"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

With March's "Uptonian" plan off the table, Wadsworth and Palmer began designing their own army. This (after political give and take) became the National Defense Act of 1920. There is a handy summary of what follows in The Second World War: Asia and the Pacific. I excerpt here at length:
Palmer's ideas were not those of the majority of the Army's general staff officers, who were disciples of the pensive Emory Upton, the Army's most influential 19th Century theorist. [...] The staff had updated the "expansible army" of John Calhoun and modernized Upton; but while it had convinced a reluctant chief of staff, Peyton March, to support the plan, it could not sell the program to Congress.

Palmer recommended a citizen-based army, which he felt was far more appropriate for a democracy. In his plan, while the Regular Army would be the vanguard of the ground forces, the National Guard and the Organized Reserves would provide the bulk of the wartime army. Citizen officers would command most of the citizen soldiers. In peacetime, the Regulars would train their associates in the Guard and Reserves. While Palmer also hoped for universal military service [in Swiss-type reserves - DR], this unpalatable position was not acceptable in peacetime.

The old Hamilton-Jefferson controversy between a purely professional and a militia-based defense force had been resolved in favor, once again, of the militia. Palmer had proposed an army in the American tradition. Politically feasible, the proposal was favored and accepted by the Wadsworth Committee. The Army's official [March] program was discarded because it was too un-American, was so much of the philosophy of the Germanophile, Emory Upton. [...]

All of this looked good on paper, but unfortunately Congress did not provide sufficient funds to implement the National Defense Act [of 1920] fully until 1940.
In other words, the infamously puny and underfunded interwar Regular Army was "half a loaf" - just a slice of the Wadsworth-Palmer plan.

There is a profound lesson in this for military theorists and planners. There is also an odd twist. Palmer lived to see the Act of 1920 funded. He also lived to serve as the oldest American in uniform by the end of WWII (the picture, top, is from 1945).

p.s. To read more about the March-Palmer contest, you have to dig into out-of-print works like Toward a Post World War I Military Policy: Peyton C. March vs. John McAuley Palmer.


"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

Peyton March and John J. Pershing were the dueling prodigies of WWI.

In June, 1917, March was a brigadier general with the artillery. By May 20, 1918 he was chief of staff of the Army. Our friends at Wiki write
As Chief of Staff he reorganized the Army structure, and abolished the distinctions between the Regular Army, the Army Reserves, and the Army National Guard during war time. He created new technical branches in the service including the United States Army Air Corps, Chemical Warfare Corps, Transportation Corps, and Tank Corps.
March was an opinionated infighter with strong views on how the postwar army should be organized. He developed a plan that is nowadays called Uptonian, but it went far beyond anything Upton envisioned by many magnitudes.

March's plan represented a prevalent view in the Army - it exists to this day - that equates readiness with having a large enough standing army to fight one or more wars from the starting gun. In this view, the militia or any federal reserve play a role in the force structure but they are not determinant in warfighting.

Peyton March envisioned a postwar standing (regular) army of 500,000 men. He drafted these views into a congressional bill that also included 11 months of universal (federally controlled and managed) military service followed by a long stint in the reserves. Groark explains more of March's idea:
Like Upton and Calhoun, March wanted the organization of the Army to include additional professional officers to man skeleton units, filled by enlisted soldiers during a national emergency. March’s plan received the approval of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker who introduced the bill on 16 January 1919 to the House Military Affairs Committee. Thus, March’s plan became the Baker-March bill.
March's bill arrived for review before the Senate's military affairs subcommittee. A leader of this committee was James Wolcott Wadsworth, grandson of the general, a National Guardsman and a believer in the Guard.

Wadsworth had recently discovered and been conferring with John Macauley Palmer, grandson of the Civil war general of the same name, and Palmer was the nemesis of all thinking Uptonian.

The new biography Beetle sums up what happened during Palmer's testimony on the bill: "Palmer's one-hour defense of the American citizen-soldier '[tore] Peyton C. March's bill into scraps,' according to James Wadsworth..."

Palmer had submitted his own, alternative plan directly to March earlier in the process to have it summarily rejected. That rejection was natural - this was an unbridgeable battle of military ideologies. Palmer's revenge was to help the March bill die on the vine.

Wadsworth after the testimony (via Groark):
Colonel Palmer, a very remarkable thing has happened. Night before last, the subcommittee met at my house where we finally disposed of the War Department bill by throwing it in the waste paper basket. We then decided to write a bill of our own. We wrote down a few paragraphs outlining what we considered to be the basis of a sound military organization for the United States. And there we stopped. We didn’t know how to expand those principles into a complete bill, and we didn’t think we were likely to get much help from the War Department. And now, to our amazement, you have been before us two afternoons and have given us all the details of our won plan. The Committee has therefore instructed me unanimously, to write to the Secretary of War to ask for your assignment as our military advisor. We are going to write our own bill, and we want you to help us.
Wadsworth and Palmer would craft the answer to Upton.



Now where were we?


"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

Actually, Emory Upton got a down payment on what would be his due during his own lifetime in 1878 when Representative MG James Garfield introduced a military bill with Upton’s “expansible army” at the core. It stalled or was defeated – I’d like to know more about it (but don’t).
James Garfield had thus launched a kind of children’s crusade, a preliminary fizzle followed by decades of intense struggle over this core idea. The fight would involve all sorts of military royalty right through the First World War.

On the way, the expansible army became a Holy Land that Upton could not have recognized except in part. Maj. James Groark, USAR, wrote an interesting summation of Upton’s position (Politics and the Evolution of the Army Reserve: 1790-1920):

Upton’s policy proposed a Regular Army of around 25,000 men. Congress would mobilize a “National Volunteer Army” of “reserve” forces led and controlled by the Regular Army. In essence, the “National Volunteer Army” would be a federally controlled militia.
The proposed 25,000 men is not a large standing army even by early 19th century standards. It represents a kernel, skeleton, cadre. Somehow, later, Upton’s ideas are attached to very large standing armies that have federal reserves associated with them.

I would go so far as to say that Upton’s federalized reserves idea served as a stamp by which all sorts of notions could be certified as Upton-approved. We see Upton later invoked in proposals for large standing armies and notice that these proposals generally have some reserve element – the true Uptonian ingredient – associated with them, almost as a talisman.

But just as the Upton element (tainted or pure) gained strength over time in the service, its antithesis also gathered strength. The Army’s leading living theorist was BG John McAuley Palmer, grandson of the Civil War general. Palmer was an extreme critic of Upton – the pure Upton doctrine – and he proposed a counter view in complete detail.

When Palmer combined his advocacy with the political capital of the grandson of MG James Wadsworth, Uptonites were sent into a wilderness for two generations.


"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

You can read Emory Upton's magnum opus, The Military Policy of the United States, thanks to Google. Likewise his Armies of Asia and Europe.

By the turn of the century, Maj. Gen. (Brevet) Emory Upton was a very big deal.


"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

Emory Upton went through the Civil War as a McClellan hater; after the war, with study and reflection, he became an admirer. Being brother-in-law to Frank Blair might have softened him up.

Upton was a prodigy, entering the Civil War as a second lieutenant of artillery. By the end of the war, at 25, he was a general who had led all three branches well. He finished as a division commander. Sixteen years later, he committed suicide.

After the war, Sherman sent Upton to Europe as a one-man Delafield Commission. He returned with recommendations, famous among which was that the U.S. should model the Prussian general staff. He is viewed now as the father of the American general staff.

McClellan and the Delafield Commission had missed that recommendation. McClellan had friends on the Prussian General Staff before the war. After the war, McClellan knew von Moltke the elder - himself! - (who complimented him on his first Richmond campaign) and GBM knew the pre-Franco-Prussian War Prussian General Staff; likewise the Prussian General Staff knew McClellan and read reports from one of their own that Grant's campaign of 1864 had been but the restart of McClellan's early 1862 strategy.

But McClellan and the rest of the Commission had missed an opportunity to advise Jefferson Davis to start a Prussian General Staff in America and Sears is very hard on McClellan in particular for that failure. Sears has many followers in this.

The foundation of an Army War College is another of Upton's ideas and he is justly credited for it today. (The son of the political Civil War Gen. John M. Palmer would attend the Army War College founded on Upton's recommendation.)

