High-Water Mark, part nine

In his seventh chapter of High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective , author Timothy Reese briefly recapitulates the (non)events that lost the victory at Crampton's Gap. I think analysis of the underlying questions here could make a satisfying 1,000 page book, however Reese's focus in this volume is to unravel the Maryland Campaign's central meaning, not to dwell on the whys and wherefores of individual failures.

Franklin unavoidably failed in this most consequential moment of truth, but McClellan must take the blame for placing him there alone. Realizing that the "key point of the whole situation" lay at Crampton's Gap, it was McClellan who shrank from matching the key moment with a key man – himself.

The conventional accounts of the campaign typically lament the lost opportunity to relieve Harpers Ferry or punish McLaws in Pleasant Valley. As Reese points out, it was Franklin's waste of McClellan's strategic opportunity that was much more damaging to the cause. This is the large point made in this chapter.

McClellan's anxious urgency to seize the moment was repeatedly deflected by Franklin's categorical uncertainty, which in turn was taken up by a readily disquieted McClellan who could only offer contingency advice for each concocted worry.

I will now detour around Reese's points to speculate briefly on the Franklin - McClellan dynamic after the battles in the gaps. Reese touches on Franklin's behavior as reflecting, in part, an engineering mindset and skill set misapplied to operations and tactics. Mark Snell mentions this in his Franklin biography.

Whether or not this was a factor, I think Franklin accepted an assignment he was uncomfortable with – we do that in life when we hate to say "no" – and this was exacerbated by the form of McClellan's communication on September 13. The orders to Franklin were pre-emptory, allowing only a "yes, sir." They came out of the blue and Franklin had no input until after the the order was in play, at which time he could input contingencies and (im)possiblities in status reports, as well as exercise his discretion to the detriment of McClellan's intentions. Franklin at this point strikes me as someone leading an ambitious project who has not bought into it - who has major issues with it. For my money, and this is intuitive, the failure after Crampton's Gap may have begun in McClellan not having Franklin in his tent to receive orders both orally and in writing. There are times one needs to look a subordinate in the eye and measure the conviction in his spoken agreement and to allow misgivings a voice. Having experienced the the soldier's reaction to the orders issued, one decides how much personal supervision is needed.

McClellan probably needed to be at Crampton's Gap regardless. Reese would say "definitely, not probably." That brings us back to the key to his chapter seven. There was a great waste of a vastly important victory and again, the opportunity created by Crampton's Gap was not about defeating McLaws in detail; nor does the failure to exploit this victory negate McClellan's intent; nor does it diminish the magnitude of the strategic disaster handed to Lee.

Thoughts to keep in mind until we return to High-Water Mark on Thursday.