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More Debate on The State of Jones and Interview with John Stauffer

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A quick break from the books to tip the hat to Elektra Tig for Tweet on John Stauffer interview here on the Omnivoracious blog about his book, The State of Jones.

The book continues to generate debate.

The Wall Street Journal posted a chapter in their books section here and Michael B. Ballard’s review of the book appears in the WSJ here. Authors Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer provide a response/rebuttal to that review on July 17th in an article titled “The State of Jones Was Real, and Ahead of Its Time” available here. The debate continues to be fascinating.

State of Jones on WSJ

OK back to Taken at the Flood.

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Book Review: Lincoln and His Generals

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Lincoln and His Generals T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals.  New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.

Tried by War

T. Harry Williams

T. Harry Williams

Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.

This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.

Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.

Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.

The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.

John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.

Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.

Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)

Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.

Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)Tried by War

Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.

At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of  Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.

Gettysburg: The Film, The Books, The Battle

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Little Round Top Union Breastworks

Little Round Top Union Breastworks (Source: The National Archives) Brady

Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.

My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.

Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I’ve been enjoying the perspectives of several ACW bloggers on their top ten books on Gettysburg which Brett over a TOCWOC has nicely organized for us here.

Check them out. Very much worth perusing.

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On Military Preparedness and Cartography during the American Civil War

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1860 Map

County Map Of Virginia, and North Carolina. 23. Entered ... 1860, by S. Augustus Mitchell, Jr. ... Pennsylvania, Source:David Rumsey Map Collection http://www.davidrumsey.com

From class reading several weeks ago, I thought I would share a fascinating quote from T. Harry Williams and his 1952 work Lincoln and His Generals discussing the military preparedness of both sides to wage the war between the states.

“All of them were unready for war in 1861, and in that year and even later were not able to furnish field commanders with the technical information or advice or supplies which they were suddenly called on to provide. One of the most ironic examples of American military unreadiness was the spectacle of Northern – and  Southern – generals fighting in their own country and not knowing where they were going or how to get there. Before the war the government had collected no topographical information about neighboring countries or even the United States, except for the West. No accurate maps existed. General Henry W. Halleck was running a campaign in the western theater in 1862 with maps he got from a book store.”

By the way, I highly recommend the David Rumsey Map Collection site available here. Outstanding collection of maps and the user interface is superb!

Attack and Die

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CSA Dead

Confederate Dead, Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia

Currently reading… Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhitney and Perry D. Jamieson. Incredible statistics describing the carnage resulting from Confederate offensives against fortified positions.

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Photo of Lt. General Grant's Fascinating Staff at Center Point, Virginia

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Grants Staff

I ran across this excellent photo of Grant’s staff pictured below in City Point, Virginia on the Army Heritage Collection Online site. According to the writing on the matting, included are: 1st Lieut. William McKee Dunn, Jr. (seated left), Lt. Col. E. S. Parker (larger man seated to left of door), and Lt. Col. Theodore Shelton Bowers (standing to right of door). That accounts for only three of the eight men pictured although it’s unclear whether all of the men are in the military. A very similar photo appearing in the book, The Life of General Ely S. Parker, indicates that the building pictured was the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac and was taken in 1864 by legendary Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady. (1) This would have been one of 22 log cabins that were built to house Grant and his staff and formed the headquarters on the James River. Originally quartered in tents, as the siege of Petersburg extended and the weather deteriorated, Grant had the cabins erected. His cabin had two rooms, one in the front for carrying on war matters and a room at the rear for his quarters. I am unsure whether this is Grant’s cabin. The town is known today as Hopewell. (2)

William McKee Dunn, Jr.: Undoubtedly the youngest of the men pictured, Dunn joined the army at age 18 as a private and became an aid-de-camp to General Sullivan in March of 1863 and then to Grant in October of the same year. He served with Grant through the rest of the war eventually being promoted to captain. Sources indicate that he had occasional charge of Grant’s son Jesse. (3)

Ely Samuel Parker: A highly educated Seneca Indian, Parker was refused entry to the bar and initially entry to the Union Army because of he was not considered an American citizen. He was trained as an engineer and became friends with Grant prior to the war. Grant brought him to his staff at Vicksburg. On August 30 1864, he was officially appointed as Grant’s private secretary by General Order No. 249. Parker eventually rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. He was frequently referred to as simply “the Indian.” (1) His biography is available on Google Books here.

