Streetwise Professor

October 31, 2017

Kelly Causes Mass Apoplexy, Again

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 7:56 pm

John Kelly shares his boss’ ability to cause mass apoplexy on the left. And I think he knows it, and does it deliberately.

Kelly caused today’s mass freakout by making remarks about Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. He committed three grave sins.

First, he criticized presentism, which is an -ism that the left wholeheartedly endorses:

“There are certain things in history that were not so good, and other things that were very, very good,” Kelly said. “I think we make a mistake as a society, and certainly as individuals, when we take what is accepted as right and wrong, and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, ‘What Christopher Columbus did was wrong.'”

“Five hundred years later, it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I just think it’s very very dangerous. It shows you how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is,” said Kelly, a retired Marine Corps General.

Just so. Exactly.

Then, he defended Robert E. Lee as an honorable man:

“Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state,” Kelly said. “One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country — it was always loyalty to state back in those days.”

As a matter of historical truth, this is also spot on. Who disputes that Lee chose his state over the United States?–but only after secession, and when his state was threatened with invasion.

Whether this conduct is honorable or not is fundamentally subjective. Honor–as Lee understood it, and as people like Kelly understand it–means living up to a certain code of conduct, adhering to one’s beliefs, even at great personal cost. The underlying beliefs are not objectively verifiable: they inhere in the subject. Honor involves adhering to them.

Now, you may object to Lee’s code, and what his beliefs were. But it is nigh on to impossible to dispute that he made his choice in good conscience, fully recognizing the personal risks he was taking.

Insofar as that code is concerned, Lee was acting on the basis of a theory of the United States, and the Constitution thereof, that was widely held in the South. Namely, that the Union was a compact of sovereign states, and that states had the right to depart from the Union of the federal government infringed on the rights of the states. In this view, the purpose of Union was to defend the rights of the states, and an infringement by the federal government on those rights justified the dissolution of the Union.

The Civil War basically ended that theory as a practical force in American politics, but it was a viable, and widely held, theory in 1861. And under that theory, one was a citizen of the US via one’s citizenship in a state. The state was more basic, more fundamental, than the union of the states.

Many object that Lee swore an oath to the US. A couple of things here. First, hard cases–situations where basic principles are in conflict–make bad law. Lee indeed agonized over his oath and his divided loyalties. Second, under the theory that Lee (and others) operated, obligations went both ways: the federal government had obligations to the states, and their citizens. In the minds of many Southerners, the government’s violation of its obligations relieved them of theirs. And rightly or wrongly, many Southerners viewed those rights to be at risk as the result of Lincoln’s election in 1860.

This theory was taken very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it greatly–and some would argue fatally–impaired the Confederate war effort. Southern governors, most notably Joseph Brown of Georgia, drove Jefferson Davis to distraction with their strict insistence that the Confederate government in Richmond respect the rights of their states. Jefferson Davis was one of those who claimed that this was indeed fatal to the South because it undermined a unified war effort necessary to achieve victory. When he said the epitaph of the Confederacy was “Died of a Theory,” the theory he was referring to was that of states’ rights.

It is true that many have dishonestly claimed that the insistence on states’ rights shows that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. In fact, these are not alternative theories of secession, or the war, but complementary ones. The right that Southern states were insistent upon, to the point of dissolving the Union, was that of a state to choose its “domestic institutions.” And the domestic institution the Southerners were willing to fight over was that of slavery.

You may argue against the theory, but you can’t credibly argue that Lee was dishonorable in adhering to the principles thereof. One may be an honorable and faithful servant of a false god.

Among his contemporaries–including many Northerners–Lee was considered an honorable man, and indeed perhaps, the archetypal honorable man. Recall that Grant saluted Lee on the steps of the McClean House at Appomattox, after accepting the surrender.

Lee was also from an honor culture, or cultures, actually–the South, and the military (and the antebellum military was deeply infused with Southern cultural values). Lee’s idea of honor no doubts resonates with Kelly, the product of another honor culture, the US Marine Corps.

Again, you may dislike or even ridicule this culture (as Twain did in Huckleberry Finn) but you cannot deny its existence or fundamental features, or claim that Lee did not strive to adhere to its values and strictures.

But Kelly’s biggest sin was this:

Now it’s different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.

This is what really got heads exploding. Deep thinkers like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jake Tapper (you know, the ex-VH1 reporter who made his bones by doing snarky, superficial, and rather sleazy programs on, say, the legal battles over the Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy), and Ta-Nehiesi Coates inveighed against Kelly for daring even to suggest this.

In fact, Kelly’s remark is correct, as a matter of logic and of history.

Insofar as logic is concerned, a necessary condition for conflict is the failure to reach agreement–compromise. Those who make a deal aren’t fighting.

Insofar as history is concerned, sectional conflict was avoided throughout the 19th century through arduously negotiated compromises. The Missouri Compromise (1820), the Compromise Tariff (1833), the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sectional compromise was the leitmotif of mid-19th century American political history: the Civil War was the exception to that rule, the time when compromise failed.

Abraham Lincoln’s political idol–Henry Clay–was known as “the Great Compromiser” for his work in negotiating the first three of these. But Clay was dead in 1860, as was another major figure in negotiating deals, Daniel Webster. Moreover, the political balance had changed, and the pernicious effects of Kansas-Nebraska made compromise even more difficult.

But nonetheless compromises were attempted. The Crittenden Compromise, introduced to Congress in December, 1860, was the most notable of these. It was satisfactory to southerners, but not to northerners, so it died aborning. (One of Crittenden’s sons became a Union general, another a Confederate general. The latter died in battle in 1861.)

Yet even in March 1861, Lincoln was making conciliatory gestures to the South in an attempt to achieve compromise. Lincoln ran explicitly denying any intent to interfere with slavery where it existed (a position he also took during the debates with Douglas), and conceded fundamental states rights principles to the South in his inaugural address:

have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

Note well this sentence: “we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.” Lee would have agreed: he viewed the prospect of an invasion of Virginia by the government of the US to be a lawless act, and it is on that issue of lawlessness which he and Lincoln disagreed.

Lincoln went so far as to accept what was an anathema to abolitionists–the Fugitive Slave Act–arguing that the controversy was a matter of details (“a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it should be kept”), not Constitutional principle:

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution–to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause “shall be delivered up” their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by State authority, but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by which authority it is done. And should anyone in any case be content that his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

In other words, even Lincoln was perfectly willing to reach a compromise that preserved slavery where it existed, and which allowed Southerners to retrieve escaped slaves from anywhere in the US.

The basis for compromise on the lines of those thrashed out 1820-1854 existed, and many on both sides strove to realize it. But the Fire Eaters in the South in particular rejected it. So it is historical fact that the war came because the politicians of 1860-1861 failed to reach compromises like those their predecessors had accomplished a few decades before, despite attempts to do so.  There is a very solid historical basis for what Kelly said.

