1814 and 1862

The American reader experiences a mild shock when reading into the ACW history of 1862 to see that Lincoln and Stanton at one point assumed military command in directing the armies, strategically and operationally. In our culture, this is just not done.

But the precedent was set in 1814, when the Russian and Prussian monarchs travelled with their campaigning armies, directing their movements and making all important military decisions. The Austrians, cooperating in the advance, lacked the advantage of an equal counterweight and had to suffer a certain amount of court politicking at HQ. (From Dominic Lieven) Field Marshal Schwarzenberg had this to say about Allied headquarters:
[I am] surrounded by weaklings, fops of every sort, creators of eccentric schemes, intriguers, idiots, chatterers and fault finders.
That's our presidential entourage in a nutshell, by the way.

Those interested in pursuing this compare-and-contrast should pick up Mikaberidze's The Russian Officer Corps in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815.The first sixty pages are filled with interesting data such as percent of officers owning serfs, officer literacy, social standing, etc.

My feeling is that the example of Napoleonic war affected the shaping of the role of General-in-Chief and the ability of civilians, such as Thomas Hart Benton, to contend for the role.


Are we not all Fremont Republicans?

What is the alternative?

Is not Lincolnian Republicanism a disgraceful letdown to Fremont Republicanism?

Compared to a Fremont Republican, is not a Lincoln Republican a total embarrassment?

Is not Lincoln's hounding of Fremont a political vendetta of the morally inferior against his moral superior?

Submitted for your consideration by a Lincoln critic and Fremont fan.


Downton Alexandria

PBS is piggybacking on its Downton Abbey import with a domestic Civil War drama, Mercy Street, starting in January.

Barnaby Furnas 3



ALPLM digitization

Missed this item:

Lincoln papers, presidential library in critical condition

Again, this is an institution with a director, a chief of staff to the director, and two librarians.

Barnaby Furnas 2

Antietam II


Barnaby Furnas I


ALPLM makes changes

When the Illinois kakistocracy inserted a knighted NPR talk show host as head of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, it looked as though a veneer of independence was attempted.

Now, Eileen Mackevich, OBE, has resigned:
Mackevich wanted the institution to be independent. She's said she resigned because [Gov.] Rauner had a different vision for museum management.
Apparently, the idea is that
The Lincoln library and museum would become a separate state agency, governed by an executive director and advised by an 11-member board.
It would seem a semi-independent director would answer to a larger and therefore more patronage- friendly board. The governor has gotten enough of his own appointees onto the existing board to now make the changes he wants.

And so ends another chapter in this absurd comic opera of an institution. A director with a chief of staff and a library with two librarians.


Sword has died

SWORD, Winfield Wiley Age 77, of Suwanee, GA passed away Monday, November 9, 2015. Wiley was born in Mexico, Missouri on December 7, 1937 and lived there until the age of 7. He was a Civil War historian and published author who greatly enjoyed traveling and lecturing. Wiley was also an avid golfer, but nothing meant more to him that this family. He said his family was his greatest accomplishment. A memorial service for Wiley will be held on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 1pm at Johns Creek Baptist Church with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Wiley's name to Pamplin Historical Park - Wiley Sword Collection, 6125 Boydton Plank Road, Petersburg, VA 23803. Online condolences may be expressed at www.crowellbrothers.com. Arrangements by Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory, Norcross/Peachtree Corners, GA; (770) 448-5757.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 11, 2015


"Author Earnings"

If you are an author with an interest in ebook sales, do visit Hugh Howey's Author Earnings website. The data is a black box extrapolation but interesting for being indicative.

Note also the lengthy discussions appended to individual reports - well worth the extra reading time.


Grant Under Fire

Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War at 798 erudite, well-researched pages, delivers a profound, perhaps unforgettable reading experience.

This revision of Grant’s biography delivers it in a narrative form packed with 103 pages of notes, 37 of bibliography and an historiographic essay. Author Joseph Rose says
The investigation of various controversies in Grant Under Fire may look positively one-sided , but this is an exposé. In earlier biographies, much of what passed for evidence and argument on General Grant’s behalf was improbable, strained, and often downright wrong ... Mostly, Grant’s blunders and unpleasant personal characteristics have been ignored, misconstrued, distorted, or denied. This work subjects both the primary sources and these earlier interpretations to a fine scrutiny. The arguments presented here identify the historiographical weakness of the previous works and offer a more reasonable analysis, based on a wide range of available sources.
This is done with great force and also humility:
... there are so many sources still unconsulted and so many of the extant sources contradict each other, information is sure to come to light modifying or overturning many of the facts and conclusions stated here. [...] I do ask the reader to point out any and all mistakes and make suggested corrections, as appropriate, on the website grantunderfire.com.
My own disadvantage in reading works like this is that I lack grounding in the primary sources of late war controversies; however I can say that Rose’s evidence handling impressed me as did his grasp of the material. We are in the hands of a fair, informed and intelligent author who delivers a compelling read. Some controversies here are a thinner than others, however the general picture is consistent, thorough and credible. Grant seems nothing like what the current consensus makes of him. As Brooks Simpson pointed out in Let Us Have Peace, Grant had highly developed political sensibility; some of that is on display here, but so is the political bubble constructed around him by Elihu Washburne and others and that bubble was needed to preserve the general from repeated errors of omission and commission -- one might almost say from a self-destructiveness.

