G. W. Smith, biz book punching bag
"When faced with consequential decisions, most people would prefer to be more like Lee than Smith, but the reality for many can be just the opposite".
"Davis was lucky [at Seven Pines] to have Lee close at hand (Lee was his advisor) but what would have happened if Lee had not been in the role he was in?"
Is this the same Lee that let Smith fight Lee's own Seven Pines battle for him? The Lee who was mysteriously absent after his urgent appointment to command the Army of the Potomac? The Lee who interpreted Davis's take command immediately as "take command sometime in the next 24 hours after you have some quality time off"? Is that the Lee managers should emulate?
People well read in Lee material, help me out here. Is this not the ultimate hands-off manager, the delegator par excellence, the you-handle-this-even-if-it-leads-to-Gettysburg-Malvern Hill-Antietam-the-loss-of-west-Virginia, etc.?
On the other hand, Lee's Lost Order is a masterpiece in micromanagement.
How do we split the difference?
Let us not deny the management students their teachable moments. We can do better than to bash Smith.
Lee and Smith at Vera Cruz
After the work upon the army gun battery, the mortar battery and the trenches had been fairly commenced, I was transferred to the naval battery and took my regular turn, with Captain R.E. Lee, and Lieutenant Z.B. Tower, in superintending its construction. I was in charge of the work the day it opened its guns upon the fortifications of the city, having relieved Captain Lee that morning. Seeing him still at the battery, about the time the firing commenced, I asked him if he intended to continue in control adding, "If so, I report to you for instructions and orders." He replied, "No, I am not in charge. I have remained only to see my brother, Lieutenant Sydney Smith Lee of the Navy who is with one of the heavy guns. My tour of service is over. You are in control; and, if I can be of any service to you whilst I remain here, please let me know.
There had previously been a difference of opinion between Captain Lee and myself in regard to the dimensions that should be given to the embrasures. The Chief Engineer [Totten] decided in favor of Captain Lee and the embrasures were changed and made to conform to his views. In a very short time after the firing began one of the embrasures became so badly choked that it could not be used until the debris could be removed. [...] Just after that incident, I asked Captain Lee what he now thought in regard to the proper dimensions for the embrasures. He replied "They must be made greater when the battery is repaired tonight."
- From Company "A" Corps of Engineers, USA, 1846-1848, in the Mexican War by Gustavus W. Smith
Did Lincoln become McClellan?
From his first book, his PhD thesis in fact, Brooks Simpson has attempted to correct the Centennial view of the Lincoln-Grant relationship. I won't characterize his views: read for yourself. A lot of interesting Civil War history can be discovered and enjoyed once we realize the Lincoln-Grant partnership was not the cliche the Centennial made of it.
Recently, Harold Holzer imagined Grant's hardest hard war views and projected these onto Lincoln as Lincoln's own. Simpson objects:
In truth, Lincoln’s feelings about Grant’s losses in the campaigns of 1864 were mixed. As he told the general during a visit to the front in June 1864: “I cannot pretend to advise, but I do sincerely hope that all may be accomplished with as little bloodshed as possible.” The following month, he telegraphed his commander: “I do hope you may find a way that the effort shall not be desperate in the sense of great loss of life.” The next year, in a conference with Grant and Sherman, Lincoln again expressed the hope that the war could be ended without one more major battle. True, after the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 the president commented that fighting such a battle every week would eventually destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, showing that he understood the grim attrition of war. Yet he also had mixed feelings about the destructiveness of the conflict. On August 14, 1864, he called upon Grant to meet with Robert E. Lee to try to arrange “for a mutual discontinuance of house-burning and other destruction of private property.”These remarks in condensed form encapsulate in reverse McClellan's perceived faults. Did Lincoln become McClellan over time?
Is it possible that the closer affinity or similitude was between McClellan and Lincoln?
