The Rebel high command at Seven Pines

There is a new, multi-volume Lee biography coming out which I will consider in a separate post. One of the sample chapters deals with the period leading up to Lee replacing Smith on the battlefield. Before getting into the author's account of this period I want to revisit the history at a higher level.

It seems helpful to me to imagine any part of the Civil War as a massive board mounting electrical circuits running through hundreds of rocker switches. The setting of each switch represents an author's (not history's) resolution of a particular issue, problem, or controversy.

When authors set their switches in a certain direction, they can be said to belong to a school of thought. My issue with Centennialists is that scores of them have set all the switches in the same direction, an awful display of like-mindedness rather than historical-mindedness.

Given the density of historical problems, there is the potential for every new Civil War book to surprise and even shock.

Alas and alack.

Thinking about the period up to Seven Pines, the period after the Lee/Pemberton team broke up, I thought I would make a short list of the most obvious historical problems that would need to be resolved in any account of that time.

Here, in no particular order and evincing no special finesse, is my list. You'll have items of your own.

(1) Define what Davis expected from military advisor Lee. Do not use Davis psychology, or inferences: go to the written record, focus on Davis-originated requests and directives.

(2) Define what Lee wanted from the role. Go to the written record and find self-taskings and requests made of Davis.

(3) Compare 1 with 2, being especially mindful of expectation gaps. If none, so state.

(4) Describe the various Virginia commands as a single system of command, tracing lines of authority, seniority in rank, department boundaries. Comment on the strengths and weakness of this system of command and consider how a presidential advisor might help or hinder here. Identify leaders on bad terms with Lee from the period of his Virginia command in 1861.

(5) Enter into the sharp manpower controversy between Davis and Johnston surrounding strength figures for the Confederate Army of the Potomac after winter quarters. Consider whether Johnston's army was "right-sized" for its Peninsula mission.

(6) Examine the Warwick line defense works from a military engineering point of view. Magruder vouched for them, Lee backed him, Johnston and Smith disparaged them strongly on design, placement, and construction. Two brothers who traced the line in recent years wrote a book sympathetic to Johnston's detailed critique of the works. Explore the consequences of defending an inadequate line in a forward position not near a railhead: what are the risks and rewards?

(7) Consider in the abstract Johnston's argument that any line on the Peninsula would be turned by waterborne forces. What scenarios would validate or invalidate this argument? Did the West Point landings support or hurt Johnston's argument?

(8) Build a chronology of Johnston's requests to concentrate all Virginia, NC and SC troops in front of Richmond under his command. Trace the grounds of Davis's denials. Compare to Lee's request for the same. How did Lee manage his requests? Why was Lee's concentration granted and Johnston's denied? Did Lee fight a Napoleonic battle of concentration on the lines Johnston envisioned and at the location Johnston envisioned?

(9) Johnston's plan for a Napoleonic concentration at the Richmond railheads was denied; ordered to man what he thought a faulty forward position at the end of a wagon supply line, with what he thought were inadequate forces that could easily be turned by water, Johnston was repeatedly asked "What is your plan?" He did not answer. Was he forced onto Davis's plan? In terms of a plan, what did his position represent? What was its potential?

(10) Did Johnston ever envision a siege of Richmond?

(11) Did the Confederate high command take McDowell's positional potential seriously? If so, what steps were taken? Why not try to defeat McDowell in detail rather than McClellan's larger army?

(12) Why did Lee direct Johnston's subordinates in a Valley campaign without at any point notifying Johnston?

(13) Describe the origin of Smith's plan of attack at Seven Pines; describe its execution and result. Enter into the controversy that "Smith had no plan." Describe Lee's plan upon taking over from Smith. Did Lee have a plan?

(14) Describe the role of the Virginia militia, its mobilization, strength and deployment, during this period.

(15) Review Confederate intelligence about Union strength and intentions throughout this period. Did the quality of intelligence matter?

(16) Examine the system of command in Virginia after Lee's accession; what are the new strengths and weaknesses?

(17) Take Lee's items of major advice as counselor to the president and evaluate. Were they viable? Was advice taken? What were the results?

That's probably enough stream of consciousness ... for now.