Enter, the outraged reader

The president of my second Wall Street employer would take my freshly written output into his hands, lead me into his office and with a sidelong glance say, "And now, I will play the part of the outraged reader." (I still don't know where the reference to "outraged reader" comes from.)

An outraged reader of this blog has appeared and rather than invite me into his office at the university where he teaches, Matthew Gallman has haunted the comments sections of other blogs and demanded respectable people stop linking to my posts. This entry of mine has irritated him especially.

From this post, I see he has been working on my expulsion for some time. His points can be summarized in his own words as
Some clown sitting in his basement can write disgusting, ignorant, lies about a serious historian, and your students and my students who google that name will find those lies. So, yeah, it would be nice if bloggers would stand up for decency.
Brooks Simpson has a fairly complete read on the situation on his blog (scroll down).

I am a critic of ACW non-fiction literature. Occasionally, my behavior is clownish. I accept correction where wrong on a matter of fact or context. I try to be truthful and right.

People come here for an entirely different perspective not available elsewhere. Where my posts are especially obnoxious, these reflect a high level of my own frustration with this or that matter. Regular readers discount my excesses or skip the ugly parts and look for what interests them.

Here be criticism. ACW history lacks critics. This blog fills a gap.

I said a few days ago (right here), that this blog should not come up at the top of a search on the name of this or that author. However, the paucity of ACW reviews and commentary on the web give me disproportionate rankings. This was the first ACW blog and Google began indexing it on day two. Google and I have been close friends for 10 years. The removal of a few links will be utterly futile. The 3,902 posts from this blog will continue to rank in search results.

(BTW, by attacking me, Matthew Gallman is establishing a search engine footprint for himself that his students should not see. This post will be indexed. So will others where he has posted comments. Avoid that tar baby, Mr. Gallman.)

If Mr. Gallman would like to reduce my Googlish influence, he need only start generating solid, searchable copy online praising the authors he loves. It would be a labor of love. It could be fun. His students rate him highly. Let him learn to use the web constructively and stop acting like a crank.

I am sorry that Simpson and Levin have been personally bothered by an outraged reader of this blog. Apologies!

Meanwhile, the blogosphere rolls on.

(p.s. If Matthew Gallman would like to write measured, substantive criticism of the piece that irritates him so, let him post it. It will become part of the Internet record and I would happily to link to it.)

Update 6/1; Revised to render Gallman (spelling) correctly.


Cheyenne wars

The Cheyenne Wars Atlas is a free download with lots of nice color maps. It reminds us of the wars before, during and after the war and some of the people we know from our reading. The book includes brief accounts of:

- The Cheyenne Campaign of 1857 (featuring Sedgwick and Sumner, with cameos by Johnston, Harney, Stuart)
- The Cheyenne War of 1864 (featuring Curtis, Mitchell, and Blunt)
- Winfield Scott Hancock’s 1867 expedition (Hancock and Custer)
- Philip H. Sheridan’s 1868-69 winter campaign (Sheridan and Custer)

The material was developed out of the Command and General Staff College's Staff Rides and is quite interesting.


She feels their pain

It was a mistake to stop my devolution from truth after three steps:

Counting > Estimating > Modeling.

Lesley Gordon has come up with a fourth that she likes very much - feeling.

Let the sequence be revised:

Counting > Estimating > Modeling > Feeling.

Hearken to her: "That [ACW death total] number just sat there -- 620,000 -- for a century ... [it] doesn't feel right anymore."

It just sat there, like volcanic rock spit out in some forgotten geological age. Whence it came, none can know. Generations of historians made the pilgrimage to rub this Kabaa, awed by its mysteries.

Now, it doesn't feel right anymore.

The ACW historian's aversion to counting doesn't get any worse than this.


Book reviews - nearly extinct?

The absence of reviews for the new Reardon book, outside of mine and Drew's, serves to remind us of a general problem in ACW lit. Newspapers lack book reviews and the glossies, with their advanced production schedules, take months to publish. When glossy reviews do finally appear, they tend to be shallow and/or offline or behind a paywall.

We should feel sorry for publishers and authors. Bloggers should not have the predominant voice, nor should they necessarily be at the top of a Google hit list for every new book search.


"Give McClellan a Break"

So says Brooks Simpson. See this also.

p.s. I would have reviewed his strategy book by now, but it is filled with subtleties.

Casting "Lincoln"

Spielberg's Lincoln: The full cast listing shows just three generals: Grant, Seth Williams and Ingalls. Seward, Stanton, Blair and Welles are the only cabinet members cast. Edward Bates has been replaced by telegrapher David Bates. There are four uncredited Radical Republicans (not identified) and eight members of Congress. Lots of Grover's Theatre, not much Ford's.

How strange.


"Jomini at the Point"

Back in 2010, Harry Smeltzer remarked that he had seen Carol Reardon on TV and his takeaway was that she was arguing that Jomini's influence is on Civil War leadership is overstated.

That's what came through to him as reported in his post "Jomini at the Point" and I would say that's what has come through to her marketing department. The text of her book (With a Sword in One Hand) is somewhat more circumspect.

Harry and his commenters were wondering about the basis of the belief in Jomini's influence. I have touched on that ever so briefly in a previous post, recapping Reardon's mentions of T. Harry Williams, Weigley and others. However, Reardon owed us a complete review of the relevant literature and failed to deliver. The literature runs very deep and is too big for the scope of this post.