Your daily Lowry digest, condensed
Brooks Simpson notices that said personages are outraged that historians other than their blurbing selves failed to check Lowry. This is a post not to be missed.
Morningside books on sale
Brooks Simpson's blog
A good use of Ford's
Lowry: Compare and contrast
Lowry was interviewed on Civil War Talk Radio in its early days; he uttered one of George Carlin's forbidden words IIRC, irking Gerald. I found him overconfident of his achievment, evasive, and without historiographic sense.
I read at least three of his books (see here, here, here). He was an author who consistently went farther than the material allowed.
It's not that he stretched the material, it's that he would pick his premise first - always from a dramatic marketing angle - then marshal the supporting data which would fail to measure up to marketing's promise. We're talking undergraduate history papers.
Lowry is an enthusiast with focus on the wrong things. He is a sensationalist. I think he could make himself useful as a compiler of information rather than as a narrative historian. That would be a better use of his energy, if he has any left after this scandal, and if anyone will trust such compilations.
These now retroactively preserved artifacts - whose history the Army was uniquely qualified to appreciate before it scrapped them as unwanted trash - gained instant bureaucratic value this week when they were repriced by the howls of scandalized outsiders. Decibels of embarassment were converted into units of measurable historic significance for those custodians who had earlier behaved as vandals.
Again, as with the Walter Reed fiasco, the Army acted after a WaPo expose embarassed the brass.
To anyone who ever watched or read a Lovejoy mystery, the underlying operation is as basic as A-B-C:
...the company performing the renovation replaced the urns with modern replicas and was allowed to take away the originals...If you know the value of things, renovation can be more than just a business: in the right situation, it's a racket.
I once had charge of a unique collection of high value paintings owned by the Army; the president of a certain republic imagined our Army high command appreciated presents of rare art and made many such. How dealers knew that these pieces were then in my custody I still wonder.
The most memorable offer I received was that in exchange for one of the paintings in my care, I could have any painting of my choice from the national museum. This immediately told me that any piece I might name was already a copy, or at least that copies were circulating of the whole national catalog as if they were the originals. Nice business, antiques and art.
Another example. The 9th Infantry does not exist as a regiment anymore and its artifacts were in the hands of the Second Division some decades ago; these included astonishingly elaborate dragon-draped silver punchbowls and cups worked by Chinese craftsmen at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. I drank from these a few times (my 1/17th Bn was brigaded with the 2/9th). I wonder if these heirlooms were replaced with replicas by now. A few weeks ago at a Christmas party, an antiques dealer amused me by standing back 10 feet from place settings calling out which items were plate and which were sterling. There's a punchbowl half a world away I wished he could have surveyed as well. The big threat to antique silver right now, he said, was meltdown for cash.
The inventory of its treasures is (or was) fragmented in the Army, with nothing like the property/inventory safeguards surrounding, say, firearms. The idea of the defense budget going to preserve these things - and they are not nearly all in military museums - is weird and their custody is spotty.
We need an inventory of the armed forces' historical and cultural artifacts; we need ownership of these to pass out of the hands of the armed forces. We will be astonished at the holdings disclosed, I promise.
Wharton's take on G.W. Smith
BTW, has anyone ever seen or heard this one before:
Davis returned to the battlefield. The Union Army was rumbling in the distance.
Again, he asked Smith for his plan.
"Sir, I have no plan to defend the Confederacy," Smith infamously replied. "Do you have any good ideas?"
The "madness" of G.W. Smith, cont.
PrivateSmith marked this letter in 1865 saying actually his acquaintance with Davis antebellum was "very slight." The editor of these papers notes that Smith had learned of federal arrest orders while on his way to Hot Springs, AR, for treatment of his paralysis.