Theodore. Shelton Bowers: On March 8, 1866, the New York Times reported the horrific death of then General T. S. Bowers in an accident while attempting to jump on to the rail car carrying Grant after the party dropped Grant’s son at West Point. You can read that account here. (4)

Sources:

1 The life of General Ely S. Parker: Last Grand Sachem of the Iroquois and Grant’s Military Secretary, Arthur Caswell Parker, (Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Historical Association, 1919).

2 Grant’s Headquarters, a site maintained by the National Park Service accessed on June 28, 2009 here.

3 William McKee Dunn by William Wesley Woolen, (Knickerbocker Press: New York), 93 – 94, accessed online on Google books here, June 28, 2009.

4 “Particulars of the Death of Gen. T. N. Bowers,” New York Times, March 8, 1866, accessed online here, June 28, 2009.

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Up this Week: Battle Tactics of the Civil War

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Up this week:  Chapters 1 – 6 of Paddy Griffith’s Battle Tactics of the Civil War. Mr. Griffith was a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

battletacticsofthecivilwar

  • Published on: 2001-03-01
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Original language: English
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 240 pages
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Epiphany – The Industrial Revolution and the Civil War

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T. Harry Williams’ essay, “The Military Leadership of North and South” in the book Why the North Won the Civil War is outstanding.

His point that the Industrial Revolution had the “immediate consequence of making the Northern generals less inclined to deal out destruction” was an epiphany. So much of what I’ve read until now points to the advantages of the North because of more and better “everything.” That this affluence in war-making capacity contributed to the early lack of engagement of the North’s generals now makes perfect sense.

“They could secure material so easily that they refused to move until they had received more than they needed — after which they were often so heavily laden the could not move.” (Williams, 50 – 51)

Likewise, the “poverty of Southern resources” explains the scrappy nature of the generals of the Confederacy.

The lesson is timeless and as important to business – my field of battle – as the military.

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Excellent Description of the 2nd Battle of Corinth in "The State of Jones"

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In June 6th’s post I mentioned I was reading a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. This update: their description of the Battle of Corinth is outstanding, albeit gruesome. I will file the book in numerous places on my virtual bookshelves as it covers a great deal of ground: the experience of soldiers, rich versus poor in the military of the Confederacy, unionists in the South, the experience of slaves, etc., etc.

Battle_of_Corinth_II

This sample of the telling of the Battle of Corinth…

“[Brigadier General Martin] Green ordered the men forward. ‘With a wild shout,’ the Mississippians leaped across a railroad cut with the rest of the brigade. A command came to charge at the the ‘double-quick.’

It was the last order that could be heard, as at least fifty Federal guns opened fire on them. the trembling thunder of artillery was joined by the shrieking, concussive outbursts of shells and the short, almost muffled spat-spat-spat of Springfield rifles, hammers hitting soft gunpowder, followed by the metallic raking of ramrods. ‘The very atmosphere seemed filled with shot, shell, grape and canister,’ General Green reported.

Suddenly it seemed as if they were in a rainstorm of blood. Horses plunged and caterwauled, and men screamed incoherently. There was something about such a charge that forced the breath from men’s throats, almost reflexively, without their even knowing it. As one Mississippi soldier recorded in his diary, ‘I always said, if I ever went into a charge, I wouldn’t holler. But the very first time I fired off my gun, I hollered as loud as I could, and I hollered every breath until I stopped!” (p. 33)

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn (Army of West Tennessee) was later court-marshaled for his neglect in taking care of logistical details and forcing his army to march and fight the Battle of Corinth with insufficient water and food. The charges were dropped.

Earl_Van_Dorn

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn

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The State of Jones

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The good folks at Doubleday sent me a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. It is available for pre-order now from WigWags Books and will be published on June 23rd.

The State of Jones

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385525931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches

This is the story of Newton Knight who was a Unionist living in Mississippi and strongly anti-slavery. The authors suggest that he was “the South’s strangest soldier.”

Some quick facts:

  • In Jones County Mississippi, fifty-three men had not only fought as anti-Confederate guerrillas, but formally enlisted in the Union army in New Orleans
  • Knight’s group of guerrillas “remained unconquered though surrounded by Confederate Armies from start to finish.”
  • Jones was drafted into the Confederate army but refused to fight and eventually deserted.
  • Knight had two families, one white and one black. His black family was with a slave named Rachel who was owned by his family and who helped him during the war. He acknowledged her children as his own.

I profess to getting behind in my reading for school because of this book. I promise to write a proper review after I’m finished reading it. I can say that it is VERY well written.

Newton Knight’s story is being made into a film currently in production. Filmmaker Gary Ross is writer, director, and  one of several producers.

Sally Jenkins is an award-winning journalist currently with the Washington Post. She has authored eight books, three of New York Times bestsellers.

