Tuesday, September 30, 2008

General Orders Twenty Six

Last night I received a passionate and detailed set of answers to the questions I asked yesterday, which alerted me to the fact that I wasn't as precise as I had thought I had been. The questions were rhetorical. They represent, what I believe, the wrong "impressions" (using Dowdy's word) that exist in the war's historiography regarding Stuart. For any confusion, I apologize.

But do take time to read eringobragh's answers in the comment section under General Orders 25. We only differ on one small point. Thank you for your answers and reading this blog.

Monday, September 29, 2008

General Orders Twenty-Five

Questions abound for me about Jeb Stuart. As I have said before, the Stuart I find in recent biographies and literature is far different than the Stuart I have discovered by reading primary sources, his letters, and biographies written by his staff. I realize that I'm just starting the long research process, and my questions will be answered as I plow through the huge pile of research on my desk.

In Lee Takes Command, Clifford Dowdy writes the following regarding A.P. Hill's actions at the Battle of Mechanicsville. "Lee's admirers have view him (Lee) as the complete soldier and have tended to put the blame (for the failure of the Seven Days Battle to destroy the Army of the Potomac) on Jackson and A.P. Hill. In turn, Jackson's admirers have tended to blame Lee and A.P. Hill. As no legend grew around Powell Hill between the charges of the Lee and Jackson camps, the impression has been allowed to stand that the "impulsive Hill" attacked single-handed the Federal stronghold where Lee wished to avoid battle." (page 190)

I think this quote applies to Stuart. Certain impressions abound in the war's, Lee's and Stuart's historiographies that has been repeated and cemented in biographies, magazines, books, and films. They have become the "truth" by which Stuart, in my opinion, has been unfairly portrayed.

Here are just a few of the questions that I have:

1) Is the portrayal of Stuart as the vain-glorious, ego-centric man-child, who was more concerned with flirting and dancing than doing his duty, the correct one?
2) Some historians accuse Stuart's decision to ride around McClellan's army as vanity run wild. These same historians then claim that this decision is the primary reason Lee's plans did not come to fruition since it alerted McClellan of the threat to his supplies and communications.
3) Was the grand review on the plains of Brandy Station proof that Stuart's vanity ruled the cavalry? In fact, he was so vain, that he held a second review.
4) Were these reviews responsible for the "surprise" at Brandy Station?
5) Did Stuart honestly believe he lost the Battle of Brandy Station aka the Battle of Fleetwood Hill?
6) Was Stuart so stung by the criticism in the Richmond papers regarding Brandy Station that he disobeyed his orders during the Gettysburg campaign and left Lee "blind?"
7) What is the truth of Stuart's "playboy" persona?
8) Was Stuart unfaithful to Flora?

Now I may be wrong. My continued research may very well lead me to the conclusion that the current portrayal of Stuart is the correct one. But I don't think so. To tell you the truth, I don't recognize the Stuart I read about as the Stuart I have come to know. I believe the "impression" of the playboy, vain man-child ruled by his ego, more interested in flirting and dancing than performing his duty and responsible for the defeat at Gettysburg has not only been allowed to stand but is constantly reinforced. It is my hope that anything I write about Stuart in the future (if it is good enough to be published) will reveal the true Stuart -- the cavalry leader that both Lee and Jackson loved and trusted.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

General Orders Twenty-Four

There was an argument at work once, and people were taking sides. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone's opinion was the right one. When my boss was asked which side he was taking, he said, "I don't have a dog in the fight." That pretty much stopped the argument dead in its track. None of us really had a dog in the fight. We just had a bunch of opinions.

Not all, but too many historians, have a dog in the fight when it comes to the Civil War. It only takes ten or so pages into the first chapter (and sometimes not even that long) before the dog has been identified. Now, I don't really have a problem with that as long as the author admits that he wants his dog to win, and, therefore, he isn't exactly neutral. I do mind when the author insists he is neutral when he isn't.

In Lee Takes Command, Clifford Dowdey doesn't have a dog and, admittedly, he is a Lee man. He is fair and unbiased in writing about the Seven Days Battle. He doesn't destroy Jackson to protect Lee, nor does he blame Lee for Jackson's performance. He gives detailed analysis that explains Jackson's performance. It is a problem most of us have dealt with. After a month of continual marching and fighting, Jackson had hit the wall. He was past exhausted and even the most simple of commands were almost impossible to carry out. If you have never been that tired, then good for you. But if you have, then you know what handicap Jackson operated under.

Dowdey is very blunt about the abuse that A.P. Hill has received for his actions on the first day of battle. Dowdey explains that in the Jackson/Lee fight during the years, Little Powell has been unfairly scapegoated. He gives a reasonable explanation to why Hill went before he had heard from Jackson.

Of course, for me, books like this rise and fall on Stuart and here I have a problem with Dowdey. Not a big problem... but Dowdey is inconsistent in his dealings with Stuart and his ride around McClellan and whether or not this ride forced McClellan to abandon his White House base in order to set up a new base along the James River. Like I said not a big problem, but I would like to see some more consistency.

Dowdey wins huge accolades for understanding cause and effect. Sometimes, when I read historical accounts, I get the sense that things are happening in a vacuum. Dowdey is consistent in showing that A happened to cause B to cause C to cause D. This way, the reader gets a complete picture of the battles along the Chickahominy that begin with Johnston's retreat from Centreville.