Nashville Tennessee, September 3rd. 1861
My Dear Sir,
I write to inform you that I arrived at this place last night from Lexington Ky. by private conveyance. I have resigned my appointment as Street Commissioner of the City of New York to take effect on the 8th. of this month. My object in fixing that day was to give time to Capt. Mansfield Lovell to get here before the fact of my resignation is known. [Lovell was Smith's deputy in NYC.] My wife is in Ky. and will join me here in a few days. I have left the North for the purpose of connecting myself with the South and sharing her destiny - On and after the 8th. of this month I shall be entirely free from all trammels, and will take an early opportunity to offer my services to the Confederate States in whatever capacity or position they may be most useful. I am glad to be able to say that I have entirely and perfectly recovered from my recent illness, at one time it was feared that perfect recovery would not take place for a year, if ever. But thank God I am now "all right."
The guns at Sumter would have brought me South at once if I had been in condition to do anything -
Please present my respectful compliments to Mrs. Davis and accept assurances of regards friendship and admiration for yourself from Yours Very Truly,
G W Smith
I have no doubt that Mansfield Lovell will be here in a short time. He has been like a caged lion.
It is interesting that Smith was a combat commander again within six months of Seven Pines.
The curious absence of Robert E. Lee, cont.
I looked at the WC Davis bio of J Davis, and he provides some info re Smith’s problems, but on first reading at least it seemed a little like the “Davis must have known” sort of thing. There were some notes so I looked at J Davis’ “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Govt v2″ and Davis lays out the timeline pretty clearly: Afternoon of 31 May he was riding along the lines with Lee and learned Johnston was out of action. He told Lee that he was to take command of the army and to make plans that evening (31 May/1 Jun). The next day (1 Jun) Davis returned to the lines and found Gen Whiting who pointed out he location of Smith’s HQ. Davis writes that he rode up to Smith to tell him he would not take command prior to Lee’s arrival to spare both embarrassment. It isn’t clear the exact embarrassment, but I guess subsequently Smith being next in seniority to Johnston, assumed he would be appointed commander and came to dislike Davis on account of this apparent slight. At any rate, Davis says Lee arrived some time later and met with Smith after Davis had left, eventually catching up with Davis and they rode together to Longstreet. Davis is clear that Lee is in command at this point. Davis makes no mention of the reason for bypassing Smith, but gives the impression that he had determined on Lee from before Johnston was wounded.
Postmaster Gen John Reagan “Memoirs” also was cited, and Reagan generally substantiates J Davis’ account. Reagan writes that when Davis (who Reagan had met) saw Johnston go by on a stretcher, he “at once gave General Lee verbal direction to take command of the army”. He then goes on to write that archives of the Dept of War show that Smith had command of the army for three days, but states this was in error and reflects the date of the written orders.
Now WC Davis gives some material on the supposed unfitness of Smith, and says that it was discussed by J Davis, W Preston Johnston and Ives the evening of the 31st which I imagine could have happened as after-the-fact of Davis’ order to Lee to take command. WC Davis references Preston Johnston’s letters to his wife which might be the place to look for comments on Smith’s mental or physical condition. At least what I could find showed no concern about Smith up to the point that Johnston was wounded, and if the timeline of J Davis and Reagan is correct, the decision was made before Smith could react to Johnston’s wounding. I have no idea of the reliability of J Davis or Reagan’s post-war writings though.
The "madness" of G.W. Smith, cont.
Whiting did his boss no favors with this report! "Utterly unable to endure the mental excitement!" Note please, the progressive nature of this thing. Gullain-Barre is progressive in the same way.
Jefferson Davis to Winnie, June 2: (Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1862, p. 209)
:. . . Gen'l. Lee is in the field comdg. Genl. G.W. Smith has come in this morning sick, his old disease it is said."
OR, Vol. 11, p. 686-86, Smith's adjutant to Lee:
Hughes' House, June 2, 1862
General R. E. LEE, Commanding, &c:
GENERAL: I regret to inform you that General Smith finds himself utterly unable to endure the mental excitement incident to his actual presence with the army. Nothing but duty under fire could possibly keep him up, and there is danger of his entire prostration. He goes to town to-day to gain a few days' respite. All business and all exciting questions must be kept from him for awhile. Major Melton will accompany him to prevent, while it is necessary, all such intrusion.