We could list many realized ideas advocated by Upton but the biggest of them all is the eternal notion of the expansible army. This originates with Calhoun but Upton made it his own, modernizing it in the form implemented in the 20th Century. The expansible army consists of a large regular standing army, men and officers, with a capability of expanding further in crisis. Upton rejected the idea of a small standing army bolstered in war by militias and volunteers. Upton proposed to learn from America's wars, especiall the ACW.

The Army as we knew it in recent times, through the first Gulf War, was Emory Upton's child. Upton's ideas are doctrine - even gospel - today.

At the time of his suicide (1881), Upton the theorist, was a failure. His reputation grew after his death and the first major effort to legally establish an expansible army came after WWI.


"A well regulated militia" (cont.)

And so, James Wadsworth had an unusual career as political general.

He began as a military celebrity, his reputation earned within the powerhouse New York state high command during the crisis of Lincoln's inaction. His federal career was launched under Stanton's (not Lincoln's) patronage, however, and where a Banks or Butler would occasionally have some role demanding political skill, Wadsworth was in field commands until his death. He was this odd duck of a purely military poltical general.

As mentioned yesterday, his removal from New York via U.S. commission solved a political problem and thereby marked the end of Lincoln's interest in him. Had Wadsworth won the governorship vacated by Edwin Morgan, had he persecuted and then crushed his Weed-Seward Republican enemies, Radical James Wadsworth might have become interesting to Lincoln as a threat ... the way Andrew Curtin was interesting to Lincoln after Curtin routed and then persecuted Cameron's forces in Pennsylvania, and after Curtin combined with Dennison of Ohio to formulate war policy with McClellan. But Wadsworth was a political casualty after his loss to Seymour, albeit one with strong friends in Congress. And he took refuge in an alternative reality called war.

The career of John McAuley Palmer follows a more conventional path for political generals. I don't want to make light of his patrotism and achievements but the pattern looks like this:

- Founds the Republican Party in Illinois (1856)

- Champions Lincoln to be Fremont's running mate at convention (1856)

- Strongly backs Lincoln against Douglas (1858)

- Is Republican national elector for Lincoln (1860)

- Lincoln appoints to peace commission (1861)

- Is named commander of 14th Ill Volunteers and serves under Fremont (1861)

- Lincoln promotes him to BG USV December 20, 1861

- Promoted to MG USV (1862)

- Governs Kentucky (1865)

- Continues his political career postwar.

If we leave it at that, this picture is unfair to Palmer. He had a distinguished military career and one that was very interesting, serving under Pope, Buell, Thomas, Rosecrans, and Sherman. Again and again, Palmer is saving somebody's bacon on the battlefield, with a glorious culmination at Chickamauga.

Take a look at these quick-n-easy web links: this one; here's another; here's another. Note how totally positive these career retrospectives are. If your heart has a military corner in there somewhere, it senses pangs of envy.

And yet, based on private statements made after the war, attributed anonymously to him, the military image Palmer had of himself is depressing.

Like Wadsworth, Palmer had a grandson and his grandson recorded these private thoughts.

We'll get to the thoughts, the sons and the militia shortly.


"A well regulated militia"

Just as we might view George McClellan's 1861 orders to D.C. as Lincoln's intended breakup of the powerhouse Dennison-McClellan team, so to the federalization of Generals Wool, Dix and Wadsworth appears to be the decapitation of Governor Edwin Morgan's amazing New York military high command, one that caused the president so much embarrassment at the war's start.

Obviously James Wadsworth was the junior member of this troika and where Wool was a Whig-cum-Republican and Dix a war Democrat, Wadsworth was a Radical who would come to lead the anti-Seward Republican opposition in New York State.

Upon Wadsworth's arrival in D.C., he immediately began caucusing with Radical legislators as if he were himself a legislator. He appears to have been used by Edwin Stanton against McClellan in the Spring of 1862 in the "defense of Washington" fiasco, but this is to underestimate the political power of Wadsworth at that time.

Wadsworth squandered his political capital in the fall of 1862 when he overturned the Weed-Seward plot to run Democrat John Dix for governor on the fusion "Union Party" line in New York. Running as a full-blooded radical Republican, General Wadsworth lost the election to Democrat Horatio Seymour. By mid-war, Wadsworth reverted to being just another political general. Later in the war, Charles Wainwright could look at the errors Wadsworth was making and regard him as a bungler. In his Diary of Battle, he did admire Wadsworth's personal qualities.

Killed in 1864, Wadsworth died the richest general in the Army (by legend). He was a patroon, like the Delanos, and oddly enough the Wadsworths and Delanos were McClellan's next door neighbors in what is now E. Orange, New Jersey.

I'm not sure which Wadsworths lived so amicably next door to GBM, but General James did leave behind a son, and a grandson more on whom later.


A sad sesquicentennial

It's the greenback's birthday, says the Financial Times. Actually, August is the birthday of Chase's Demand Note, with the greenback's birthday happening in February. But you wouldn't expect the Financial Times to know arcana like that.

You would expect them to know July from August.

"Today, the greenback is the primary reserve currency, largely due to tradition and lack of alternatives," says the Financial Times. Actually, it's the reserve currency because all oil trades must be settled in dollars, and everyone buiys oil, and when oil is no longer traded in dollars, it will not be the world reserve currency for even one more day.

Of course, you wouldn't expect the Financial Times to know arcana like that.

Oddly enough, the U.S. silver dollar coexisted with the paper dollar in 1862 but was scarce due to hoarding and a limited run.

Louisiana and the CSA struck many more silver half dollars (pictured) using silver expropriated from the U.S. New Orleans mint. Note the liberty cap!

These half dollars, struck in their many thousands, would have gone into hiding as Jeff Davis cranked up the mint's printing presses.

Gresham's Law is, after all, a law and it applied to both sides of the political divide.


McPherson's NYRB omnibus review

James McPherson has long been the ACW go-to guy for his genre in the New York Review of Books. Currently, he has a long omnibus review of titles in that paper.

Rather than do a long essay on McPherson's review, I want to show you how I read McPherson and why he is so objectionable to me. You get no continuity here, just a series of McP's statements in the order they occur and my comments.

McPherson: Born in England, raised in Los Angeles, and residing in London and New York, Foreman is well qualified to write about “Britain’s crucial role in the American Civil War.”

Comment: This is a non-sequiter. Born and raised are not scholarship qualifiers.

McPherson: ... her main title (“A World on Fire”) might strike some as an exercise in hyperbole.

Comment: It is Seward's hyperbole, not hers. She has made a play on his famous public "world wrapped in fire" threat against British intervention. Any Civil War reader would know that.

McPherson: ... the British government and armed forces did not intervene in the Civil War.

Comment: What audience needs to be reassured of this?

McPherson: But the Lincoln administration had already in effect recognized the Confederacy’s belligerent status by proclaiming a blockade of Southern ports...

Comment: No, not at all and this is to miss the whole point of the international law controversy behind the blockade.

McPherson: Meanwhile a “cotton famine” caused by the war and the blockade had reduced the amount of cotton coming to British and French mills to a pittance and thrown hundreds of thousands of workers and their families onto the dole.

Comment: There was no "dole" then. And the famine was temporary; new cotton sources were developed during the war which permanently margianlized future US cotton production.

McPherson: As Southern armies invaded Maryland and Kentucky in September, the British and French governments planned to offer mediation ...

Comment: There is no linkage between these events and the mediation statement is false. The British government kept intending to discuss mediation among its ministers but could never muster the political confidence to have that discussion. The impetus for the discussion was a provisional, contingent request by Napoleon III who never had any intention to mediate or intervene on his own. This whole matter was a potential brainstorming session that never took off.

McPherson: If the Lincoln government refused such an offer [mediation] (as surely it would have), the British and French intended to recognize the Confederacy.

Comment: This is nonsense. Neither France nor Britain ever reached a point in internal discussions where diplomatic contingencies could be agreed upon. This is projection, a discussion point that was to be raised in discussions that never happened.

McPherson: The contribution of A World on Fire lies in its richness of description, vivid writing, and focus on individual personalities...

Comment: After decades of serious diplomatic ACW histories, in what sense is this a contribution? Isn't this an insult to the hard work pillaged to construct a pop history? Wouldn't the next real contribution be a deep analysis of the neglected French diplomatic sources?