Carol Reardon may be aware that a certain James McPherson had made a statement in his never updated Battle Cry of Freedom:
There is little evidence that Jomini's writings influenced Civil War strategy in a direct or tangible way; the most successful strategist of the war, Grant, confessed to having never read Jomini.
In any normal work of history, this would earn a footnote naming some studies to support the assertion. As it is, he left the matter to others (now Reardon), and she, taking his assertion to heart, has produced her flawed book years later.

At the heart of this influence issue is D.H. Mahan, his coursework at West Point, and his Napoleon Club seminar. Mahan was Jominian. Again, this calls for a separate post of some length, but let me briefly quote from a Department of Defense syllabus:
Lesson 5, Naval Theory: Mahan and Corbett

Mahan—a pillar of the new Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and an Admiral—was the son of Dennis Hart Mahan, a well-known teacher at West Point. Like his father, Mahan was ardently Jominian: [the younger] Mahan’s books applied Jominian principles to naval warfare.
Mahan the elder's Jominianism is a given that is taught to students today. Another quote from the same source:
Lesson 3, Classical Theorists: Clausewitz and Jomini, covers the theories of these two officers (Baron Antoine Henri Jomini and General Carl von Clausewitz) who had a tremendous impact on the conduct of war in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Military thought throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century was dominated by their writings.
That was just for fun.

The engines of D.H. Mahan's influence were his courses and his off-hours seminar, The Napoleon Club. I want to quote from the memoirs of Dabney H. Maury on this club to illustrate a broader point. Here is the first part, which you have seen before:
... best of all was the Napoleon Club. Professor Mahan was president of this, and gave out the Napoleon campaigns to be discussed by each member. Six weeks' time was allowed to prepare the paper. We had ample authorities, both French and English, at our disposal in the library, and worked diligently on our papers. The campaign of Waterloo, by Lieutenant B.S. Alexander, was considered one of the best discussions ever made of that notable defeat of Bonaparte. The campaign of Russia, by G.W. Smith and of Wagram, by McClellan, showed marked ability.

(Someday, some publisher will print the Napoleon Club papers written by Civil War generals but that day will likely come only after the first-ever McDowell biography is published and after we finally see a book about McClellan's extensive employment of Lincoln on Illinois Central legal business.)

Meanwhile, note that the papers are compiled under the influences of "authorities." Jomini is fungible! The neo-Jominians added to the original equal various "authorities" ... except that at West Point, the greatest authority is the Jominian Mahan himself. Here is another quote from Maury:
Years afterward he [Mahan] made up for it [a slight] one night in the Napoleon Club, of which I have said he was president. He came cordially up to me after I had finished reading my paper on the Italian campaign of 1796, grasped my hand with real pleasure and said, "I congratulate you Maury. You have discussed your subject in the very spirit of that Italian campaign."
Maury goes away thinking he, Smith, McClellan, et al, have got a real line on Napoleon.

The absence of Jomini in this passage is important. Mahan's approach was to was to teach Napoleon, not Jomini. He did not distinguish between Jomini and Napoleon - Jomini's interpretation was Napoleon. He did not insert himself. the kids were not learning Mahan, either. Students learning Napoleon thought they were learning Napoleon.

Jomini himself did not deal in any kind of Jominianism, he was a seeker of universal truths and presented his insights as universal to the art of war based on the experience of the Napoleonic era (and updated throughout his life).

To bring the point closer to home, the general reader of McPherson has not bargained for some kind of McPhersonism but expects universal truths about the Civil War. This is why publishers have had such trouble building support for McPherson's lesser, recent works. McPherson's fans do not expect an idiosyncratically McPhersonesque view of this or that ACW matter. They paid for the big book, they read it, they're done. See ya.

If I tell them here or socially that they are McPhersonites (or Centennialists), indignation is the natural response. They did not pay money and spend hours reading in order to become members of some school of thought.

By the same token, readers of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc., are not investing time to become advocates of a particular economic theory, political viewpoint, or the latest goofy science fad - they become advocates of these through the accident of paying for general information and receiving something else.

So, if you met a McPherson fan at a party and talked ACW, he would not say, "McPherson says so and so as opposed to Archer Jones who maintains thus and such." He would say, "This is the deal, here's how it happened" and "I know," because that is what he paid an authority to give him. Note that this would put a burden on you and I as hearers to trace the content back to McPherson to "prove" McPhersonist content in the conversation.

So it is with Jomini and his ACW readers. They did not read Jomini to affiliate with some brand styled "Jomini," they did not posit Jomini's points of difference against other thinkers, they read Jomini to reach universal, general understanding about military theory. They themselves made statements about war, the principles of war, theories of war, without reference to any authority and these statements tend to be Jominian.

Over time, as authors influenced by Jomini published their own works, there could be a Jominian core in their messages with admixtures of whatnot. This leads to the kind of problem bedevilling Reardon's book. "Officers als read so and so." A literature review requires the elements in "so and so" to be separated to tag content as primary or derivative.


This is remarkably naive, for "Much of Outpost is rooted in Antoine Henri Jomini’s interpretation of Napoleon." The best we can say in favor of this apparently ignorant comment is that no one seems to have done the research to deparate Mahan per se from Jomini.

And here's a lick on me. I always assumed that Halleck's Elements of Military Art and Science were hackwork rehashes of Jomini. The book is actually a stew of attributed military quotes from various sources. However, Halleck exercised his own discretion and framework in choosing the quotes. Hello influence. He says, "All the above [sources] are works of merit; but none are more valuable to the military man than the military histories of Jomini and Kausler..."

Jomini content is worth indexing in these old general military works.

Meanwhile, we may see more Jomini scepticism while we congratulate each other per Maury's misunderstanding: "You have discussed your subject in the very spirit of that [universal value]!"


