The Free State of Southwest Virginia

Hattaway and Beringer mention The Free State of Southwest Virginia in their Jefferson Davis book but I can find no trace of it on the WWW or elsewhere.

This site would have provided a natural home for it ... but no mention.


Civil War memes in Zamoyski's Napoleon, A Life

I was startled by the number of Civil War history memes found in Adam Zamoyski's Napoleon, A Life.

Recall a topic as trivial as the length and duration of a military march. Short marches infuriate Civil War authors, yet,
The Austrian Army operated like a machine, observing tested routines such as only marching for six hours in twenty-four.
Six hours in 24? In their marching, the armies of North and South outdid Bonaparte's professional nemesis time and again.

Cultivating the troops
Historians' accounts of soldiers' love for their Civil War generals feature McClellan and Joe Johnston. More ink is spilled on McClellan's techniques than Johnston's but both resonate here:
His treatment of the troops under his command had been designed from the start not only to make them more effective as fighting men, but also to turn them into *his* men.

He had developed a gift for talking to the men as equals.

While he tightened discipline, he took care to flatter the soldiers' self-esteem, making throwaway statements such as "With 20,000 men like that one could conquer Europe!" He described their feats of arms in superlative terms in his proclamations.

A mixture of growing self-confidence and the urge to earn praise fed their eagerness to live up to their expectations of them.
Political relations
One Zamoyski's threads concerns Napoleon's flattery of the Directorate. In our sphere, McClellan is best known for his private disdain for his political masters. But note that
He [Napoleon] had experienced a great deal over the past year, and had learned much about himself and others, about war, politics and human affairs in general. Most of it ... had lowered his opinion of human nature.
Historians give McClellan pride of place for antagonism towards an entire government and Joe Johnston gets a runner up spot for his antagonism towards a president. Yet historians tend to overlook McClellan's efforts to cultivate his political masters just as they cast a veil over Robert E. Lee's relations with Jefferson, whitewashing these as "close" or "ideal" instead of sycophantic. (Seek out all the flattery in Lee's communications to take your own measure.)

Meanwhile, if Grant seems apolitical, read Simpson's Let Us Have Peace. See also Meade's letter to his wife gloating that neither he nor Grant voted in the 1864 presidential election. That looks apolitical but shows disdain for both Lincoln and the Democratic ticket.

Complaints about supplies and support
The ACW historian often credits Southern supply shortages while disputing Northern claims of such from McClellan, Buell, Rosecrans, etc.
Bonaparte's despatches to the directory were no less hyperbolic. [...] At the same time he stressed his lack of equipment ... To Carnot he expressed his "despair, I could almost say my rage" at not having the tools with which to do the job...
Throne or scaffold
Zamoyski gives us a thought that sums up the fate of outsize military figures.
... one of the army victuallers ... wrote to a friend that he could see "no end for him [Napoleon] other than the throne of the scaffold."
In Civil War history, only three men made it to this crossroads: McClellan (scaffold), Grant (throne) and Lee (scaffold).


The new revolutionary war

With the fall of Richmond, Jefferson Davis proposed to carry on the war in the style of the American revolution.

This is as much as we get from those historians who write past Appomattox and it leaves much to the imagination. The clarifying explanations are in the record, however.

As early as the fall of Vicksburg, Davis wrote to BG Reuben Davis (emphasis added):
I hoped that the popular confidence in Genl. Johnston would have given him large reinforcements by the uprising of the people. Why was it not so? [...] Let every man who can bear arms rush to the rescue. Regard the army as a nucleus, not as the force on which the country depends solely for defense.
Very helpful text and no great burden on the reader's comprehension, considering the light it sheds on this topic.

It seems a peculiar ask of Johnston, though, to have him organize a mass uprising. IIRC, he and Beauregard, with "large reinforcments" of  Virginia militia at their disposal, had them dig trenches at Centreville. This particular "armed uprising of the people" finished Bull Run as laboring bystanders.

It also seems odd that Davis, whose government by 1863 relentlessly drafted state-enrolled militiamen, could envision any armed uprising of the populace. What people, with what arms? The design of the CSA war machine made this impossible.

That tiny residue of militia husbanded by Gov. Joe Brown against the depredations of Davis' government gave good service against Sherman's march and a glimpse into a potential revolutionary war that might have survived April 1865 had the Confederate military been organized on a completely different basis.

[Quote from Jefferson Davis, Confederate President by Hattaway and Beringer]


When history repeats itself

Mr. Lincoln's Army, Catton, 1951

Mr. Lincoln's Navy, West 1957

Life in Mr. Lincoln’s Navy, Ringle, 1998

Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy, Joiner 2007

"Mr. Lincoln's Navy," National Museum of the American Sailor 2019


Francis Preston Blair (Sr.) remains history-proof

At that time at which Fremont is relieved, and later when McClellan must be restored, there appears in Civil War military histories a shadowy advisor to the president named Francis Preston Blair, sometimes styled "senior."