This was my summer reading and hard to put down. Highly recommended as an antidote the general Centennial consensus and as a fine piece of historical research and writing.

Update: Harry has an interview with Joseph Rose.


Historical sterotypes

I was touring Montpelier Saturday with a Midwestern group.

Tourist:  Why should Dolly Madison be considered the first "First Lady" when Abigail Adams preceded her in the White House?

Guide: Abigail Adams hung her laundry to dry in the White House parlor!

Tourist: Well, she was a New Englander!

[Oh, the soft prejudice of lower expectations...]


Political generals then and now

Reading a newspaper article today on a couple of sitting generals (called in the report  "toxic," and pawns of the White House) got me thinking about a difference in types.

Our modern chateaux generals are creatures of specific politicians with no political force of their own. There are a number of Civil War generals who were political in just that same, simple, one way.

However, most of the political generals labeled as such in the Civil War were political figures in their own right and although many advantages of appointing them are beginning to be discussed, one thing they delivered is never mentioned.

Years ago, going through the Democrat papers of that day while in Boston's main library, I was struck by the obsessive amount of reporting on Ben Butler's little commands and their doings. Every day brought a substantial report, often outweighing the combined war news of other commands. All operations were painted in the most favorable light and overshadowed news of any contemporary battle elsewhere.

This kind of hometown bias gave Lincoln's Administration a glow in newspapers that would be ill disposed to him otherwise. The ongoing publicity payoff for these kinds of appointments must have been much higher than for appointing Cabinet officials from this or that place.

Does any newspaper follow the doings of a general today? The generals are disposable, anonymous salarymen, from nowhere, going nowhere. Their political utility is simply that of delivering political outcomes and complementing politicians' analysis and aims.

A president might do well to appoint actual politicians (or celebrities) to some high commands, following Lincoln in this.


The McDowell Papers: A special one-time offer to readers of this blog

It has been a long time since regular readers of this blog have received a free offer. The time has come to repay loyalty and sustained interest with this very special opportunity.

If any of you will locate the McDowell papers for me, I promise to write a fair-minded, informative, very useful biography -- the first ever -- of this major Civil War figure.

On the other hand, if I have to find these papers myself, I will write a cranky, opinionated, unreadable biography out of an abundance of irritation. You know I am capable of that, so spare yourselves by putting in a little research and elbow grease now to avoid crushing disappointment later.

You know how to reach me or you know someone else who knows how. Find the papers, belay your excuses and get to it. Claim your free prize!


Here are two clues to help you find the McDowell papers.

Clue no. 1 Harry Smeltzer pointed me to this remark:
I was long in hopes of getting access to some papers left by General McDowell which are said to contain information of importance as to his relations with the authorities at Washington; unfortunately, I was unable to persuade those who have charge of them to let me see them.
That is from Robert Matteson Johnston in his 1913, Bull Run; Its Strategy and Tactics, a damn good read, btw. What is Johnston referring to?

Clue no. 2 This is a nugget from my failing memory. Tom Rowland once told me (IIRC!) that his own McDowell bio was stymied because the McDowell daughters had burned their father's papers. Believable, yes. But true?

Claim the prize!

This is a limited time offer and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I had graduate student assistants, you, the general public, would never even have a chance at reaping these generous rewards. Act now and I will throw in, absolutely free, some meager scraps of my own research.

What are you waiting for?


FDR as Lincoln? Well, define "Lincoln"

Thirty years after enjoying Nigel Hamilton's three-volume Montgomery bio, it was a pleasure to meet him in the flesh at the Army & Navy Club where he spoke of his new book last night.

This is a revisionist presentation of FDR and it appears Stimson and Marshall, among others, are going to take some hits.

I only mention this social affair because in the Q&A, perhaps three of the six questions pertained to the Civil War.

Those questions came from an entirely non-historical mindset. They were questions from ACW literature, not history, they were based on fanciful memes and Hamilton, and actual historian who does research and tries to solve problems, adamantly pushed back against them.

My regret is that he pushed against the memes themselves rather than the mindset that reads history this way. As a polite man and as a guest in a special setting, perhaps he needed to hold back a little.

The questioners were trying to understand FDR against the notion of Lincoln finds a general. One fellow actually broached the name of T. Harry Williams.

Hamilton vigorously countered that in no way was FDR a passive, hands off president looking for someone to carry major decisions for him. (I do like the implicit Lincoln criticism here!) He gave many counter examples to this. It seemed the questioners were a little disconcerted by his repeated assertions on this point.

Hamilton seemed familiar with the ACW literature (at least the Centennial stuff). He also shared with us some nice first-hand Monty and Churchill anecdotes.

I could have tied things up with a query of my own: Do you think Churchill indulged Monty out of the Prime Minister's personal conviction that Lincoln had done an injustice to McClellan?

That particular ACW question would have been too arcane for the occasion.


The Union League of Philadelphia

I had the pleasure of staying in the country's number one city club this weekend and discovered more ACW paintings than a military museum might have.