Rather than go on nitpicking, let me draw your attention to two general points.

First, notice that in his review, McPherson recapitulates Civil War history rather than analyze books. In each review he eventually comes around to some "value judgement," but these are superficial and always, always outside of the context of Civil War historiography.

Second, the headers on this piece promise us that McPherson is going to review four books. He reviews exactly two, if you call recapitulation of content a "review."

I understand that McPherson is old and that he may not have all his faculties at full strength. But these faults have been with us from the beginning. And my time to stop disagreeing with him is when he withdraws from publishing.

p.s. If you read the review, you'll notice he picks an absurd quarrel with Gary "Stop-the-Madness" Gallagher. Regular readers of this blog will remember that Gallagher, an editor at UNC Press, promised to let McPherson write a history of Civil War navies. That promise was broken, the book being written by Craig Symonds. Bad feelings?


Bull Run battle looks like a rout

The organizers of the Bull Run re-enactment have not been paying attention to heritage tourism trends; instead, they appear to have been buying into the endless hype. Not only are tickets about a third of what they need to be, only 44% of the re-enactors needed have signed on.


Publishing's race to the bottom

Ted Savas commented on a story about the bestest selling digital author of all time, Michael Connelly.

I have a different take on this than the mainstream press.

Mr. Connelly's output is what we called in college "mindrot." Nothing wrong with that; I mention it because one can write formulaic genre fiction at a fast clip, thus making one quite a productive writer.

Connelly's sale of a million is an aggregate total spread across 10 e-books. He sells his books at 99 cents each, an aggressive pricing model that nets him a 35 cent royalty per.

This author, then, has garnered $35,000 from the sale of one million editions. If the minimum length for a book of genre fiction is 50,000 words, how long would it take you to write 10 books? Connelly has a day job, so consider that, too.

Bottom line: is $3,500 per book worth (say) 60 days per book?

Or is this a race to the bottom?

Consider what you did with your last 99 cent bargain book purchase. It's probably sitting on your shelf, unread.

I bet Kindlers are accumulating unread books and 99 cent books - priced like an MP3 download - may give misleading indications about an author's popularity.

There's another aspect to this that is unknown to people at large.

Amazon and other venues, through their "marketplace" functions, deal in a great many black and gray market books. If you troll through the discussion boards on self-publishing POD websites, you will find threads where the digital copy of an edition was used by a downloader to make a pirate POD hardcopy run which was then sold at a discount on Amazon (or wherever) to compete with the legal and authorized edition.

The nature of these threads is to complain to the POD about the piracy, not to boast about pirating. In my own limited experiments with e-books, I have been taken twice by pirates.

Moreover, the digital reader machines have steadily been moving from propritary text markup schemes, which inhibit POD pirating due to the display of garbage code when not on their native platforms, to open source mark-up, like Adobe Acrobat, which any POD shop can run books from.

This week, I am buying a certain Kindle book (for a class) which does not need to be read on Kindle. It will display on my computer, even without a Kindle emulator. This is a book any fool can pirate, print, and sell on ebay, B&N, Amazon, etc.

Connelly has this much wisdom in his busines model: pirates cannot compete with 99 cent pricing. However, piracy will drive this kind of pricing and the publisher will feel the pressure from pirates as much as antipirates.

If you are a publisher with a good-selling hardcopy title, it would behove you to occasionally buy a copy from online marketplaces to see what's happening out there. An unpleasant surprise may await.


Faust ponders

Drew Gilpin faust ponders the Centennial, the sesquicentennial, re-enactment, and the meaning of the Civil War.


Crikey indeed

Australian tourists encounter Gettysburg and make a striking point:
And yet what I found myself reflecting on repeatedly was notions of ‘authenticity’ and a living present in Gettysburg. As countless individuals are drawn to this beautiful historic town to feel the pulse of its part in America’s Civil War, where is its heart beat today, and why do all the visitors not really seem to care? ... Visiting places purely to understand their past all too often seems to elide, and perhaps inhibit, their present, and indeed their participation in the project of modernity. While we all travel to learn and experience the history of places, it seems important to really take note of their contemporary everyday cultures as well.

The Leech-Vidal connection

Who knew?


Lincoln and Lee letters at Southeby's

AL flames the wife of a prisoner:
You protest, nonetheless, that you and he are loyal, and you may really think so, but this is a view of loyalty which is difficult to conceive that any sane person could take, and one which the government can not tolerate and hope to live.

Prince Polecat

The last surviving CSA MG was a French prince. I had no idea.


Lead balloons

I had written a few days ago that I would have enjoyed re-enacting with the balloon corps on the mall.

Spoke too soon. Didn't really think this through. Phony baloney event? Check. Run by public historians? Check. Staged in a geographic vortex of political psychosis? Check. All these factors came into play "big time" in re-enacting Thaddeus Lowe's 1861 balloon flight for President Lincoln. Or failing to.

While flipping the radio dial yesterday, I encountered a report that said DHS prohibited any balloon flights, so the attendees got to see not a tethered balloon, but a prostrate (cross-bound) bag (see photo). Think Gulliver in Lilliput. USA Today named a different villain, one we know very well indeed:
At the Mall celebration, the recreated 1861 balloon will stay on the ground to comply with U.S. Park Service regulations designed to keep the airspace safe over the capital.
Except that it's not a recreated 1861 balloon.

I read this account in which an additional layer of security was injected. The strapped down, partially inflated "recreated 1861" balloon was being "inflated" with cold air via a cold air blower. The same story mentions the balloon in question dates from 1941. It's a 20th Century government service balloon. To ensure you don't confuse it with anything dated 1861, it's also a silvery color.

The editor who wrote the NBC headline could not be troubled to read the story itself and the headline says, "Gas-Filled Balloon To Loom Over Mall." Figuratively speaking, perhaps.

So there it lies, staked down like Gulliver, a fan blowing cold air into its silvery aperture, tourists ambling by wondering "What the..." As they walked by, the radio news reporter caught a few of their comments. The adult: "Interesting." The kid: "I hope they fly it!"

No chance, junior, whatever "it" may be.

Those who ventured too close to the display were accosted by an impersonator shouting, "I am Thaddeus Lowe." In other words, "I am a liar or insane." I think little kids would better appreciate, "I am dressed up like Thaddeus Lowe" or "I am pretending to be Thaddeus Lowe." That might be truthful, sensible, and in a kid way, fun.

But you know, if even a single child is led to appreciate history through these lies, stunts and tricks, it will have been worth it.

After awhile, another actor walked up telling people, "I am Abraham Lincoln." This would be Dishonest Abe from Bizarro World. Dishonest Abe then struck up a phony, I would even say imbecilic, conversation with Pretend Lowe. The reporter caught some of it. It sounded like a bad sixth grade play, so maybe the younger tourists could relate.

The newspaper accounts in the run up to this make no mention of the caveats I've just run through.

WaPo got it half right: "On Saturday, the museum will inflate a balloon similar to Lowe’s Enterprise [eh?] and host re-enactors portraying Lowe and Lincoln, with presentations on Civil War ballooning. The National Park Service won’t allow the balloon to fly, though."

This is like the 12-oz "pound" of coffee. I think public history is on a trend in which less and less history content is delivered at these events.



Halloween, 2012: Children dress as Lincoln for trick or treat - masks, blood spattered clothing, axes. I dunno, maybe crossbows too.

"America Aflame"

A problematic book gets a problematic review.

Lowe on the Mall

This is a re-enactment I would enjoy doing.


June 22, 2012

Mark the date. The movie Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter will premier 6/22/12. Says the screenwriter,
It's hacking people's heads off and killing vampires left and right. The main character [Abraham Lincoln] has an axe, with which he kills countless amounts of vampires. It's a dark, cool, edgy, twisted movie. I don't know what the rating will be, but I suspect that the rating would be an R. I suspect it will be an R just because there's a lot of murder and decapitation.
Prediction: If you can get the rating below R, public historians will bus countless school children to the film because, if just one child comes away with an increased interest in history, it will have been worth it.

You laugh, but the ALPLM's big show right now is a display of plastic movie props.


The backlash against Ken Burns begins

No, not here: I'm always backlashing against Burns.


James Lundberg: "Because of you, my Civil War lecture is always packed—with students raised on your sentimental, romantic, deeply misleading portrait of the conflict."