Now of course any such compromise would have perpetuated slavery. But this is something that Northerners were overwhelmingly willing to accept. And here is the irony. By rejecting the compromises that the North (and the Republicans specifically) would have been willing to offer that would have extended slavery, the Southern radicals embarked on a course that resulted in its destruction within a handful of years. They turned the would-be successor to the Great Compromiser into the Great Emancipator.

The morals of sectional compromise are also not nearly as clearcut as the Ta-Nahiesi Coateses of the world would have it. Yes, Lincoln would have willingly been complicit in the perpetuation of a great evil–something that he recognized as a great evil. But by rejecting Southern terms, and insisting on Union, Lincoln unleashed a war that resulted in the deaths of ~2.5 percent of the US population–and about 20 percent of the military age male population in the South. As Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural, “every drop of blood drawn by the lash was paid by another drawn by the sword.” War is a great evil too. You may prefer one evil to another, but you have to acknowledge that it is indeed a choice between great evils.

This raises another issue that I will write about in the future. It is relatively straightforward to understand why the South seceded, and to recognize that at root it left over slavery. It is harder to understand why the North fought to keep them in the Union. It most certainly was NOT to eradicate slavery: even by 1863, emancipation did not have majority support in the North, and the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865 only by the slimmest of margins, and with the help of some very swampy political dealings.

So why? I have some conjectures–largely unsatisfying–that I’ll share in the future. Suffice it to say it is far too neglected a subject, especially in contrast to the  vast amount of ink spilled over explaining secession.

In sum, for all of the freaking out that Kelly’s remarks induced, he has a far firmer grasp on historical truths than those freaking out do.

But he had to know that what he said would spark a backlash. Yet he went ahead. This is actually quite fascinating, and revealing. He did so after the left attempted to shut him up and shout him down for going after the execrable Florida representative over the Trump phone call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger. By speaking up on such a controversial topic so soon afterwards Kelly is making it very clear that he will NOT be intimidated.

Further, it demonstrates on matters of substance that Kelly’s beliefs track Trump’s very closely–or should I say that Kelly’s sincere beliefs track positions that Trump has staked out? Further proof that anyone thinking that the temperamental difference between Trump and his chief of staff reflects differences in political positions is sadly deluded. Indeed, Kelly’s gravitas (isn’t it funny that word is usually reserved for Democrats, even those who don’t really have it?)  will make Trump far more effective. Kelly is an effective spokesman, and an unapologetic one.

Semper Fi. That makes him a very formidable foe for the left.He is not afraid of a fight, and knows how to win one.

 

 

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September 20, 2017

Remember Chickamauga!

Filed under: Civil War — The Professor @ 5:28 pm

The Battle of Chickamauga took place on 19-20 September, 1863, making today (and yesterday) the 154th anniversary of the battle. And a brutal battle it was. It ranks only behind Gettysburg in terms of total casualties–about 35 thousand as compared to 46 thousand for the three day Pennsylvania battle. However, casualties at Chickamauga almost equal as a percentage of forces engaged: 28 percent of combatants fell in each. It was one of the few battles in which the Confederates suffered a substantially larger number of casualties than their Federal foes:  Confederate losses at Chickamauga were about 2,300 greater than Union casualties (as compared to a disparity of only 180 at Gettysburg). Indeed, since the Confederates lost relatively few prisoners at Chickamauga, whereas the Federals lost many, the disparity in killed and wounded was even greater.  The total casualties, and the percentage losses, at Chickamauga far exceed those at Antietam.

Chickamauga was a meeting engagement fought in dense woods. These factors made it an extremely chaotic struggle. Divisions and even brigades were thrown from the march into advances through the woods, with no idea of what was in front of them and usually without proper support on the flanks. There were multiple instances in which one force moved undetected through the underbrush to fall on an unsuspecting enemy’s flank, routing him, only to be surprised, flanked, and routed in turn. Some brigades were routed multiple times. Unlike Gettysburg, where artillery could be used to great effect in open fields and from high ground, the effectiveness of artillery at Chickamauga was limited by the sharply limited visibility in the dense forests, and several batteries were surprised and captured because their attackers were on them before the gunners were aware of their presence. The limited effectiveness of artillery also meant that the vast bulk of the casualties were inflicted by musketry, usually delivered at very short range.

Given the confusing nature of the battle, after action reports and battle histories are confusing and contradictory. The battle spawned numerous controversies, most notably between Union commander William S. Rosecrans and division commander Thomas J. Wood. Rosecrans’ order to Wood to move his division, based on faulty information, opened a gap in the Union line which Longstreet’s massive force poured through and split the Union army in two. (Although I should note that given the thinness of the Federal line, and the mass and depth of Longstreet’s column, I think it is highly likely that his attack would have pulverized the Union line even had Wood’s division remained in place. Longstreet rolled over Davis’ division to Wood’s right with hardly a hesitation.)

One of my first Civil War memories is my grandfather explaining the Rosecrans-Wood controversy. I was 9, and we were sitting at the dinner table at a lodge in Lake Kabetogema, Minnesota, where my grandfather went fishing every year. He had Tiparrilo boxes, each one representing a Union division: Reynolds’ (in which my GGGF fought), Brannan’s, and Wood’s. He showed that the existence of Brannan’s division between Wood’s and Reynolds’ made it impossible for Wood to obey literally Rosecrans’ order for “Wood to close up on Reynolds, and support him.” So Wood (represented by a moving Tiparillo box) had to fall back, march behind Brannan’s box, and the move forward behind Reynolds’.

My most tangible piece of family Civil War history is from Chickamauga. My grandmother’s grandfather, George Immel, was a soldier in the 92nd Ohio Infantry, and during the battle was an aide to his brigade commander John Turchin (nee Ivan Turchininov). Immel had been born in Germany, which his parents fled in the aftermath of the 1848 revolution. His mother was distressed that he enlisted: she lamented that she left Germany so that her son would not be conscripted, and here he goes and volunteers to fight in a new country. Turchin’s brigade turned in one of the best performances of the battle, capped with a mad charge across McDonald Field at the end of the fight to open up an escape route for the defeated Yankees. One of George’s memories that he passed down was his recollection of Chickamauga. What he remembered most was the sound. Continuous musketry from morning until well after dark on both days. In his three years of service, he never experienced the like in volume or duration. (His other Civil War memory that was passed down is from the March to the Sea. He loaded up on loot from South Carolina plantations, but eventually tired of his load, and dumped it all.)

The best history of the battle is David Powell’s multi-volume A Mad, Irregular Battle. I agree with most of the interpretations of the often conflicting evidence, except in the case of the fighting around Viniard Farm, which I have studied intensively over the years (and which was chaotic even by Chickamauga standards), and Horseshoe Ridge/Snodgrass Hill.  My favorite Chickamauga book is Archibald Gracie IV’s The Truth About Chickamauga, which he wrote primarily to give proper credit to his father, a Confederate brigade commander whose unit (according to the book) launched the attack that drove the Federals from their last-stand line on “Horseshoe Ridge.” Gracie convincingly argues that the markers and monuments in that area are wrong and misplaced, and were positioned to exaggerate the feats of the brigade of one of the Park commissioners: most historians have perpetuated the official version and slighted Gracie’s, but I think this is mistaken. Gracie spent years corresponding with veterans, and assembled a powerful case. It can be dry reading at times, but it is true original scholarship.

