Books received

Some books bought or received. These have not been read yet and what follows are not reviews.

Robert E. Lee in War and Peace: The Photographic History of a Confederate and American Icon. Donald A. Hopkins presents a new study of Lee photographs in part to update and correct Roy Meredith's 1947 Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend. This is nice scholarship that presents, sources and discusses all surviving Lee imagery. At 216 pages, I have already spent at least two hours with it and have not started reading it yet. It's engrossing.

A Confederate Englishman: The Civil War Letters of Henry Wemyss Feilden. Early in his Confederate career (which starts in March, 1863), Henry Feilden notes that foreign volunteers like himself are often posted to staffs to see how they work out and if they are suited for more responsibility. He turns out to be condemned by his own insight, remaining in Charleston for the duration, left behind by Beauregard when the latter takes command at Petersburg. This is odd because Feilden is an experienced officer having served in the Black Watch during the Indian Mutiny and in an Indian regiment during the Second Opium War with China. His letters contain glimpses of Beauregard ("five minutes with him would make the crankiest person cheerful") and a long anecdote about Jackson but not much else that is military, not even sketches of HQ and the personalities passing through there. The abundance here is in descriptions of places (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida) and impressions of local people.

The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses. Petruzzi and Stanley have produced a beautiful book to linger over. This is not a compendium of tables such Fox or Livermore compiled, but rather a color-rich collection of fascinating maps and pictures. It contains a difficulty, however: the numbers are based on David Petruzzi's personal research. They are given without further annotation or description. If the reader is comfortable with that, he is free to enjoy a beautiful example of the bookmaker's art.

A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Hard to know which co-author is the brains of the operation, Carol Reardon or Army historian Col. Tom Vossler, but this guidebook has averaged five stars over 25 reviews on Amazon. The geography of the tour is organized chronologically (as the battle unfolds). That's not new but the material is posted under headings that repeat in each section: who fought here, who commanded here, who lived here, etc. The linchpin is the opening "what happened here" accompanied by a colored map. Perhaps the "what happened" element has to be very specific but I found these sections to be wanting in context (the context of the development of the battle and the engagement's tactical rationale). In other words, the "why happened" is missing. The other shortcoming, it seems to me, lies in the directions. One part of the self-tour starts at Gen. Wadsworth's statue. Why am I expected to know where that is? Why are all the maps battle maps rather than tour charts or walking maps? But I am probably the least equipped to review tour guides, taking so few tours, and the evidence is in the warmth with which this has been received on Amazon.

Divided Loyalties: Kentucky's Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War. This book is so obviously necessary that author James Finck gets five stars just for writing it and I very much look forward to studying it. Perhaps he has restricted the scope too much (to "one state, one issue, and one year"), in which case this becomes a single part of a three-layer cake comprised of Hesseltine's "governor's war," CSA-USA diplomacy, and the national-Kentucky maneuvering. We shall see.

William Gilmore Simms's Unfinished Civil War: Consequences for a Southern Man of Letters. This is a collection of essays about Simms's work which causes me to wish I was more familiar with it. This book is not the place to start, as it assumes a level of knowledge which in my case is absent. Intriguing but perhaps too specialized.

The Civil War Lover's Guide to New York City. This is the kind of book against which you match your personal experiences of place against their Civil War significance. Very interesting if you know NYC, especially downtown. Have you been to McSorley's Old Ale House - founded before the war, the owner enlisting in the 69th NYV? The houses of Scott, Sickles, Sherman, McClellan, et al - all here. Ft. Totten Officer's Club - designed by Robert E. Lee - yes, I had a drink there too. You get the idea; this, to me, is more an exercise in personal connections than a guidebook to uncover major ACW attractions. Enjoyable for ex- and current New Yorkers, well illustrated.