Since writing the above, I have again seen the general, and am pained to learn that partial paralysis has already, commenced. The case is critical and the danger imminent. I will add a line in a few moments in reference to general condition of affairs I am, general, with high regard, your most obedient servant,
JASPER S. WHITING,
Major and Assistant Adjutant-General, Acting Engineer
Russell adds: "Welsh's Medical Histories of Confederate Generals (pp. 199-200) might shed some light or give some leads as well. Or not . . ." Not - Google Books won't allow a peek at the Smith entry.
In any case, it looks like we have additional confirmation of the malady starting on the morning of June 2nd. This makes mayhem with a lot of ACW narratives.
The curious absence of Robert E. Lee
About 1:30 pm. [June 1st] President Davis rode up and asked for General Lee. On being told that I [G.W. Smith, commanding the battle] had not seen General Lee during the day, the President expressed so much surprise that I asked him if he had any special reason for supposing General Lee would be there. To this he replied ; Yes; and added that early in the morning he had ordered General Lee to take command of the army at once. [...] General Lee arrived at about 2:00 p.m. and at once took command of the army.If you are familiar with Seven Pines (in other words Fair Oaks from the viewpoint of the Southern commanders), day one (5/31/62) features Davis and Lee riding about the battlefield trying to get information plus Lee also waiting at Johnston's HQ to learn what he was doing, while Johnston avoided the pair of them with complete success.
From Davis's and Lee's POV, the battle must have seemed a muddle, the commander not to be found, no one sure of the plan, no communication. Smith - Johnston's second in command - was at HQ also long out of touch with his commander.
Now move to evening. I want to suggest the following sequence of events for the night of the 31st: (1) Johnston wounded (2) Smith takes command (3) Smith confers with subordinates, develops plan, issues orders (4) Smith shares plan with Lee (5) Lee writes letter after midnight praising battle plan (6) Davis appoints Lee to command after midnight.
It's not clear to me where in this sequence to put "Davis learns Johnston is incapacitated." Smith says Davis told him the Lee appointment was "early" on the 1st of June. Meanwhile, Lee writes Smith a letter approving the battle plan for the 1st, dates it the 1st, and nothing in the letter conveys his new status as commander of Smith's army.
You see that I give Lee the benefit of the doubt that he wrote Smith the approving letter BEFORE Davis put him in command. If Lee had written the letter AFTER appointment without reference to the new relationship it would have been a very dishonest distancing act.
There was, nevertheless, a distancing act.
Davis is shocked by Lee's absence from the battlefield as late as 1:30 p.m. on the 1st. When Lee appeared at 2:00 in the afternoon and "took command," he did not issue any orders, deferring to Smith. When Lee and Smith encounter Longstreet between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on the 1st, Lee lets Longstreet report to Smith, offending Smith's sense of order to the point where Smith orders Longstreet to report to Lee.
It's easy to see what Lee is up to: he is letting the battle play out without him, without putting his name on it. The question is why?
Again, I have some possibilities:
(1) Lee sensed the battle was a mess, whether or not Smith's plans were good. He did not want to own it.
(2) Lee rated Smith's chances of retrieving the battle on day two higher than his own.
(3) Lee rejected the command structure but could not reasonably change it until after the battle; he did not want to fight a battle with Johnston's (now Smith's) commanders and dispositions.
(4) Lee did not understand Davis's intent and imagined he had more latitude in the timing of his assumption of command than he actually had.
(5) Lee spent the morning getting lost, or falling asleep, or enmeshed in some confusion or foul-up.
(6) Lee merely carried on in the widespread early war tradition of letting his number two (Smith) function as operational army commander.
More on (6) in another post. Note that Johnston, as commander of the Army of the Potomac, wrote Davis in late 1861 that he could not release Smith from his organization because as his number two, Smith was the operational commander of the army.