(Archibald Gracie IV was on the Titanic, but survived. He wrote the an book about the tragedy, but his health was devastated by hypothermia experienced during the sinking, and he died eight months later. His father was killed in the trenches at Petersburg in December, 1864, less than 15 months after his moment of glory in the Georgia woods.)

There is a current connection here. General Gracie’s grandfather was a New York merchant who built Gracie Mansion–now the home of New York mayor Bill de Blasio. The Gracie family had a cotton export business in Alabama, which is what brought Archibald Gracie III to Mobile before the war. Ironically, the hard left mayor is on a mission to cleanse New York of any traces of Confederate heritage. Well, in a way he lives in one, though perhaps I shouldn’t give such a hysterical iconoclast any ideas!

Chickamauga was a devastating defeat for the Union Army of the Cumberland. The defeat stung, so when they achieved stunning victories later in the war, first in the storming of Missionary Ridge, later in smashing the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Franklin, they exulted by shouting “Remember Chickamauga!” as a battle cry.

And it should be remembered. Like many western battles, Chickamauga is shaded by more well-know eastern fights. (Stones River/Murfreesboro is even more obscure, even though the percentage losses there were over 31 percent, well in excess of any major battle in the war.) It deserves more attention, because in the Georgia pines tens of thousands of Americans North and South, and of all ranks, displayed in abundance the virtues and vices that were commonplace in America’s most important historical episode. Courage there was in abundance. There was inspired leadership, and command ineptitude. Like the war overall, the battle gave birth to bitter controversies that outlived the principals. It was arguably the greatest tactical victory in the war (rivaled only by Nashville), but was strategically barren. It’s worth knowing more about, and I hope this short post is intriguing enough to entice you into doing so.

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August 16, 2017

First They Came For Lee . . .

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:26 pm

The battle over the monuments is not really about the monuments. It’s not even really about the legacy of the Civil War. It is about the left’s vision of what America was, is, and will be. Here’s the most important thing to remember. The hard-core left that is the driving force behind extirpating the icons of the Confederacy does not see it, or the Old South, as an exception, a deviation from an otherwise laudable and righteous history: they see it as just one manifestation of the fundamental evil of America, evil that is writ on every page of history from 1607 on down. In this worldview, the United States has been, from even before its formal beginning, characterized by racism, sexism, and oppressive capitalism. It is not something that is basically good, but which has fallen short of achieving its lofty ideals: it is something that is fundamentally rotten, and which must be transformed by any means necessary.

It should not be surprising how the left conducts its march through institutions. It is really rather brilliant in conception and execution, although malign in effect and intent. There is a long term objective–in this case, the transformation of the US. But there is a coherent operational plan that concentrates force on a specific objective, and once that objective is taken, moves on to the next one.

Right now the ostensible target is the legacy of the Confederacy, but once the battle of the Confederate monuments is won, they will move on to the next target, which will inevitably include sooner or later every person in the American political pantheon, and every political, social, and economic institution that reflects the American past and tradition.

The left also masterfully personalizes the conflict, and ruthlessly presents the false choice between being on the side of the angels, or the side of the devils. In the current case, Nazis and white supremacists have been made the face of the anti-left. And now the left–with the assistance of many useful idiots, to whom I will turn in a moment–presents the false choice: if you are anti-left, well, that means that you are a Nazi or a fellow traveler thereof.

This is what’s happening here, and it’s as plain as day. Today it’s Robert E. Lee. Tomorrow it will be Lincoln and Washington and the Constitution and the Founding. The ultimate objective is the delegitimization of the American creed.

What is particularly sickening about this is that the most militant–and violent–of the leftists are being sanitized, and indeed lionized, because of their alleged anti-racist cred: anti-racism has become a license for vandalism and violence.

This is unbelievably stupid, and unbelievably dangerous. Antifa and the like are just the mirror image of the most retrograde white supremacists. Black bandanas=White hoods. Hammer and Sickle (which is displayed prominently at many Antifa and leftist actions)=Swastika. Both are anti-American. Both are anti-liberty. Both are committed to use violence in order to achieve their maximalist objectives. Nazis on the one side, Bolsheviks on the other. And it’s not as if either is hiding it: their regalia and flags advertise it.

And crucially, both are the twisted spawn of identity politics, the bane of modern society. Both define everything in crude terms of race and ethnicity and religion. Both are collectivists–a point too often overlooked, even though it is of decisive importance. Both reject the Western individualist revolution that began with Christianity and then humanism, and advanced through the Reformation and the enlightenment. To them, you are defined by your race, religion, ethnicity and class. The only difference between them is the perfect negative correlation between which race, religion, ethnicity, and class they demonize, and which they deify.

And, of course, this creates a sick symbiosis: neither can really exist without the other, and the rise of one contributes to the rise of the other.

Further, both are totalitarian and absolutist, and this is what leads to such virulent attacks on a past which does not conform with their absolutist vision. The iconoclasm we see now almost daily is redolent of other absolutist movements in the past, be it the Year One insanity of the French Revolution or the shrieking violence of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Both must be condemned. More than that, both must be opposed forcefully by duly constituted civil authority whenever they act out their violent ideologies.

But saying this is apparently beyond the pale in current American discourse, which just shows how degraded that discourse has become. Antifa–again, an avowedly communist, anti-liberty, anti-American movement–is not just not criticized, it is defended, because its self-proclaimed anti-racism (which in fact includes a healthy dose of anti-white racism) absolves it from any taint. Trump’s calling out of Antifa as well as Nazis has led supposedly conservative establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer to differentiate the indistinguishable, and to defend Antifa because of their opposition to Nazis and racists.

What Romney et al don’t get is who the hard-core left identifies as racists: it’s pretty much everybody who doesn’t agree with them in totality. It includes most whites (which is ironic, given the pastiness of most of the cheekbones and foreheads visible between black hats and masks). I guarantee it includes Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer. By vouching for them now, and validating their claim of authority in establishing who is and who is not a racist, Romney et al are putting a target on a lot of people who are by no stretch of the imagination white supremacists or Nazis.

But of course the left has always benefitted from useful idiots. Romney et al are playing that role to perfection.

History will not be the only casualty. Free speech will be as well. Free speech has already largely died on college campuses, which are merely the laboratory and hot house of leftism. Coming soon to, well, pretty much everyplace you might consider speaking your mind.

This too illustrates the devolution of American civil society. White supremacism and even Nazism are not new to American life, of course. In a way, what is amazing now is how marginalized these things are today. In the 1920s, the KKK was a major political force throughout the US–not just the South. (Indiana was a Klan hotbed.) In February, 1939–almost 6 years after Roosevelt’s inauguration and 6 months before German tanks rolled into Poland–the American Bund (basically the American Nazi Party) held a rally in Madison Square Garden attended by an estimated 22,000. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt, an extremely liberal political figure whose husband was savaged by the Bund, defended its right to exist, organize, and speak: she also defended America Firsters, Father Coughlin, and others with whom she disagreed violently on basically every political and social issue.