Lincoln's Political Generals by Work and Lincoln, the Cabinet, and the Generals by Hearn. I have long intended to carefully read these and review them in tandem but the level of effort does not seem equal to any reward. David Work proposes that Lincoln's political generals paid off overall, that they were worth the trouble. His unforgivable sin (you see this in specialist histories one after the other) is to accept the general pop history framework of the war as his foundational context. Thus, for instance, there is the usual ignorant moaning and groaning about a lack of junior ex-West Point officers to go around at a time when the New York state militia alone outnumbers the entire United States Army. Chester Hearn, for his part, has a negative take on political generals, as pop history understands them, and he does the low information reader the good deed of suggesting that key Northern generals had important Cabinet patrons who influenced their careers. Here Mr. Hearn has bit off more than he can chew, topically, and given Hearn's constricted and conventional views, the book spoils an important piece of ACW history.

Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Civil War Virginia. This is a tidy little history and with three authors, they nearly outnumber the casualty list. The significance of Big Bethel, to me, was the validation of the division of authority between department commanders and military commanders of the department (recall that Butler's military commander at Bethel was tried for incompetence). Cobbs, Hicks and Holt don't deal in such conceptual matters but their material looks quite inviting.

The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War. This is a big think piece arguing that battle was once a trial, the verdict of which was binding on both parties. At first glance, this appears an overreach but the volume promises many hours of reflection. There is going to be additional interest in comparing its ideas to Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War, in which we find complementary themes, as well as Grenier's The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814, which interests itself entirely in wars of annihilation.

Calamity at Chancellorsville: The Wounding and Death of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Author Mathew Lively is an M.D. dealing with the last days of Jackson and if you read the Amazon reviews (five stars on average from 10 reviewers) this appears to be a rollicking narrative about the general's wounding and death. The extensive notes, on the other hand, tell us that there is historiography at work as well as dealings in the questions, Why do we think we know that? and How do we know that? I'm not conversant enough in this incident to tell if the material is given its due, but there is (at least) a complete appendix on the controversies surrounding Jackson's death.


Pope validating McClellan

We have all read of Pope's arrival in the east. The standout anecdote involves his message to the troops about "lines of retreat" and the "enemy's backs," etc. In some of the deeper histories, we encounter snippets of his July testimony to the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War (CCW), in parts of which he denigrated McClellan before Congress well in advance of their mandated cooperation.

But this same testimony (7/8/62) holds more interest than these two bits. In describing his initial plan of operations for the Army of Virginia (Pope was appointed June 26), Pope accidentally touches on the forces-defending-Washington controversy, the correct overland line of advance (McClellan's second Richmond campaign would take Pope's line), and the logic of interposing an army between the ANV and D.C. Have a look.

1. Pope's concept of McClellan's position
Pope tells the CCW (p. 106) that he initially intended to march the Army of Virginia (AOV) down the Valley and attack Richmond from the W/SW, cooperating with the Army of the Potomac (AOP) in the East. Given McClellan's recent change of position, Pope says, Lee could now "interpos[e] the whole body of the enemy between them [AOP] and Washington ... perhaps, endanger[ing] the safety of the capital..." This suggests that Pope perceived the defense of Washington to be the AOP's job while he would be free to move out of position (the front of Washington) in a strategic maneuver down the Valley. Events near Richmond, Pope seems to suggest, limit the AOP's defense-of-Washington capability. This causes Pope to revise his first plan of campaign.