Whatever Lee's motives, Smith seems to be our sole source for a detailed description of the change of command, and in Smith's account, Lee's absence was unexcused.
For a different view, see Mort Kunstler's account of the command change here.
The madness of G.W. Smith (cont.)
In his book, The Battle of Seven Pines, Smith says "The next morning (June 2), I was compelled by illness to leave the field." Morning is not very specific.
Govan and Livingwood in their Johnston biography, A Different Valor, put Lee's assumption of command at 2:00 pm June 1, the latest time I've seen from pop historians. This 18 hour remark would move out to an 8 a.m. June 2 recovery. Their time is not sourced. However...
In the Battle of Seven Pines, Smith talks of Lee's assumption of command this way:
About 1:30 pm. [June 1st] President Davis rode up and asked for General Lee. On being told that I had not seen General Lee during the day, the President expressed so much surprise that I asked him if he had any special reason for supposing General Lee would be there. To this he replied ; Yes; and added that early in the morning he had ordered General Lee to take command of the army at once. [...] General Lee arrived at about 2:00 p.m. and at once took command of the army.What he means is formal command, for he adds, "General Lee made no adverse comment on my management of the army and gave me no orders then or any other time that day."
Between 4:00 pm and 5:00 p.m., Smith and Lee are riding on the Williamsburg Road. They encounter Longstreet who renders a report to Smith; Smith redirects the report to Lee. At 6:00 p.m. they return to Smith's HQ and Smith issues orders recalling troops sent to Longstreet's aid. Smith is fully himself into the evening.
So a June 2nd recovery is consistent with a June 2nd affliction, but the details are difficult.
One of Harry Smeltzer's readers wrote him to say:
“Glatthaar, OTOH, says Smith had suffered the 'paralysis' before the war, when he was street commissioner in New York City." “A bout with paralysis forced him south for treatment. The Federal government misconstrued his intentions and deemed him an enemy, so Smith offered his services to the Confederacy.”It is dangerous to rely on Glatthaar for anything. Only the paralysis matches Smith's obituary which puts it this way:
After the election he continued attending to the duties of Commissioner, and served out the term for which he had been elected. His administration of the office had been very able and honest, and had given great satisfaction. He held over, awaiting with anxiety the appointment of a successor. Owing to overwork, about two weeks before active hostilities actually began at Fort Sumter, Charleston, Captain Smith was struck down by paralysis and confined closely to his room for some months. When recovered sufficiently, he went to his friends in Kentucky. At a later day he learned it was the intention of the U. S. authorities at Washington to arrest and imprison him, and he proceeded to Richmond, Va., in September. About this time he resigned the office of Street Commissioner of New York City.Steven Newton in Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond, writes of the famous Richmond war conference involving Davis, Lee, Johnston, Longstreet, Smith, and Randolph,
Smith he finally located at the Spottswood Hotel only thirty minutes before the appointed time. There, his second in command had nearly collapsed from the exertions of the previous few days and his chronic nervous malady. Smith told Johnston that he felt entirely too ill to participate...The citation for this vingnette is excellent, an unpublished account of a conversation between Smith and Bevery Bohnston (Joe's brother) in 1863.
Worth looking into: conversion disorder and Jean-Martin Charcot.
The madness of G.W. Smith
Please pause a moment to collect your own thoughts on how it happened.
If you had asked me, I would have said that Gustavus W. Smith suffered some sort of breakdown and Davis then assigned Lee to take over from Smith (who had taken over from Johnston). Was that your recollection too?
I never looked deeply into this. The record gets very thin when addressing what the malady was and how it was manifested. It is most odd for our beloved storytellers to pass up juicy gossip or vivid anecdotes in constructing their tales.
I gave one formulation of the legend but there are variations. Consider these:
Wiki: ... he suffered what was likely a nervous breakdown upon taking command and Jefferson Davis replaced him with Robert E. Lee the following day, June 1."
