U.S. Grant - a super Palmerite before his time

The title here is misleading. George Washington was the super-palmerite of all time in the sense that BG John McAuley Palmer derived his theory of military organization from President Washington.

Nevertheless, he quotes U.S. Grant in what are breathtakingly Palmerite sentiments. Grant:
This state of affairs gave me an idea which I expressed while in Cairo [1861]: that the government ought to disband the regular army, with the exception of the Staff Corps, and notify the disbanded officers that they would receive no compensation while the war lasted except as volunteers. The Register should be kept up, but the names of all officers who were not in the volunteer service at the close [of the war] should be stricken from it.
Palmer and Grant seem to see eye-to-eye on the central problem of the early war. Palmer:
The new citizen army of the Confederacy was trained and led by the Southern graduates of West Point and other officers of the old army who went South when their states seceded. As Grant said, "they leavened the whole loaf." But there was little such yeast for the Northern volunteers. Between January 1 and September 1 1861, 301 officers resigned from the regular army and almost all of these found important places in the Southern Army. By September 1 only 26 Northern officers held volunteer commissions. This was because all available Northern officers were needed for the formation of new regular regiments--too few and too weak in numerical strength to have any decisive effect upon the great issues of the war.

The Northern war governors applied repeatedly for trained officers for their new volunteer regiments. But General Scott disapproved their requests because to grant them would injure his new regular regiments.

When you increase the regular army at the outbreak of a war you impair, if you do not destroy, its capacity to diffuse military knowledge and experience in the national citizen army. Until the close of the Civil War many educated Northern officers were kept as company officers in regular regiments while their Southern brethren held important command and staff positions. It was Grant's opinion that the marked Southern superiority in the early campaigns of the war was due to the fact that the North did have and the South did not have a standing army.

The pursuit of a false military policy is sufficient to account for the Federal defeat at Bull Run. While Jackson was hardening his citizen soldiers into an effective "Stonewall Brigade," his Northern brethren were busy increasing the regular army. In the words of the [Episcopal] Prayer Book, they had "left undone those things which" they "ought to have done" and had "done those things which" they "ought not to have done" and there was "no health in them."
P.S. On this Ash Wednesday, February 22, we have Washington and theology in one post. Here, we attempt to meet all your blog-reading needs.


Glimpses of MG John McAuley Palmer, USV

In his capstone work, America in Arms, BG John McAuley Palmer, USA, reflects on his Civil War namesake, the MG, USV (pictured).

He uses the subterfuge of anonymous references to "my friend." I chose the passage below as both poignant and concise in its case for the "political general." It represents a psychological "arc" in the development of the political general that we need to reflect on as readers of ACW history. You'll notice this remembrance is wrapped in a critique of Winfield Scott and the Northern war policy that we will take up later. (Footnote in the original.)

PRESIDENT LINCOLN has been criticized because he appointed so many "politician generals.* He did commission many inexperienced popular leaders as general officers, not because he was a politician but because he had no alternative under the policy imposed upon him by his official military advisers.

In my early youth it was my good fortune to know one of these so-called "politician generals." After the fall of Sumter he raised a regiment of infantry in his Congressional district and, as a leading citizen, he became its colonel. He felt his lack of experience keenly and expressed the hope that he and his regiment would soon have a West Point graduate or other trained officer from the old army as their brigade commander. But the War Department, under General Scott, could not spare any officers to serve as brigadier generals of volunteers because they were needed as lieutenants and captains in the new regular regiments.

When it became apparent that the brigade commanders must be selected from among the new colonels, my old friend decided that, ignorant as he was, he was as fit as any of the others, and so he accepted a commission as brigadier general. Without the immediate leadership of a trained senior and without the assistance of trained subordinates, he soon found himself in command of a division. With this division he entered the Battle of Stone River, and there by the test of successful leadership in battle he won his second star as a major general.

A little later he commanded one of the four divisions that held their ground under Thomas at Chickamauga. When Thomas became commander of the Army of the Cumberland he selected this "politician general" to lead his old command, the Fourteenth Army Corps.

By the time he became a major general and had won his position by hard knocks and without the guidance he had sought in the beginning, the War Department loosened up and began to send more of its trained officers to the volunteers. One of these became a brigade commander under my old friend and did not disguise his superior pretensions as an educated officer. These would have been conceded frankly a short time before. But even a tyro who had finally won his two stars on the battlefield might feel disposed to assert their validity.

Situations such as this produced friction and misunderstanding throughout the Union Army. Many of the regulars decried the citizen army leaders as mere politicians and many of the latter had good reason to believe that the professionals were intriguing to displace them.