CORRECTION (5/24/12): In an earlier version of this post, I had referred to Reardon as a student of James McPherson. This has been excised. The only known published graduate students of McPherson identified to date in this blog are Catherine Clinton and Tom Carhart.


Fencing stolen property

In her new book, Carol Reardon says this about the greatest living Civil War historian:
James McPherson has called the design of the spring campaign of 1864 a "concentration in time" ... (p. 47-48)
She refers here to a recent book called Tried by War in which McPherson appropriates a term and presents it as his own. Reardon's reference helps McPherson's claim to stolen property.

We went through origins of this term in this post and in this one and in this one.

Briefly, the term belongs to Clausewitz's On War which discusses Vereinigung der Kräfte in der Zeit and Sammlung der Kräfte im Raum. Concentration in time, concentration in space, is how we render these in English. Variant translations sometimes give "unification" and "collection" vice concentration.

Hattaway and Jones introduced Clausewitz's term as concentration in time explicitly in 1986 as an aid to understanding Lincoln's orders. In 1992, Jones went hog wild with "concentration in time" in his famous Civil War Command and Strategy. It was a hallmark of the book. In both books, "concentration in time" is analyzed not only per 1864 but from 1861 onward, beginning with Lincoln's orders for advances on all fronts to take place on 2/22/1862.

Carol Reardon has read these secondary works - she mentions them, she cites them in her own book. (If she has not also read Clausewitz, shame on her.)

She has no excuse for attributing others' terms or others' insights to James McPherson.

p.s. Misattribution extends beyond Reardon but usually involves ill-read fans crediting McPherson erroneously through their own ignorance. Here there can be no such excuse.


CORRECTION (5/24/12): In an earlier version of this post, I had referred to Reardon as a student of James McPherson. This has been excised. The only known published graduate students of McPherson identified to date in this blog are Catherine Clinton and Tom Carhart.


Sword in One Hand - review

Where Faust's Republic of Suffering was a meditation, so is Carol Reardon's new book, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other. Their approaches differ. Faust presented thoughts-as-they-occur whereas Reardon gives the impression of building a case that never comes together. Reardon could better have written on the lines of "look what I found" but instead develops analysis and evidence tantalizing the reader with a payoff that never comes. Faust makes no promises - hers are free-floating observations. Reardon disappoints.

If you took any chapter from either book, it would make a nice New Yorker essay that would deliver pleasure in a waiting room or on a sunny patio. You know those old essays - erudite, observational, suggestive of a conclusion, vaguely pointing to a universal truth.

Woking against Reardon here is her title and maketing copy. The subtitle names a problem and we infer a solution will be given (The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North). This accurately indicates the structure of the work, but the argument stops after the "problem" is illustrated. I found this to be a tease.

The dust jacket has a line worth quoting: "She argues that the absence of a strong intellectual foundation for the conduct of the war at its start - or, indeed, any consensus on the need for such a foundation - ultimately contributed to the length and cost of the conflict." I did not find this argument or conclusion in the book.

I would have loved to see that idea developed to a conclusion and if this had been tried, we would be looking at a work of great importance.

Instead, we are looking at a kind of literature survey. These four pieces were once lectures and perhaps that explains the need to collect evidence and present analysis. Some of the evidence is interesting but the act of collecting and presenting it primes the deep reader for fault finding, since he is comparing his store of knowledge to Reardon's. And here there are faults to find, sins of omission and commission.

Chapter 1
Let's start with the big picture, the overarching analytic failures. Reardon's first essay is "Exorcising the Ghost of Jomini: Debating Strategy in the Civil War North."

For Reardon, "strategy" stands in for any kind of military thought, save perhaps drill or tactics. She confuses herself categorically because she doesn't make necessary distinctions that would cast light on her subject.

At the top of a conceptual hierarchy is the war aim. The war aim may be reunification, or reconstruction, or something else, alone or in combination. It is a truism that Lincoln changed his war aims and it is a game historians play to try to pinpoint when they changed. Reardon is aware of war aims changing but she does little with it except to mention the old soft war/hard war stuff. The potential effects on policy and strategy are not discussed here.

Below the war aim, we have strategy, which is about defining an end in military terms. You sometimes hear people say it is about ends and means, but means follow ends and they have more to do with military policy. Reardon is very fuzzy about what strategy is and she seems to follow the differing 19th Century usages of the word as it suits her narrative, which is very destructive to understanding. Consider Scott's thinking in his letters to McClellan. We might put a Scott strategy together this way: "I propose to compel the South to negotiate a settlement for reunification." He has an operation in mind to do that, but that is outside the strategy and it could change without affecting the strategy. Reardon confuses it with the strategy. Likewise, McClellan's August 1861 strategy might be stated as, "I propose unification without negotiation." He too has an operational idea - to occupy the entire rail network of the southeast via strongpoints set up at its junctions. I salute Reardon for being among the tiny number of historians who has read and understood McClellan's war-winning 1861 scheme of operations, but she misrepresents this scheme as a strategy.

Below strategy we have what are today called concepts of operations (CONOPS). The concept of operations describes a proposed method of realizing the strategy. Scott: riverine operations, 50,000 men, objective New Orleans. McClellan: occupy all key junctions following rail lines; garrison junctions while continuing advance until all railways are in Northern hands. For Reardon, as for so many historians, the CONOPS is the strategy, and this is a tragic failure of analysis that misses so many potential insights.