But if she did that today, she would be savaged. Because the left has gone from being believers in and defenders of civil liberties and individual freedom to their avowed enemies. The American liberal tradition, rooted in the enlightenment and classical liberal values, is being eclipsed, and replaced on the left by an alien political mindset. A mindset, ironically, that also spawned the fascist and Nazi movements in Europe as well as the leftist movements they battled in the streets: to understand the symbiosis between left and right in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times. It is that intellectual tradition (rooted in Germany) that gave rise to the tragedy of Weimar, and it is that intellectual tradition that has the United States slouching towards its own Weimarization today.

Both far left and far right are collectivist and anti-rational, and hence at odds with the American political tradition which was individualist and rooted in the rationalism of the enlightenment. That is why Robert E. Lee might be the first historical casualty, but he will not be the last. All of American history is in the dock, and staring at the gallows.

 

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August 14, 2017

Comments on the War Over the War

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 7:49 pm

A few thoughts to follow up on the post on the war over the war, which sparked a spirited set of comments (for which I am grateful as always).

Re those memorialized, specifically Robert E. Lee. I am with Tim Newman on this. Lee was certainly not a pro-slavery ideologue, and was arguably far less supportive of the institution than most of his social position and background. I would characterize him as somewhat like Jefferson–he would have liked to get rid of slavery, but had no idea how to do that where it was already established.

He was, moreover, first and foremost a Virginia patriot, who believed he was defending his people from an invasion by a tyrannical government that violated the Constitution. As is often noted, in that time it was common to say “the United States are” (not is): identification with one’s state was quite common during the antebellum period in a way that most Americans cannot conceive of today. They can’t conceive of it precisely because of the outcome of the Civil War.

That said, pace Orwell, since the war was ultimately about slavery, Lee was objectively pro-slavery. Subjectively, however, like many Southerners, he was pro-Constitution as he interpreted it, and a patriot who viewed Virginia as his country.

The opponents who aroused Lee’s greatest ire provide a window into his mindset. Of all the Federal generals he fought, he detested John Pope–“that miscreant Pope”–with the greatest intensity. Because Pope was a favorite of the anti-slavery, pro-emancipation Radical Republicans, and his army (the Army of Virginia) was the most pro-Radical army in the field? Not directly.

Because of the Radical leanings, Pope and his army advocated a hard war in contrast to that waged by George McClellan. As a result, they committed numerous depredations against civilians and their property in northern Virginia. It was those depredations that outraged Lee, and spurred him to crush Pope. Pope and his army had (in Lee’s view) unjustly harmed Lee’s people–his fellow Virginians–and Lee was dead set on making him pay: why Pope and his army acted as they did was irrelevant to Lee. And he did make Pope pay, at Second Manassas/Bull Run two weeks shy of 155 years ago.

So should Lee be memorialized? Before answering the should, it’s best to understand the why. A people who had suffered as devastating a loss as the South did (with about 25 percent of its adult male population perishing, and its cities and farms in ruins) and who fought courageously, and who fought in what their minds was a righteous cause, will always want to commemorate their heroism and sacrifice: people who have suffered such carnage will inevitably want to give some meaning to it. Lee embodied those things, so it was inevitable that he would be the center of those commemorations.

The darker side of this was that the old order in the South did not want to concede defeat, and indeed waged an ultimately successful campaign of asymmetric and political warfare to restore as much as the old social order as it could: Lee was conscripted into that campaign, largely after his death. The Cult of Lee, a man who was widely admired even by many of his adversaries, was to a considerable extent the benign cover for a the Cult of the Lost Cause/Old South.

So, it’s complicated. And that’s exactly why I think that the monuments can be a teaching tool. They shed light on the entire arc of conflict from the 1850s through the 1950s (or 1960s), and help illuminate the subjective motivations not just of the leaders (like Lee) but Southerners generally throughout that century of hot and cold war. Presentism is the enemy of understanding, and where the monuments (and the Civil War generally) are concerned, presentism has run amok.

Speaking of complicated, let me move to the second subject that has sparked comments–Great Britain in the Civil War. For a variety of cultural, social, historic, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Great Britain was broadly sympathetic to the South at least at the onset of the war. The United States was a rising commercial rival. The US and Britain had fought two wars against one another, and because of its Revolutionary heritage many Americans saw Britain as an enemy–and many Britons felt the same way. Britain’s textile industry was heavily reliant on Southern cotton. And there were British businesses from button makers to Birmingham gunsmiths to Laird, Son & Co. (the builder of the infamous Laird rams) who wanted to make some money. Lacking the industrial base of the North, the South was a better customer than the North, but large numbers of British arms made it into the hands of Union soldiers: the Enfield rifled musket was the second most widely issued weapon in the US army, and the US imported about twice as many as did the CS.

The UK toyed with intervention in 1861 and 1862, especially in the aftermath of perceived provocations like the Trent Affair, when a US ship seized two Confederate envoys from a British vessel. British enthusiasm waxed and waned with Confederate battlefield fortunes, and when Lee moved into Maryland in September, 1862, intervention (or at least recognition) looked like a real possibility. But Lee’s defeat at Sharpsburg/Antietam on 17 September, and Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation immediately thereafter, ended that. Britain wasn’t going to recognize a loser, and particularly wasn’t going to intervene on the side of slavery once the war became explicitly about slavery.

One last thing, not directly related to the post but to the events that spawned it. There are reports, contested but plausible, that Charlottesville Police withdrew in the face of the Antifa, or at least did not vigorously contest them. The governor of Virginia, the execrable partisan hack Terry McCauliffe, claims that the police had to withdraw because they were outgunned by the white supremacists. Others deny this.

Regardless of why it happened, the biggest official error was that the Neo-Nazis/white supremacists and the Antifa types were allowed to come into contact. There is no excuse for the authorities not to realize that the potential for violence was great. As a result, they should have been present in overwhelming force to keep the two sides separate, and crushed any attempt by anyone to get at the others.

The Weimarization of the US, where rival gangs of extremist thugs battle it out on the streets, is a very real possibility–it has already happened in some places, like Berkeley, and Charlottesville was also very Weimar-like. It cannot be allowed to progress, and indeed, it must be rolled back.

There must be no tolerance for violence–either by Nazis, Klansmen, or other varieties of white supremacists, or against them. Those lawfully assembled, no matter how loathsome they or their beliefs are, should be protected against physical attacks by those who oppose them: and if those lawfully assembled attempt to initiate violence, their targets should be defended as well.

Alas, I sense an implicit double standard, especially among the officials of left-leaning local governments, who either sympathize with the Antifa types, or are who are too cowardly to stand up to them and their less violent supporters (who are part of their political base). Further, this double standard is echoed more broadly in the media and politics, as the hue and cry over Trump’s statement decrying violence “on many sides” demonstrates.