Like its sister clubs in New York and Chicago, the Union League of Philadelphia was formed during the Civil War by ardent Republicans and it retains its Republican character to this day with an emphasis on its origins, founders, and famous past members. It seems you cannot even descend a staircase without running into history-writ-large.

The blurred photo below shows Reynolds and a more obscure Pennsylvania general in attention-getting spots.
You pass them to approach a very large (here out-of-focus) George Meade.
But this is just a warm-up because when you reach the bottom of these particular stairs, you will have passed the great proto-Republican, Whig Henry Clay, standing almost a storey high (in frame and normally in focus). The halo is not part of the painting proper.
I am recreating here - in part - an actual walk from my room to my dinner inside the club, where I was destined to encounter Admirals Foote ...
... and Du Pont (photographed badly) ...
... and Generals Burnside ...
... and Halleck, his visage gracing the business center.
This is but the smallest sample of all the ACW portraiture, which collection is bound to include almost all of your Northern favorites.

I was looking for my own favorite among all the Pennsylvania notables and was a little baffled at not finding him when it suddenly occurred to me - but of course, McClellan was not only a Democrat, he was THE Democrat of the war. It took a little time and a little Kremlinology to figure out this omission.

Having mentioned "museum," note that the League has its own and the exhibition in place now is called "1865: Triumph and Tragedy." The public is admitted to the museum (only) two days per week.

I did not happen to visit the League's own golf club (Torresdale) and cannot vouch for historical contents of that location.

The city premises do boast a smoking bar, however, with windows overlooking Broad Street and this statue of a member of the 1st Pennsylvania, recently outfitted at Banana Republic. Enjoying my smoke at the window, watching the street and the statue, a few tourists happened by to take both of our pictures (mine inadvertently).

The nicest bar feature was this painting done with a sense of humor.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Cheers!


Is Civil War history doomed?

We had this understanding in our family (growing up in a medical community) that American doctors (high achievers) had gained just enough culture to get through school beyond which they might only glean this or that odd bit from TV or newspapers. So we might tell David Gelertner that his complaint is not new:
I’m a teacher of college students. I’m lucky to be at one of the best colleges in the world, at Yale. Our students are as smart as any in the world. They work very hard to get here. They are eager, they’re likable. My generation ... we always thought we knew everything about every topic, our professors were morons...

My students today are much less obnoxious. Much more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. You tell yourself stories; it’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century – just sees a fog. A blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt, let’s say, at all. I mean, these are people who – We have failed.

... [A]nyway how did we get to this point today when my students know nothing? They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy. And because they have been raised as not even atheists, they don’t rise to the level of atheists, insofar as they’ve never thought about the existence or nonexistence of God. It has never occurred to them.
...we have second-generation ignorance [that] is much more potent than first-generation ignorance. It’s not just a matter of one generation, of incremental change. It’s more like multiplicative change. A curve going up very fast. And swamping us. Taking us by surprise.
We might add to his list a lack of curiosity. But I don't think Yalies or other strivers are much of a threat to culture generally or to publishing or history specifically because they've never been part of the serious reader demographic.

For example, by the 1980s, Princeton, the school,  had been overrun by strivers and the town itself was inundated with relocated businessmen. Browsing the Princeton University Bookstore one day, I asked a clerk if the store stocked a certain author. This clerk was one of the town's old timers who worked to get out of the house, wore fine clothing, pearls and heels on the job. She gave me pained look and whispered. "all they can stock here are New York Times best sellers."

And it wasn't even the kids buying that stuff, it was the newly headquartered corporate folk.

Civil War history attracts autodidacts. As long as we have those - and they are all readers - there should continue to be a market for interesting histories.


Speaking of cigars...

Speaking of cigars, no one in the ACW ever smoked a Grant but some may have smoked a Henry Clay which Wikipedia tells us was marketed first "in the 1840s." Naturally this cigar name would offend Democrats (Business plan: "I think I'll go for half the market").

I bought a Henry Clay tonight (in Union Station) and pictured Abe Lincoln of Illinois surrounded by his Whig cronies lighting one up outside the courtroom.

This compilation from Wiki is incredible:
English writer Rudyard Kipling mused, "There's calm in a Henry Clay," in his 1886 poem "The Betrothed."

Mentioned in English occultist Aleister Crowley's 1918 poem "Absinthe: The Green Goddess": "Here, too, sat Henry Clay, who lived and died to give his name to a cigar."

The brand is mentioned in Irish writer James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses: "Long John Fanning made no way for them. He removed his large Henry Clay decisively and his large fierce eyes scowled intelligently over all their faces."

In Russian and Soviet poet, playwright, and actor Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky's 1925 poem Блек энд уайт/Black and White portraying issues of racism and capitalist exploitation, the setting is a Henry Clay and Bock, Ltd. cigar factory in Havana: "В Гаване все разграничено четко: у белых доллары, у черных — нет. Поэтому Вилли стоит со щеткой у «Энри Клей энд Бок, лимитед»."… "И надо же случиться, чтоб как раз тогда к королю сигарному Энри Клей пришел, белей, чем облаков стада, величественнейший из сахарных королей."