*Under an act passed March 6, 1861, the Confederate Congress authorized the formation of a regular army. But it was intended primarily to establish a national status for the general officers, the staff departments and certain special auxiliary services. The combatant troops were not included in this establishment. The soldiers of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, like Washington's Continentals, were citizen soldiers.


Puzzle comments

The U.S. First and Second Cavalry are special units. When you get down into the rosters of serving captains (exception = McClellan), the names are a blur but at the field grade level, this is a picked crew.

Consider what you knew about these units and then the implications for Civil War historiography.

Take a look at this passage I wrote just now. Imagine this is a biography:
So-and-so then began what would be a nearly five-year stint in the X Cavalry. Some of the officers in this unit that would later become generals included A, B, and C. Years of tedious garrison duty eventually included some personal milestone (insert marriage, birth, death). With the drawing near of war, the routines of the drill square and the short days would soon pass and X would have to decide on sides in a great struggle as well as find a new role for himself.
I think that sums up what's out there in the relevant biographies and why we are so surprised by Puzzle 1 and Puzzle 2.

We have explored (lightly) the Sumner-Johnston-McClellan struggle over cavalry doctrine in the First Cavalry (by way of Matthew Moten's book on the Delafield Commission), but beyond Moten I can't recall a historian digging into these relationships and interactions, 1855-1860.

I could be mistaken but the gaps in ACW history are enormous and they remain year after year. They seem a matter of complete indifference.

Those years McClellan spent as Lincoln's boss on Illinois Central RR legal work - when are we going to read about that? About their many trips to county courthouses on railroad cases? Seems there might be an audience for such writing.

And does anyone care to write that first-ever McDowell biography? It's only been 150+ years, hasn't it?

The idea that Civil War history is actually history often seems questionable.


Answers to puzzles

Puzzle 1: Col. Edwin V. Sumner commands LTC Joe Johnston, majors John Sedgwick and Wm. H. Emory, and a Captain McClellan. This is the First Regiment of Cavalry. Excluding McClellan's time, this lineup served together from early 1855 to the end of 1860. McClellan resigned in 1857.

Puzzle 2: Col. A.S. Johnston commands LTC Robert E. Lee and majors Wm. Hardee and George Thomas. This team served together from March 1855 to March 1861 in the Second Regiment of Cavalry. Hardee left in mid-1860 after being seconded to the USMA for much of his cavalry assignment.

Commentary will follow.


Puzzle 2

Same deal as Puzzle 1: This is the hierarchy of a single army unit in a specific moment in time. It is arranged in rank order, top to bottom. The images are catch-as-catch-can, not indictative of the historical period. Everyone here eventually commanded above corps level.

Without googling, can you (a) identify every person shown? (b) identify this unit?

Puzzle 1 can be solved by any regular reader of this blog. Puzzle 2 is harder - this unit has had only the briefest mention here previously. Fun fact: these were not transitional organizations. The teams you see here worked together for many years in the hierarchies displayed.

Answers to both puzzles (with commentary) tomorrow.


Puzzle 1

This is the hierarchy of a single army unit in a specific moment in time. It is arranged in rank order, top to bottom. The images are catch-as-catch-can, not indictative of the historical period. Everyone here later commanded at corps level or above.

Without googling, can you (a) identify every person shown? (b) identify this unit?


We remember the Sesquicentennial, 2011-2015

As we advance deeper into Sesquicentennial events and commemorations, it's important to remember the one man who made it all happen.

It seems like just yesterday, but it was 2008, when it all started to come together.

Meanwhile, anyone notice that without our hero, the ALPLM has strictly banned any sesquicentennial events or even a mention thereof?

You would think that the ACW is not a subject fit to be mentioned in the polite company of Lincoln buffs.


I remember the ALPLM

It was a grand old place: a green pasture for Chicago politicos whose mojo was running low, an entertainment center for bored schoolkids, a picture postcard destination for tourists. I remember the good-old Disney-intensive ALPLM.

But now it has a rival: Ford's Theatre.
The Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership opens to the public Sunday, the 203rd anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The new center built in a 10-story former office building is part of a $60 million project to create a four-part campus for visitors to learn about the 16th president in the nation's capital.
And who has been building this Lincoln museum in our nation's capital? None other than "Richard Norton Smith, who helped plan the new center."

If you are a reader from the earliest days of this blog you will know how much we appreciate having Richard Norton Smith back in Civil War news. He was the ALPLM's first honcho.

I remember, too, his immortal words: "It's not just our history, it's your history."

Yeah, he's talking to you. Over there in the corner. You know who you are.