2. Pope's concept of the operation
Pope says,
I am, therefore, now assembling them [his units] at points on the east side of the Blue Ridge, and at the outlets of the passes into the Shenandoah valley, and at points on the east side of the Blne Ridge, some twenty-five or thirty miles south of Front Royal, and immediately in front of the passes leading through the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah valley, occupying Culpeper Courthouse with cavalry, and at a point 20 miles in front, in the direction of Richmond, so that, in case any of the enemy's troops succeed in penetrating into the valley of the Shenandoah I occupy such a position that, by marching upon Gordonsville, I have a shorter distance to march than they will have in turning back, and shall be able to cut them off completely.
Pope envisions sealing the Rebels out of the Valley in the same way McClellan sealed Jackson in during his second attempt on Richmond. But isn't a march along the Blue Ridge leaving D.C. open to attack? Emphasis added:
I shall be in such position that in case the enemy advance in any considerable force towards Washington, I shall be able to concentrate all my forces for the defence of this place, which I propose to defend, not by standing on the defensive at all, or confronting the enemy and intrenching myself, but I propose to do it by laying off on his flanks and attacking him from the moment that he crosses the Rappahannock, day and night, until his forces are destroyed, or mine. I have no apprehension, with my troops stationed in that position, although I have but forty-three thousand men, that even eighty thousand of the enemy would be able to get to Washington at all.
Notice that the Rappahannock is made a test of intentions for an attack on Washington, oddly enough; that he mentions the possibility of the destruction of his army; and he proposes that in the worst case, Rebels would get through him to attack the capital if they number over 80,000. He is telling this to the people outraged by McClellan's plan for the defense of Washington and it is a wonder that hearing this they did not recall McClellan from the Peninsula immediately. He continues:
...my whole command is being now concentrated, and is now in the immediate neighborhood of the points I have designated. They have all been marching for the last four or five days, and some of them are now encamped where I intend to place them, and the bulk of them will be in the places assigned by them to-morrow.
The CCW asks how far he will be from Richmond when done moving. The answer is 90 miles away.
Question. The position you are now taking is the one which you deem the best to occupy for the time being, for the defence of Washington and the whole valley of the Shenandoah?
Pope answers yes. He views it as too risky to approach Richmond any closer.

3. The defense of D.C.
The CCW gets to a favorite topic:
Question. What will be the number of troops left in the intrenchments about Washington?

Answer. In numbers they will be about twelve thousand; in condition they are very poor, indeed. They consist of new regiments, perfectly raw, and broken fragments of old regiments sent here to recruit. The force is not an effective one by any means.
Breathtaking honesty. Pope will march along the Blue Ridge with an "ineffective" garrison in Washington and a guarantee that it will take more than 80,000 Rebels to get past him to attack the ineffectives. Recall that McClellan left Banks in the Valley with a Washington defense mission in addition to 20,500 troops in the capital (Wadsworth complained that he could only find 19,000 present for duty).

Pope's testimony suggests that the defense of Washington lies outside Washington.
... if they should come this way with a very large force, it seems to me that the only sort of defence of Washington I can afford, with the force I have, is to lie off upon the flanks of their army and attack them day and night at unexpected times and places, so as to prevent them from advancing. It will be· hard work, but I do not see anything else so likely to prevail against them.
The committee responds,
Question. Would you not in all these movements feel embarrassed with the knowledge that while you are moving forward on the enemy you are looked upon as the protector of the capital here?

Answer. No, sir; for I am fully convinced I am doing the best I know to effect that object. It is not necessary, in my opinion, in order to protect the capital, that I should interpose myself between the enemy and the place itself; in fact, it would be the very worst policy to do so now, for wherever I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks. By laying off on their flanks, if they should have only forty thousand or fifty thousand men, I could whip them. If they should have seventy thousand or eighty thousand men, I would attack their flanks and force them, in order to get rid of me, to follow me out into the mountains, which would be what you would want, I should suppose. They could not march on Washington with me lying with such a force as that on their flanks. I should feel perfectly satisfied that I was doing the best I could with my force, to dispose of them in that way. There is a sufficient force in the intrenchments here to protect the city against any sudden dash upon it, even of a considerable force.
Interesting that Pope thinks he could bottle up Confederates in the mountains but it does not occur to him they could to do the same to him. He does well, however, in the prophecy that "for wherever [before D.C.] I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks."

Where pop history is concerned, "the science is settled" and Lincoln is right where Pope and Mac are wrong; and yet, with regard to the defense of Washington, both generals were free to act on their conviction, Pope being even freer than McClellan in this...


ACW history and culture

The deep reader in Civil War history is on a cultural journey. His "cultural IQ" will be defined by reactions to subjects met on the way: 19th Century law and politics, military science, biography, religion, literature, society, music. The ACW signals an intellectual curiosity that is not limited to an interest in the ACW.

On the other hand, attendees at the go-getter vocational schools tend to focus, focus, focus and the focus is culturally fatal producing an outcome the Russians call "NYE KULTURNYE". These highly credentialed nye kulturny types have loads of degrees, contacts, and publications, but they completely lack in cultural curiosity or a general cultural development after college.