Below the concept of operations, or next to it, is military policy. Military policy touches on many things but at this level it allocates means to ends. Buell shall have this many units of that type to accomplish his mission. Buell's department shall include this territory. Buell shall be supplied with Belgian muskets until they can be replaced by Enfields. Buell shall have no control over the state militias. And so on: this idea of policy as a concept separate from strategy is not present here.

Below the CONOPS and military policy, doctrine is in play. The concept of doctrine is also missing here, or rather doctrinal issues get rolled up into strategy in Reardon's narrative. At the macro level, doctrine decides things such as what kinds of missions cavalry will be allowed to perform; what the correct use of artillery shall be; when entrenchments shall be employed and how they shall be operated against. These are doctrine in the sense of biblical (in a military sense). We have often discussed in this blog the fight of McClellan and Johnston against Sumner and Davis in antebellum cavalry doctrine. The analytic richness of "doctrine" is lost on Reardon.

Near the bottom of the conceptual ladder comes operations. The army advanced on three axes in this order given these objectives and those instructions. So many ACW authors confuse operations at this level with strategy or (just as bad) the execution of strategy.

At the very bottom comes tactics. Tactics represent the application of doctrine in operations. Doctrine says cavalry shall form on the battlefield in two ranks. Operationally, the cavalry did such and such (and they maintained or failed to maintain the two rank requirement.) Reardon understands that some matters are tactical (or drill) related, but everything above that, she rolls into "strategy" or the even more nebulous "military thought."

The sharp reader will now accuse me of anachronism in proposing this is a template for discussing military thought in the run-up to the Civil War. I plead guilty with an important caveat. Some scheme or organization is necessary in dealing with the many different levels and types of ideas being reviewed. You might take a contemporary schema - which would be less differentiated - and suffer the analytic consequences. But to take no schema, and lump all this into the same pot, makes for a mulligan's stew; it might be spiced with tasty historical morsels, but it's not history, it's just a kind of nonfiction soup.

We are still discussing the first piece in the book, "Exorcising the Ghost of Jomini" and the major analytic failures within. The theme of this chapter is that Jomini's influence is overrated. The proof is made through a literature review that shows many thinkers were published (commercially) pre-war and during the war. Reardon does not trouble herself with a look at how much non-Jomini publishing actually had Jominian content. In fact, there is also this constant back-and-forth between influences on "most Northerners" (i.e. civilians, p. 34) and army officers. This seems like a disingenuous blurring of the lines to score points against Jomini because the question is not whether his influence was strong among civilians (an interesting question) but among soldiers (a vital question).

Aside from failing to check the non-Jomini authors for Jominian content, Reardon ignores two other potential evidences for influence: military correspondence and speeches or lectures.

The case for Jomini's influence was made, as she says, by T. Harry Williams, Jones, Hattaway, and Hagerman. She completely fails to tackle the gist of their case: that the engine for Jominian domination in military thought was the Napoleon Club, the invitation-only off-duty seminars given by West Point Professor Dennis Hart Mahan to what became the future leaders of the military struggle. Hart gets two mentions in this chapter: (1) Scott read authors including Mahan and Jomini (p. 21) and (2) Scott and Mahan believed low casualties to be a mark of great generalship (p.41).

There is no hint here of Mahan's role as the foremost advocate of Jomini in America; there is no mention of his seminar or its illustrious roster of graduates. There is also no hint that Reardon knows she has adopted as her central question (Jomini's influence) a well-plowed field that has been turned for years among modern military authors - authors she has obviously not read. This is not a small scholarly failure on her part, for any claim to originality here is built on new questions yielding new insights.

In 1998, KSU Press published Col. James L. Morrison's "The Best School": West Point, 1833-1866. Morrison wote,
Another long-lived myth is the claim that Professor Mahan’s emphasis on Jomini became a dominating influence on Civil War strategy. This view not only exaggerates the impact of one small segment of the curriculum, while ignoring the effects of other characteristics of the West Point environment, it also overlooks such factors as differences in intellect and the influence of military experience after graduation.

In a thesis rebutting Col. Morrison, Major Michel Phipps wrote Mahan at West Point, “Gallic Bias,” and the “Old Army”: The Subconscious of Leadership at Gettysburg.

I don't want to recap point-by-point Phipps' rejection of Morrison's argument except to say that it is substantive in a way Carol Reardon is not. So for instance, Phipps:
The list of commanders in the Battle of Gettysburg who had endured a year under the uncompromising eye of “Old Cobbon Sense” [Mahan] is a long one, containing: James Longstreet, A.P. Hill, Richard S. Ewell, J.E.B. Stuart, Henry Heth, William D. Pender, Richard H. Anderson, Edward Johnson, Jubal Early, George Pickett, Lafayette McLaws, John Bell Hood, Richard Garnett, J.M. Jones, George H. Steuart, Junius Daniel, Stephen Ramseur, Cadmus Wilcox, Fitzhugh Lee, John Chambliss, Beverly Robertson, W.E. Jones, E.P. Alexander, George Meade, John F. Reynolds, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Sykes, John Sedgwick, Oliver Howard, Henry Slocum, Alfred Pleasonton, Henry Hunt, Gouverneur Warren, Robert Ogden Tyler, John Tidball, Abner Doubleday, John Gibbon, Andrew Humphreys, Romeyn Ayres, Albion Howe, John Newton, Horatio Wright, Henry Eustis, Alfred Torbert, Alexander Hays, Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, John Buford, David M. Gregg, Gabriel Paul, Norman Hall, Alexander Webb, Samuel Carroll, Stephen Weed, David Russell, Thomas Ruger, Thomas Neill, Adelbert Ames, George Armstrong Custer, and Wesley Merritt. This list includes virtually every man who made a critical command decision at Gettysburg, down to infantry brigade level.
Phipps argues that "It was [Mahan's] emphasis at West Point on Napoleon, taught through the vehicle of Jomini’s Summary of the Art of Warr, that affected the thinking of future commanders." I am very tempted to join in this discussion if only to reiterate many points Reardon ignored or was never aware of. Let me just offer this from club member Dabney H. Maury:
... best of all was the Napoleon Club. Professor Mahan was president of this, and gave out the Napoleon campaigns to be discussed by each member. Six weeks' time was allowed to prepare the paper. We had ample authorities, both French and English, at our disposal in the library, and worked diligently on our papers. The campaign of Waterloo, by Lieutenant B.S. Alexander, was considered one of the best discussions ever made of that notable defeat of Bonaparte. The campaign of Russia, by G.W. Smith and of Wagram, by McClellan, showed marked ability.
A second gap, less awful than Mahan's omission, involves the treatment of Halleck and his Elements of Military Art and Science. In this first chapter, the mentions of him tend to be toward that of General Halleck, his book getting the shortest shrift. This work is important to Reardon's analysis, but she gives no hint of what's inside. When she discloses that Halleck translated Jomini during the war, she fails to connect that fact with Halleck's ongoing advocacy of Jomini in military operations.