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "I think the biggest failing of the movie, is that, as Cynic once said, it never comes across a cute quote that it doesn't like."

Actually, both seem annoyed at Burns' use of Shelby Foote. But what was Foote? A novelist and ranconteur! What is Burns? a documentary maker.

Meanwhile, the Burns machine rolls on and on and on.

When you become a brand, dear reader, drop me a postcard.


Lincoln, the movie (cont.)

Started posting on this topic in 2008. Looks like we will finish in 2012. Egads.

Question: would you trust a jackass like this with an historical script on the complexity of Lincoln? (Brush past the intrusive ad.)

Tommy Lee Jones - as Thaddeus Stevens? Stevens was a big part of the Lincoln presidency, don't you know?

Daniel Day Lewis is apparently set to play Lincoln against Sally Field, who is maybe 50 years older than he. Director Spielberg cited Fields' ability to convey "fragility and complexity."

This has the makings of a made-for-TV movie. I don't mean that in a good way.


We're getting somewhere, we're happy, really

Optimism deserves its day and given the gloom and doom on this blog, I should take a moment to put things in perspective.

In 1997, when I started the website Civil War Book News, we faced a river of sewage with each new publishing season producing at most one or two noteworthy titles. Publishers were in the backwash of a post-Ken Burns and Killer Angels influx of ignorant, transient bookbuyers who were looking to relive the narrative highlights of whatever audiovisual garbage they had recently ingested.

For the deep reader, bracketed on one side by the Centennial hacks and their tired insights and on the other side by completely naive and ignorant readers revving the market for light entertainment, it was a miserable time indeed.

Today, a good proportion of each season's titles is interesting and worth notice, so much so, that I cannot keep up. My useful function in this blog may be to point out the nonsense that still gets published, which task is a bit more doable.

Furthermore, my contempt for the foibles of Civil War authors has been tempered in the last few years by some broader considerations. On Monday, I read about 200 pages of peer-reviewed, well-regarded social science papers for a course I am taking. I have read many such but never 200 pages in one sitting.

It seems to me, from my readings, that social science generally is in much worse condition than Civil War history in particular. Put another way, we suffer a condition in this country where people self-select for careers in which they are not in any way suited. We are told you can be anything and that your ticket to "anything" is hard work and "education." This is a recipe for lifelong dilettantism; on some level we know this for we are forever searching for that doctor / lawyer / contractor / plumber / mechanic who transcends his/her credentials.

Blind striving for jobs in fields of ill choice can combine with our rabid credentialism to feed a more general culture of authority-seeking. This is a terrible affliction: witness the cult around James McPherson. It's also a broad cultural tendency that transcends Civil War history everywhere and at all times. I notice it more and more.

The leading newspapers have but one purpose: to deliver authority to authority seekers. This is a sensible market transaction but its repercussions are awful. The deep reader in and out of Civil War history wants to see for himself, but the authority-seeker wants guidance. This is why we have bestseller lists, top 10 lists, restaurant guides, and highly credentialed talking heads laying down what's hot and what's not. Again, I refer you to the greatest literary hoax of all time. It failed to embarass the New York Times (its target) or the authority-seeking readers of said paper. Inevitably!

The new executive editrix of the New York Times today painted the perfect picture of a New York Times reader in describing her own family: "In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion ... If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

The Times et al may be losing circulation but they are absolutely faithful to their readers in delivering exactly what those readers seek - certitude, authority, expertise.

By the way, today marked another kind of milestone for the paper. In column one, page one of the print edition, it ran the following headline: "Data on jobs may hold key to President's." It didn't say president's what, just "president's." A gaffe on this scale does not make the Times any less of a religion, nor does it make the Times less right. The Times, like all that bad Civil War history, is market driven. And it delivers.

There is and always will be a segment of the Civil War readership that craves authority, finality, certitude. These folks lay down their Times top 10 lists and turn to their Battle Cry of Freedom (or whatever). The call of the wild archive is not for their ears. Debate is troubling. Analysis without a master narrative to frame it represents a nightmare of confusion. Answers must be simple. Personalities must be black and white. Issues must be simple.

These poor devils we will have with us always and the day will come again when their wishes dominate the publishing industry to crowd out good books. Let us make merry while we have this blessed interval of good books in between bad times.


Proposed: It was never McClellan's campaign

Was the so-called Peninsula campaign McClellan's strategy? Or was the McDowell-Franklin team enjoying a last laugh by having McClellan execute its own, final strategy? Let's look at Snell, Reed, and Beatie to find out.

Civil War strategy - a major production

I missed the stage show. I'll have to read the book.


Glatthaar lays more eggs

If you are a Centennialist author, rule number one is you stay the hell away from numbers except to round them up until they show great big globs of zeroes. (Once rounded, they can be used for any nefarious activity.) If questioned about your numbers, you answer “No one can know exactly how many men … so we must use estimates.”

Exception: if you are super-scholarly, prize-winning, unbelievably detail-oriented, you grab the first set of craptastic OR numbers you see and cite those as authoritative.

These are the advanced numeric arts of the Centennialist.

Joseph T. Glatthaar is an early middle-aged Centennialist being groomed by Gary Gallagher to walk in the shoes of himself, Sears, McPherson, and the old storytellers – Williams, Williams, Catton, etc. Up until recently, Glatthaar’s management of numbers has fit the mold. As recently as in General Lee’s Army (2008), he says (for example) that at Cedar Mountain Jackson “lost over 1,400 men,” while he inflicted casualties of “2,400 men.” I didn't bother to look up the citation he gave for these shiny, shaky jell-o confections.

Thomas Livermore attempted to correct the OR numbers at the turn of the century. It was a first try and it suffered many drawbacks but his book, Numbers and Losses, is useful and a big step up from the OR. Where Glatthaar puts Jackson’s casualties at 1,400 Livermore shows them to be 1,338 killed and wounded. Where Glatthaar puts Banks’ casualties at 2,400 Livermore counts 2,353, including “missing.” BTW, Livermore does not have “missing” figures for Jackson, so the careless researcher adding up killed, wounded, and missing would have apples (Jackson) and oranges (Banks).

Livermore shows numbers down to the last digit in an easily accessible reference work, amply noted and accessible to professors like Glatthaar, while Glatthaar chooses to display his jiggly gelatin dessert collection instead. Would you like whipped cream with that data? Now, General Lee’s Army is a book otherwise rich in statistical demographic detail (it even has decimal points!) – but the work is as indifferent to analysis in the matter of numbers and losses as any Centennial work you’ve ever seen. A house divided: care for one sort of number, contempt for others.

What good is a blog if we can’t conjecture? My suspicion is that Glatthaar designed the book and had graduate students (or other helpers) develop it while he supervised them. The parts in which he had been indoctrinated (master narrative, numbers and losses, major themes and ideas) reflect his personal involvement to ensure conformity with the canon; meanwhile, the non-battle numeric detail represents the work of others.

In General Lee, Glatthaar gives a lot of individual credit to his statistical helpers but the book smacks of a general collaboration, perhaps even a committee production, with JG presiding to keep the doctrinal bits on track.

This post is not about General Lee’s Army, but a few more notes are in order before moving on. I have harshly criticized Glatthaar in the past for his lack of historical sense and feeling. This is amply displayed in General Lee’s Army and it creates in the reader a jarring disconnect between the slovenliness of Glatthaar’s narrative shortcuts and the effort taken to generate his demographic information.

Look at this sentence: “Nearly half the soldiers who ultimately served in the Army of Northern Virginia enlisted in 1861, and another third joined in 1862.” As of when? Is this statement calibrated to an ANV status as of June, 1862, when the ANV was formed; or to an end of year 1862 status; or to an end of war status? When did the remaining one sixth of “the army” (one half plus one third = five sixths) enlist, in 1860? Or were they draftees?

Again and again, in General Lee’s Army, Glatthaar loses track of the context and his readers feel the loss. Over the years he has communicated to us that he does not give a fig about this or that distinction; suddenly, he’s dropped us in a sea figures, analysis of which requires painstaking distinctions.

As I said about another author, there is still good history work that can be done by doctrinaire, narrative-driven authors who lack historical sensibility. Basic research is among these.

Maybe I was wrong.