Not acceptable. The normalization or rationalization of political violence will have baleful consequences. The responsibility of the authorities is to maintain civil order, thereby assuring that political disputes are carried out through political channels. The authorities need to take the side of civil order, and ruthlessly suppress those who would disrupt it, regardless of their politics.

Weimarization is a real danger. It must be stopped post haste.

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August 12, 2017

Iconoclasm and the Lost Cause

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 8:42 pm

Protests over the removal of the R. E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA predictably descended into violence, with at least three dead: one killed when a car drove into a group of counter-protestors, and two police officers killed when their helicopter crashed while observing the chaos on the ground.

The protestors were primarily white supremacists, egged on by appalling figures like David Duke. Their opponents included Antifa types, as well as non-violent protestors.

As someone who has been intensely interested in the Civil War since I was 8 years old, I have considerable ambivalence about memorials to figures like Lee and Jackson, or to Confederate veterans generally–and to their removal.

I understand acutely that the memorials were primarily an assertion of political power. Many were erected in the 1890s through 1920s, and were monumental embodiments of the Lost Cause myth, which denied the evil of slavery and its fundamental role in causing the War–and the consequent destruction of the Old South. They were to a considerable degree defiant assertions of the resurgence of the old social and political order. Hence, I understand the bitterness and anger and humiliation that they engender, particularly among black Americans whose ancestors suffered under that order.

But this very history makes them artifacts that document an important and instructive period of American history. I would much prefer that they be preserved, contextualized, and interpreted as such. That they be transformed into museums, rather than memorials per se. Repurposing them can contribute to our civic education in ways that destroying them cannot.

The history of the monuments can educate people about the history of an era, and in so doing may actually contribute to a broader understanding of just why they evoke such bitter memories and emotions in many Americans. Extirpating the monuments will generate a frisson of excitement and satisfaction, but once they are gone the era which spawned them will become even more opaque to Americans at large, and the important lessons of that era will be lost to most. Ironically, this is actually not helpful to the interests of those who find the monuments offensive: they would be better served if the lessons they convey could be taught in the future, rather than largely forgotten, as will happen once the monuments are gone.

It is because of this loss of historical memory that I am averse to iconoclasm. I am also quite conscious that iconoclasm is itself almost always an assertion of political power, and as such can be as divisive as the erection of the icons was. A cycle of symbolism can sow discord, and generate much more heat than light. In a deeply divided country, we should be looking for ways to improve understanding and to provide fora for reconciliation, rather than to inflame divisions. Building the monuments was a way of showing who is on top: taking them down is a way of doing the same. But assertion of power relations exacerbates conflict and detracts from the advancement of true equality.

The Confederate monument controversy has also catalyzed tribalism, perhaps intentionally so, as this has definite political uses, most notably making it possible for the left to claim that the fringe mouth breathers who rallied to defend the monument are representative of all its political adversaries. It is also the last thing the increasingly tribal US needs at present.

There are of course always hard cases: the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis (removed several years ago) is a good example, given his record as a slave dealer, the commander during the commission of a mass racial atrocity (the Fort Pillow Massacre), and leader of the first incarnation of the KKK. But even here, the fact that he was memorialized provides a very telling commentary on the attitudes of those who memorialized him. His very outrageousness makes his monument particularly instructive about the times in which he was cast in bronze and put on a pedestal.

The monuments are about a particular interpretation of history that held sway in a part of the country for decades, and as such are themselves historical artifacts that can inform and instruct. Transforming them from icons of The Lost Cause into museums that educate about the reasons for the Lost Cause myth, and the society that created it, would allow them to play a constructive role in America’s future, and in a way redeem the destructive role they played in the past. Making them the battlefields in a new civil war pitting some of the ugliest elements of America against one another only perpetuates their divisive legacy, as today’s events in Charlottesville demonstrate tragically and forcefully.

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November 30, 2014

The Battle of Franklin: Sublimely Valiant Sacrifice in the Service of a Bad Cause

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 4:11 pm

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, one of the most brutal and intense combats of the entire Civil War.

The battle was the pivot of Hood’s Nashville Campaign.  November, 1864 saw the bizarre phenomenon of the two major armies in the Western Theater, Sherman’s Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia, and Hood’s Army of Tennessee, marching in opposite directions. Sherman embarked south on his March to the Sea, and John Bell Hood launched a desperate lunge north, hoping to reach the Ohio River and accomplish . . . something. Just what he could have accomplished is a mystery, as the logistical obstacles alone made the campaign a forlorn hope.

That said, Hoods campaign started well. He deftly outmaneuvered John Schofield, commander of the largest force that Sherman left behind to hold northern Georgia and Tennessee. Schofield’s force consisted primarily of his XXIIIrd Corps (grandiloquently referred to as the Army of the Ohio) and the IVth Corps (of the Army of the Cumberland). Schofield retreated to Columbia, TN, on the Duck River and dug in. Department Commander George Thomas ordered Schofield to retreat to Franklin on the Harpeth River, but before he could do so, Hood stole a march and outflanked him. Schofield had to retreat precipitously from Columbia, but Hood was in position to cut him off near Spring Hill.

In events still shrouded in mystery, the Confederates did not close the trap at Spring Hill. Two rebel divisions remained in place within sight of the Columbia Pike, along which Schofield’s men were marching for their lives. Some Unionists unwittingly wandered into the Confederate lines to light their pipes in the burning fires. While the Confederates waited, Schofield slipped by and made it to Franklin.

The bridge over the Harpeth being destroyed and needing repair, Schofield had his men dig a semicircular line of entrenchments with its flanks anchored on the Harpeth. Due to a confusion in orders, one division (Wagner’s) remained a half-mile in front of the Federal main line. Well, two brigades did, anyways. The third, under irascible Emerson Opdycke, who thought the order idiotic, continued to march into the Federal lines, collapsing exhausted near the Carter House a few hundred yards fro the trenches.

Hood awoke  to find that Schofield had escaped. He excoriated some of his corps and division commanders, including Frank Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne, arguably the most able soldier in his army, for their failure to destroy the fleeing Federals. He urged his troops forward in pursuit.

There is some controversy about his mental state. Some, notably Wiley Sword (whom I know slightly) claim that Hood was enraged, and intent on punishing his army for its failure to attack with vigor at Spring Hill. Others, including Eric Jacobsen and Hood biographer Stephen Hood (a distant relative of the general) vigorously dispute this. Regardless, Hood’s subordinates, including the often inebriated  Cheatham, expressed unease at attacking a dug in Schofield, but Hood dismissed their objections, claiming that he would have to fight them somewhere, and it was better to do so in Franklin before they were able to retreat to the formidable fortifications in Nashville, to which Federal reinforcements were rushing from the west and north. He believed that these were the best odds he could hope to face, as bad as they were.

The assault was over two miles of open ground. It would have been blasted to oblivion well before it closed with the Federals, but for those two Union brigades sitting alone, 1000 yards in front of the main works. Cleburne’s division overlapped and overwhelmed Wagner’s isolated troops, who broke and ran. Up went a cry from the Confederates: “Follow them into the works!” With Wagner’s Yankees and Cleburne’s Rebels all mixed together, the Federals in the trenches held their fire and Cleburne’s men were able to surge over the earthworks between a cotton gin and the Carter House.