He is introduced, if at all, as a former confidant of  Andrew Jackson. To military historians, politics is so marginal, so irrelevant to their narratives of personal achievement and earned rewards, that only to them can this equation make sense: Anti-Whig Jackson + Super Whig Lincoln = Special Advisor F.P. Blair, Sr.

Deep readers are baffled by such nonsense. We have wondered, since the Centennial, what a Jackson stalwart was doing in Lincoln's confidence (and vice versa). The answers are easy to access but seem to be unknown even to political and general writers.

Look at this.

Doris K. Goodwin, in Team of Rivals, makes many references to Blair.

* He "prophesies" Edward Bates winning the 1860 election
* He gives a speech for Bates
* He recommends his son for postmaster general
* Lincoln "liked" him
* He advised Lincoln on the Sumter crisis
* His family supports McClellan as commander
* He dissuades McClellan from sending a letter of protest after relief
* His family defends a Maryland man in a controversy
* Lincoln keeps his door open to "the Blairs."
* Lincoln accepts a message from him
* He comments on Chase resigning from the Cabinet
* He conveys son Montgomery's offer of resignation from the cabinet
* He has "never been turned away" from "private audience" with Lincoln
* He seeks a new post for his son
* He meets Chase after Lincoln's death

At no point do we learn who he is or why he has access to Lincoln. Goodwin does not seem to know that Edward Bates was Blair's checkmate to the Seward nomination, making Lincoln's presidency possible. She seems not to know that Blair had two cabinet members, both Montgomery and Edward Bates. She neglects much more.

James McPherson, in Battle Cry of Freedom, makes only a few references to Blair.

* He is a Republican leader (undefined)
* Bates versus Seward in 1860 is a Francis P. Blair plot
* "The Blairs" were "border state tycoons"
* The Early raid on DC damaged Blair homes
* Late war peace negotiations were an intrigue by this "old Jacksonian"

And that's it. We don't even have him conferring with Lincoln, although we now know he is some kind of Republican, that Seward is his foe and that Bates is his puppet. This is good but wasted by underdevelopment. The reference to tycoon is important, more on which below.

Reading between McPherson's lines, one could surmise that the "team of rivals" represented a split into two Republican factions, "the Blairs" and Weed-Sewards.

David Donald in Lincoln provides the least information.

* Blair was an "associate" of Lincoln
* He "forced his way into Lincoln's office" during Sumter
* Lincoln relied on "the Blairs" for "guidance" on Missouri politics
* He favored deportation of blacks
* He favored McClellan
* He favored son Montgomery's plan to remake the cabinet
* He was involved in the dismissal of Montgomery from the cabinet
* He was a "loyal conservative advisor"

Anyone reading this has the right to wonder if Donald knew anything at all about the senior Blair. However the reference to being an "associate of Lincoln" is important.

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln, A Life:

* Blair commented on the formation of the 1860 cabinet
* Lincoln used him to offer R.E. Lee command of the Union Army
* "The Blairs" backed Fremont's Missouri command
* "The Blairs" promoted colonization schemes
* Quotes correspondence of F.P. Blair
* Refers to Blair support of Lincoln in 1864
* Involved in Montgomery's resignation
* Urges Montgomery's appointment to office

If we took all these snippets together, we would have the beginning of a rationale for why Blair might have had continuous access to Lincoln. For my part, I assumed him for many years to merely be the "family spokesman" for brothers who were key politicos in Missouri and Maryland, this despite the demerit of himself having been a Jacksonian.

Francis P. Blair, along with his "associates" Lincoln, and Weed-Seward, founded the Republican Party at the national level. He (and Weed-Seward) competed to fund races nationwide and build the party from early days, Blair using his "tycoon" funds. Blair chaired the first Republican convention. He engineered Fremont's presidential nomination in 1856. In the second national convention, he engineered Seward's defeat which created Lincoln's opportunity.

Until 1864, who could tell whether Blair or Weed-Seward would come out on top in the national Republican Party? Lincoln kept both factions close.

Blair's end is marked by Montgomery's failed cabinet reorganization plan. His father would have become a special advisor to the president, such as to be a virtual "dictator." He aspired to be the head of government, a role that Seward attempted to secure in 1861 and likewise failed.

And in the nominating process of 1864, the key role of Francis P. Blair is superseded.

Expect Civil War history to continue to spare you such useless and painful minutiae.

(This post reworks elements found here.)


A new year revelation

The New York Times list of top Civil War books may be the saddest thing you ever read but this can make you sad as well.

Pop history is an impersonator, roaming the room soused, boasting its history credentials, breathing its cheap sensibilities into your face, offering nothing but the drunk's stock-in-trade of nostalgia, stories, emotions, drama and "life lessons." You finish whatever show/book/podcast recalling the smell of puke.

Good news: I'm growing wiser. I used to hold Civil war history in unique contempt but have learned that pop history is all bad, everywhere, and at all times.

I won't be as hard on our wretched ACW books any more. Perspective at last.