Comment: Wiki speculates about nervous breakdown ("likely") and gives the malady date as May 31 (working backward from June 1, the "following day"). It presents in one sentence, breakdown > replacement. It does not source the breakdown.
In The Civil War: a History, Harry Hansen, Gary Gallagher, and Richard S. Wheeler take a crack at it: "... command devolved on Major General G.W. Smith. But Smith, who was near a nervous breakdown, made a poor start ... On this Sunday morning, June 1 ... At noon President Davis appointed General Robert E. Lee to the command of Johnston's army."
Comment: At noon on June 1, 1862, Davis appointed Lee to the command; this is quite a distinction from Lee taking command subsequent to an appointment. Please note it. This follows "a poor start" by Smith with the reader invited to draw a causal inference. Smith is "near a nervous breakdown," something the reader cannot picture without help, and no details are given.
Now The Seven Days by Cliff Dowdey: "When on June 1 the army devolved on Gustavus Smith ... [he] suffered a total collapse of his faculties. Smith was removed from the field in a state he called paralysis, and which today would probably be diagnosed as traumatic shock."
Comment: Note Dowdey makes the odd point that the army did not devolve on him on May 31, when Johnston left the field wounded, but the next day. Note also the sequence: assumes command on the 1st, suffers immediate collapse.
Let's work backwards from Dowdey, for despite the lack of notes, he gives Smith as his source and in his bibliography he has only one of Smith's books, the Battle of Seven Pines. So Smith is his source.
I have not yet found any other source on the malady aside from Smith himself. If you have one please advise.
Here is what Smith says in his Century article, "Two Days of Battle at Seven Pines":
I was completely prostrated on the 2nd of June by an attack of paralysis, no symptom of which was manifested within eighteen hours after Lee relieved me of command of the Army.Smith is stricken on June 2nd! He uses a specific word in two sources: paralysis. No nervous breakdown, no "collapse of faculties" or "trauma." If Smith is the sole source on this, the judicious historian cannot swap out the word paralysis for another of his own choosing. He has recovered by the night of the 2nd (within eighteen hours after Lee assumed command).
Elsewhere, Smith wrote that Lee was promised command of the army by Davis the night of the 31st when Johnston was wounded. This separates Smith's performance and health from the command decision. It also separates the appointment to command from the assumption of command.
These are matters that should interest the Civil War historian but apparently do not.
Moreover, in the Century piece Smith quotes a letter from Lee approving of Smith's own attack plans for June 1st. In the afternoon of the 1st, after the change of command, he says Lee gave him no orders. Smith directed the fight all day. Smith's postwar writings detail how he fought Seven Pines on June 1 and refute Longstreet's and Johnston's criticism of his conduct of the battle on June 1.
Smith (1) fought the battle and then (2) suffered "paralysis." If Smith is the sole source of our knowledge of the affliction, that has to be the sequence.
Meanwhile, have some medical fun:
Paralysis: "A general term most often used to describe severe or complete loss of muscle strength due to motor system disease from the level of the cerebral cortex to the muscle fiber. This term may also occasionally refer to a loss of sensory function."
Nervous breakdown: "...a popular term - it is not a clinical term - that is often used to describe a mental disorder that a person experiences. It is used for a number of reasons, including: to hide a diagnosis; to avoid the stigma of a diagnosis; not understanding the reasons for certain loss of function..."
So "nervous breakdown" takes us away from the specific - "paralysis" - to the nonspecific. It interjects ambiguity into the record where there was specificity.
Psychological trauma/shock: "Psychological shock can occur after a physically or emotionally traumatic experience but it effects [sic] your state of mind (although this can give you symptoms such as palpitations and feeling faint, it doesn’t usually lead to serious physical collapse)."
The matter of the "madness" of G.W. Smith is again one of many signs of the quality of love our ACW writers have for their readers.