General Lee’s Army is packed with demographic research which is distilled, separated, and presented in a new book, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee. This book represents methodological problems from beginning to end, some of which we’ll explore below. It bids to become a standard reference work and it plays straight (more or less) by documenting (in a hopscotching, find-the-snippet way) how it came to many of its figures.

What this book needed was an extensive methodological essay with a literature review relevant to the techniques selected, not the Easter egg hunt given us. After that, it needed to be reviewed by social scientists expert in statistical research methodologies who could comment on its many problems before this went to press.

Unfortunately, Soldiering, to the careless reader or hurried researcher, is going to be a “black box” of a book, a collection of handy outputs that can be sprinkled like bacon bits on whatever narrative salad is coming out of the kitchen. Never mind the ingredients…

The statistical basis for some of the material in Soldiering is actually better explained in General Lee’s Army, for instance:
The sample was designed by Dr. Kent Tedin, the former chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston. The sample consists of 600 soldiers who served in Lee’s army. Because there was no single list of names, we chose a stratified cluster sample. Each infantry, cavalry, and artillery unit that ever served in Lee’s army received a number. I then determined through army strength throughout the war that 81.8 percent of all troops were in the infantry, 11.3 percent were in the cavalry, and 6.9 percent were in the artillery. We then randomly selected fifty artillery batteries, fifty cavalry regiments, and seventy-five infantry regiments. We then randomly selected three names from each chosen battery and cavalry regiment and four from each infantry regiment. The sample consists of 150 artillerists, 150 cavalrymen, and 300 infantrymen. The artillery and cavalry samples are large enough to make them statistically significant. The infantry sample is much larger because of the proportion of infantrymen in Lee’s army.
Soldiering glosses this with less detail. Both mention that Glatthaar researched 54 data categories per soldier over a period of years.

The questions begin immediately and there are no answers. This is the line but where is the staff? Are the NCOs proportionally represented or not? If the artillery and cavalry samples are just large enough to be “statistically significant,” don’t they become insignificant if there are gaps in the 54 data categories, especially if those gaps form a pattern? Why is a sample of 150 good enough for cavalry and infantry but 300 is needed for infantry? What is the margin of error on a sample like this? Does the sample take names from a set point in time? How does this selection represent soldiers across time during the whole war? Do the number of soldiers killed correspond proportionally to the numbers killed or are the survivors or dead (respectively) over- or underrepresented?

Every time Glatthaar notes an anomaly (highest average wealth among 1862 enlistees, for instance) the reader is left wondering whether the sample was adequate.

By referring to his friend Kent Tedin the way he does, Glatthaar both credits the man and personally distances himself from the methodology. This is a rum business. Glatthaar has to own the work product and he is clearly ill at ease down in the weeds. In General Lee’s Army, he says “…we chose a stratified cluster sample…” In Soldiering, he says “Kent had to conceive a more complicated process … In technical terms it is called 'a stratified cluster sample.'”

Stratified cluster sampling is a hybrid; there is cluster sampling and stratified sampling. Glatthaar’s commentary describes (partially) cluster sampling but not stratified cluster sampling.

Glatthaar mentions names were drawn from artillery batteries, cavalry regiments (I assume: maybe squadrons?), and infantry regiments. Assume these are the clusters. The battery, an infantry company sized unit, yields three names and an infantry regiment 8-10 times larger, yields four. The cavalry regiment at strength holds roughly half the men of an infantry regiment but yields three names to the infantry’s four. Furthermore, as these represent three types of unit what limits are there on comingling sample data? What are the strata? Are the strata auxiliary data points like age or slave-owning?

Among users of stratified cluster sampling there seems to be a need to do variance weighting and for that a number of software programs are available. This offsets the inaccuracies in cluster sampling. Glatthaar says he learned Stata in preparing this work. What did he use it for and what adjustments had to be made to the data using Stata and why?

I feel okay looking at a chart showing “Year of Birth” for artillerymen drawing on data from 150 artillerymen. I feel worse looking at a chart showing “Personal and Family Wealth by Region” based on just 600 lives. I feel awful reading a chart that shows 600 lives yielding “Killed and Wounded by Slaveholding Status.” I eventually expected to see a chart, "Wounded slaveholders further injured by lifting heavy objects in the presence of civilian women 27 years of age or older."

To assuage our anxieties about his methodology, Glatthaar has an immense number of footnotes complementing himself and his techniques for accuracy. Here are a two:
In the chi-square test for slaveholders, P=.0000 indicating an accuracy of more than 99%.

In the chi-square test for killed and wounded, P=.0546 indicating an accuracy of 98.6%.
Occasionally, he notes a result outside the acceptable limits for social science standards. But what does this gibberish mean?

It seems to me that Tedin used Stata to run this test on this or that data in the book and then entered a jarring, conceptually incomplete end note showing the test result. How was the test run? No answer. Glatthaar says merely “there is a chi-square test.” There is. It exists. It shall continue to be. Strike the gong and let the references to this test begin!

Again, I want to stress Glatthaar’s unfitness for history, and it really shines through in this kind of naiveté:
If a scholar searches long enough, he or she will find evidence to justify virtually any contemporary attitude and buttress virtually any argument the scholar may pose, regardless of its representativeness. For that reason, valid statistics may break that scholarly logjam.
And you’ll have the last word, of course based on this book.

This testament of faith follows an equally interesting statement:
In some instances, statistics vary slightly between this book [Soldiering] and that one [General Lee’s Army]. Since the publication of General Lee’s Army, I have come to realize that a few soldiers in the census were not the soldiers I was seeking, despite their having the right name and age. As a result, minor changes appear in this volume.
And that’s as close to humility, circumspection, and respect for history as we get. Strike another gong.


P.S. The application of a stratified cluster design to Glatthaar’s project IMHO would normally have resulted in an entire randomly selected cluster (unit) being analyzed across strata (criteria), like wounds or wealth, rather than in applying successive strata to a pool of random selectees plucked out of a cluster.

For a comical collection of student comments on Dr. Tedin, see link.

If you want to do a little chi-square figuring have at it!

I reviewed General Lee's Army here, passing over the data elements.

Any of Glatthaar’s military histories will indulge your taste for goose egg pornography in a big way. Here’s a reviewer thrashing in ecstasy at the sight of page 134 of The March to the Sea and Beyond: “Sherman’s 60,000 troops encountered little resistance: They cut a wide swath through the heart of Georgia, and confiscated nearly 7,000 mules and horses, over 13,000 head of cattle, over 10,000,000 million pounds of grain, and nearly 11,000,000 million pounds of fodder in the process.” Can anybody reasonably trust this man with a chi-square and five decimal places?


Johnston's decision to attack: Smith's version (cont.)

G.W. Smith's unique account of Joe Johnston's motive for an attack on Union forces has some odd backup ... from James Longstreet, no less. In The Seven Days, Cliff Dowdey portrays Johnston and Longstreet as liars who filed crooked battle reports to do Smith dirty, and in his memoirs, Longstreet shows hostility to Smith.

He does make this interesting comment to introduce his discussion of Johnston's attack order at Seven Pines. Noting the May 15 gunboat attacks on Chapin's and "Drury's" bluffs, Longstreet says, "That attack suggetsed to General Johnston that he move nearer Richmond to be in position to lend the batteries assistance..."

This is not an exact match to Smith's claim that fear for the capital from the water triggered the assault on McClellan, but it takes things a step closer by linking Johnston's repositioning not to McDowell's movements but rather to the US Navy's movements.

Longstreet then links a decision to attack to McDowell's movements. "He prepared to attack McClellan before McDowell could reach him." This does not give us a motive but an incentive. The proposed attack fizzles in a council of war on May 27, 1862, with everyone (Longstreet says) favoring the attack except Smith, who would have led the main column. "General Johnston replied [to a comment by Longstreet] ... that he had selected the wrong officer for the work. The news of McDowell's movements passes away as they all learned he was headed for the Valley and on the 30th, Longstreet "found Gen Johnston ready to talk over plans for battle."

Up to the 27th and the council of war, Smith was the second in command and designated to do the heavy lifting in the coming attack. After the 27th, Longstreet was in the ascendant. It is likely that Smith, up to the 27th, was intimate with Johnston and his plans and ideas. He was best positioned to supply a motive, which Smith did later in life.