Reference is made to Henry Clay as a London grocer's "finest cigar" in the 1929 Alfred Hitchcock film "Blackmail."

Mentioned in "Die Matrosen" tango from German playwright Bertolt Brecht's 1929 play "Happy End"

Belgian novelist Georges Simenon in the 1931 French-language novel Pietr-le-Letton/The Strange Case of Peter the Lett. "...un Henry Clay aux lèvres".

The character of Claire Zachanassian in Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Der Besuch der alten Dame/The Visit (1956) smokes Henry Clays.

Mentioned in the poem "A Busy Man" by British-Canadian poet and writer Robert William Service: "And now I'll toddle to the garden/And light a good old Henry Clay."

Maurice Leblanc's gentleman thief Arsène Lupin was noted to have used a Henry Clay cigar to conceal a reply to an invented associate as a part of his escape from jail in "Arsène Lupin in Prison".
Per Service, I did toddle to the garden this evening and the Clay was good enough to inspire this addition to the literary canon.


This "plan" is a varmint that won't stay dead

The John Batchelor show featured a talk about The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-63: Leadership Lessons by Kevin Dougherty.

Q: "...Why is that [the so-called Anaconda Plan] a good example of leadership...?"

A: "The Anaconda Plan, named after the snake that kills its victims by strangling, is the original plan that Scott brought forth to the Federal side to defeat the Confederacy by limited war. Scott did not want to lose a lot of casualties either on the Federal side or the Confederate side, he had kind of a conciliatory approach to warfare that he practiced in the Mexican War and his plan was to build up a massive army, to blockade the Confederate coast, and to cut them off from the rest of the world, and to split the Confederacy in two by getting control of the Mississippi River. And although that plan was rejected because it was perceived as taking too long, and the country wanted to get on with victory, it ended up being the way that the Federals did eventually win the war."

Assertion: It was "the original plan..."
Response: It was not a plan. Several disparate ideas presented at different times were fabricated by the press and historians into a make-believe "plan".

Assertion: "...he had kind of a conciliatory approach to warfare that he practiced in the Mexican War."
Response: He waged conventional war against Mexico and when the capture of Mexico City did not bring surrender, he negotiated with the enemy.

Assertion: "...his plan was to build up a massive army..."
Response: His idea was to send 60,000 men down the Mississippi (in a separate source he suggests up to 80,000). He opposed creation of a massive army.

Assertion: "...that plan was rejected because it was perceived as taking too long..."
Response: There was no plan, there was no presentation, so there was no rejection. Scott's separate suggestions of a blockade and or a river campaign were discussed when they came up conversationally but there is no record of their pro forma acceptance or rejection.

Assertion: "... it ended up being the way that the Federals did eventually win the war."
Response: Preposterous, unless "the Anaconda Plan" is anything you want it to be.

For more details, see my series here, here, here, and here. The second and last posts are most important.

Ladies and gentlemen, before referring to something called "the Anaconda Plan," check your primary sources. You will save yourself embarassment.


Taking our worst failings seriously

Working through the McClellan controversies and the way they are treated, it eventually occurred to me that there is a much larger Civil War history problem of which McClellanology is just a small indicator.

Further, I have come to understand that this problem goes beyond Civil War history and permeates the culture.

A couple of weeks ago I commented to my brother on how wretched science has become in the same way as Civil War history and how very carefully we have to treat any claims by scientists, doctors, pharma, and so on.

Now, here comes The Lancet.
In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. [...] The good news is that science is beginning to take some of its worst failings very seriously. The bad news is that nobody is ready to take the first step to clean up the system.
The leading Civil War historians will deny there is any problem in our little world. We have yet to confront "worst failings."


"Writing through"

An instructor long ago rejected a history paper of mine with the comment, "You are trying to write your way through what is an historical problem."

I was not arguing from evidence, I was stylizing and applying tricks and tropes to press a weak point.

See if you think this author is doing the same.


The point of Memorial Day

If it is the point of Memorial Day to honor all of the war dead, is it not wrong to honor only a portion?

With 364 days a year to honor the Civil War dead, why can't reenactors pause for a short while to honor the fallen of their own generation and others?

If reenacting is part entertainment, can't we postpone the entertainment for a day or two?

Some readers will counter that many Memorial Day programs include a little bit of this and that. Let's put an end to "this and that." Memorial Day is for remembering all.

Local officials must show decency and strength by denying permits for these kinds of events on this particular holiday.


"Copying language from other sources"

A number of this blog's readers feel certain forms of plagiarism are "no big deal." The New York Times feels differently.

A reader noticed this editor's note in the Times [emphasis added]:
Two articles in this series last year, by the author Karen Abbott, copied specific language and passages from several books and papers. In most of these instances, the writer cited the sources in the article’s endnotes. However, copying language from other sources without proper attribution is a violation of Times policy.

The first article, about white Southern women during the Civil War, copied language verbatim from works by Catherine Clinton, David Silkenat, J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, James Holland Jones and Mary Elizabeth Massey, and a volume edited by Stephen W. Berry, all of which were listed in the article’s endnotes. The article also copied one sentence each from James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” (1988) and from Williams G. Stevenson’s “Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army” (1862) without attribution.
This is a cut and dried complaint: two sources got no attribution. Simple, right?