Happy New Year

Much to share in 2019. Humble request, however. If you are not subscribed to this blog, please stop accessing it.



Quartermaster Meigs

Remember when one subtitle was enough? Here we have The [emphasis in original] Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs * Lincoln’s General * Master Builder of the Union Army.

So, our problems start with the title. Really, Meigs reads out as Seward’s general, later becoming Stanton’s general (Lincoln appears disinterested from first to last). As for "Master Builder of the Union Army," as I have said before, there were two, McDowell and Franklin, who as staff officers under the direction of Salmon Chase created the tables of organization and equipment under which the Union armies fought. Meigs’ job was to provide the equipment and supplies specified by McDowell and Franklin and approved by Simon Cameron.

"Master builder" appears wordplay on his engineering and construction history. In this builder phase, the Capitol architect called Meigs “a military upstart who happens to have the power to annoy.” More than an insight, this might be a paradigm.

With Quartermaster, the less you know about Meigs, the more enjoyable the read. Author Robert O’Harrow Jr. is a Washington Post reporter who moves the story briskly past multiple scandals and crises. This may be the publisher’s preference. Simon & Schuster’s mass market likely has no time for “scholarly minutiae.” So, when Meigs bungles a foreign procurement early in the war, Congress bans foreign military imports for the duration. No foul, no harm? Certainly, no blame, no details.

The Fremont procurement matter gets a little more attention than Meigs’ many others disasters. Even so, we get the data needed to see that this story is not on the level:
Meigs permitted [Quartermaster Justus] McKinstry to buy as he saw fit and, in an emergency, even to set the prices.
Meigs told McKinstry and Fremont to follow proper contracting procedures whenever possible and to send proposals and bids to Washington for review.
This is called a double bind. It is a CYA trap. Consider
Meigs … had passed on every [McKinstry] request for funding to the Treasury with alacrity.
Yet it is McKinstry and Fremont who appear at fault here. (Seek out McKinstry’s detailed rebuttal to the Administration’s charges - they are not mentioned here.)

After Antietam another supply crisis erupted, one where Meigs disputed the number of sound horses delivered to the AoP. Yet by January 1863,
Meigs eventually acknowledged a crucial shortcoming of his system, saying that there were not nearly enough knowledgeable inspectors to cull out lame animals ...
The quantities were significant. The War Department established a Cavalry Bureau to remedy Meigs’ inefficiency but the author implies that this mid-war improvement might be a credit to Meigs. Meanwhile two years of horse shortages have passed.

Meigs’ actual work life is a mystery. He gets in early and stays late but we have no idea what he does to fill those office hours other than exceed orders, redefine his responsibilities and obnoxiously overreach into others' portfolios. One suspects that the largest part of his wartime job was just signing papers and answering questions. That is not building an army. And we don't know if he did this himself or he delegated it.

O’Harrow has access to Meigs’ prewar diaries which raises other questions.

Meigs spends the Buchanan years complaining about Secretary of War Floyd’s corruption – was Meigs a facilitator of that corruption? How much work did he give to Floyd's friends?

O'Harrow also says, introducing G.B. McClellan, that he came from a “rich family.” Actually the McClellan family lived on the earnings of Dr. George McClellan, a colleague of none other than Dr. Charles Meigs (r) at Jefferson College in Philadelphia. Dr. McClellan was a founder of that college and prominent but not rich. How could these two doctors (and their families) spend decades at Jefferson with no social interaction worth recording? Did their children play? Did their spouses socialize? And while “rich” Dr. McClellan never supported his son that we know of, we see not-so-rich Dr. Meigs supporting his own son’s family for many years.

The diaries end before the Civil War. Mistakes continue. For instance Meigs arranges an evacuation of freedmen from Ile a Vache, “a faltering effort by Lincoln to create a colony…” This was not a Lincoln project but that of an entrepreneur named Harold Kock. It is Lincoln who rescues the colonists by directing Meigs to evacuate them.

As we go through the ACW, Meigs is treated as the Administration’s action officer doing a little of this and that. He starts the war as a captain and in terms of the way he is used, remains at that level despite his general’s rank. His large quartermaster war staff, the responsibilities of which we never learn, seems to free him for ever more special projects, projects worthy of an aide de camp.

Thus he finishes as he began.

He was never entrusted with a command; his responsibilities were divided up; and he never escaped the War Department or its intrigues. In his many corruption scrapes, he evaded censure. His attainments were shared attainments. His blunders caused death and prolonged the war..


Publishing industry snapshots

I used to do more with this but for now enjoy this industry site, filled with data and analysis.


Private ACW portraiture made public

The Army and Navy club has put its private art collection online. Have a look here and browse the whole site for more Civil War history paintings.


John Clem

Just encountered club member John Clem in our newsletter. The club account has him thrice wounded by age 13. It gives the number of 40,000 children enlisted and fighting in the ACW.

The internet version of his story are rather flat; he was a colorful celebrity who rejoined the army in peacetime.

Clem's exploits put me in mind of a movie I saw recently with many of the same elements present.