We can elaborate on that attributed motive in a speculative way. The riverine concerns Smith and Longstreet report Johnston as having for Richmond (not reported in Civil War histories that I've seen) would have been aggravated by any reported movement by McDowell to join McClellan. This would have represented a double envelopment of the Rebel position and to a general who perennially worried about flanking marches, this would be double trouble indeed.

In his memoirs, Longstreet gives no motive for the attack that led to the battle. He simply says JJ was "ready to talk over plans for battle."

Longstreet does not contradict Smith; he does add a little more support to Smith and the least reported genesis for Fair Oaks / Seven Pines.


Montgomery Meigs rides again

The mania for professionalism that stamped the post Civil War army of Grant, Sherman, Schofield, et al, has borne its ultimate fruit in a peacetime army today that will not recognize any situation that cannot be managed professionally at a peacetime pace. From a new book by Australian General Andrew Smith on the response to IEDs:
The DoD’s initial response was organizational: the immediate formation by the U.S. Army of an ad hoc task force of 12 personnel (an organization—the Army IED Task Force), located in Washington, DC, to study and attempt to address the IED problem.

This response was repeated over the ensuing years as the IED problem grew. In July 2004, the Army Task Force was upgraded to a Joint Integrated Process team (under Army leadership), moving the IED response into the Joint arena.

In June 2005, the U.S. CIED apparatus was upgraded again into the Joint IED Defeat Task Force (JIEDD TF), under a specific DoD Directive, to further improve coordination of the DoD’s efforts.

The status of the JIEDD TF was further elevated in December 2005 by the appointment of retired four-star General Montgomery “Monty” Meigs as its Director. Meigs’ selection was significant in its own right. Some years previously, he had published a treatise on the scientific response to the submarine threats of World War II, in which he explained the evolution of a solution that, he concluded, consisted of optimized equipment and doctrine developed by close cooperation between the R&D community and operators. With this background, Meigs brought with him a sophisticated understanding of how urgent capability development efforts need to be coordinated.

The JIEDD TF’s title was upgraded to the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) in January 2006 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and finally the new Organization was codified by the issue of a specific directive in February of that year.

This entire evolution, from the first U.S. IED fatality to the establishment of a statutory organization under four-star leadership, had taken 2.5 years
Elsewhere, Smith notes, "To deal with that [IED] surprise, both the United States and Australia needed to make institutional responses in a cycle that took at least 6 years. The subsequent impact of IEDs in Afghanistan suggests, in fact, that the response is still incomplete."

Rounder and rounder

This Civil War historian's notorious love affair with round numbers may be part of a more general cultural failing.

I was watching a CNN piece on Indira Gandhi that gave the casualties in the storming of the Golden Temple: pilgrims, 500 and commandos 300.

The current wisdom in Civil War history - that it's absolutely pointless to try to arrive at specific numbers - is here carried to its absurd conclusion with numbers in the low hundreds rounded up. Who's going to count all those hundreds of bodies? Impossible! We'll estimate and round up. We're communications professionals and we've got things to do, people to see.

The thing you can say in CNN's defense is thatthe numbers are mere footnotes to the story. In Civil War history, the numbers are even more warped and everything is made to depend on them: evaluations of commanders, of military potential, and weight of outcomes.


Glenn LaFantasie: CSA battle flag, symbol of hate

Glenn LaFantasie, who was so right on the plagiarism of James McPherson, now ventures to say that the stars and bars were not then but have become lately "an icon of hate." I'm afraid that for this to be true, we would need to impute the same motive to all of the displayers. That would be an act of political psychosis, would it not?

But I must ever keep a warm place in my heart for one who called McPherson's a "slatternly approach" to history.


Johnston's decision to attack: Smith's version

All foolishness aside, what we know about Johnston's decision to attack at Seven Pines or Fair Oaks comes from Longstreet, Johnston, or Davis.

G.W. Smith has left us an account no one wants to read or recycle. It's a total outlier and I give it here in its entirety without comment. From Smith's Confederate War Papers.
When we reached the vicinity of the Richmond and York River Railroad, at a point about midway between the Pamunky and Chickahominy rivers, General Johnston halted his army, and determined to contest McClellan's advance between these two streams. Longstreet's command and Smith's were again within easy supporting distance; and the troops, having rested from the tiresome service in the trenches and the march through deep mud, were elated at the idea of meeting the enemy on an open field of battle.

The Chief Engineer of General Johnston's army, Major W. H. Stevens, and the Adjutant-General of General Smith's command, Major Jasper Whiting [brother of Gen. Wm. H. C. Whiting, commanding Smith's Division], were sent to Richmond, and directed to look after the state of the defences on the James River at and near Drewry's Bluff, some eight miles below.

One of the alleged advantages to be derived by sending the army to the lines of the Warwick River [earlier in the campaign, at the behest of Lee, Magruder and Davis] was to gain time enough to arrange these defences so as to prevent Richmond from being taken by water after Norfolk and Yorktown should be abandoned.* General Johnston had checked the enemy for several weeks, and we all supposed the James River had been blocked, and that every preparation possible had been made for the local defence of the capital.

On the 14th of May Major Stevens wrote from Richmond: “The enemy's gunboats are reported above City Point. They entered the Appomattox yesterday. The obstruction in the Appomattox is four and a half miles below Petersburg. There is nothing to prevent their landing at City Point or above, up to Drewry's Bluff, in force. The danger is on the south side of James River.”

The same day, but later, Major Whiting wrote to his brother, General Whiting: “Stevens and I have done all we can to stir up the imbeciles. It is perfectly discouraging to see how absolutely nothing has been done. Hood's brigade or yours (any good brigade) might save Richmond yet. I mean, keep back the gunboats. A little work, well done and quickly, will do it. . . . Show this to ‘G. W.,’ and come and help us.”

The next day, the 15th of May, Major Whiting wrote to General Smith from Drewry's Bluff: “It won't do to trust these people in any way. We can't get anything done. . . . If not too late, a good brigade under an energetic officer might perhaps save the city. A few more vessels sunk; a gun or two well placed, with bomb-proofs; some sharpshooters intelligently located—all with strong field-artillery and infantry supports, and some one in charge—might give us, or somebody else, time to do something above. Everything now is at odds and ends; everybody frightened; and everybody looking out for his own affairs. I have never been so much ashamed of our people before. . . . Can't you come here?”

This news from Drewry's Bluff and Richmond, and the attempt of the gunboats to approach the city, induced General Johnston to cross the Chickahominy.
* Mark this statement - it provides unique insight into the motive for the adoption of the Warwick line not found in other histories of this period.


A statement from our management

Well, we had our first casino night here at the blog and some people tried to take advantage.

Some sharpies tried to bet on all of the Joe Johnston Fair Oaks explanations at once. When casino security confronted them, they said "None of these reasons are mutually exclusive. They could all be true. They could all be winners."

Management had to intervene, explaining, "Not one source listed here gave multiple reasons for Johnston's decisions. Every source gave just one explanation and voluntarily excluded all the others. Moreover, not one source included a discussion of any alternate possibilities. These authors committed the reader to one explanation only."

And with that, management directed the bouncers to do what they do so well.

First the authors cheat the readers, then the readers come into our casino to cheat us.

Damn useful, bouncers.


Fair Oaks jackpot - you may already be a winner!

Welcome to the Civil War History Casino, ladies and gents. This house of chance is like none other you have ever seen. Our croupiers are prizewinners; our dealers are highly paid speakers; our pit bosses are best-selling authors.

Today we have doubled the jackpot to be paid out on the Magic Randomizing Wheel of Explanations. The question you must answer is simple: "Why did Joe Johnston launch his attack at Fair Oaks/Seven Pines?" Place your bets now as we spin the wheel!

[1] Johnston saw McDowell's junction with Porter as "imminent." He then "worked himself up" to an assault. Cliff Dowdey, The Seven Days.

[2] Johnston learned that McDowell was headed to the Valley but decided to attack anyway because of the disposition of Union units. David Eicher, the Longest Night.

[3] Davis "prodded" a "reluctant" Johnston to attack. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom.

[4] Johnston decided to attack because recon showed the troops to his front were beginning to construct works at the same time two Union corps were exposed to the weight of his army. A Different Valor, Gilbert Govan and James Livingwood.