But if you look at the article, scroll down to the citations. Do you recognize the method? It is one used by Stephen Sears and other authors. They compile and write long passages of text marking them with a single endnote that leaves the reader guessing as to how to match material against sources. Our errant author takes this terrible, nonsensical practice to a new level by putting her whole article under this system, again leaving the reader to figure out what came from where. One reader apparently did and complained about the two missing bits.

Now, the  Times very overgenerously credits such disarray as legitimate attribution but blames the author for leaving two ingredients out of her hobo stew. The editor's note continues:
The second article, about The Soldier’s Friend, a New York newspaper for Civil War veterans, copied sentences verbatim from a book by Frances M. Clarke and a doctoral dissertation by Jalynn Olsen Padilla, both of which were listed in the article’s endnotes.
Note that the charge here is that the author reproduced text without quote marks and the citation of said text does not then wash away the sin of plagiarism. Many of you will consider this nitpicking - it is not. History is about the evaluation of sources and just weighing of evidence. When evil practices strip away our ability to judge the author on these criteria, there's no history there. It's mere nonfiction that violates even a newspaper's editorial policies.

The Times invokes the word plagiarism at the end of its note:
Editors at The Times learned of the problem after a reader complained. Contacted by The Times, Ms. Abbott said that it is common for historians to draw on primary and secondary sources as long as those sources are acknowledged. However, according to the American Historical Association: “Writers plagiarize, for example, when they fail to use quotation marks around borrowed material and to cite the source, use an inadequate paraphrase that makes only superficial changes to a text, or neglect to cite the source of a paraphrase.” Had The Times known about the copied language in both essays, it would not have published them.
If we look at the articles in question, this editor's note has been added to the end of the first article and the second. The pieces remain online and searchable. The author, Karen Abbott, will justly be shamed as long as these come up on the Web. And she will be shamed for practices milder than those of James McPherson, Jean Smith, and many other celebrated Civil War authors.

We Civil War readers need to contact the editors of newspapers who publish pieces and extracts from our Civil War authors and report plagiarism. We could contact book publishers too, but the effect would less and one wonders if the publishers even give a damn.


Not a Civil War Army

Not even close. The go along/get along Army culture on full display.


Music is seasonal

Music is seasonal. Before Easter, Parsifal. After Easter, Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloomd." As natural as the spring.

Whitman's elegy to Lincoln has more music settings than Hindemith's. There is Dobrogosz's, McGrath's, Crumb's, and Session's. These are better tributes than any historian could pen.

Sadly, there is no good reading of the poem itself, apart from this grotesque curiosity. Avert your eyes and listen.


Loathing Lincoln

Harry makes good use of some of Larry Tagg's stuff to put Lincoln's reputation in perspective. The material is from The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.

If I were Larry, I'd be more than slightly annoyed at LSU Press for publishing Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. I guess the editors there don't read other publisher's booklists. Their author even cites The Unpopular in his biblio. What is the point of this work?

And why can't book reviewers be bothered to learn what books preceded the tome they review?

Civil War history is discouraging enough but the Lincoln people, with a few exceptions like Tagg and Jaffa, are the worst of the worst.


OT - Tales of a Volunteer Army

I happened across a Russian site that was mocking the U.S. military for evacuating itself from Yemen ahead of 4,000 American civilians because to save civilians would have been "too dangerous" for the U.S. military. Sounds like a joke about the services' absurd "force protection" mission.

The joke is on us. Apparently, this is no prank info: Russia, China, Pakistan and India have been evacuating their own and ours since the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy pulled out of Yemen.

Item: "On Thursday, 59 American citizens, and 40 relatives, were among 400 passengers evacuated from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah by the Indian navy ship the Sumitra."

Item: "U.S. officials have said they believe it is too dangerous for U.S. military assets to enter Yemeni waters and air space...That, however, has left Americans largely on their own to find a way out of the country."

Item: "A few dozen Americans have made it aboard U.N.-organized evacuation flights from Sanaa to Khartoum, Sudan, and others have made it out aboard Russian ships..."

Item: A State Department official [reiterated] ... it is too dangerous to risk a military operation to rescue Americans.

Too dangerous for whom?

Item: "The US government has been sued over abandoning its citizens in Yemen, where up to 4,000 Americans are feared stranded. Pentagon officials claim an evacuation would be too dangerous for military personnel to carry out."

Item: "US citizens stuck in Yemen have lashed out at Washington for ignoring their pleas for help as they try to leave the war-torn country."

Item: India has wrapped up a successful evacuation of 4,640 of its own citizens as well as 960 foreigners.

Meanwhile, the Army, reacting to publicity about collapsed morale, has changed the formulas that measure morale to improve results.

As history readers we make a huge mistake if we conflate the military of old with the military of now.


Dunning-Kruger: we're all guilty but some more than others

We used to say, "He knows just enough to be dangerous." Now we say, "This is a Dunning-Kruger case."

Dunning-Kruger is/be/are all over the Internet these days, and discussants do not dress in sackcloth. They are very concerned about those other idiots over there who don't know how foolish they are.