Enter Opdycke. The cantankerous Ohioan led his veteran brigade of Ohio and Illinois regiments in a wild countercharge that slammed bodily into the panting Confederates in the grounds around the Carter House. A swirling melee ensued. Opdycke emptied his pistol, then used the butt as a hammer to bash a Confederate over the head. In brutal hand-to-hand fighting, Opkycke’s men pushed back the Confederates, but only to the ditch at in front of the Federal lines. There ensued a battle reminiscent of the struggle at the Bloody Angle at Spottsylvania. Men at the rear would load muskets and pass them forward to soldiers who would thrust them over the top of the trench and fire them at point blank range into their enemies’ faces. When one would fall, his body would be pulled back and some other hardy soul would shoulder forward to take his place. Muskets with bayonets attached were hurled over the earthworks like javelins.

The primal combat extended into the night. The muzzle discharges flashed in the dark until the firing petered out, due to the mutual exhaustion of the adversaries.

While the face-to-face killing went on between the Cotton Gin and the Carter House in the center of the Union lines, the Confederates mounted large assaults on either flank. These attacks were shot down by the well protected Federal veterans, secure behind their stout earthworks.

The Harpeth bridge being repaired, Schofield’s men faded away from their works under the cover of darkness and the exhaustion of their adversaries, and wearily made their way north to Nashville.

The battered and spent Confederates awoke to visions of a holocaust. Dead men were heaped in the ditch in front of the Federal earthworks. Windrows of dead lay in fields over which the Confederates had charged.

But the dead were mainly on one side of the works: the Confederate side. Southern casualties were appalling, totaling about 1750 dead and nearly 4000 with disabling wounds. These represented about 40 percent of the attacking force. The size of the attacking force was larger than the Pickett-Pettigrew charge at Gettysburg, and the total casualties were larger as well.

Among the Confederate dead were six generals: Cleburne, Adams, Granbury, Gist, Strahl, and Carter.

Union losses were trivial by comparison, with less than 200 dead and about 1000 wounded, with a disproportionate share of those losses suffered by Wagner’s hapless troops. The Federals behind the earthworks suffered hardly at all.

The Army of the Tennessee dragged itself to Nashville, which it was utterly incapable of assaulting given its shrunken numbers and the city’s formidable defenses. Hood’s men dug a miserable line south of Thomas’s and sat, unable to go forward and unwilling to go back. Federal reinforcements flowed into the city, and after a two week pause (which drove Grant crazy), Thomas attacked and hammered Hood’s hopeless men in a two day battle that destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force.

But the fate of Hood’s army had been sealed  in the fields south of Franklin. The Confederate assault was insanely brave, all the more so because as veterans the men knew the fate that likely awaited them. It was a valiant sacrifice, but it was also a tragic waste made in the name of a bad cause.

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September 29, 2014

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun, Tumblehome Hull Edition

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 6:32 am

The US Navy’s most advanced destroyer, the USS Elmo Zumwalt, will begin sea trials next month:

The ship is plainly visible from Front Street, across the Route 1 bridge in downtown Bath. Nothing like this angular, almost hulking giant has ever been seen here, even after well over a century of shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works.

Here’s a picture of the EZ:

uss_zumwalt

But I wouldn’t be so hasty as to say that the ship’s shape is unprecedented. Here’s an image of the CSS Stonewall, a ram built for the Confederacy in France (and which almost caused a major diplomatic incident between the US and Napoleon III’s France):
css_stonewall_anacostia

The Stonewall had the same basic “tumblehome” hull design as the Zumwalt does today: Who knew the French were building stealth ships in the 1860s?

A Yankee ironclad, the USS Dunderberg, also had a bit of a Zumwalt look about her:

uss_dunderberg_plan_600

The Dunderberg’s superstructure is more Zumwalt-like than the Stonewall’s.

Of course the purposes of the hull designs were different in the 1860s and the 2010s. The Stonewall and the Dunderberg (I can’t get over that name, by the way) were built as rams, hence their sharply angled prows. But it is interesting to see the echoes and rhymes in designs a century and a half apart.

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July 27, 2014

Ezra Church, 150 Years Later

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 8:36 pm

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ezra Church, the third of Hood’s assaults against Sherman’s army that attempted to stop the encirclement of Atlanta.

The story of the battle is relatively simple. After cutting the rail line leading into the city from the east, Sherman moved in what has been characterized as one of his whip-like movements to cut the line running in from Macon to the west. As always, the Army of the Tennessee was the tip of the whip. As it moved south to the west of the city, Hood moved Stephen D. Lee’s and Alexander P. Stewart’s corps out of the city’s defenses in the hopes of surprising the Army of the Tennessee (now under the command of very Eastern general Oliver O. Howard, much to the chagrin of very Western general John A. Logan). But the Union troops anticipated the attack, deployed from their marching formation and formed a V-shaped line. Like veterans on all fronts by the summer of 1864, they immediately started to dig in. Not so much dig, really as collect logs, lumber, and even the pews from Ezra Church, which they piled up to form a makeshift breastwork. Here are some contemporary woodcuts that show the impromptu entrenchments:

 

Ezra_Church_1

Toshiba Digital Camera

The battle itself was never really in doubt. The Confederates gained ground on the Union right flank, but Logan (back in command of the XVth Corps) led a counterattack by two regiments (the 40th Illinois and 6th Iowa) which drove off the Rebels. The Iowans lost Major Ennis, a beloved officer who had served since Shiloh.

The 46th Ohio fought at Ezra Church. One of its members, Sergeant Harry Davis, won the Medal of Honor by advancing in front of the lines to wrest a flag from its dying bearer, as illustrated here in another contemporary print:

Ezra_Church_46ovvi

Other than the fleeting success on the Union right, the Confederate assaults made no progress. The casualties tell the tale. The Union lost about 650 men, the Confederates almost 5 times as many. Of the three assaults in July, this was the one with most disparate losses and the least tactical success. Whereas the Confederates did achieve some local successes at Peachtree Creek and Atlanta. They achieved none at Ezra Church.

The responsibility for actually carrying out the attack lies with Stephen D. Lee. Hood was performing the role of army commander, remaining at his headquarters in Atlanta.

Speaking of Hood, my Battle of Atlanta post generated several thoughtful comments about him. Serendipitously, this weekend I saw a program on CSPAN3 (yes, I am that much of a geek about this stuff) in which a biographer of Hood, Stephen Hood (a distant relation) made a pretty persuasive case that Hood has been unfairly maligned. He presented evidence that many of the anecdotes told at Hood’s expense were specious. He was particularly critical of historian Wiley Sword (whom I know some) for distorting the evidence in his savage attacks on Hood’s generalship, his humanity, and indeed his mental health. He further claims that there is no evidence that Hood actually used opiates, though of course absence of evidence is not definitive evidence of absence.