[5] Johnston wanted to give Longstreet the opportunity of an attack. Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond, Steven Newton.

[6] Plans for an attack were already made before McDowell was seen going to the Valley and Johnston simply went ahead with a variation on them. (No motive given) George B. McClellan, Stephen Sears. (No motive given in To the Gates of Richmond either). Ditto Joseph E. Johnston, Craig Symonds.

[7] With new reinforcements in hand, Johnston felt he could strike McClellan. Lee's Lieutenants, Douglas Southall Freeman.

[0] When Johnston learned of the disorganized state of Richmond defenses and the chaos in James River defenses, he decided an attack was needed immediately lest Richmond be taken from the James. (Confederate Papers, GW Smith)

[00] Davis and Lee agreed Johnston should attack and Lee persuaded Johnston to attack during a personal visit. (Rise and Fall, Jefferson Davis)

Around and around she goes, where she stops nobody knows!

Rewarding nonsense for 50 years

In Schools for Strategy, Colin S. Gray writes:
In an idealized world, for good or ill, and probably mainly for the latter, the (typically) civilian policymaker says "go get them" ... and the top soldier salutes, says "yes sir!" and proceeds, unimpeded subsequently by political harassment, to exercise his professional skill as a soldier.
He's distilling a lot of military pop history here, but isn't he here also distilling the Grant legend promulageted by Catton, TH Williams, and the whole rotten Centennial crew? This passage strikes at the heart of the Civil War readership, I think, because we readers demand this approach. Catton and others serve their market well, but their market is profoundly naive. Gray continues:
The army is mobilized, and military strategy is determined according to the ways best suited to achieve the military goals that would translate as the military victory that policy demands.
This is a deficiency the garden variety ACW historian struggles with. This is why you see so many books on the strategy of Lincoln, his military genius, his amazing plans. Vaporware, all of it, but the narrative-driven writer, constrained by his framework and story archtypes is compelled to fill the vacuum with what archtype demands.

Gray says,
Of course, this simple narrative is a nonsense, and it always has been.
Dr. Gray, come to Civil War history, where nonsense earns success and esteem.


Coping with Civil War maps

I love sketches and diagrams but military maps make me very uneasy. If the mapmaker annotated the map or noted the logic and sources used to develop it, I would be happier. The mapmaker is entitled to opinions and interpretations but I am eager to know what they are. Sketches and diagrams are safer because they portray rough concepts.

A military map represents an historical argument. I cannot take a map on trust. If the narrative is noted, why shouldn't the map be?

This is all merely personal until the National Park Service begins to develop a battlefield based on who-knows-what maps containing who-knows-what guesswork.

In reading, I tend to ignore any maps but even in ignoring them there is discomfort in what could be an informative read.

How do you cope with maps?


Foner criticizes Gallagher

Eric Foner has criticism for Gary Gallagher's new book.

My two cents: when you are arguing over what "the North" was fighting for, you're on a level of generalization that takes you out of history and into metaphysics.


The meeting on 26th of September, 1861 (conclusion)

Jefferson Davis faced what would become an American military cliche in future years: top generals requesting resources with no strategy in hand but brandishing a fistfull of dire predictions to motivate their president.

Did Davis indicate a strategy of his own at this meeting? Look at some of his points:

(1) Motivation: "...the whole country was demanding protection at his hands, and praying for arms and troops for defence... he could not take any troops from the points named..."

(2) Means: (A) "...at that time no reinforcements could be furnished to this army of the character asked for..." (B) "...without arms from abroad [Davis] could not reinforce this army..."

(3) Methods: "...instead of an active offensive campaign, we should attempt certain partial operations—a sudden blow against Sickles or Banks—or to break the bridge over the Monocacy."

(4) Limitations: … We cannot afford to divide our forces unless and until we have two armies [i.e. one defending before Richmond or DC and one invading the North] able [independently strong enough] to contend with the enemy's forces at Washington [whichever of the two Southern armies USA should take on]. [Letter of Sep. 8]

(5) Aspirations: "Had I the requisite arms the argument would soon be changed…" [Letter of Sep. 8: Davis aspires to a major invasion of the North.]

(6) Primacy of Theatre: "It is true that a successful advance across the Potomac would relieve other places; but, if not successful, ruin would befall us" [without a second army between DC and Richmond - Sep. 8].

What we have here are the elements of a strategic policy.

The motivations (1) are Clausewitzian: military power, and strategy, are subordinate to political policy. The generals, certainly Smith, do not understand the purpose of troops stationed on idle fronts and postwar Smith gives the example of Bragg at the head of divisions idling in Florida. Davis understood that a force of this size located in this quiet place served a political purpose for the larger cause. He didn't articulate what that was but possibilities point to maintaining or increasing support for the CSA central government.

Davis was offended, and gave voice to this postwar, because the generals slighted his motives for the dispositions of armed forces on quiet fronts. Like many Civil War writers of today, the generals applied a purely abstract military analysis.

The means (2) are subordinate to Davis's Clausewitzian motivations. He cannot reinforce this or that army because he has calibrated an optimal dispersion of available force for maximum political gain.

His methods (3) and aspirations (5) are balanced. If Davis can build up materiel and manpower, ambitious projects (to be defined) will be undertaken. In the meantime, opportunities to hurt the enemy will be sought. Davis gives the example of defeating an independent or detached command in detail (Sickles or Banks) and he posits a raid to destroy a strategic asset (bridge).

The Civil War reader needs to think this out far more carefully than the usual authors have done. These lesser offensives have no decisive military value. They put political points on the board. Cumulatively, they demoralize a polity. They aspire to be what the military recently called "effects based operations." (Look at the linked PowerPoint slideshow and you will understand what Davis was about.)

Here is the mind-bending aspect to this. As many viable commands as Davis could deploy opposite Union armies, garrisons, posts, and geographic objectives, that is how many storehouses of "effects based operations" he would command. The more independent commands there are to score political points by breaking a bridge or humiliating a Banks, the faster the political points accumulate to deliver that weight that breaks the union's political back. More commands, more operations, more effects, snowballing politics.

Note how well this accommodates a surplus of military experience and talent.

Jackson, in independent command, consistently fulfills Davis's strategic vision; Lee, Johnston, Beauregard - these represent necessary evils, factors to stave off worst-case outcomes. The Southern public was roused by Jackson, it venerated Jackson, not because he best fulfilled Davis's vision but because what he was doing resonated with them. Davis anticipated that resonance with a policy Jackson was specially suited to fulfill. Jackson's popularity was in its way a mark of Davis's innate political and strategic gifts.

Unfortunately, the pop history reader is looking for decisive battles that won the war. This has nothing to do with Davis (or Lincoln) and blinds one to the underlying logic of events.

Davis's limitations (4) exactly mirror Lincoln's obsession; he wants an army to defend the capital and an army for field operations and will not accept McClellan's (and Johnston's) dictum that an offensive against the enemy's capital is the surest defense.

In Davis's evaluation of theatres of war (6), he does not rate Richmond-DC as decisive except in a negative sense, that loss here would be decisive. He recognizes it as decisive to the North (however) by saying an advance across the Potomac would relieve pressure on other fronts.

In sum, Davis has a framework for strategy that is entirely political. Because we are so polluted with the decisive battle doctrine, we misread the invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the disconnects between Lee and Davis.

The invasion of Maryland has all the hallmarks of a Davis concept as long as the aim is the capture of Harpers Ferry and its garrison. This work combines the Banks-Sickles-bridge example into one piece. It is saturated with Davis flavor as long as Jackson commands; when Jackson accomplishes his Davis-like aims, the operation goes off the rails (typically) under the big-battle, hamfisted Robert E. Lee.

Lee represents an expedient, a high-casualty, high-risk adaptation of the Davis-Jackson model for the middle and late war that becomes necessary through the consolidations that eliminate Davis's many "effects based storehouses" into a few large lumbering commands. The Gettysburg campaign is a striking failure of Davis-Jackson style opportunism that becomes an elephantine blunder. I am convinced that Davis's idea for ambitious offensives was that the larger force, having greater menace and more freedom of action than a smaller force, would find greater opportunity to "break bridges," defeat detachments and independent commands, and put points on the board without running up giant losses, wasting materiel, and committing to "decisive engagements."