Now, Civil War discussions have a lot of pejoratives, many absolutes and all sorts of "common knowledge" backed by adamant posturing. OK, so here I am pointing my finger at those folks over there, but I avoid calling generals names and do not assume greater knowledge than the man who was there and on the spot.

How many of us presume to substitute our own judgement for a field commander's? How many do so with a caveat that the commander did not have information as good as ours ... and yet we don't analyze our own information? How many realize it's not entirely about the information?

Dunning himself has recently published an Internet piece justly called, "We are all confident idiots." He does not cite an ACW example but does mention pop culture evolutionary theory, a bugbear of mine. Dunning:
... purpose-driven misconception wreaks particular havoc on attempts to teach one of the most important concepts in modern science: evolutionary theory. Even laypeople who endorse the theory often believe a false version of it. They ascribe a level of agency and organization to evolution that is just not there.
"False" is a little harsh. "Outdated" or non-Darwinian is better. BTW, don't we ACW readers ascribe an agency and organization to the battlefield that is not there? Don't we know about the coordination and editing of battle reports?

But back to Dunning: check out your local public school and educational TV programming, especially. You'll learn that dinosaurs could not adapt (a Lamarckian formulation) but that successful mammals inherited those environmental adaptations forced upon them (Lysenko). Remarkable stuff and nothing remotely to do with Darwin and yet preached today as "settled science" by people who don't know the history of competing evolutionary theories. And Dunning falls into this by suggesting there is one "evolutionary theory." There are many evolutionary theories and some are discredited.

Our own little world is a simpler one. Nothing is discredited because there is only one master narrative of the ACW. The game is in retelling the story because there is nothing writers can say that did not already appear in Republican newspaper editorials during the war. The alternate Democrat analysis and commentary have faded yellow and crumbled to dust with the broadsheets of that era. Any new analysis is but a novelty that passes with any given publishing season.

Meanwhile this idiot general missed that glorious opportunity to end the war in a single bold stroke because of his [insert failing here].


Military virtues of the lazy

Lucy Kellaway was talking about a lazy executive and mentioned Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord's formula. I had heard it before attributed to Frederick the Great.

The idea is that you classify your officers as either clever or dull and then again as either industrious or lazy. The clever lazies are assigned the highest field commands; the clever industrious are put on staff; the dull lazies are left to follow orders; and the dull industrious you isolate and keep a watch over them.

I worked for an industrious fool long ago in Saudi Arabia. When we last heard from this blustery whirlwind of a man, he was taking a taxicab from Riyadh to Beirut.

Interesting to sort the Civil War generals into these bins. What's your sort look like?

The Quote Investigator has a nice piece on this slippery attribution.


Savior generals

It's not an adequate rebuttal to counterinsurgency doctrine but Col. Gian Gentile's polemic Wrong Turn has three very interesting memes relevant to our little world: "the bad general," "the better general," and "the savior general." His method of debunking these pop culture archetypes is to document the underlying and pervasive continuity (in policy and practice) between the "bad," the "better," and the "savior."

One wonders if the germ of this idea came from Civil War readings.

Update (3/29): A reader alerts us that Victor D. Hanson had a book out called The Savior Generals. Gentile quotes Hanson on other matters but does not attribute "savior generals".


Atlanta's numbers (cont.)

Andrew Wagenhoffer wrote in to mention that Steve Newton wrote about Johnston's retreat numbers in North & South ages ago. "I found some talk on the article on the Armchair General." Here's a snip from that board:
There was an excellent article in the April 2000 (Vol 3, No.4) North/South magazine that did just that. The name of the article was "Formidable Only in Flight: Casualties, Attrition, & Morale in Georgia" by Steve Newton. Steve does an excellent job of breaking down battlefield casualties, missing soldiers, losses to sickness, & readmissions amongst both Federal & Confederate armies. "Under Johnston's leadership the average daily casualty rate was 195 casualties per day for 73 days; under Hood this average increased to 375 casualties per day for 47 days. Although daily averages only show general trends over weeks & months, it is evident that the Army of Tennessee suffered signficantly more casualties over a much shorter period under Hood than Johnston."

Where things break down for the Confederates is in the hospital & recovery phase. The Federals were MUCH better at getting men back to the battlefield than their Confederate counterparts. For the Confederates, the really telling part is not casualties TAKEN, but in casualties INFLICTED. While Johnston in 73 days of combat generates nearly the casualties that Hood does in 47, the Yanks take 20,000 LESS casualties due to the battlefield & sickness under Hood than Johnston. Hood takes greater casualties faster & inflicts less damage than Johnston.
These numbers need more scrutiny; one may have to repair to eBay to get a copy of the issue in question.

How to communicate

Just came back from a company meeting in which we were urged to begin communicating with each other at a (lower) level such that "even a New York Times reader could understand." Seriously. It was a comment on reading levels made without malice.

I often think on these same lines when I see discussion of complex issues reduced to one syllable words.


Atlanta's numbers

Crimes against numbers, being the special mark of the Civil War historian, always catch my eye.