The frustrated tone of Halleck's operational correspondence in the early war often touches on this or that principle - usually Jominian - and the correspondent's failure to take note of this "settled science." Put in modern terms, Halleck treats Jomini's observations as doctrine when trying to correct this or that "error." I suspect his wartime translation of Jomini was intended to put officers on a comparable level where they could talk the same language in shorthand without Halleck having to give lengthy Jominian lectures in his letters. This seems obvious to me but is not touched on by Reardon.

She closes this chapter with the remarks of an observer who notes he "has seen [Jomini] carefully read by our Volunteer officers." This works against her skeptical position. The officers are reading HJ and trying to apply their reading.

The more important point for Reardon is that anecdotal evidence, used in this way, cannot be conclusive. There has to be method and system in the argument.

Chapter 2
Reardon's second chapter is called "Who Shall Command: The Cult of Genius versus the Primacy of the Professional."

This is a review of the changes in Northern command set against military theory (as expressed in the popular and professional press) against a further overlay, the education vs. natural talent controversy. To set this kind of 3-D challenge for yourself and then try to discharge it in 34 pages is impossible and deeply frustrating to the reader. The way Reardon deals with scholarship challenges reminds me of a rebuke I once received from a history professor. he said "You are trying to write your way out of a problem." This certainly applies here.

Chapter 3
Reardon's third chapter is "Lost in Jomini's Silence: The Human Factor in War." Here she takes a survey of the human cost of the Grant/Meade offensive of 1864 in a way that has not been done before - and which reflects devastatingly on Grant and Meade. She correctly delineates the cost of the campaign as uniquely horrible and as she counts the ways it does not occur to her that earlier commanders sought to avoid such a cost for good reason. (In the Centennial scheme of things bloodthirsty historians consider them shirkers and misfits.)

Here too, we have a failure in scholarship that is remarkable. In her discussion of psychiatric casualties, she makes no use of the available Civil War material. In my youth, Civil War psychiatry was all the rage in analyzing what we now call PTSD among Vietnam veterans. Hammond's general Treatise on Insanity in its Medical Relations, published in the 1880s, is replete with his own Civil War cases. See also Deutsch A. "Military psychiatry: The Civil War, 1861–1865," in One Hundred Years of American Psychiatry: 1844–1944.

Richard A Gabriel has also written on Civil War "shell shock":
Military physicians, at a loss to treat the problems, simply mustered the extreme cases out during the first three years of the war. “They were put on trains with no supervision, the name of their home town or state pinned to their tunics, others were left to wander about the countryside until they died from exposure or starvation,” reports Richard A. Gabriel, a consultant to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and one of the foremost chroniclers of PTSD. Gabriel’s research tells us that in 1863 the number of insane soldiers simply wandering around was so great, there was a public outcry.
I have drifted into rewriting her book for her. Sorry.

The idea in this chapter singling out spring 1864 in this way and bearing down on what "success/lack of" meant to soldiers is original and interesting. in scope, this chapter had the best chance of accomplishing its goals. In execution, it lacks much but it makes its effect, as intended. I have difficulty believing back-cover-blurbers McPherson and Marszalek read this chapter as it poses so many problems for their interpretation of the war.

There is a fourth chapter here in the form of an epilogue. This is intended as a sketch of post-war military thought - where we have come from since Jomini. Reardon's conclusion is not very far at all and our mixed record in war displays that.

I am very sympathetic to this argument and would like to have seen this bit done right. For instance, here we meet Upton but not Palmer. The struggle of Army organization does not appear. The division of military thought into categories and such (theory, organization, doctrine, strategy, etc.) - a major conceptual breakthrough since Jomini - is not in these pages. And so it goes. Not having lived issues of contemporary military thought, not having brought them into her own heart and mind, Reardon is in the position of a journalist relating second hand what people told her and what she thinks it means.

In terms of military thought, Civil War generals had a problem indeed. Jomini represented the roof of a house. The foundation of the house could be said to be drill and military habits. The beams of the house would be doctrine; the walls, those years of combat experience that Napoleonic armies experienced; the windows, agreement on common procedure; the doors, a standardization making for likeness among armies.

