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.