They are not people you would spend any time with. How well I recall my mother's contempt for the society of medical doctors (for instance) into which she had been condemned for life.

Ordinary Americans generally confuse credentials, branding, presentation, and prestige for what they call "smarts." The word "smart" here (stateside) covers everything from intelligence to learning to cleverness. The thing it does not cover is something Civil War readers immerse themselves in: culture.

If the MD and JD tend to be philistines, imagine what you have when you travel down the professional credential chain to the world of hotshot MBA candidates and wannabe investment bankers.

Here is what you have. Harvard students responding to "What [city] is the capital of Canada?" Gasp away.

More in a similar vein, on Lincoln.

The hits keep coming. The interviewer himself substitutes "gave to us" for "brought forth on this continent." We grammar schools students, living in the impoverished desert of the pine barrens, had to learn it by heart.

As this seems to be a dog-bites-man story, I'll desist from further updates.


Recycling the Grant craze of 2004

When Michael Korda's Grant biography popped out of the Grant publishing geyser of 2004, chances seemed remote that it would ever make it to paperback.

Sales were lackluster. Reviews were crippling. Mistakes abounded. It was derived entirely from two previous pop histories. Even the title was lifted.

It seemed a Christmas stocking stuffer cranked out by a Simon & Schuster lifer in the context of corporate  revenue targets.

Not paying much heed, the paperback edition slipped by me in 2009. S&S had unloaded the rights to Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins where it became a "bargain book" under the Perennial marque as part of a bio series. If you look at the positive reviews on Amazon, they are quite naive, smacking of the innocent and ignorant. Veteran readers are more inclined to comment, "the book reads, as another reviewer said, like a high school term paper."

Author Russel Bonds was recently browsing a B&N when he encountered this display of a new edition of Korda's Unlikely Hero. This is an illustrated edition, again put out by HarperCollins. As with the first edition, this is just in time for Christmas.

The venue for the display piqued my interest because the book you see displayed here is not for sale on Amazon, nearly as I can tell (Amazon carries only the old bargain book and that is only offered through third parties). Amazon tends not to carry the books of the publisher known as Barnes & Noble (search for them - I find only third parties selling B&N titles on Amazon). A little rivalry, etc., etc. But this embargo is not applied across the board to HarperCollins.

One wonders if the Korda reissue is hampered from being on Amazon by some sort of tie-in with B&N. Perhaps S&S sold the rights to HC with a B&N distribution caveat based on who knows what corporate machinations. In any case, the brief book is expensive ($35 list) and Korda's author page on S&S makes no mention of it, so it's not a joint publishing deal.*

The B&N reviewers seem of the same mix as Amazonians, with kudos coming from naifs ("It was interesting to learn about the essence of US Grant in a mere 176 pages rather than having to wade through a much larger book") and brickbats coming from veteran readers ("I would recommend this as an introductory biography of GEN Grant for middle school readers").

Before taking our leave of Unlikely, let's check in on the in-print/out-of-print status of the rest of the Grant books circulating in 2004.

Bonekemper, A Victor, Not a Butcher (Regnery, 4/04)
HB out of print (no reissue after 2004). PB issued 2010, out of print.

Bunting, Ulysses S. Grant (Times/Henry Holt, 8/04)
HB still in print, still 2004 edition. No pb.

Smith, Grant (S&S PB 4/02)
HB out of print. PB issued in 2002 still in print.

Perry, Grant and Twain (Random House, 5/04)
HB out of print. PB issued in 2005, still in print.

McFeely, U.S. Grant: An Album (Norton 11/03)
HB out of print. No PB.

McFeely, Grant (revised PB, Norton, 8/02)
Out of print.

Note: The out-of-prints are available from third party sellers, of course.

Afterthought: You look at this list and you wonder how the similar Chamberlain craze played out.

* This author page is remarkable. Consider that this man worked for decades at S&S and this is what they gave him.


The Whig Party returns

... to Pennsylvania, at least.