Davis's strategic policies were subject to opportunities and the vagaries of command. They were also subject to the North's capacity to shrug off minor Southern successes.

The pop historian

- cerainly every best-selling one - has a "precocious knack for hackery."


Did you know? Now you know!

Paul Gottfried says: "...most of those who fought for Southern independence did not own slaves, while Northern commanders such as McClellan and Grant did."

Some of us are still slaves to McClellan and Grant, I suppose.

Guelzo and anti-Guelzo

Good old Usenet flamewars have been taken up by the legacy media:

Guelzo: Abe's Ticking Clock

Gottfried: Being Dishonest About Abe

Letters to the Editor

Canadian "smackdown"

These are days when one is proud of the probity, restraint, good graces, and all-around civility inherent in blogging.


The meeting on 26th of September, 1861 (cont.)

Some reflections on the meeting with special reference to this post.

A strange reticence - Johnston asked for a meeting with Davis to request forces to invade the North. Then, neither he nor Beauregard raised the subject with Davis the night before the meeting, nor did they raise it the next day, during the actual meeting. GW Smith, the junior general present (perhaps fatigued by shilly-shallying) eventually introduced the topic that was the subject of Davis's visit.

Requesting a blank check - Davis was not presented with any concept, plan, or strategy that would use the proposed manpower increase. The generals are simply going to invade the North. Perhaps the generals did not agree on a use for the men at that point.

Use it or lose it - The generals tried to motivate Davis to concentrate not by presenting a compelling idea for the use of an enlarged army but by posing a negative incentive - the wasting away of an experienced field army.

Doubling down - When Davis was unmoved by a negative rationale, the generals doubled down on the negativity proposing a "death ride" for the army - having their reduced force invade the North without reinforcement so as to use it before it wasted away, acknowledging it could be destroyed but that would be "better" than losing it through expirations and attrition. In this case Davis would need to make a heroic supply effort to enable the death ride.

Basic position - If you reconstruct the meeting back-to-front, if you consider the generals' "bottom line" first and then work backwards to their opening proposition, you find this: the proposal they made was for a "death ride" enhanced for better odds with units stripped from quiet posts. They wanted a larger death ride but would settle for a smaller one.

Even if you disagree with the conclusion above, if you place yourself in Davis's shoes you would conclude that these generals were out of their minds. Having reaped a political bonanza at Bull Run, they were urging Davis to forgo politics to risk destruction of an army and the capture of Richmond because that would be better than to leave a tool rusting in the toolbox.

To invite Davis to a conference like this, to present no strategy but demand resources, and then to accuse Davis of having no strategy is as flamboyantly outrageous as the very meeting on 26th of September, 1861.

Now, did Davis indicate a strategy of his own at this meeting?


The Sesquicentennial has a Facebook page

It looks more like a blog.

You, yes YOU!

... can be a member of the The Society of Civil War Historians.

The Sesquicentennial: a view from abroad

"The news and entertainment media love anniversaries. So it is strange that the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War has been so low key."

"... a willingness on the part of the United States to admit the possibility that the [Civil] war was not the best response to Secession would be a healthy sign."

The Civil War: an Eerie Silence


The meeting on 26th of September, 1861 (cont.)

The text of Smith's memo can be reduced to stated propostitions and stated or implied counterpropositions. All material is from Smith's memo except text in talics, which is from Davis's The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, and text which is labeled as being from Smith's Confederate War Papers.

(1) Proposition (Johnston): Meet "for the purpose of deciding whether the army could be reënforced to the extent that the Commanding General deemed necessary for an offensive campaign."

Counter: none, agreement.

(2) Proposition (all): "... the military force of the Confederate States was at the highest point it could attain without arms from abroad—that the portion of this particular army present for duty was in the finest fighting condition—that if kept inactive it must retrograde immensely in every respect during the winter, the effect of which was foreseen and dreaded by us all."

Counter: none, agreement.

(3) Proposition (all): "The enemy were daily increasing in numbers, arms, discipline, and efficiency. We looked forward to a sad state of things at the opening of a Spring campaign."

Counter: none, agreement.

(4) Proposition (generals): "...our force at that time here was not sufficient for assuming the offensive beyond the Potomac."

Counter: none, agreement. However, see Davis on (8).

(5) Proposition (generals): Strip "other points to the last they will bear—and even risking defeat at all other places, put us in condition to move forward."

Counter (Davis): "...the whole country was demanding protection at his hands, and praying for arms and troops for defence... he could not take any troops from the points named..."

Counter (Davis): The proposition is false because it announces Johnston's "conclusion that troops could be withdrawn from a place or places without knowing how many were there, and what was the necessity for their presence."

Response (Smith): "At that time [Davis] had a large body of disciplined, seasoned soldiers, well organized, under General Bragg at Pensacola; which place was abandoned, in the Spring of 1862, after this force had remained there, idle and comparatively useless, for nearly a year. There were troops at various other points that might well have been made available..." (Confederate War Papers)

(6) Proposition (generals): "Success here at this time saves everything—defeat here loses all." ("...various ... special illustrations were offered.")

Counter (Davis): Nothing is more common than that a General, realizing the wants of the army with which he is serving, and the ends that might be achieved if those wants were supplied, should overlook the necessities of others, and accept rumors of large forces which do not exist, and assume the absence of danger elsewhere than in his own front.

(7) Proposition (generals): "...even with a much larger force, an attack upon their army under the guns of their fortifications, on this side the river, was out of the question."

Counter: none, agreement.

(8) Proposition (Smith): The number of men needed for an offensive campaign would be "Fifty thousand effective seasoned soldiers ... such men as we had here, present for duty." (Johnston, Beauregard): " ...a force of sixty thousand such men..."

Counter (Davis): (A) "...at that time no reinforcements could be furnished to this army of the character asked for..." (B) "...without arms from abroad [Davis] could not reinforce this army..."

(9) Proposition (implied, Davis): [The difference between the amount of men needed and the amount sent forward since Bull Run represents wastage under the generals' stewardship]: "To my surprise and disappointment, the effective strength was stated to be but little greater than when it fought the battle of the 21st of the preceding July. The frequent reënforcements which had been sent to that army in no wise prepared me for such an announcement."

Counter (Smith): The proposition is false. "At the time of the Fairfax Court House Conference the number of enlisted men present for duty in General Johnston's Army was something more than Forty thousand." It would have taken 10,000 men to bring it up to 50,000. (Confederate War Papers)

(10) Proposition (generals): "...this force would require large additional transportation and munitions of war—the supplies here being entirely inadequate for an active campaign in the enemy's country, even with our present force."

Counter: none, agreement.

(11) Proposition (generals): "...it was felt that it might be better to run the risk of almost certain destruction fighting upon the other side of the Potomac, rather than see the gradual dying out and deterioration of this army, during a winter, at the end of which the term of enlistment of half the force would expire."

Counter (generals): "... the hope and expectation that before the end of winter, arms would be introduced into the country—and all were confident, that we could then not only protect our own country but successfully invade that of the enemy."

Counter (Davis): "...this supply of arms, however abundant, could not furnish ‘seasoned soldiers..."

Counter (Davis, implied): The proposition is false because if the risk of certain destruction were preferable, the generals would have taken up Davis's suggestion of a partial campaign over the Potomac against Banks, Sickles, etc.. (See below)

(12) Proposition (Davis): "...instead of an active offensive campaign, we should attempt certain partial operations—a sudden blow against Sickles or Banks—or to break the bridge over the Monocacy."

Counter (generals): "... if an opportunity should occur offering reasonable chances of success ... the attempt would be made" sometime in the future.

Smith's summing up of this affair in Confederate War Papers will be familiar to every reader of Civil War history as something of an endlessly recycled insight:
... no well-defined, comprehensive war policy had been adopted by the Confederate Government. The authorities in Richmond seemed to be floundering in a discursive plan for trying to protect all the assailable points in the Country, hoping that something favorable would turn up from abroad.
Is this a fair summing up of the strategy or policy of Jefferson Davis in October 1861?

p.s. Here's Smith's postscript on the conference from Confederate War Papers; few historians have internalized this fact:
...whilst we [Johnston, Beauregard, Smith] could not make a campaign of invasion, our hope was that the enemy [McClellan], with the large army of raw troops in front of us, would make a determined forward movement into our country. In this we were disappointed.