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John Stauffer is Professor of English and African American Studies and Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History of American Civilization at Harvard. Stauffercropped
His prior book, GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, I mentioned in a previous post which you can read here. giants

Informal Leadership and Civil War Command

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I’m reading the second half of Archer Jones’ Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory And Defeat this weekend. He makes an interesting point about the power of informal leadership over formal leadership positing that people find informal leaders just as they create informal organizations. He suggests that George McClellan provides one of the best examples.

McClellancroppedAs the creator and first commander of that Army [the Army of the Potomac], he had claims to loyalty which his charisma and the appeal of his Peninsula campaign’s strategy intensified. Even after he had left the command, his position of formal leadership, he continued to exercise great informal influence. This often took the form of the officers of the Army of the Potomac displaying hostility to the secretary of war  and an unshakable allegiance to the strategy of the Peninsula campaign. No successor in command could ever displace him as the army’s informal leader, a situation  which made it difficult for every subsequent commander and limited the ability of the president ad the general in chief to enjoy any widespread, deep-rooted support.

Peninsular Campaign Map

Source: PBS: http://www.pbs.org/civilwar/war/map3.html#

LeecroppedIn like fashion, he suggests that Lee uprooted Johnston’s memory because of the three campaigns he conducted in four months and put Lee in the position of informal and formal leader of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Do you agree with his assessment?

CivilWarCommand&StrategyArcher Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory And Defeat, (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 126.

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Kindle 3 DX Announced! Yes I've Pre-ordered Mine

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KindleDX

Publishers. Are you listening?

Many of you know that I was pretty excited about my Kindle 2. See all my previous posts on it here. This week, Amazon.com announced that they will release the new Kindle 3 DX this summer which has a larger form factor (9.7-inch diagonal screen). Other key enhancements include the following:

  • More storage – 3,500 hundred books instead of 1,500 on the Kindle 2
  • Native PDF reader on board where as the Kindle 2 required conversion
  • Accelerometer on board which is the technology that causes the screen to move from portrait to landscape when you rotate the device 90 degrees. VERY COOL! I believe Amazon refers to the feature as an “Auto-Rotating Screen.”

K3Rotated

The DX using the same electronic-ink technology that prints digitally to the screen and is amazingly readable. Images are even more incredible to view than text. And it uses the super fast Sprint national high-speed (3G) data network that Amazon refers to as Whispernet (at no CHARGE!).

Man I wished I had had this when I was in engineering school. You try carrying a ginormous calculus textbook that covers Calc I, II, and III, physics for engineering book, chemistry, statics, and all the lab books around all over campus in a backpack!

Great for work, school, and pleasure. Highly recommend.

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Class Starting on Monday – Civil War Strategy and Tactics

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Jomini

After a delay of several weeks due to work obligations (reorganization), I’m starting up on Monday the course CIvil War Strategy and Tactics with great enthusiasm. Having seen the syllabus, I know that we begin with a discussion/debate of Jomini’s (pictured right) influence on the strategies employed by both sides during the Civil War. We read, (or in my case read again, as  this was assigned in the course Great Military Philosophers), John Shy’s masterful essay on Jomini that appears in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Do a search on my blog on the word Jomini (or click here as I’ve done it for you) and you may be as amazed as I was on the number of posts I’ve made about him.

makers

See previous posts about the class below outlining the texts we’ll be using.

Next Course: Civil War Strategy and Tactics

New Class Starts with Jomini

Next Term’s Books are In! Mostly…

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Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution

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tamingdemocracyl

I was delighted to find a package from Oxford University Press waiting at my door this afternoon and in it was a review copy of the new paperback edition of Terry Bouton’s Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. This looks to be a fascinating read, one that presents a more accurate picture of the founding fathers and the common man of the era.

This from the pre-publicity…

The Founding Fathers are generally considered the most highly regarded Americans in the history of our country; celebrated as the brave and noble group of visionaries who banded together to overthrow the British and bring democracy to the land. Yet what if, contrary to popular belief, these fondly remembered individuals weren’t the great purveyors of freedom for all that we accept them to be?

Taming Democracy devotes much of its pages to the ordinary citizens who protested against the Founding Fathers’ hypocrisy. Common citizens of all back grounds did everything from run for political office to organize political parties and uprisings against what they labeled “united avarice” controlled by “moneyed men.”

It’s worth noting that this book was recipient of the Philip S. Klein Book Prize of the Pennsylvania Historical Association and received Honorable Mention, Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award.

boutonTerry Bouton is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and holds a PhD from Duke University. His homepage at the university can be accessed here.