Ten-year-olds who run away from home to join a war and then stick with it are scarcer nowadays.


Civil War beer for discerning Civil War readers (Centennialists, stick to your Kool-Aid)

Antietam Brewery knows what's what. Unfortunately, the website does not include the text on the beer label (right). It says something like
Little Mac was loved by his troops for his concern over their lives, a concern that caused Lincoln to fire him.
That's near-enough history for a beer label, I think. And Mac is the only general honored with a beer label here. (IPA is not my style, but I'll make an effort to hoist some of these.)

The brewery has a Clara Barton beer as well but no Dorothea Dix. Call that a wash.

Civil War history is about choices; beer is about choices. Until Joe J, TJ or REL get honored in this way, beer history now belongs to this outstanding Civil War commander. Satisfying beer, satisfying history and all is right with the world.


The first Union mobilization

Every reader faces that early war event where Lincoln (spoiler alert: not just Lincoln) mobilizes 75,000 “militia” (spoiler alert: very little militia, per se) for 90 days or three months (spoiler alert: it’s not quite either).

We remember this milestone in part because it puzzles at first look: why that number of men and for that duration of service? This post looks at the Federal orders, the underlying law and then how some historians report on this mobilization.

Mobilization orders
The first striking thing about the mobilization order of April 15, 1861 is the signature section. It is signed by Lincoln and William H. Seward.

The second striking thing about it is how it copies the exact language of the 1795 militia act (“Militia Act”), a law that invests certain authority in the president with no reference to the secretary of state. Perhaps Lincoln wrote the order and Seward distributed it under his own name?

A third important thing about this order: it is only half an order. Although Lincoln and Seward refer to calling up 75,000 militia, the length of service is not given, even though the Militia Act specifies limits to that service. Lincoln and Seward refer to further “details” to be issued by the War Department.

A complete mobilization order would need the Lincoln/Seward order of April 15 (number of men) plus the Simon Cameron mobilization instruction dated April 15 (the “details” - duration and mustering information).

Duration of service
Cameron calls his message “the form of call on the respective state Governors for troops.” Thus Lincoln and Seward invoke the Militia Act and Cameron supplies the “how” whereby governors will comply. Cameron accidentally or intentionally crosses a statutory line by saying, “to serve as infantry or riflemen for three months, or sooner, if discharged.”

The Administration here reiterates the Act’s limits on individual service in a context where it really needed to specify the duration of its authority over the militia collectively. The executive branch has no authority over how long the militiaman serves: that is already specified in the law and can have no place in this order. The executive branch must specify the duration of the mobilization of units.

Note that the way the law is written, the emergency can outlive the availability of individuals. Units can be under federal control after their individuals have been released. This distinction is interesting and explains the strife over demobilization in the summer of '61. We have these scenes of officers appealing to their three-month men to volunteer to continue the war under a lawful federal direction that exceeds three months - past the period of statutory personal commitment.

The Act limits the president’s authority over the mobilized units providing a maximum duration of 30 days beyond the convening of the next Congressional session. This is a flexible deadline that could extend for the better part of a year or even several years (theoretically!).

Lincoln called for Congress to convene on July 4; thus his authority over the units could extend to August 3. Cameron, however, emphasizes to the governors the duration of mobilization as keyed to the individual’s three months. Depending on muster speed, Cameron’s units - governed by personal demobilization timetables - could end service as early as July 16. Mind the gap! If it takes three weeks to muster in, only then do Lincoln’s and Cameron’s timelines match up.

The Act says: “no officer, non-commissioned officer, or private, of the militia, shall be compelled to serve more than three months after his arrival at the place of rendezvous, in any one year...” Cameron uses “rendezvous” in his own communiqué to indicate the in-state mustering points. But could not the federal government have instead specified rendezvous points as federal camps in Washington, St. Louis, wherever? This seems another lost opportunity to conserve time.

In Lincoln, David Donald makes this accurate and insinuating comment: “the volunteer force would have to be disbanded earlier if the president called Congress into session earlier.” This implies Lincoln may have chosen his July 4 congressional summons to give him a full three months’ use of the force.

But Lincoln could just as well have convened Congress on September 4. The units would still have been under his authority by then though most of the men who made up the units would have exercised their rights to leave long before then.

Thus, the Administration seemed to view the practical matter of length of individual service as driving the entire mobilization. An interesting take on the law.

Now, once Congress convened it could have amended the Act to extend the individual's term of service and/or the period of mobilization. Why was this not done?

Lincoln and Seward: they specify how many but not for how long.

Cameron: he specifies for how long, shortening the statutory limit of presidential authority by tying it to the individual length of service.

Cameron's modification of the law, Seward's signing the mobilization decree, these are symptoms of the informality and ad hockery that would characterize Lincoln's entire time in office. In his Diary, AG Edward Bates makes no mention of reviewing the language in either Lincoln's or Cameron's messages. He would have harmonized them had he been allowed to.

