High-Water Mark, part five

We have been going through Timothy J. Reese's new book High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective. Where the author's previous work focused on the importance of Crampton's Gap as a keystone in the Maryland Campaign (Sealed with Their Lives: Battle of Crampton's Gap, Burkittsville, MD, Sept. 14, 1862), this new work places Crampton's Gap within the context of the pivotal campaign of the war.

Our progress has taken us to the fourth chapter, which analyzes McClellan's orders to William Franklin written in the early evening of September 13, 1862. Dense with ideas, I am afraid of oversimplifying the author's points for mere blogging purposes; nor do I have any chance of addressing them all - nevertheless...

Reese begins by noting the persistent misinterpretation (or perhaps underinterpretation) of McClellan's orders to Franklin. He observes nicely that McClellan's response to the Lost Orders (SO 191) is half again as long as SO 191 itself. Needless to say, it has received a tiny fraction of the consideration.

The order is loaded with contingencies that require extensive visualization of alternatives. Reese has helped enormously with terrific graphics.

The bare two contingencies historians generally allow McClellan's order is a breakthrough to Harper's Ferry and destruction of McLaws' command. The dumbing-down of these orders for history readers is a boon to Franklin, who is thereby portrayed as having generally followed (simplistic) instructions, though failing to destroy McLaws.

As Reese shows, ably helping his readers with diagrams, that among its possibilities, McClellan's order contained within in it at least two large and apparently contradictory missions: (1) relief of HF and (2) Franklin separating Longstreet from Jackson by means of what Reese calls a flying wedge interposing between the two wings by marching on routes west of South Mountain.

The contradiction is nominal because McClellan gave Franklin wide latitude to implement his orders - Reese thinks he could have scotched the relief mission entirely - and after the fall of HF, the relief mission became moot. Given the possibility of bottling up McLaws near the Potomac to implement a Napoleonic movement against Longstreet, Franklin used his broad mandate to choose to merely defend against a McLaws reinforced by Jackson. Thus Reese argues that McClellan's masterstroke at Crampton's Gap was lost through delegation.

None of this recapitualtion conveys the depth of Reese's thinking on the order; I feel as though I am impoverishing the poetry of McClellan's vision and Reese's distillation.

For those unfamiliar with these ideas, I hope I've at least given enough food for thought until Thursday, when we'll revisit this subject. One could also buy the book.