Browsing "American Military Genius"

Helot Rhett Butlers

It is said that one of the most distinguishing achievements of the American Confederacy was the ingenuity of Southern authorities and businessmen meeting the challenge of a naval blockade of its coasts. They answered the challenge with swift, light draft blockade runners fueled with quick-burning Welsh coal while utilizing two Southern-friendly islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas, for supply transshipments.

Gen. U.S. Grant, III, stated in 1961 that “if the Cambridge Modern History is correct in its allegation that between October 26, 1864 and January 1865 it was still possible for 8,632,000 lbs. of meat, 1,507,000 lbs. of lead, 1,933,000 lbs. of saltpeter, 546,000 pairs of shoes, 316,000 blankets, half a million pounds of coffee, 69,000 rifles and 43 cannons to run the blockade into the port of Wilmington alone, while cotton sufficient to pay for these purchases was exported, it is evident that the blockade runners made an important contribution to the Confederacy’s ability to carry on.” (New York History Quarterly, Vol. XLII, No. 1, January 1961, pp. 49-50).

Helot Rhett Butlers

“There were, of course, precedents for blockade evasion in the history of warfare. One striking parallel to the Southern problem occurred in 425 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians had succeeded in trapping a portion of the Spartan land forces on the island of Sphacteria, off the coast of Pylos, and thus, by maintaining a blockade, learned what the federal navy and government would in time come to understand: a blockade immobilized, perhaps, some of the enemy’s forces, restricted his strategy, and imposed attrition, but it did not of itself bring him to capitulation.

Thucydides records that much time was consumed in the blockade of the island because the Spartans had not stood idly by while the cream of their land forces was being starved to death.

“The fact was,” he wrote, “that the Lacedaemonians had made the advertisement for volunteers to carry into the island ground corn, wine, cheese, and any other food useful in a siege; high prices being offered, and freedom promised to any of the Helots who should succeed in doing so . . . In short, both sides tried every possible contrivance, the one to throw in provisions, the other to prevent their introduction.”

Thucydides reasoned well in considering the material inducement offered the Helots to undertake running the blockade. Those men of the Confederacy who were interested in bringing in supplies from abroad, and who were not involved in the trade officially, had rich material benefits in mind.”

(Ploughshares into Swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance, Frank E. Vandiver, Texas A&M Press, 1994, excerpt pg. 85)

Mar 21, 2021 - American Military Genius, Memorials to the Past, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Commendable Deeds Transmitted to Posterity

Commendable Deeds Transmitted to Posterity

Ancient historians emphasized the study of past figures and societies to improve our own moral character. Polybius wrote that “not only is there no more authentic manner of preparing for political life than by studying history,” but there is no better teacher of the ability to endure with courage “the vicissitudes of Fortune than a record of other’s catastrophes.”

Commendable Deeds Transmitted to Posterity

“We are told by the historian of an earlier age that whenever the renowned men of the Roman commonwealth looked upon the statues of their ancestry, they felt their minds vehemently excited to virtue. It could not have been the bronze or marble that possessed this power, but the recollection of great actions which kindled a generous flame in their souls, not to be quelled until they also, by virtue and heroic deeds, had acquired equal fame and glory.

When a call to arms resounds throughout the land and a people relinquish the pleasant scenes of tranquil life and rally to their country’s call, such action is the result of an honest conviction that the act is commendable.

In recalling such an epoch, the wish that a true record of the deeds done should be transmitted to posterity must dominate every patriot heart. Loyalty to brave men, who for four long years of desolating war – years of undimmed glory – stood by each other and fought to the bitter end with indomitable heroism which characterized the Confederate soldier, demands from posterity a preservation of the memories of the great struggle.  We cannot find in the annals of history a grander record or prouder roll of honor, nor more just fame for bravery, patient endurance of hardships, and sacrifices.

The noble chieftain, Robert E. Lee said: “Judge your enemy from his standpoint, if you would be just.” Whatever may be said of the contention between the two great sections of the Union, whether by arbitration of council every issue might have been settled and a fratricidal war averted, there will be but one unalterable decree of history respecting the Confederate soldier.

His deeds are heroism “are wreathed around with glory,” and he will ever be honored, because he was not only brave and honorable, but true to his convictions.”