Mobilizing “the militia”
Gov. Morgan of New York found the form of the mobilization destructive to “the distinctive character of the militia of the states.” The mechanism of that destruction is in Cameron’s message.

The levy on states is given as a number of regiments and a regiment is given as exactly 780 men. So the levy on New Jersey, for instance, is not for men as such, rather it is for four regiments of 780 men each. This devastated some of the existing militia organizations in ways we’ll explore in a later post.

The men of the United States lived under a system of universal military conscription into state militias, per the two federal militia acts of 1792 and the superseding Act of 1795. Every man who ever drew breath in the Civil War was a militia man, whether in federal service or out of it. (The few exceptions are not worth recounting.)

But what was a militia in 1861? There was the compulsory militia and the volunteer militia. The compulsory militia (required by the Act) had deteriorated in many states from active units to a mere roster of eligible men subject to call up. It was a draft roll which maybe held an annual muster. The volunteer militia, on the other hand, was comprised of men who had been exempted from the compulsory militia to form standing, active military units under state charters.

The Cameron message views the militias not as units ready for combat (volunteer militia) but rather as random individuals to be formed into brand new regiments (volunteers from the compulsories). And this is overwhelmingly what the governors supplied.

These were not militia units in any meaningful sense; it’s as if men off the street had joined the U.S Volunteers directly. Cameron: “to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your state, the quota designated in the table below...”

Although some militia units kept their pre-war character during the mobilization, the militia regiments generally were scratch forces of men mobilized for temporary federal service into new formations.

One imagines the War Department drafting Cameron’s message with an eye toward uniformity, ease of supply, efficiency. Efficiency is not effectiveness.

Who is the author of the number 75,000?
David Donald in Lincoln says Lincoln was acting on Scott’s advice in choosing 75,000 as his force ceiling, despite other advice (not saying from whom) of 200,000 men and 300,000 men.

Michael Burlingame, in Volume 2 of Lincoln: A Life, says “The Cabinet also considered the size of a militia force to call up. Some favored 50,000; Seward and others recommended double that number. Lincoln split the difference and decided to ask the states to provide 75,000 men for three months.”

Goodwin in Team of Rivals matches Burlingame’s explanation of the 75,000 but has nothing to say about the period of mobilization.

McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom does not explain the 75,000 and cites the Militia Act as reason for the duration of mobilization.

So we have no good explanation of how this number was arrived at and no complete discussions of the mobilization itself. And "splitting the difference" is yet another disturbing thread of informality that runs through this entire episode.

In sum
The Union mobilization of the militia is one of many complex Civil War events glossed over by the storytellers, leaving readers satisfied that they understand an event when they actually misunderstand it. Its deep meanings on many levels should repay much more study.

Update: The figure 1,780 has been corrected to read 780.


William Manchester exposed

Yet another lying historian... who had no need to lie.



NYT: Best ACW books

Did not know that the New York Times extended its authority worship or influence peddling into ACW nonfiction, For the authority seekers who crave the Times, this is essential and non-negotiable. The history is settled. For the rest of us, read this for amusement. Let loose the wisecracks.

p.s. The people who think that these are good books are telling us what to think about contemporary issues.

Reading levels

The great thing about being 65 is you read at the 65-year-old level.


Pop quiz

Hello, Civil War readers! Let's take a quiz.

Francis Preston Blair was the father of Frank and Montgomery Blair. We find him advising President Lincoln. The alert reader wonders why this fellow is advising Lincoln and looks to the historian for a clue. The writer feels the need to give a clue and offers one very brief biographical note.

The purpose of this quiz is to see if that note registered with you as with me.

Question for you: Relying only on your memory of past readings, Who was Francis Preston Blair? Aside from father of his sons, what one thing comes to mind?

Please take a moment to consider this before reading further.

If you had asked me any time in the past 30 years, I would have said (as so many historians have said) "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." The reason I remember this is from frustration: why is a Jackson man advising a super-Whig?

Lately I've been reading Frank Blair, Lincoln's Conservative, where the Preston information startled me. Looking into other sources, I see that old man Blair was

* Founder and co-organizer of the national Republican Party
* Chairman of the 1856 Republican Party Convention
* Co-organizer of the Maryland and Missouri Republican Parties
* Sponsor/patron of Gov./AG Edward Bates and Charles Fremont
* Foe and counterweight within the Party to the Seward/Weed faction.

This is my list - I built it from multiple sources. Historians being very stingy with facts and information, I had to gather these crumbs over the period of a week.

Now I ask you, if an historian was going to say just one thing about old Preston Blair, it seems that ANY of my points would take precedence over "an advisor to Andrew Jackson." Advisor to Old Hickory would appear near the bottom of the list. Not relevant but more colorful than party founder and leader.

Is it my bad memory, is it a handful of bad reading experiences, or could this be a more general problem? Perhaps the secret identity of Francis Preston Blair is another indicator that we are ill served by ACW historians.

It's good to mock Civil War pop history

... as Althouse does here:

Wait. I thought the Civil War was inevitable and no President could have averted it.