Civil War thinkers were building the components that would allow them to get to the roof of this construct. To try to apply Jominian ideas using heterogeneous militia armies of no experience, with no standard practices, no common doctrine, no common experience, that would be an exercise in fantasy. Such exercises persisted in the press and pop culture and they enchant historians today, but they have no place in a review of military thought.

The Civil War thinkers did not complete their task. They did not get to the point where a roof could be erected. Historians have tried to complete the job and we see the result.

What we have is a failed book the individual lectures of which make interesting reading. In Civil War history, we'll take what we can get.

p.s. Drew's review is here and Harry's discussion is here. As of 5/22, Drew's review and this one are the only ones indexed by Google.


Justice for Longstreet

A correspondent asked if I felt whether Longstreet suffered the same injustice as McClellan at the hands of the glossy mags. I don't read the glossies, but I answered this way:
Although I know little about Longstreet, the history problems and treatments surrounding McClellan taught me that we have an ACW-wide problem. This is not about McClellan, it's about absolutely everyone - Lee, Davis, Lincoln, Grant, Rosecrans, Longstreet, etc.

The mistake I feel some of our McClellan advocates make is to think that ACW history is in good shape except for this little piece regarding Mac. No. It's all in the same shape. The patent nonsense pertaining to GBM is pervasive and universal. This is the one thing that the case of McClellan has taught me - it's all bad.

That doesn't mean we can't enjoy it. The areas we are ignorant in might be just as entertaining to us as a severe Mac trashing is to a similarly uninformed reader.

Now there is a moral dimension to this in that *bad history* for Lee might unjustly enhance his reputation (no harm done) while bad for Mac or Longstreet vilifies them unjustly (moral harm done). So the effects of bad history are different and GBM has been badly and unjustly affected by the same evil factors pervading the whole field.

It would be hard to put those evil factors in a nutshell. That's why I started Civil War Bookshelf 10 years ago, to explore the problem.

You mention North and South. The glossies are the worst: they seem to condense all the faults of the book world into their magazines. A colleague ... proposed a McClellan defense to the editor of N&S some years ago and was directly told no piece defending McClellan would ever appear in that magazine.

The best short answer I can manage is that we are all hobbyists; even the accredited historians and professors start out that way. We have a lot of bad baggage we bring to ACW both reading and writing. We need to work harder on challenging our authors on the basis of assumptions, sourcing, shortcuts, and narrative overdetermination.


Notes from the great outside (cont.)

The financial writer Brett Arends touched on modeling recently, after we discussed casualty modeling here. Arends writes in another context what applies to all contexts:
Computer models? I am still amazed at the quasi-religious worship accorded these things. I used to build computer models, back when I was an analyst. Even the best models rely on dubious assumptions that put the conclusions at risk. All financial models are basically contraptions put together with Airfix and balsa wood. Would you fly to Peru in a plane built by a hobbyist? That's what you're doing when you invest based on a "model."
To which I would add, I knew the modelers who built the risk systems for bank trading desks before the crisis. I worked with them at two different, industry-leading software companies. Modeling is an artful collection of shortcuts designed to save you doing real work.

Closer to home, Arends comments on "experts." God, we love them in ACW, in a fully religious way:
The experts? What suckers most people are for letters after the name, technical jargon and all that jazz. Two thirds of finance [and ACW history - DR] is a snow job. Montier, an expert in behavioral finance, cites some fascinating experiments that psychologists have done to show just how we are wired for this. MRI scans have found that listening to expert advice can actually override the independent judgment parts of our brain. They've done studies where they found people were willing to take stupid bets just because an expert told them it was okay.
I think ACW readers are in better shape with regard to modeling mania and expert-worshipping compared with the general public, but we still have a way to go to become more critical of what we consume and recommend.

The Confederation of Union Generals

Check them out.

Man, that Google (OT)

The old McClellan site was set up three days ago on its new URL and has already been indexed by Google. Wow. SEO Optimization firms (remember them?) used to get paid thousands of dollars for results like that. There's a metric for you anyway. Hope everyone is getting that kind of speedy result.

Francis Phillip Varney

A reader writes:
I just stumbled across your recent blog on Francis Phillip Varney. I first learned about him a few years ago after reading the dissertation of "The Men Grant Didn't Trust."

At the beginning of last year, I had seen a mention that: The Man Grant Didn’t Like: The Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans, has been accepted for publication and should be in print next year. A follow-up volume, The Men Grant Didn’t Trust: Memoir, Memory, and the American Civil War, has also been accepted for publication and is in the development stage.

I also heard from Ted Savas, who claimed Varney as author of a forthcoming book.

Well, know we know what became of him. Look forward to reading his stuff.


In praise of slow marching

Our love of false data in Civil War history becomes fatal when we make that non-data the centerpiece of our understanding.

How many narratives use comparative strength data as proxy for adversity, for pluck, for character? Look closely and (I promise) you find the data is garbage which then turns the narrative into garbage. The better authors handle the data gingerly, with care, who know not to place loads where they can't be borne. The better authors are scarce.

On the other side, we get authors who are crazed by the imagined disparities they see in comparing sets of false data and who work to share their rage with the reader. This can spread from one (false) view of a battle into a generally false picture of the war and the men who fought it.

"How many" as an ironclad criterion is accompanied by "how fast" as another. Here's a typical complaint: "X's force covered only Y miles that day."

When I see that, I tend to run through potential research our author failed to perform:

"General John Q. Public's three divisions managed only 12 miles over sandy, one-lane roads that day."


"The general's divisions covered an average of 12 miles in three columns while under orders not to lose touch with each other while advancing on three separate axes."