Overall, his defense was somewhat persuasive, though it cannot and did not answer the brutal facts of Franklin and Nashville. When time permits, I might dig into the sources cited by Hood and Sword to see who gets the better of the argument. Maybe I’ll have a chance to do that by the end of November, when the sesquicentennial of Franklin rolls around.

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July 22, 2014

The Sesquicentennial of the Most Compelling-and Perhaps Most Important-Battle of the Civil War

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:14 pm

Today is the 150th anniversary of what I consider to be the most compelling battle of the Civil War: the Battle of Atlanta.

I find it compelling because it was a true soldier’s battle that demonstrated the unmatched martial virtues of the combatants, especially those in the Union Army of the Tennessee.

It was a soldiers battle because it was not fought according to any plan. There was a plan, and a rather impressive one on paper, but one that did not even make it to the point of first contact with the enemy. Instead, Confederate General John Bell Hood’s plan dissolved before a shot was fired due to the confusion of a night march, the fatigue of soldiers who had been engaged in combat for virtually every day of the previous two-and-a-half months, and wooded terrain crossed by watercourses and millponds.

Hood desired to reprise Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville, a mere 14.5 months prior. But whereas Jackson attacked in depth, with three divisions one behind the other, Hood’s four attacking divisions were were strung out in a long, scraggly line scattered across several miles of Georgia scrub pine forest. Due to the trials of the march, the forbidding terrain, and the need to make haste, Hood’s divisions (commanded by Bate, Walker, Cleburne, and Maney) attacked mainly as brigades operating on their own hook, only tenuously connected with each other, if connected at all.

That said, they caught McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee in a very vulnerable spot. They were assailed from the direct flank (like Jackson had done to O.O. Howard’s hapless XIth Corps at Chancellorsville) and from the rear and front. Most Civil War armies would have fled when hit in force from flank and rear. But in one of the most sublime displays of soldiership in any war, Grant’s old army did not panic. Indeed, with little direction from any officer above brigade or division level, its soldiers reacted to the situation with aplomb. When attacked from the rear, they faced to the rear and beat off the attack. When attacked from the flank, they refused their lines and repelled it.

Some units, particularly those in the XVIIth Corps, were attacked sequentially from the flank, rear, and front. Resolutely, they responded to each threat. When attacked from the rear, they jumped to the front of their earthworks and beat off the assault, sometimes hand-to-hand. In one of the fights, Colonel Belknap of the 15th Iowa reached over the ramparts to grab Colonel Lampley of the 45th Alabama, wrestled him over the earthworks, and made him prisoner. Lampley had been screaming at his men for not following him. Belknap berated him: “Look at your men! They are all dead! What are you cursing them for?” (To demonstrate that martial prowess does not imply moral virtue, Belknap went on to become a corrupt Secretary of War under Grant. He resigned before being impeached for peculation in the matter of Indian trading posts.)

After being attacked in the rear, when attacked from their (previous) front (i.e., from the direction of Atlanta), the XVII Corps men cooly jumped to the proper side of their works, and easily drove off the attack.

When the Confederates assaulted from the flank, they withdrew stubbornly, fighting first from one side of the trenches, then the other, until they eventually formed on Bald Hill.

There the climax of the battle occurred. In ferocious assaults that continued into the dusk and then into the dark, the Rebels tried time and again to drive the Federals from their redoubt and trenches on the hill. But every time, the Illinoisans, Ohioans, Iowans, and Wisconsin men drove them back.

I am not aware of better fighting on any battlefield of the Civil War, or indeed of any other conflict.

Although the conflict around Bald Hill (sadly leveled by the construction of I-20 in the ’50s) is the most stirring part of the battle, the conflict is better known for the action around the Troup Hurt House. The Union counterattack that drove the Confederates from their lodgment in the Federal lines near that mansion is memorialized in the Cyclorama which is still on display in Walker Park in Atlanta. This was indeed an inspiring action that again demonstrated the sterling qualities of the soldiers in each army, but in my view pales in comparison with what occurred to the south on Bald Hill.

Throughout the battle, Confederates attacked ferociously, and the Union troops responded bravely and cooly, even when caught in the most exposed and dangerous positions. I defy anyone to identify a battle in which such a large number of troops (on the order of 30,000) responded as marvelously as did the troops of the XVth, XVIth, and XVIIth Corps of the Army of the Tennessee.

For the most part, they did this on their own initiative, and the initiative of company, regimental, brigade, and sometimes division officers. Their army commander, John B. McPherson, was shot dead early in the engagement. His replacement, John “Black Jack” Logan, provided inspirational leadership, but his tactical role was modest at best. The XVIIth Corps commander, Frank Blair, was far to the rear (which led many to question his courage).

Soldiers fought. Soldiers extemporized. Soldiers won.

Such individual initiative has been the hallmark of American soldiers since 1775. The Army of the Tennessee boys were recalcitrant soldiers in the traditional sense, resentful of discipline, and disdainful of spit and polish. But could they fight! They never lost a battle.

The Army of Northern Virginia is usually considered the exemplar of American armies in the Civil War, and it was indeed a marvel. But man for man, officer for officer, it could not compare to the Army of the Tennessee, especially at its July, 1864 apogee.

I have a personal connection to that Army. My great-grandmother’s brother, John Hatfield, fought in the 46th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry. This unit was in Walcutt’s brigade of the 4th Division (Harrow’s) of the XVth Corps (formerly commanded by Sherman, then by Logan). It performed the signal service of defending the Union flank and rear against the attack of Smith’s Texas Brigade of Cleburne’s division. (John’s brother, Eli, had his arm shattered at the shoulder by a Minie ball at the Battle of Dallas on 28 May, 1864. My great-grandmother, who died when I was 4, talked of “Uncle Eli with the dead arm.” Medical records in the archives reveal that Eli was shot too close to the shoulder to permit amputation, so the surgeon removed all the shattered bone in his arm from the shoulder to the elbow. Ever after, the arm hung limp at his side.)

It is particularly inspiring to me at times like to consider the heroism of men like John and Eli Hatfield; their fellows in Sherman’s army; and even their foes in Hood’s Army of Tennessee. Some redeeming things came out of the carnage of the red clay hills of Georgia 150 summers ago, and these things were not sullied by craven politicians: indeed, it redeemed many of the errors and sins of the political class of 1860s America. That battle sealed the fate of Atlanta (though 6 weeks of grueling combat were to come before the city fell), which in turn sealed the fate of the Confederacy, for the fall of Atlanta secured Lincoln’s re-election, and thus the ultimate victory of the Union. And of course, that victory extinguished slavery in the United States. To have participated in such a thing is a credit to any man.

Would that today, we living Americans could be worthy of those who bled and died on a scorching day in the red clay of central Georgia, 150 years ago.

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September 20, 2013

Remember Chickamauga!