Is inevitable history even history?

I like the way that here Pierce's debility becomes a cause of the war (an interesting contributing cause?). And I was shocked that no one in the press had enough history to understand Trump's recent Jackson reference. Teach the children:
“I expect soon to hear that a civil war of extermination has commenced,” Jackson said, musing about arresting the Southern leaders and then hanging them....


Sears' "Generals"

The esteemed Russell Bonds finds a few good things in Stephen Sears' latest.

Whenever I feel so inclined myself, I go back and read this post.


Get Nelly

I bought Lincoln's Generals' Wives by Candice S. Hooper to read more about Mary Ellen McClellan. Something on the Internet led me to believe that here were letters and diaries from the Library of Congress used to compile the Nelly chapters. Indeed there were: five letters and a few short, tiny diaries; I did not find these referenced in the notes. It seems likely that Sears used them and Ms. Hooper cited the relevant Sears material.

For indeed Sears is all over this Mary Ellen McClellan account and the recapitulation of Centennial military history makes up the bulk of Nelly's chapters, perhaps 75% or more (citations too to Catton, Williams, even the plagiarist Nevins). Think of this as a meditation on how a very bad man can feed the worst instincts in his wife and you get the sense of it -- except for a plot twist in Nelly's alleged bad attributes also feeding George's.

Like many innocent readers, Ms. Hooper is shocked by McClellan's view of Lincoln and his cabinet, thinking it singular. This is because she has not digested the diaries of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, Attorney General Edward Bates, the correspondence of Postmaster Montgomery Blair or many of the politicians and generals dealing with the Lincoln Administration. Of course a sensible writer has to explain to readers how anyone and his wife could hold such views.

You know the usual answers: psychological pathologies and character failings.

Depending on secondary sources and pre-packaged primary sources, Hooper misses the fine print in her derivative readings; she does not know that these are the Marcys of the Albany Regency; she has no idea that Lincoln worked for McClellan at the Illinois Central, referring to Civil War "first impressions" that never were. There are no descriptions of McClellan family life here, for she has not touched Max McClellan's papers at Princeton. In her 1864 survey she is oblivious to the project of the McClellan-Fremont fusion ticket and Jesse Fremont's possible role in that.

We don't know what music Mary Ellen liked, what instruments she played, what things she read, what plays she favored, what child rearing she did or even what she thought of McClellan's friends. If she had a social circle, it is not found here.

Child rearing, no; battlefield narrative, yes. Establishing households in Trenton, New York, Orange, no. Psychological speculations, yes. Empathy and interest, no. Elaborations on culpability, very much.

The deficiencies stack higher than at a CCW hearing.

When the Centennialists have so worn down their readers that the fresh material nowadays consists of attacks on the wives of men on the wrong side of Lincoln, we can say a publishing trend has run its course.


For a good summary of Nevins' crime, see here and scroll down in this link. Such are the critics of Civil War generals. Hooper quotes Nevins' Pathmaker in her Fremont chapters without commenting on its poisoned content.


Civil War operas

Civil War operas are proliferating. A few I missed:

Freedom and Fire!

Cold Mountain

The Dream of a Good Death: A Civil War Folk-Rock Opera

Rappahannock County

My Civil War

What's interesting here is the idea, among producers, that the Civil War history crowd might be as arcane and fringe-y as American opera goers.

Or maybe they think that ACW readers will buy tickets to anything ACW-ish.


The ghost of Civil War past

The Confederacy’s 9th Kentucky Infantry had a drama club.

Among prisoners of war, and "Chess was the principal game, and the demand for chessmen created quite a business for a former prisoner who had erected a turning lathe."

Civil War bands "provided [soldiers] a daily acquaintance with opera melodies..."

During the Great Revival of '63-64, "Night after night troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to ministers proclaim the good news."

These people were nothing like us.


Light my cannon ball

Another one of those stories where the reporters and city officials are too ignorant and illiterate to explain what the problem might be:
Museum calls in bomb squad fearing possible Civil War cannon ball explosion.

Hat tip to a dear reader. Best line in the story, "...the cannon balls and artillery rounds did not have fuses and would not have exploded without having been lit, according to the Associated Press."

Let's have no smoking signs around those cannon ball stacks near the historic cannon displays.


Ramblin Spokes, ACW author: Best ways to blurb

Hello again, readers and aspiring authors!

Many a time has Ramblin been asked to blurb a book he hasn't read. As you become successful, this will happen to you. Let me help.

I  read a lot of blurbs on Civil War book jackets. It's a quick, fast, fun way to save time and energy. The material I find there, I add to my stockpile.

This guy decided to pen a navy book and asked for my opinion. I wasn't going to spend a lot of time plowing through somebody's rehash, so I said
Successfully demonstrates the navy's importance to the Union victory in 1865.
Quick and easy. He was not entirely satisfied, so I added
Places this naval scholarship in the larger context of the war.
I gave him a quick and easy context win. But I didn't want him bothering me again, so I added
A welcome addition to the literature.
Of course, every addition to the literature is welcome.