"The general's troops covered 12 miles while his trains managed to close from a two-day gap to within a day's march of the lead elements."


"General Public's troops covered only 12 miles following General Doe's columns which led the advance."


"General Doe reached his commander's designated stopping point just 12 miles out from the previous night's camp."


"General Doe, having lost contact with the elements on his right and having received no new orders, halted his advance after 12 miles."

And here's a dig I should see but never do:

"General Doe covered X miles on the same route in one day where General Public had covered Y miles on the same road on his way to Shambala on a previous day."

And so on. If you write Civil War books, the insufficiency of the record is no reason not to try and burn witches.

Another aspect of the historian's desire for fast marching at all times is the straggling factor. We moderns don't understand it, can't picture it, and can't figure it into our calculations.

A fast marcher, say Thomas Jackson, makes a tradeoff that the ACW reader is hardly even aware of. The forced marcher opts to inflict casualties on his own units in order to arrive somewhere faster. This is a hard decision to make and cannot be foisted on all generals everywhere as a standard. Loss of men by the roadside reflects attrition in delivering fighting power to the point of arrival. Some stragglers desert; some catch up; some become medical casualties. The numbers are never trivial and grow larger over distances.

And BTW, wasn't Jackson fragged by the brothers of a straggler he shot? Does anyone else remember that meme? Does anyone else remember the shoot-to-kill-all-stragglers orders issued by Jackson? Memory fails but hard marching is not easy, to coin a cliche.

The slow marcher is bringing as much of his command to bear against the enemy as possible; he is preserving cohesion and fighting power; he will increase shock in the attack or more stoutly defend a position assumed on arrival. His troops will be fed, his ammo will be supplied, his ambulances will be within reach. The hard marcher gives this up and disorganizes his own units for some gain or other. He has to know what that benefit is and he has to be right or he is bordering on relief and/or court martial.

The ACW writer's love of hard marching is a love of drama and storytelling. Miles of marching are spit out as hard data; the associated harsh judgements and snide asides tell us we are reading polemics, not history. We may as well be reading a blog.


(Thanks to Manny for finding merit in this post.)


Varney casts no shadow

Since his mention here five years ago, Francis Phillip Varney has disappeared from the Internet.

He left trace of a 906-page book, The Men Grant Didn't Trust: Memoir, Memory, and the American Civil War. Amazon has no record of him or the book.

Cornell doesn't know him from Nosferatu.

Have we been hoaxed?



How dearly we love the fake data of the ACW

One of the remarkable features of today's culture is the desire to model truth and in fact to substitute models for truth. (The postmodern thinker who explored this strange development was Jean Baudrillard.)

In the run up to the last census, there was a drumbeat sounded for abandoning the count in favor of modeling. This would substitute assumptions, projections, extrapolations, and inferences for their "equivalent," hard data. It would have asked an agency that has great trouble forecasting population trends to estimate these post facto.

The climategate emails, by the way, are well worth reading to witness "data equivalents" becoming data in the new sense of non-data data.

No matter how many economies are destroyed by financial modeling, no matter how discredited climatology becomes through publicizing its modeling, no matter how many armies are defeated by their own flawed threat modeling, our lust for and belief in models proceeds and even takes on strange new shapes.

People used to believe in counting (as well as touching, hearing, seeing, and tasting). This is how the census came about - out of just such a cultural bias. I was young and in the Army at the tail end of this preference. We had to have body counts. They were important. We measured unit readiness by counting operative vs. inoperative systems, by counting men present for duty. And given how corrupt my generation was and is, we faked the numbers we needed: the body counts, the readiness data, and more, down until the present day.

The ethics of counting became an exercise in fudging and faking. With this widely known, the new attitude developed "why bother." Enter the estimates and models. We have a Defense Department that has not been audited in living memory - what would be the point? We have Civil War authors who make love to zeros, tacking on a minimum of five to any number they need, and rounding counts off to make them "easier" for the reader to absorb.

There was a splash in Civil War news recently when Professor J. David Hacker (shown above) proposed to revise the number of war dead upward from 618,222 to 750,000-850,000.

Look at the form of these numbers and you see my point. There is a painstaking precision in 612,222 which many today would be content to exchange for a range of goose eggs which in their minds would be more "accurate." That is a remarkable thing, think of it, for an educated person with a basketful of eight goose eggs to imagine himself closer to the truth than when he had 618,222 in hand. Astonishing, really.

In approaching the truth, from the inside out, we have:
counting > estimating > modeling.

In Civil War analysis this would equate to
Fox > Livermore > Hacker.

Hacker's model does not seem complete, at least as presented here, witness the zeroes and the use of a big range. The centerpiece of his analysis is the disparity between the 1860 census and 1870 census. Is death in war the only possible reason for the gap? No, and this may be why Hacker uses a range of numbers.

Hacker also mentions that one can find errors in the 1860 data through careful review at the micro level but this discovery has apparently not led him to project an adjusted, modeled total number in lieu of a range. This is why his model seems incomplete.

When Fox tabulated his losses, he counted and his counts included adjustments. An adjustment might involve enhancing a number with additional data from a second source or reconciling two sources, say a muster roll and a hospital discharge list.

Livermore took Fox's sources (and more) and made estimates. He might take the hard data of Confederate soldiers killed and apply to it the Union's proven 1.5 casualty ratio, dead to wounded, to arrive at a CSA wounded total. Here we are getting on thin ice and we must remain conscious that we are handling estimates and we must understand how the estimates are derived. Time and again, authors (like James McPherson) will use Livermore's numbers not knowing (or caring?) that they are handling estimates.

