Union corps commands: chaos at the top 3b/4

One of the striking things that personnel turbulence does is that it makes units stupider over time regardless of personalities, seasoning, or common sense. In 1864, the veteran AoP behaved bafflingly compared to the rookie outfit of 1862.

Failure was not a result of Meade's brainpower or Grant's newness or the stressful dual command system, it was the inevitable whirlwind reaped by all institutions at all times whenever subject to massive, constant, turbulent change.

As an infantry officer managing the transition from a draft army to VOLAR, this theme resonates with me. As a "Vietnam-era veteran" who heard endless complaints about the six-month tour of duty in Vietnam, I know a little about the ill effects turnover. Lucky was the Union corps commander who lasted six months.

In the next series of 1864 posts, the focal point is not the shortcomings newcomer Grant but amazing failures of the 1862 veteran Meade; and it is not Meade whose personal shortcomings are highlighted but the institutional effects of catastrophic levels of "normal" change in the AoP.

Meade ran the AoP. Meade was a model, indisputably a great fighting commander. At the AoP level, Meade commanded strangers who hardly knew their jobs or him or their subordinates. His situation, managerially, was terrifying.

28 May 1864:

I do not see why we are so long getting at our new position. It was just so when we went to North Anna; starting the first day with a forced march, and then dwindling down to what could be done in a few hours. They talk about McClellan's slowness getting up the Peninsula. It was quite as rapid as our movements here, without the excuse which he had of green generals and an unorganized quartermaster department. I do not believe our corps has met anything besides cavalry today, yet our corps has not averaged over three miles; the Ninth has not moved at all, and the others cannot have gone far.

- A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865.