Notes from the Great Outside (cont.)

Quips from N. Nicholas Taleb's Bed of Procrustes selected for relevance to ACW literature:
What I learned on my own, I still remember.

Regular minds find similarities in stories (and situations); finer minds detect differences.

Many are so unoriginal they study history to find mistakes to repeat.

Corollary to Moore's Law: every ten years, collective wisdom degrades by half.

... knowledge is reached (mostly) by removing junk from people's heads.

Avoid calling heroes those who had no other choice.

The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them.
(Photo from the Guardian.)


Palmer and Krueger

Hat tip to Joseph Fouche for the nice summary of Palmer posts here and for presenting some original Palmer writings.

Walter Kruerger was certainly our most obscure four-star combatant commander in WWII and I occasionally, in my readings, wondered how he had reached that pinnacle.

A new book - perhaps his only biography - explores Krueger's career and it seems he made his stars as America's leading interwar military theorist. He was the successor to Upton and Palmer.

His theories make thin reading today, but he is interesting on the subject of military organization.

From the new bio:
Krueger was thus an Uptonian in regard to the crucial issue of military preparedness. In several important ways, Krueger was even more Uptonian than other, more notable army leaders. Whereas some envisioned importnat contributions the citizen soldier could make, Krueger, in contrast, saw none.
Actually, Krueger saw citizen soldiers contributing through universal military training followed by assignment to a two-tiered reserve system. This is in advance of the 1920 Act that attempted to implement Palmer's thinking about a two-tiered reserve system. Krueger:
Germany's strength does not rest upon the organization of its Army ... but upon its military system, universal service ... the Germans are, indeed, a "Nation in arms," and it is safe to say that, should war come, as it surely will, Germany will give a good account of herself.
That was written before WWI and Krueger seems more Palmerite than Uptonian:
Krueger advocated a national conscription of 125,000 men per year, with each new conscript serving for two years, giving the army a strength of 250,000 men. After serving two years ... each young man would "pass to the 1st reserve, in which he would remain three years, then to the 2nd Reserve, where he would remain for two years...
The 2nd Reserve would have carried a 15 days per year annual training requirement.

Before and after WWI, Krueger held a number of positions as a Regular assigned to different National Guard liaison or advisor duties. Kevin Holzimmer, author of the Krueger bio, notes that "by at least 1936," Krueger surrendered the core Uptonian principle of a defense based mainly on the Regular Army and he was saying:
[It was] not until 1920 that we finally adopted a military policy that gave us a good army, the Army of the United States, with its three components, the Regular Army, the National Guard, and the Organized Reserves.
This is Wadsworth-Palmerism, it is in line with what the military believes and practices even today, and so it may be that Krueger, as an influential interwar theorist, played a serious role in delivering the ultimate victory of General Palmer's views over General Upton's.


Notes from the Great Outside (cont.)

In the 1950s, there was this great upwelling of criticism of what was called (by Dwight McDonald) "midcult" and "masscult."

Civil War history as we know it today continues in the midcult/masscult of that era. It's helpful therefore to know and apply midcult criticism to this little corner of the nonfiction world.

Dwight McDonald wrote of masscult and "its impersonality and its lack of standards" and its "total subjection to the spectator," or in our case, the reader. Let me elaborate on this: ACW history too often spares the reader messy explanations, confusing background information, time-wasting digressions, proofs of claims, and deviations from the master narrative.

Kitsch sits at the center of masscult. Whitney Rugg (Chicago School of Media Theory) said something about kitsch that should resonate with every long-suffering reader of ACW history: "Kitsch does not analyze culture but repackages and stylizes it." Let's retell the story better. Let's offer the definitive narrative pop history. Let's write a history that does better at highlighting the dramatic elements.

The culture critic Gillo Dorfles edited a very interesting book called Kitsch in the 1960s. I loaned my now-valuable copy to a pretty artist, never got it back, but remember this definition offered by Dorfles: Kitsch reviews itself. In other words, Kitsch explicitly solicits the response it wants from the viewer or reader. If you have trouble matching this to ACW history, pick up a book and read the adjectives. The ham-fisted authors will "spill their guts" about the events unfolding on their pages, ladeling out scorn, anger, joy, approval, etc. The more restrained authors are also manipulating the reader's opinion through subtler means.

Dorfles viewed kitsch as a cultural problem brought on by the "industrialization of culture" which produced "falsification." I would add that institutionalized falsification is our biggest problem in Civil War literature. It is driven my mass-market history requirements. These requirements are about efficient storytelling, effective memes, symbols, and archtypes, and about satisfying a mass audience emotionally.