(Military History of Florida, Col. J.J. Dickison: Confederate Military History, Vol. XI, Confederate Publishing Co., 1899, excerpt. pp. 3-4)

Jan 17, 2021 - American Military Genius, Carnage, Lincoln's Blood Lust, Myth of Saving the Union, No Compromise, Pleading for Peace, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Uncategorized    Comments Off on “Not Since Hermann Destroyed the Roman Legions”

“Not Since Hermann Destroyed the Roman Legions”

The Wilderness battle was fought July 1-3, 1864: 104,000 Union troops versus 61,000 Southern. Once again the carnage was appalling and once again Lincoln had the opportunity to end the struggle against the South’s independence as the British did some eighty years earlier with the colonies. Several peace conferences committed to saving the lives of soldiers and civilians alike would end in failure as Lincoln stood firm in his conviction to rule all the American States, and nearly half in subjugation.

“Not Since Hermann Destroyed the Roman Legions”

“Before the close of the day Grant’s army was on the south side [of the Rapidan], four thousand wagons filled with forage and ammunition, beef-cattle, cavalry, artillery and infantry. This feat was so pleasing that Grant regarded it as a great success and “undoubtedly a surprise to Lee.” The ensuing night the Union army entrenched and camped in the Wilderness, that tangled forest in which Hooker had come to grief.

Now that Grant was busy with his operations, Lee had not been idle. He had observed the movements of the enemy from every angle and had made a report to his government. Yet the crushing numbers of the enemy gave him concern. He made no excuses, raised no questions and expressed no doubts, but he must have more troops.

By April 30 the federal plans had been foreseen by Lee, precisely as they had been worked out by General Grant, and he had prepared his line of defense. In the Wilderness, he would attack Grant’s army on its left flank and throw it back on the Rapidan. He would make a strategic offensive and concentrate his forces and shut Grant up in that dense jungle.

Of this strategy of Lee’s it must be said it was one of his boldest and most skillful. His proposed plan, experts declare, broke all modern precedent – it was to be a duel in the dark. Such an engagement had not been fought since Hermann destroyed the Roman legions in the forest of Teutoburg.

But Lee was not bound by rule. He practiced his own theory of the art of war and, in the coming campaign, was to furnish such an example of the use of natural features to neutralize a superior force as will always be a model. Grant’s telegraph lines were to be rendered useless, his artillery rendered useless, his artillery wholly ruled out, the guns, three hundred of them, to stand silent. Cavalry was to be still more useless.

Five times the federal charge was made and five times it failed. [The last days’ assault] lasted but sixty minutes, yet it was one of the most disastrous Union defeats of the war. Six thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded in an hour, and Cold Harbor passed into history with Fredericksburg. The fatality among the Union officers was astounding; they literally went forward and led their men into battle and death.  The loss to Lee’s army was slight.”

(Robert E. Lee: A Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Co., 1934, excerpts pp. 291-292; 306-307)

Lee Assesses His Adversaries

Robert E. Lee did not always refer to his blue-coated adversaries as “those people,” often storming at them as “vandals and violators of all rules of war; in such moments his neck would turn red and chin and head flare upward, like a spirited horse. Plenty of instances are recorded of Lee’s loss of temper . . .” Had Lee accepted Winfield Scott’s offer of command of the invading armies, it seems certain that he would have quickly gone over to the other side after realizing the true intent of his commander-in-chief.  The birthdate of Robert E. Lee is observed on January 19 — a legal holiday in North Carolina and other States.

Lee Assesses His Adversaries

“When his son, “Rooney” Lee, a federal prisoner, was moved to a new place of safety, Lee remarked that “any place would be better than Fort Monroe with [General Benjamin] Butler in command,” and his antipathy to [General John] Pope inspired several bitter comments.

That his nephew, Louis Marshall, who fought on the Union side, was part of Pope’s entourage was particularly offensive. “When you write Rob tell him to catch Pope for me, and also bring in his cousin Louis Marshall who, I am told, is on his staff. I could forgive the latter’s fighting against us, but not his joining Pope.”

For [General Joseph] Hooker, Lee’s contempt was more good-natured; he commonly referred to him as “Mr. F.J. Hooker,” thus making his own use of Hooker’s nickname, “Fighting Joe”; while for Burnside Lee had a real affection, as had most people, friend or foe. “We always understood each other so well,” he commented, on Burnside’s supersession, “I fear [Lincoln] may contrive to make these changes [in command] till they find someone whom I don’t understand.”

The most unfortunate victim of this strain in Lee was General David Hunter, the head of a federal force in the Shenandoah in 1864. After the war, Hunter wrote Lee, asking his professional opinion of his strategy in that campaign. In particular “when he [Hunter] found it necessary to retreat from before Lynchburg, did he not adopt the most feasible line of retreat?”