That would make three modern parties trying to out-Whig each other in every election: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Whigs (per se). Infrastructure! Education! Public works! Not to mention Banking! Banking! and more Banking!

p.s. Speaking of Pennsy revivals, as late as the 1970s, Henry George's political party lived on in PA. Used to see their bumper stickers in the middle and western sections.


Called forth

The image above shows engineers of the 8th New York State Militia in 1861 in federal service sometime after April 25th, when they mustered in. They were discharged August 2nd of that year, their national service finished. Here, they look fabulous for brand spanking new recruits, which, of course, they are not, despite their April enrollment.

Some other things they are not:
  • They are not random strangers thrown together in a hastily organized regiment
  • They are not equipped with strange or shoddy gear
  • They are not unfamiliar with the requirements of camp life, hygiene, organization, or drill. 
They are an abandoned resource of war.

 The North's tragic misuse and abuse of its militia hinged on three external (or structural) constraints.

The first was legal. The calling forth of the militia in 1861 was bound by rules set in the Militia Act of 1795. The militia could be called up for only three months and the states fulfilled the first call for federal volunteers by offering militia units. Their war was over in 90 days. In 1862, a new law allowed for nine-month militia call-ups, meat for a separate post.

The second constraint was precedent. The Mexican War had established a 1-1 parity ratio of federal volunteers to federal regulars in service for army efficiency. Winfield Scott in 1861 asked for an amount of volunteers equal to the expansion of Regular Army rolls he had planned. Lincoln gave this to him (and I think this was one of several Scott suggestions that cost him Lincoln's support). Instead of mobilizing the entire militia strength of the North, states were allocated slivers of the 75,000 quota.

A third constraint was in the strength levels of the militias. States had the tendency to liquidate companies of fewer than X strength but at irregular intervals. This irregularity resulted in many seriously understrength units being overwhelmed by new men rushing to enlist at the outbreak of war and diluting the experience, competency levels and professionalism of the units they joined. Add to this the problem of entirely new militia units with no experienced men formed out of the "thin air" of war fever for the sole purpose of being mustered into federal service as part of a Volunteer regiment.

Minnesota's federal quota was 780 men.At the time of Lincoln's call, "Minnesota could count on the services of one hundred and forty-seven officers, and about two hundred men" in various militia units. This is a small nucleus but entirely sufficient to create an efficient regiment. Instead of a consolidation around this core, the state saw a flurry of new companies of utterly green men formed and put into service. The state's adjutant general picked "ten lucky [new] companies ... to form the First Minnesota [Volunteers]," a military tragedy that would repeat itself throughout the North.

However the rush to the colors did not overwhelm all militia units or result inevitably in scratch (phony) militia organizations. In New York, the active militia outnumbered the Regular Army of the United States, totalling 19,189, including 36 general officers. New York's quota was for 17 regiments; on April 16, the state mobilized 11 of its regiments with an aggregate manpower of 7,334 officers and men. If we take a regimental strength standard of around 800-900, this is not at all bad for a peacetime organization. These units had insufficient billets for the many volunteers who wanted to join up in the first flush of war but they also had shortages in equipment that delayed their deployments. The thought of the entire "New York Army" being equipped, mobilized and deployed gives pause. Likewise, the effect of 19,189 experienced instructors being distributed across a large national army is worth a ponder.

It's astonishing to think of these regiments returning to New York to muster out after Bull Run. Some re-enlisted into the new federal structure, but the militia, as a system, as an organized military force, even as a reservoir of potential, seems to have been frittered away.


p.s. Speaking of reservoirs of potential, consider the enrolled militia. The enrolled were men required by federal law to enlist in the state militia - their counterparts were men who actually drilled, marched, etc., known as the "active militia." The 1853 ratio of enrolled/active in Massachusetts, for instance, is 116,546 / 5,809. The enrolled militia appears to have been a manpower pool neglected by Washington and by the states.


Competence and culture

My brigade commander had gotten into a rumination and had a hard time getting out again.