The question of Johnston's strength during the Atlanta campaign and at the point of relinquishing command to J.B. Hood is a controversy of which I have been innocent until drawn in by an aside in Stephen M. Hood's new book The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood:
...Johnston had declared that during his May and June operations in North Georgia his army had lost 9,972 men, killed and wounded, in his infantry and artillery. Many subsequent writers had contented themselves with simply repeating what Johnston had written and even had ignored the restricted nature of the general's own statement ("killed and wounded," "infantry and artillery," "May and June"). In fact, if one adds other known losses and makes reasonable estimates of deserters, stragglers, men lost as prisoners, men lost to sickness, casualties in the cavalry, and losses in the 1-17 July period, one gets a different picture. Johnston's losses then total about 25,000.
Russell Bonds has a comment on Johnston's tallies in his War Like the Thunderbolt:
Johnston only counted enlisted men armed on the front lines as "effectives," while adding every orderly, cook, staff officer, and teamster west of the Appalachians to the Federal total ... In short, Johnston's reports compared apples to oranges - Confederate "effectives" versus Union "aggregate present" - and then compounded the problem by undercounting the apples and overcounting the oranges.
This useful criticism does not get us to a larger picture of relative strengths, so I turned to another new book, Robert Jenkins' To the Gates of Atlanta: From Kennesaw Mountain to Peach Tree Creek. Its Appendix C, "Estimated Strength of Hood's Army," puts the handover at 44,400. The unit breakdowns show figures such as 4,00, 2,000, 1,000 and, not surprisingly, they come from the OR. The OR does not say who made this estimate, why or how, nor the  excessive resort to zeroes. This is not to single out Jenkins because we often see historians who cite the early information of the OR in preference to the refined data and analysis that come later.

Have a look at this article from Battles and Leaders published lifetimes ago to see the kind of rigor that would be useful if we could ever train historians to take an interest in figures. Note that the authors say "between April 30th and June 10th, [Johnston must account] for at least the following men available for battle," namely 84,328. Subtracting Stephen Hood's estimate of 25,000 lost en route to Atlanta and we come somewhat near to the Battle and Leaders authors' reckoning for Gen. Hood's new command: 65,032.

"Somewhat near" because contemporary accounts also feature an abundance of zeroes. Among the Lost Papers is another estimate made by a Kentucky regimental surgeon who writes to Gen. Hood that "... it was estimated, from despondency and our retrograde movement, the army had lost between 17,000 and 20,000 men by desertion ..." [Emphasis added.]

There is a lot of work to be done here.

Stephen Hood's book opens another door to a related matter, of which I had not heard. Bragg writes Hood on December 17, 1865:
My recollection is perfectly clear ... In addition to the Army of Tennessee, then at Dalton, the General Commanding was offered for an offensive campaign, Polk's Corps from Mississippi & Ala., Longstreet's Corps from East Tennessee, and a sufficient number from Beauregard's command in S. Carolina & Georgia to make up 75,000 effective infantry. The Cavalry with these commands numbered at least 10,000 and the artillery 6,000, total 91,000. Besides the effectives so reported there were not less than 15,000 able bodied men bearing arms but reported on extra duty such as clerks, cooks, mechanics, laborers, teamsters &c, &c. One half at least could at any time be placed in battle without impairing the efficiency of the army.
I have always considered it a great misfortune that the generous offer of President Davis was not promptly accepted, and the campaign energetically undertaken. To furnish the means all other armies were for the time being to be subordinated to the Army of Tennessee.
This is gist for an alternative history and suggests the outnumbered JJ may have been outnumbered by his own choice.


p.s. Johnston was no stranger to spin. For details on how Johnston falsified his report on Fair Oaks, see Cliff Dowdey's The Seven Days.


The Comte de Paris on the climax of McClellan's second Richmond campaign

During a recent stay at the Union League Club in New York, I found an original edition (are there newer ones?) of the Comte de Paris' History of the Civil War in America. There is a digital edition somewhere, no doubt, and perhaps I could have read read it on a tablet in a dirty taxicab, but better to browse in a beautiful setting (shown above).

McClellan's second Richmond campaign promised a solid win. The largest-ever AOP had concentrated against Longstreet in the Piedmont near Culpeper-Warrenton, while Jackson's isolated, distant, scattered command scrounged Valley supplies beyond the mountains (the passes of which had been blocked by commands posted by GBM).

While acknowledging the advantage McClellan developed, the Comte speculates on alternative outcomes:
Jackson and Lee, who had a thorough knowledge of the situation, had certainly projected some bold movement upon McClellan's rear similar to that which had proved so successful against Pope ... but they were playing a very dangerous game.*
Strong statements but History lacks notes. Why did the author think Lee had thorough knowledge and a certain plan?

Russel Beatie, perhaps alone among ACW historians, used the Comte's unpublished papers in writing his Army of the Potomac series. Is the answer in those papers?

* Vol 2, 554-555


ALPLM hits the wall

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the management of which has long been derided in this blog, now faces reorganization driven by the Illinois legislature. A new report makes interesting points:
* "The library has been unable to maintain its professional staff and to make necessary investments in digital technology"

* "The museum’s famously innovative exhibitions, created a decade ago, are in need of a major reinvestment"

* "The lack of a professional culture is acutely evident at the State Historical Library"

* "... maintaining the status quo for ALPLM governance is untenable."
The place has been a patronage sink made ludicrous by its pretensions. Will separation from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency fix that?