Different example: somewhere, some fool is writing yet another book about Chamberlain. You would waste time reading it. How do you blurb it? Here are some ideas:
Anyone with an interest in Chamberlain, the Civil War, Bowdoin College, postwar Maine, or any combination thereof, will enjoy it.
Sounds good but is noncommittal. Sort of like "Anybody with an interest in anything will enjoy this."

In the same vein:
His words serve as a reminder that the experience of war remained with the veterans long after the guns fell silent.
I don't even understand that sentence and I wrote it.

Of course, you always need a plan B. If the book is a total stinker and you would be humiliated to endorse it, you can still praise the intro, foreword or both:
His introduction and the foreword supplied ... are the best summary of Chamberlain's life and legend I have read.

Give every book it's due using Ramblin's simple rules of blurbing.



Are there any good books on the election of '56? It seems as interesting, at least, as that of 1860.

We have all of these ACW figures in play (except Lincoln): Seward, Chase and Sumner withdraw from the Republican contest to favor Fremont.

The North American Party features a Fremont vs. Banks effort, with an agreement in which Banks is to throw the nomination to Fremont.

Somehow, our shiftless historians are loath to make connections among these personalities and  events four years later.

Is it not "natural politics" that Lincoln's hand would be forced to find a place for Fremont, the bigger and better Republican star? That he would try to capture the support of Fremont's backers for his own administration?

Is it not natural that Fremont's star backers would support him in the early war?

Is it not natural that Lincoln would try to hamper Fremont politically? That his wrongdoing would backfire into a Fremont reinstatement? That after the reinstatement he would continue to undermine Fremont?

What seems logical and natural to us seems fantasy and science fiction to the consensus historians.


Amazon book sales: protected data?

The activity of Amazon vending is a counterpart to and competition for Ebay selling. Both activities have lots of third party tools on the market to help sellers in either venue.

Recently, I have been looking at one product that provides useful sales-related data on any item you want to look up on Amazon. My feeling is that some of the data is extrapolated from sales rankings and other data is based on ratio algos keyed to the software designer's personal sales experience.

These tools sell well and are not bogus, although the black box element is troubling.

Here is a screen shot of the output from one such tool. The analytics are in the box on the right (click to enlarge). This is generated for anything you look up -- with one product exception.

When you use the tool to look up a book, no such information displays.

Makes you wonder.


Wartime state militias

Churchill said (I think) that the Balkans have so much history, they need to export much of it. In the same sense, Georgia's Civil War militias have so much history, it will take a series of books to survey it all.

Appendix 1 of Joe Brown's Pets, The Georgia Militia, 1861-1865, gives a nice enumeration of all the militias of the war. The title of this work, however, is misleading: it concerns mainly the First Division, Georgia Militia, formed in 1863 and recounts its adventures in and after the Atlanta campaign.

At 385 pages (richly illustrated, many nice appendices), the reader gains a sense how how large the subject of Georgia militias might be.

A shorter but similarly thorough book, issued in 1987, is Joe Brown's Army, The Georgia State Line, 1862-1865. The State Line might be considered railroad defenders and some of the interest here is how Brown fended off attempts to conscript these men into CSA service.

These being rich militia histories, they raise some interesting points.

The first is from a general theme from William B. Hesseltine's important work, Lincoln and the War Governors. Hesseltine showed us a power struggle between the states and Lincoln for control of the early war (and as I have mentioned here before, bringing McClellan east was Lincoln's way of capturing the governors' chief war strategist and planner).

To generalize from Hesseltine's concepts, a federalized war places the states at the mercy of national defense forces, concentrating power in the executive. This was more the case with the CSA because it implemented a draft early and conscripted whatever militiamen could not be protected by Joe Brown's out of state counterparts. Meanwhile, with conscription coming later in the North, the Union militia retained a complementary purpose in the war effort.

It seems that Davis intended to have militarily weak states dependent on a strong, national military force. Perhaps a state-by-state militia survey will prove this view wrong. For the moment, Georgia appears an exception.

The second issue that strikes one in reading these Georgia militia books is how politicians misunderstood military effectiveness. To an outsider, it appears that they thought organization equals effectiveness after a dash of experience was added. This is also true of the North where in my research I see one long-standing, mature military unit after another cannibalized into total rubbish during the mobilization.

Which leads to my final point. We look at these wartime militias, Pennsylvania's, Georgia's and others, and we tend to retrofit what we see onto the pre-war militias ... a terrible mistake.

Often, the wartime militias were scratch forces with no cohesion, little or no training, a jumble of strangers.

In a separate post, I'll recount the destruction politicians inflicted on the mature, experienced prewar militias, North and South.


Ramblin Spokes, Civil War author: Beware the archive!

Hello again, would-be readers and writers! Let Ramblin Spokes, seasoned seller, help you with that book or article that you've worked so hard on.

