Scott's operational art (cont.)

In his first coordinated offensive, Scott deployed a machine of many parts and the enemy was duly confused. It helped, too, that the enemy had sought to evacuate Scott’s main objective as the offensive unrolled.

Now, in his second offensive, Scott was simplifying. Stone and Wallace were joined to Patterson. Butler kept quiet. McClellan was rendered irrelevant by orders keeping him from joining Patterson. The overachievers – Butler, McClellan, Wallace, and Stone, were thus sidelined. There would be only two pistons in this machine, Patterson’s and McDowell’s.

McDowell had completely failed to occupy or “amuse” Beauregard in the first offensive. There was no inquiry or reprimand for McDowell: after all, Harpers Ferry fell and there was a healthy “redundancy” in the number of distractions presented the foe.

Now, in this offensive, there would be no distractions and both columns had to succeed. They were given difficult tasks. Each would have to fight a battle and win (Patterson’s was optional but always immanent).

No good plan requires 100% success from two underachievers, yet here was Scott boxing himself in.

The mark of this campaign is that Patterson’s mission was both incorrectly formulated by Scott and incorrectly understood by Patterson. I don’t mean this in the conventional sense conveyed by pop history (here we have arrived at another early war surprise gleaned by reading the sources). Patterson’s failing to occupy Johnston is of secondary importance at most. More on this in another post.

A second mark of this campaign is given in two planning failures of catastrophic and immediate effect. These are never discussed in Civil War histories and their stunning effects are glossed over by authors as if they were simple matters of everyday campaigning.

Scott’s failure to correctly conceive and frame Patterson’s role in the campaign and his improper reaction to two monumental staff blunders recast his offensive from a coordinated one at start - with leeway to adjust to circumstances - into a simultaneous one in which his underachievers had to overdeliver with exquisite timing.

More on this soon.