James McPherson's favorite books and authors

In a New York Times interview, James McPherson recently identified some of his favorite authors and books. I thought I'd add some fun links to the names below.

Best ACW book ever: Allan Nevins' Ordeal of the Union. (Scroll down to the sixth para where Nevins plagiarism is discussed.)

Favorite ACW biography: "Jean Edward Smith, Grant. (See my posts, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).*

"Most important military history ever written": John Keegan's Face of Battle.

One of "the best historians writing today": Eric Foner.

In the "first rank of military historians": Craig Symonds, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthar.

Happy reading!

* Smith and McPherson make beautiful music together:

McPherson: "He may have been an alcoholic in the medical meaning of that term. He was a binge drinker." [BCOF P 588]
Smith: "Grant was a binge drinker. In a clinical sense, he may have been an alcoholic." [Grant P. 231]

McPherson: "For months he could go without liquor, but if he once imbibed it was hard for him to stop." [P 588]
Smith: "He could go for months without a drink, but once he started it was difficult for him to stop." [P. 231]

McPherson: "His wife and his chief of staff John A. Rawlins were his best protectors." [P 588]
Smith: "For the most part, Grant remained sober, protected from alcohol by his adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins, and especially by Julia." [P. 231]

Smith can also make Catton's dead prose come alive!

Catton (Grant Takes Command): "Grant saw more of the fighting here than he did in the Wilderness because the country was more open."
Smith (Grant): "Grant was able to witness more of the fighting at Spotsylvania than in the Wilderness because the terrain was more open."

Catton: "During the afternoon he saddled up and rode out to several points where he could watch the fight for the tip of the salient."
Smith: "During the afternoon he ordered his reliable pony Jeff Davis saddled and rode out to several points where he could observe Hancock's troops fighting at the tip of the mule shoe and Wright's assault on the west angle."

Catton: "It seemed to him that on balance things had gone well and that evening back at headquarters he sent Halleck a wire summing up his impression [quotes wire]."
Smith: "On balance, Grant thought things were going well. Back at headquarters that evening he wired Halleck [quotes and paraphrases wire]."

Catton: "On the evening of May 11 Grant had sent Julia an optimistic message [quotes message]."
Smith: "Later he wrote Julia he was well and full of hope [quotes message]."

The passing (cont.)

I shared some thoughts with Brooks Simpson and his readers on how the old guard's views will be carried on into the future (see comments).


My, how history rhymes

"If he lacked the flexibility to suffer fools gladly..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"One of the adjectives that is usually applied to President Davis is the word 'austere'..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1808-1840, page vii
Lynda Lasswell Crist 1971

"He appears humorless..."
The Papers of Jefferson Davis: July 1846--December 1848, p vii
Lynda L. Crist, Mary S. Dix, 1982

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
Battle Cry of Freedom, p 429
James McPherson, 1988

"Austere and humorless, Davis did not suffer fools gladly."
The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era, p 363
James McPherson, 2003

"He did not suffer fools gladly ... Davis could be austere, humorless and tediously argumentative."
Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief quoted in reviews
James McPherson, 2014


(p.s. If anyone knows who these fools are whom Davis did not suffer, please drop a line.)


Low Davis content in "Jefferson Davis"

Began reading Jefferson Davis, Confederate President by Hattaway and Beringer, which came out in 2002.

Reading and reading, I got angrier and angrier. The book is really a general history of Confederate military operations, many of these operations undertaken with no Davis input. No Davis strategy, no Davis decision trees, no Davis work habits, no Davis routine interactions, no business style, not even superficial analysis of this presidency: this is what the authors deliver. They supply 5-10% Davis content at most and no more than 15-20% presidency content.

Expect a handsomely bound Civil War primer that treats its real subject, operations, hurriedly and it's pretend topic, the Davis presidency, not at all.


The passing

A friend writes,
Just saw news of Pfanz’s death, and was thinking about Civil War history and generations of historians:

I guess you saw Harry W. Pfanz just died (age 93). Albert Castel died in November (age 86).

Stephen Sears is 82. McPherson is 78. James I. “Bud” Robertson is 84 or 85. Ed Bearss is 91. William C. Davis is a spritely 68, but just retired.

Are we now, fully and finally, in the age of Simpson, Rafuse, Grimsley, Symonds, Woodworth, Carmichael, Hess, et al.? And if so, what will they do as they seize the wheel? With their power to shape history? Will we see new and powerful analyses of battles and leaders and logistics and politics, or just blog posts about social history and latter-day “controversies” like the Confederate flag? How many of those guys are working on major books at this point? Do we have anything to look forward to?

(Then there’s the threat of Michael Korda and the like. Don’t get me started.)
Your thoughts, dear reader?


New Lincoln resettlement document

This undated blog posting refers to a new find: a resettlement agreement signed by Lincoln that puts freed slaves in what is modern Belize. I had heard of these plans but had no idea they reached the point of government-to-government agreements.

History is full of messy details which writers take pains to eliminate.