I was sitting in front of the colonel's desk staring at this framed photo of himself inside a body bag, soldiers standing around the bag crying as they waited for his corpse to be airlifted from some Vietnamese field. Through some great blessing he did not remain a corpse for  long. No doubt, mementos like these will drive you to reflection.

This colonel was old for that day with white hair and a long memory. The topic of the moment was lost competence. In Korea, i.e. the world outside our brigade HQ, the Communists had known how to use heavy machineguns while the U.S. Army in that day had less than a sliver of its WWI expertise still on the books. The colonel described Chinese ingenuity in using their Maxims. He rattled off one U.S. WWI heavy machinegun concept after another, wistful that we had lost them all and challenging me to imagine how useful they could be to my weapons platoon stationed near the DMZ all these years after the Korean War and the Great War itself.

But the culture had moved on. And though each of my mortar carriers had a heavy machinegun mounted on top,  the shooters would have been mortarmen, indifferent to the charms of direct fire and schooled under current doctrine (with minimal training) to do just four simple things, at most. The same condition afflicted our mechanized rifle platoons, oddly enough, who were more invested in training  with light weapons than with the powerful heavy weapons assigned to them.

How could this be? The WWI knowledge was still available to the Korean War generation, with veterans then in their 50s within easy reach. Even to us, in later days, we could access much through old manuals, memoirs, articles and such.

The culture, however, prohibited a resurrection of the old expertise. Our time and money were restricted, our doctrine did not permit what WWI crews were wont to do, and no one was going to watch, grade or praise us for doing what they could not understand and did not ask for.

This brings us back to the Civil War of course. The war starts with a major militia establishment on both sides. In the South, militia units are mobilized into the national army where they are ensnared by Davis's extension of every volunteer's term of service. (This may have more to do with CSA effectiveness than the proportion of West Point officers who went south.)

In the North, two things happened to the militia.

First, much militia got drawn into the early short term enlistments and then went home to sit out the war. The calling up and discharge of the rank-and-file volunteers was an artifact of the political culture, one that lost many experienced militiamen. Those militiamen arrived for duty capable of drilling, taking commands, organizing camps, managing bivouac life, taking orders, caring for equipment, and performing as soldiers. They represented a wasted training cadre, or even an NCO pool.

Second, experienced militia officers were left on the shelf. This is material for a very long post that boils down to a bottom line. Officers who could train, lead, organize, and drill were largely neglected. We all know the great scramble to resurrect the careers of junior federal officers, of Scott's refusal to spare Regular Army officers, and the desperate pleas of political generals for experienced soldiers and advisers.

One must add to this the situation of Mexican War officers who had served in U.S. Volunteer formations. As many of these, such as Robert Patterson, wound up in militia organizations, their fates were sealed by the fates of their various state militias. I do not know of any effort to recruit such men. The most prominent of them, Gideon Pillow, served in the South along with some contemporaries: was there a Northern equivalent to Pillow?

The Mexican War veterans were men who knew how to do. They had at least some grasp of the right maneuver for the right situation; the correct march formation for expected contact with the enemy; the disposition of the trains on the march and in camp; reconnoitering, picketing, etc.

They had the "technology" on hand that thousands would have to intuit, guess, or learn by doing. They were like the WWI machinegunners forgotten by the Army in Korea but with broader competencies that could have affected so much more. I saw this blog post published last week:
Competence is the real modernity and it has very little to do with the empty trappings of design that surround it. In some ways the America of a few generations ago was a far more modern place because it was a more competent place. For all our nice toys, we look like primitive savages compared to men who could build skyscrapers and fleets within a year... and build them well.

Those aren't things we can do anymore. Not because the knowledge and skills don't exist, but because the culture no longer allows it. We can't do them for the same reason that Third World countries can't do what we do. It's not that the knowledge is inaccessible, but that the culture gets in the way.
In that sense, the end of the Mexican War could be considered more modern that the beginning of the North's Civil War.
(Shown above, Joseph Johnson in 1852. He was company commander in the 55th N.Y. State Militia Regiment. The 55th! What if there were 54 more New York militia regiments at the outbreak of the war? Imagine the wasted knowledge and skills.)