I am always surprised when some author mentions visits to "the archive," as if this is going to help research in some way. Your reader has an archive, don't you know? And if you pop a weird fact on him, he will go to his own archive, a shelf full of best-selling books, to check you out.

And you will FAIL every such fact check every time.

Research all you want, any way you want, but at the end of your writing, you must check your manuscript against a stack of best sellers to VALIDATE your work. That is the only way to avoid serious embarrassment.

Someone may object, "Well what if best sellers don't agree on some point." I have never seen that happen, have you? Let us, for the sake of argument, say they did. How would you resolve that? You would run with the author who had sold more than the other author!

Pretty simple, right?

Well what if some mass medium puts out Fact A and some best seller puts out Fact B? How can you determine the truth?

Here is an example of one such dilemma. National Public Radio says "When a group of 11 Southern states tried to secede from the union in 1860, Abraham Lincoln said, you can't do that." I am checking Team of Rivals and it says James Buchanan was president in 1860. Problem! I am checking Battle Cry of Freedom and it tells me only one state had seceded in 1860. Another problem!

This NPR show probably had hundreds of thousands of listeners. But Team of Rivals and Battle Cry of Freedom had more readers combined than the NPR show has listeners. That is how we get at the truth.

It's not brain surgery, my friends, so do your research right.


Curious booklists

A reader writes:
I was looking at Amazon’s “Civil War” bestsellers:

1. Lincoln (O’Reilly)
2. Lincoln (Team of Rivals
3. Grant
4. Lincoln
5. Harriet Tubman children’s book
6. Darwin (?)
7. Slavery
8. Thomas Meagher
9. Battle Cry of Freedom
10. Lincoln
11. Lincoln’s White House . . . .

Doesn’t anybody write about Confederates anymore?
Or want to read about them?


Premature planning for the postwar (cont.)

Recently wrote about the business of planning for your spoils of victory while wallowing in the depths of defeat.

Ran into this passage in Miles Copeland's autobiography. He was surprised by "the long-range thinking" he saw at ETOUSA HQ. There was "a dinner conversation .. with one of the British civil servants..." who said:
Here we are, about to do battle with the most highly trained, disciplined and well-equipped army the world has ever known, matching our Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton and the other second-raters against real honest-to-God generals, yet we can safely assume we are bound to win. You know all we've got going for us?
The answer was ambiguous and convoluted so we'll need one of our own.

Curious how the post victory planning starts on day one of the war and never seems to let up, regardless of events on the battlefield.


Effects based operations

The starting point for any analysis of the Civil War must begin with two facts sometimes mentioned, never much developed: The South could not destroy the North's material ability to generate armies. The North could not destroy the South's will to survive.

In this way, the two sides were mismatched. The North was condemned to fight military campaigns for military outcomes and the South to wage political campaigns for political effects.

For the South, an offensive aimed to score points against the North's political resolve. A defense aimed to preserve Southern instruments of power.

For the North, an offensive aimed to destroy Southern instruments of power. A defense was to deny the South political advantage.

We should look at the CSA crossings into Northern states in this light. We should also use it to recalibrate our understanding of outcomes.

The Western Virginia campaign, for instance, represented no military intention and its victories were not military victories. They improved Northern political resolve, handing Davis a setback on his own terms. In the same sense McClellan's change of base denied Davis the kind of victory he needed - one with ill political effects.

Lincoln was trapped throughout the war by the need to deny Davis effects-based victories while pursuing the purely military end of destroying war-making power. Davis had to avoid destruction of military capability while trying to inflict fatal political effects on the Republican government.

Two of the starkest examples of "effects" that come to mind (though they were transitory) involve the tenor of the council (Davis, Johnston, Smith, Longstreet and Lee) after Fair Oaks and the signing of Lincoln's envelope by his Cabinet in 1864.

Sherman's march through Georgia failed, if seen as an attempt to turn tables on Davis by making "Georgia howl" and embarrass a hapless government. In terms of a Norther offensive "effects based operation," it was a failure, although it worked as a defensive effects based operation in helping re-elect Lincoln.

I touched on effects based operations in an old post. As a doctrine, it was formulated in recent times, This definition is useful and clear.

Military intellectuals picked up this ball and made an insanely complicated game around it. It was my personal experience that the military will pervert any fairly simple idea into a Mao Zedong Little Red Book guideline for living, thinking, being, breathing.

This well-earned backlash from Mad Dog Mattis (see especially the first few pages) attempted to rein in the crazies. No one below the strategy level need ever bother about effects based operations. I would argue that no soldier below four stars should ever even give it a thought.

My impression during the US war against Serbia was that "effects based operations" were a military rationalization, a strategy substitute where there was no strategy. This cannot be correct. Once the force authorizations were delimited to prevent total victory, military on military, both Clinton and the Serbs assumed the mantle of Jefferson Davis. Force was applied to try to reap political advantage. The staccato application of force seems random but tries for a cumulative effect.

In its simpler form, I think the idea of "effects based operations" is due for a comeback. I think it can be applied to Civil War history without being anachronistic.