid says); his general's rank was made by Chase. He was also a member in good standing of Scott's staff, unlike Erasmus Keyes who had fallen afoul of the old general.

Scott was a deeply committed Whig who surrounded himself with Whig or Republican officers like McDowell and Keyes. According to Reid, McDowell served on Scott's staff from 49-51, 53-56, 57-58, 59-60, again in 60, and in the War Department under Scott in 1861 until the time of McDowell's army command in Scott's second coordinated offensive. Scott, bypassed, showed a higher tolerance for the McDowell-Franklin circumventions than for McClellan's.

We come now to the question of the larger picture, the political context.

Lincoln, for reasons I do not understand, assembled a cabinet hostile to William Seward. Let's put that another way: his cabinet displayed the very odd characteristic of having no politicians (except Cameron) who benefitted from the money or support of the Seward-Weed machine and it included people hostile to Seward such as Blair and Chase. You have heard it said that Seward aspired to be chief of cabinet. This aspiration could not have survived the period of cabinet appointments when the writing appeared on the wall of Seward's future influence.

Gideon Welles recounts Montgomery Blair's assertion that Cameron owed his place in the Cabinet to Seward's intrigues and that shortly after appointment, Cameron switched allegiance to Seward's archenemy Chase. This would explain Cameron's willingly sharing workload with Treasury.

Seward began his period as Secretary of State with indirect control of the War Department, through Cameron; with control of military operations through his political protege Winfield Scott (Weed and Seward made the Scott candidacy for President on the Whig line); and control of the bureau system of the War Department through his military proteges Thomas and Meigs, who would make their wartime rank through Seward.

McDowell-Franklin represents the creation of an alternative military center outside of Seward's influence. The War Department bureaus are under divided influence: Chase's friend Cameron formally controls them but Seward indirectly controls them through military patronage. On the operations side, Seward's protege Scott formally controls military movements but Chase has set up an alternative to Scott, the McDowell-Franklin team to propose and eventually control movements. It is serves political ends through military work.



The McDowell-Franklin partnership is a major piece of Civil War history in which Civil War historians, rather predictably, have no interest. It is really too much to expect historians to analyze McDowell-Franklin when the field cannot produce even a single McDowell biography after 150 years.

As simple as it is to understand on the surface, the dynamic behind McDowell-Franklin poses a threat to Centennial history on many levels, as we shall see.

The team was assembled by Salmon Chase ostensibly to help him with duties he assumed from War Secretary Simon Cameron in 1861. (If you didn't know that Chase assumed War Department duties, please fire your favorite authors immediately, flag whatever they told you for further study, and stigmatize them as indignation may dictate).

We'll look at Franklin's and McDowell's respective roles in the team tomorrow; then, how they served Chase and Lincoln to the detriment of Scott and Seward; then, how they prototyped the McClellan-Lincoln relationship; finally, how and why Stanton's attempt to revive McDowell-Franklin on a new pattern in 1862 failed.

I would propose the natural point at which to divide the early war from the middle war is the point of death of the McDowell-Franklin system in high command.

More to come.

Please read about the Cameron-Seward-Chase nexus here as background.

Sketches of the McDowell-Franklin collaboration appear here.


The ahistorical and daily life

We all well understand "ahistorical' and the need to avoid projecting the modern into past motivations, actions, and analysis. This has natural limits: in Civil War readers you either see those limits where they don't belong or no limits at all.

How many readers who are politically self-conscious Democrats, for instance, read Civil War history with a personal bloodlust for absolute war and a curdling contempt for commanders who restrict military and civilian casualties and damage to property? Isn't that kind of separation within the personal very odd?

I found the same attitude in modern military men with whom I once served - they were Lee, Grant, or Patton in their reading time but meeker than Samuel Cooper day-to-day. On a visit in Germany once, I was stopped in a brigade HQ convoy for 45 minutes during a winter deployment because neither the commandant nor any of the staff could be bothered to leave the warmth of their cabs to walk up the line of vehicles to see what the hold up was (it was a sliding truck, easily parked at the side of the road for later retrieval). These fellows drank Civil War history from the golden spoon of Centennialism and venerated all the approved saints - none of whom seemed to have anything to offer anyone in modern circumstances.

The most public disconnect is in the effort to stigmatize vs. honor the Confederate historical legacy. The legacy folks seem to have one of those Civil War walls between past and present that allows one mindset here and one there. This drives the stigmatizers crazy. They have the opposite of a wall at work, with past and present all mixed up.

The stigmatizers are adamantly committed to the paradigm that the war was about one thing only, slavery, as was the South, and that any dissent from this view is immoral or ignorant. The good part about this package is that at root is an unwillingness to disengage from the original debate AND from personal moral convictions held in the present. The bad part is that a personal moral/political position has been disguised as an historical argument and injected into history discussions by people too agitated and confused to simply say "I cannot relate to a slave state," or "I would be embarassed to claim the history of a slave state, whatever the facts of the matter about secession, be they free trade, northern tyrrany, or what have you."

There was a film about Thermopylae a few years ago. I skipped it. I can't relate to Spartans. I know too much about them. People ask me if I have read Dostoevsky. I's not going to happen. He was a monster.

Those on the other side of the stigmatizers fool themselves when they say "Those times were different and values were different." Of course they were - and we're different and we cannot honestly assume the values of a past generation whom we never met. The legacy crowd is quite correct, however, whenever it says, "We are looking for ways to relate to this," or "You cannot characterize the motivations of secessionists with a single paradigm." Our legacy friends should likewise not disguise personal interest with historical rationalizations.