If you have not read Dowdey's book, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

General Orders Twenty-Three

Ike blew through Cincinnati with 75 mph winds downing trees and sending roofs flying. My power was off for 47-1/2 hours. Needless to say, I lost any sense of humor about 7 hours in. After that, I wanted my power on and on now. Reading by flashlight, I finished Woodworth's Davis and Lee at War, started Clifford Dowdey's Lee Takes Command. At the same time, I started Furgurson's Not War But Murder about Cold Harbor.

It is distressing to read Woodworth's and Dowdey's books. For someone who roots for the Army of Northern Virginia, it is maddening to read about the retreat of Joe Johnston from Centreville to Yorktown. The waste of supplies! So needed by the Confederacy. Then at the end of the war, Beauregard's machinations that denied Lee needed troops as he retreated before Grant's massive army in 1864. AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! It brings to mind the same frustration I experienced reading Woodworth's Jefferson Davis and His Generals about the western theater. To read about men, who put their pride and ambition before everything... the opportunities these selfish and self-centered generals wasted because they wanted Braxton Bragg's job. I wanted to jump in the pages and slap some sense into them.

I'm mid-way through Woodworth's Nothing But Victory, an account of The Army of the Tennessee. To watch Halleck do what he could to disrupt Grant's career births the same frustration and disgust.

Forget the cause or the nation or the army... what was important to the likes of Johnston, Halleck, the Bishop Polk, Longstreet, Hardee, and D.H. Hill was their own vanity. When Stuart is blasted for his vanity, I just marvel. He, in no way, compares to these men, They were the very definition of vain-glory and ego and self-centeredness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Battle of Dranesville - Conclusion

I will end my discussion on the Battle of Dranesville by saying that I think Thomason is wrong in contributing the defeat at Dranesville as a result of carelessness on the part of Stuart. My analysis is that Stuart's error was in placing trust in men who were not worthy of such. As J.B. Jones writes, Stuart was led into a trap. He had no reason to distrust the men who told him about the supply of forage in the small city. He had no reason to believe they would notify the enemy that he was coming. Adding to this scenario was the fact that his pickets, after being attacked by the on-coming Federal force, did not report this fact to Stuart. They failed in their main responsibility.

Now, about the "coincidence" of both Stuart and Federal forces descending on Dranesville on the same day at the same time for the same reason. Well, as NCIS Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs would say, "there is no such thing as coincidence." It is too much to assume. If Jones is right, and Stuart, in his official report, suggests he was betrayed, then for me this is the more compelling reason than simple carelessness on Stuart's part. Furthermore, McCall writes in his order to Ord that he was in contact with persons unknown who gave him the position and strength of the Confederate pickets. Ord himself writes in his official report that he knew the strength and position of the Confederate pickets. Both Ord and McCall say that they were going to Dranesville for forage.

Underpining this conclusion is Stuart's report, Jones' account, Ord's and McCall's official reports, and the simple fact that I have a hard time believing that both armies headed to Dranesville at the same time to perform the same act. What I believe happened was that Stuart was sent to Dranesville for forage on the word of the men recently released by General Winder. They, in turn, notified McCall that he was coming. The Federals responded and drove in the cavalry pickets, who chose not to notify Stuart of the large Federal force in Dranesville. When Stuart appears to take possession of the roads, he is surprised to find a large Federal force at Dranesville.

Monday, September 8, 2008

General Orders Twenty-Two

I'm sorry for the long delay in posting, but I have had quite a week. Everything I touched fell apart, so I spent the week putting out fires.

I have to admit that it was discouraging week. A new biography on Stuart will be available at the end of this month, and I purchased a DVD lecture by Tom Perry, a noted Stuart expert. I thought to myself, does the Civil War community need another biography on Jeb Stuart. What else is left to be said.

I've mentioned this before, but I asked one of my history professors about this very thing. If the "definitive" volume has been written, should I even attempt to research and write another. He said yes! He was emphatic and said that I would bring my own understanding of the subject and that understanding was just as important as any other book written.

I thought he was being kind... but this weekend, at the library, I picked up the latest biography on Princess Diana. I am a Diana fan. I have read all the books about her (probably own most). So, I have to admit that I expected to find the same stories recounted. But no. This is probably the best book written about Diana, even though I would recommend more if the author wasn't so snarky and mean. I guess when you sit high above your subject and can look down your judgemental nose at her and despise her for her flaws (which we all have but the author) well, let's just say it gets old. But the author had an inside seat, and I've learned a great deal. This is exciting because I didn't think there was anything left to say about the Princess.

So what does that mean. That I am presently researching a biography on Jeb Stuart with aim of publishing my own understanding on Lee's Young Major General. I do see him differently then the Stuart I have come to know in magazines or in recent biographies. So, I do have something to offer to the historiography.

This is not a bold statement or even an arrogant one. I just have something to say about Stuart, so I plan to say it.

General Orders Twenty-One

As I begin the second volume of my great American novel (yes, I have one of them), I had to turn a scholarly eye toward the war out west. I know the battles and the men who fought, but besides Margaret Mitchell's description of the Johnston's long retreat to Atlanta, I really hadn't read about the battles west of the Alleghenies, quite content to stay with Lee, Jackson, and Stuart.

Fortunate for me, I picked up a book by Steven Woodworth. He has written extensively about the war in the west and the Army of the Tennessee. Professor Woodworth is an extraordinary author whose books are well research and entertainingly written. He focuses not only on the battles but on the personalities involved. His books are outstanding. I have read President Davis and His Generals, Six Armies in Tennessee, and Nothing But Victory. I am reading Davis and Lee at War. If you are looking for books on this particular subject, then I highly recommend this author and his books. You will not be disappointed.