Hacker represents the modern way. Subtract one census result from the other, add assumptions, publish range of estimated figures. Voila, data point!

I'm exaggerating to make an effect. Hacker speaks of Fox and Livermore with a precision I have not seen in Civil War literature. He knows what they were doing and how they were doing it. What seems so astonishing to me is the cultural component, that he could look at their work and substitute an incomplete model for their approaches to the truth.

The way to have handled Hacker's discovery would be to say that there is X difference in the cohort count, this may have a lot to do with uncounted ACW mortality, although we don't know. An author would then revisit the sources to understand how an error of great magnitude could have occurred unnoticed. This research would either open up or close off the line of inquiry, "Proposed: the 1870 census discloses a higher Civil War death toll."

The historical problem is a cohort discrepancy; that is the problem. The problem then went forth to search for a solution and came up with some satisfycing, ACW casualty totals.

Feynman has the last word here:
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.

(Take a look at Fox's work here, Livermore's here, and Hacker's here.)


Spielberg's Lincoln movie - done

The media frenzy over gay "evolution" seems to have peaked today and it brought forth Tony Kushner, Broadway's gay superscrivner, who happens to be Spielberg's scriptwriter on the Lincoln movie.

Playing on the evolution theme of the day, Kushner said his own political views had evolved over the last 20 years to the point that he now believed social justice in the U.S. could possibly be achieved peacefully through democratic means.

This led to a discussion of his work on the Lincoln film where he let loose a few newsy tidbits:

* The film wrapped in December and will be released this November.

* Kushner spent six years writing it, he says, and does not regret a minute of it.

* He was script doctoring one version while watching the election returns in 2008.

* The most interesting element to him historically was Lincoln's relationships with the Radical Republicans.

* He thinks Lincoln on the level of "genius" with Mozart and Shakespeare and suggests this is a higher level than President's Obama's level.

These notes are cribbed from listening to Democracy Now on the radio this morning; they have audio and video and have isolated the Lincoln bits here.

I would add this observation: if the film's emphasis is on the "evolution" of Lincoln-Radical relations, then the "Team of Rivals" focus is lost and D.K. Goodwin's association with this project has been marginalized. This is underscored by Kushner's previous comments about the amount of research he had to do himself to write this script.


Mahan and Reardon

Oddly enough, Carol Reardon all but ignores D. H. Mahan in her new book With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other. We'll get into that and more shortly.

Mahan writes a letter to the editor

August 27, 1864
The Army and Navy Journal

Sir: - The JOURNAL, I am glad to see by the number of August 16, is ventilating the foreign nuisances of our Army, in calling attention to that not insignificant class, in numbers, the restless, obtrusive adventurers from all lands, who are the pests of the military bureaus everywhere, in pushing their pretensions to military capacity in every quarter. This kind of thing commenced with our Revolutionary War, and has continued up to the present moment. Able American citizens have given in to it; and Mr. Jefferson, in organizing his grand scheme for the University of Virginia, laid it down, as a sine qua non, that foreigners alone should fill the principal chairs in it. The experiment was a signal failure, and it hardly rose above tho condition of a grammar school, until native-horn and educated persons were placed in charge of it. In my youth [...], James Monroe being President, a man was hardly thought eligible to the engineer corps unless he was a Frenchman, or had, at least, a French name. If you doubt it, look over our old Army lists of some forty years back. What did we do in the case of General Bernard, a man of no striking mark, inferior in talent and acquirement to McCree, Totten and Thayer? We passed a special act making him virtually a brigadier-general. What did we gain by it ? A loss, not only in national prestige, but in adopting plans of fortifications far from the best, because, forsooth, proposed by a man wholly unacquainted with our institutions and wants.

I have had some opportunity of looking into this matter, in two visits to Europe; in one of which I spent nearly eighteen mouths as a student in the first military school in Europe, that of Metz in France. I was then, in 1826, only two years out of our own school. Well, I found nothing they had to teach there, the elements of which, much to the surprise of both professors and pupils, I had not well acquired at, home, and learned with ease. As to the schools of other Powers, the programmes of their courses of study contain more matter, but nothing in substance differing materially from our own. It is no disparagement to French engineering skill and quite the reverse to that of the English to say, that both in our defensive works and in our siege operations they have nothing superior to them to show.

Upon the men of all nationalities, who have made themselves part and parcel of ourselves, and are perilling life and limb for the safety of their adopted country, be all honor conferred, in every form. I do not class them with the Gurowski and Cluseret genus, who are my admiration for the ineffable impudence with which they have constituted themselves our political and military Mentors and for the rollicking air with which they revel in their peculiar billingsgate diction; happily, having no longer before their eyes the slavish fears of Siberia and tho Knout, or a term of service in the penal colony of French Guiana, which, in Russia or France would have been their meed, had they dared to have let their tongues wag with a moiety of the impertinence they are now in the daily habit of indulging in towards persons in the highest civil and military positions. From such base comradeship I trust our brave soldiers, native and adopted, may for the future be rid.

Very truly yours,
D.H. Mahan
August 18, 1864.


Reporter says Cinco de Mayo is an ACW holiday

Read this closely and see if you agree...

Savas Beatie forums

Savas Beatie has set up author forums. I think that's a book publishing innovation. (Game publishers have done this for a long time...)


Jomini and Reardon

Drew precedes me in reviewing Carol Rearden's new book.

It's a good book, one well worth reading, and kudos to Gallagher acquiring it for UNC Press. Drew likes it rather much which frees me to balance the ledger with my many criticisms.

Balance! That's what the blogosphere is all about.