People round on me when told I will never read Dostoevsky. They give me all sorts of things I am going miss and why this person must be separated from his work. Good for them; I do listen. Let the CSA legacy crowd tell us the "why and what" of honoring in terms that do not require us to settle the cause of the war or the meaning of the CSA.

p.s. You see this same dichotomy in discussions of whether Lincoln was a tyrant or not. On one side, personal moral outrage is brought to bear on the actions and circumstances of this president; on the other side an eerie, amoral disinterest is deployed to defend Lincoln on historical grounds against what is patently personal revulsion.

p.p.s. Suspect I will regret this post soonest.

OT: A formula for winning wars?

The professionalism institutionalized by Grant, Schofield, and Sherman postwar is now positioned to take its next step into the future. From the Navy Times:
The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday.
Shades of Spoons Butler and Dan Sickles:
Having military brass that better mirrors the nation can inspire future recruits and help create trust among the general population, the commission said.
This next passage is written as if civilians have never been appointed to rank:
... the report also said the military must harness people with a greater range of skills and backgrounds in, for instance, cyber systems, languages and cultural knowledge to be able to operate in an era of new threats and to collaborate with international partners and others.
Food for thought.


You die and they sell your stuff

And total strangers discover that secret room in your house:

Army of buyers anticipated at Shelby Foote's estate sale in Midtown Memphis

Pictures of stash here, with visitor guidance.

(H/T to Russell Bonds)


Citational virtue and vices: The Grand Design

Like most of you, I browse a book starting with the notes, evaluating sources. Donald Stoker's sources surprised me in The Grand Design. He's an industrious citer and that makes for a high level of reader discomfort as I'll explain shortly.

Lately, we've been concerned with phony citations. Really bad practice involves reading a secondary source, strip mining the secondary source's primary references, and then citing those underlying primary references as if they were the fruits of one's own labor or expertise. Can you name an author who does that? Two really big names come to my mind immediately.

In the blogosphere we deal with the problem of underlying sources through the hat tip. "Hey, have you seen this story?" (Hat tip to secondary source here.)

Donald Stoker's problem is the opposite; conscientious citation, well done in the narrative, with a thorough loyalty to secondary sources.

Many of the secondary sources make sense. He opens the book with Lincoln's departure from Springfield recapitulated from Shelby Foote and cites Foote. Well, okay, if you're going to do that but it's not Randall of Donald. The first three chapters of the book are also littered - densely - with all sorts of non-negotiable, imperious summations: :...none could see beyond their theatre," "Their education had not prepared Civil War officers to think strategically." This kind of sewer water is consistently cited to the secondary source through whose pen it first flowed. The author is saying, "I believe this too and here's where I got it from." Good. But there's too much of it by far.

Now, when we get into citing issues of facts, events, we do well to follow Sherman Kent's advice to Yale history students of yore: don't cite known or easily checked facts, cite little known or controversial ones. Stoker does not follow this rule and in attributing certain known facts, it is disconcerting to find these given as secondary sources in in the first three (set up) chapters.

For instance, McClellan dividing the western departments between Halleck and Buell - an unnecessary citation anyway - is credited to T. Harry Williams! Here is the entire passage being noted:
McClellan answered with reorganization. He broke the Western Theatre into two departments, placing the Deaprtment of the West under Henry Wager Halleck. The new Department of the Ohio went to Don Carlos Buell.

What was/is the author thinking?

Getting away from the background material starting with chapter four there is a blossoming of primary citations with secondary sources becoming rare. The fault here is perhaps overkill. I believe every single quote is cited and whatever else the author deems to be factual. Having adopted an overkill position on citations for the meat of his book, Stoker probably decided to apply the same draconian rule to the soft underbelly of his first three analytic chapters.

Or is this possible: that Stoker does not know what is important or not, what is interesting or not, what is controversial or not? Is it possible that Stoker is a relative newby to the field who came by everything he knows through McPherson, Williams, Catton, etc., and that he plunged into primary sources from their launching pads.

There are surprising gaps in both his knowledge and the sources given.

Here's an example of pointless excess in later chapters: "Grand Gulf became Grant's base of supply as he moved inland." That is the entire passage being cited. What reader is thirsting to know the source of this non-controversial bit? Does the author even know that the selection of this base generated a controversy between Grant and Sherman? He dives down to a letter in the Grant Papers that Grant wrote McClernand to prove that "Grand Gulf became Grant's base of supply as he moved inland." What's going on here?

This does not appear to me to be the action of a man in command of his material.

And speaking of references, a comical ignorance of or flippancy towards primary sources is on display in referring to Sears' published book of McClellan's wartime correspondence as "McClellan Papers" throughout. The McClellan Papers are stored at the Library of Congress. Sears' book could better be tagged "Wartime Correspondence" or some such.

There is also the matter of strength estimates, which are presented as specific numbers with an insouciance that is maddening. At the battle of Grand Gulf, "They [Rebels] numbered about 6,000. Grant had 23,000 and more coming..." This throwaway line is attributed to Bruce Catton! In the dense thicket of primary sources given in later chapters, secondary sources are revived to give battle strengths with lots of zeroes! (Nor are these secondary sources Fox or Livermore.)

The early chapters of the Grand Design tell us we are in for a rough ride, generous helpings of bombast, a dated and irrelevant narrative framework and more conclusions than Carter has liver pills, to coin a phrase.

Maybe it will be worth going through, nonetheless.