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — The Professor @ 4:17 pm

Today is the sesquicentennial of the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga.  This was the most brutal, sanguinary Civil War battle west of the Appalachians, and the second bloodiest of the entire war.  It was also a swirling, confusing affair, a meeting engagement between two armies on the move that metastasized as units arrived on the battlefield.  The Union army was marching hard to get back to Chattanooga; the Confederates were trying to interpose themselves between the Federals and their base.   The conflict started towards the north, and then moved progressively south with charge and countercharge, as new units marched onto the field.  The confusion was compounded by the fact that most of the battle was fought in dense woods broken only by scattered clearings.  Regimental officers could not see their entire battle lines because of the timber and battle smoke that hung thick in the woods.  There were numerous successful flank attacks at the brigade and division levels because units became separated in the woods, leaving open flanks; attackers pounced on these exposed flanks undetected because of the thick foliage.

Bumbling generalship and command strife also contributed to the confused nature of the fighting.  The most egregious blunder was of course Union commander Rosecrans’ order to move Thomas J. Wood’s division out of line based on a misapprehension: Rosecrans’ aide could not see Brannan’s division in the heavy timber, and thought there was a gap in the line between Wood’s division and Reynolds’s.  Acting on this report, Rosecrans thought he was closing a gap when he ordered Wood to “close up” on Reynolds, but he was really opening one: Wood had to move out of line to get around Brannan in order to reach Reynolds.  Through this opening James Longstreet’s corps poured through, routing the entire Union right and center.  (It is quite possible that Longstreet’s attack would have been nearly as successful even if Wood stayed in line.  The Union divisions in front of his corps were small, and had taken heavy casualties the day before, and Longstreet attacked in mass and had great superiority of numbers at the point of attack.  For instance, Longstreet’s left smashed right through Davis’s division in minutes, and would have done so even if Wood had been in line: it is quite possible that Wood’s two small brigades would have been similarly overwhelmed had they not moved.)  That tactical error was just the culmination of a series of Rosecrans’s mistakes.  His scattered and hasty advance south of the Tennessee River based on a belief that the Confederates were in disorganized retreat from Chattanooga made him vulnerable to defeat in detail by the massing Confederates.  He was racing back to Chattanooga to escape the trap he had so injudiciously thrown his army into.

But Rosecrans was not the only blunderer.  Confederate commander Bragg frittered away the golden opportunity of trapping Rosecrans, due in part to his inept planning, and in part to the fact that his subordinates so heartily disliked him that they did not execute his orders efficiently.  Neither commander exerted any real control on the 19th, the day of the meeting engagement, but when the lines stabilized on the 20th, Bragg’s attack on the Union left was woefully executed at huge loss, again largely due to Bragg’s inability to get recalcitrant corps commanders to implement his plan, and the incompetence of those corps commanders (notably Polk).

As a result, this was not a battle of generalship (except in the negative sense).  It was a soldier’s battle.  On the first day in particular, moreover, it was not really a single battle, but a series of disjointed actions fought at close range between regiments, brigades, and divisions.

The Chickamauga battlefield was one of the first preserved by the Federal government, and is almost entirely intact.  Moreover, due to its early preservation, veterans of the battle erected numerous monuments marking where they fought.  The War Department (which managed the Park at the time of its creation and for some years afterwards) also erected numerous plaques describing the movements of each brigade involved in the battle.  Most of the markers are accurate.  One exception is around Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge.  Gracie’s The Truth About Chickamauga does a good job at explaining how that part of the battlefield was mismarked, and why.  (In a nutshell: the process of placing markers and writing the descriptions was dominated by a figure, Henry Boynton, who wanted to exaggerate the role played by the brigade to which he belonged.)

I’ve walked pretty much every foot of the battlefield, on multiple occasions.  You really have to do that if you want to understand the action, and appreciate the conditions.  Two pieces of advice if you want to do the same, especially in the summer. 1. Check for ticks (especially if you’re blonde!). 2. Watch for snakes. Both are abundant in those Georgia woods.  Then there was that time I almost stepped on a wild turkey, which flew up right into my face.  I don’t know who was more surprised or freaked out, me or the turkey.  (Don’t go there!)

My grandfather first took me to the battlefield when I was 9, as part of an epic Civil War trip that was the genesis of my interest in the War.  We started at Shiloh, then Vicksburg, then Corinth, then Chickamauga-Chattanooga, then Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Richmond, and Antietam, before completing the journey in Gettysburg.  Now that’s a helluva trip, and my grandfather was an excellent storyteller who helped bring the battles to life. I have the vivid memory of him illustrating the Wood-close-up-on-Reynolds story using Tiparillo boxes on the kitchen table.

My great-great grandfather George Immel fought in the battle, as a member of the 92nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Ironically, given the blogging proclivities of his descendant, he was an orderly to his brigade commander, Brigadier General Ivan Basil Turchin, nee Turchaninov (Ива́н Васи́льевич Турчани́нов), a Russian emigre.  Turchin was quite a character, as was his formidable wife, who intervened personally with Lincoln to save Turchin’s career after he had been relieved from command for sacking the town of Athens, Alabama in retaliation for guerrilla attacks on his brigade.  He went all Russian, in other words.

There is one story of the battle that  was passed down through the family.  George said that the most remarkable thing about the battle was the continuous noise, from all directions.  The roar was unceasing on Saturday the 19th until night fell (though there was also a night attack by Cleburne’s division that evening).  Then it began again the next morning, and didn’t stop until late in the day.

Turchin’s brigade played a rather prominent role in the battle.  It helped stop the attack of Cheatham’s division near Brock Field on the 19th, then later in the day led a counterattack that flanked elements of Bates’s and Law’s brigade that had penetrated the Union center around the Brotherton House.  On the 20th, it was in Thomas’s main line on the Union left, and behind some log barricades repulsed the attacks of Cleburne’s division.  (It was a part of Reynolds’ division, which Wood was supposed to close up on.)  During the final Union retreat, the brigade executed a bayonet charge through the McDonald Field, driving off the Confederates who threatened to cut off the escape route to Chattanooga.

That is the story of just one brigade, but overall the battle was fought largely at the brigade level.  On the Union side, divisions from the three main corps (XIV, XX, and XXI) were jumbled together, and only the commander of the XIV corps (George Thomas) really exercised any control over his entire unit: the other corps commanders (McCook and Crittenden) were rendered almost supernumerary, and Thomas ended up commanding large portions of their units.  Moreover, the terrain made controlling larger units almost impossible, so much of the battle devolved into brutal firefights between brigades.

Although it is a fascinating battle to study, with many stories of great personal bravery, ultimately all it produced was a monstrous casualty list.  It was almost utterly devoid of strategic impact.  Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland escaped by a hair’s breadth back to Chattanooga, and Bragg’s Army of Tennessee did not pursue (to the fury of Nathan Bedford Forrest).  A desultory siege followed, but Lincoln rushed reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Tennessee while Bragg’s Army declined in numbers when Longstreet, disgusted by Bragg’s leadership, took off to attack Knoxville.  Under the command of Grant, the reinforced Federal forces drove Bragg from the heights overlooking Chattanooga.  (The 92nd Ohio participated in the decisive charge on Missionary Ridge.)

During this attack, the Union soldiers who had been defeated 150 years ago today shouted “Remember Chickamauga!” as their battle cry.  I remember it, and you should too.

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