Clement Greenberg (photo, top) wrote a famous article, "Avant Garde and Kitsch," which makes this point:
Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates ... insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money -- not even their time.
"The debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture" pretty well sums up so many professors writing Civil War history, does it not? Consider also all the time-saving authors of ACW history who will spare you lots of troublesome detail! Greenberg:
The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience. This is what is really meant when it is said that the popular art and literature of today were once the daring, esoteric art and literature of yesterday. Of course, no such thing is true. What is meant is that when enough time has elapsed the new is looted for new "twists," which are then watered down and served up as kitsch. Self-evidently, all kitsch is academic; and conversely, all that's academic is kitsch. For what is called the academic as such no longer has an independent existence, but has become the stuffed-shirt "front" for kitsch.
Can we name a stuffed shirt front (or two) for authorized Civil War history, BTW? I think we can.

When I see "devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes" I see ACW history writ large.

Food for thought.

Notes from the Great Outside - Feynman

Richard P. Feynman needs no introduction and I'd like share a few of his quotes that should be of interest to ACW readers. I'm putting my own headings (in bold) on his quotes.

On pop history and the McPhersons of the world:
If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize.

On the value of personal research in primary sources:
I never pay attention to anything by "experts". I calculate everything myself

On Civil War "experts" -
We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty.

More on experts:
Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts

How to write Civil War history with integrity:
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.

The problem with authoritative histories of the war:
I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiment, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something, and therefore I see how they get their information and I can’t believe they know it, they haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t done the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know, that this stuff is [wrong], and they’re intimidating people.

Your humble blogger would add that getting stuff wrong and intimidating people is American Civil War history in a nutshell.


Palmer et al on the Second Militia Act of 1792

If you follow pop culture, today's hot topic in the conservative mass media has been the Second Militia Act of 1792. This act is said to form the basis of a precedent for the compulsory purchase of health insurance by virtue of having compelled all males of a certain age to purchase firearms for their involuntary militia duty. This has something to do with what is derided as "Romneycare."

We'll stay out of those political weeds except to quote Maj. James Groark's Politics and the Evolution of the Army Reserve. He notes that
The Militia Act required all able-bodied men ages 18-45 to serve in the state militia. Each man enrolling in the state militia had the responsibility maintain his own weapon and equipment. Congress authorized no federal dollars for this purpose. The Militia Act did not include how states were going to enforce the enrollment. Thus, many states failed to ensure these “able-bodied men” met their service obligation. In addition, “the Militia Act offered no means of assuring that citizens would comply with the requirement that they furnish their own arms and accoutrements at personal expense."
Groark is quoting (at the end) Russell Weigley's Towards an American Army.

This is a snapshot of the act and we turn now to matters military.

What is interesting is that it was sponsored by Col. Jeremiah Wadsworth of Connecticut, ancestor to Civil War General James Wadsworth and to 20th Century military reformer Senator James Wolcott Wadsworth, who used some of the principles in the Second Militia Act to craft the National Defense Act of 1920. His collaborator in this was Col. John McAuley Palmer, organizational theorist extraordinaire, and grandson of the Civil War's Gen. John McAuley Palmer.

And so we come to Palmer-the-younger's writing on the Second Militia Act in his book America in Arms.

For the sake of the reader, let me compress Palmer's views up to this point. Pardon my violence done to details.

1) Washington had distinct views on national defense and despite the view that he despised the militia, as president he placed the militia at the very center of his national system. Washington wanted to reform the milita as it was.

2) Washington's constructive views on the militia were embodied in legislation sponsored by Henry Knox. The public in Palemer's time and today do not understand Washington's views. Knox's bill was rejected by Congress at the end of Washington's second term.

3) Col. Wadsworth's militia bill attempted to revive the best parts of the Knox-Washington vision. Congress adjourned before his bill reached the floor.

4) In March, 1792, the bill was reintroduced and acted upon by the House and (per Palmer) "every constructive feature was amended out of it." "As amended, the bill no longer contained even the slightest germ of Washington's well-organized militia." Palmer is blunt: "Its passage actually made our military system worse than it was before the bill was introduced. The old militia organization, with its phony regiments and divisions now had Federal sanction and was made uniformly bad throughout the nation."

5) Jefferson and his supporters were unwilling to have a federally controlled militia, a more effective militia, in the hands of a Hamiltonian administration.

Palmer's views on the militia, the ACW, and military reform, will be reviewed in a future post. Meanwhile, perhaps we can agree on the shock value of encountering the Second Militia Act in a modern news cycle. And yet the Revolutionary War, and its aftermath, will persist just as the Civil War persists.