“Lee replied with a cutting solemnity that would have done honor to Dean Swift: “I would say that I am not advised as to the motives which induced you to adopt the line of retreat which you took, and am not, perhaps, competent to judge of the question, but I certainly expected you to retreat by way of the Shenandoah Valley and was gratified at the time that you preferred the route through the mountains to the Ohio – leaving the valley open for General [Jubal] Early’s advance into Maryland.”

(The Lees of Virginia, Burton J. Hendrick, Little, Brown and Company, 1935, pp. 415-416)

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

Born at sea while his family sailed from Ireland to America, John Newland Mafffitt was destined for a life on the water. Having just relinquished command of the USS Crusader at New York on March 1, 1861, after several years capturing New England-captained and financed slavers off Cuba, the country he had left had become something different.

Soon to become one of the most famed of blockade runners and privateers, he had, by his account, in the first three of his four captures of slavers, rescued 789 Africans from their cramped holds.

The Wilmington Daily Journal of 25 September 1863 remarked, “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”  

Though describing himself as a “slave holder” due to a modest interest in land he had inherited from his wife’s family, Maffitt found the newly-rediscovered morality of New Englanders disingenuous.

Assuming Puritanical Attitudes

“The news of Fort Sumter reached Washington in the early evening of April 13, causing intense excitement within the city. Maffitt now faced his terrible decision of allegiance. He could hear the tramp of soldiers and the roll of artillery wagons day and night outside his house. Southern families departed daily; resignations were announced “in language of gall and bitterness.” Maffitt’s relatives were in the South. His property was partly in the North – his Washington home with its valuable furnishings and fine library; and partly in the South interest in land he inherited . . .

He recoiled against a people who sold slaves to Southerners and then became puritanical in their attitudes:

‘I fancied that New England, with her well-developed secession proclivities, would offer no material objection to the course of the South. In truth it was natural to presume that fanatical abolitionism would hail with joy the departure of the un-Godly, slaveholding section of the country from her unwelcome participation in the Union. But material interest gave zest to patriotism, and her war course would lead the world to suppose that she never contemplated a severance from the Union and forming a Northern Confederation.”

(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 30; 32-33)  

Aug 26, 2020 - American Military Genius, Patriotism, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Southern Unionists    Comments Off on “Old Blizzards” and an Army of Heroes

“Old Blizzards” and an Army of Heroes

At the Battle of Chapultepec, “It was early afternoon when [Lieutenant-Colonel] Loring and the US troops breached the Garita de Belen . . . after a short advance, a shot from the garita shattered Loring’s left arm. In the Mexican War, medical care for the wound was simple and direct, and the medical instruments were often merely knives and saws. Dr. H.H. Steiner of Augusta, Georgia, reported:

“Loring laid aside a cigar, sat quietly in a chair without opiates to relieve the pain, and allowed the arm to be cut off without a murmur of a groan. The arm was buried on the heights by his men, with the hand pointing toward the City of Mexico.”

Thirty-one years later, Loring remembered: “When I was wounded . . . and there with the battle . . . going on before my eyes, my arm was amputated. The excitement of the spectacle drove away all sense of pain, and like Poreau, I smoked a cigar while they were sawing into my poor bones . . . None but an army of heroes could have accomplished the conquest of Mexico.”

“Old Blizzards” and an Army of Heroes

“Few officers resigned from the United States Army to enter the Confederate service with a richer experience than Loring. In May, 1861, he was six months past his forty-second birthday and had been soldiering since he was fourteen. He had been in the Seminole wars in Florida at a time when most of his later associates were learning parade-ground tactics on the fields of West Point.

Later he studied law, and when Florida became a State Loring sat in the State legislature.  Then, when the Mexican War called for valorous men, the twenty-seven-year-old Loring abandoned politics forever.  He became a captain, a major, a lieutenant-colonel.  He won brevet promotions for gallant and meritorious conduct. At Mexico he led an assault on Belen Gate and lost an arm. Thereafter his empty sleeve bore its eloquent testimony to his courage and gallantry. When the war ended, Loring stayed in the army.

For a dozen years, young Loring proved that the army made no mistake in keeping [a one-armed lieutenant-colonel] in the service. No product of West Point looked more like a soldier than he. He led his regiment, with six hundred mule teams, for twenty-five hundred miles across the mountains to Oregon. A generation later it was called “the greatest military feat on record.”

He fought Indians on the Rio Grande and on the Gila in Arizona. He fought Mormons in Utah. He went to Europe to study the military systems of the continent. He came back to command the Department of New Mexico. At thirty-eight he was the youngest line colonel of the American army.

When he entered the Confederate service, even his enemies bore him tribute: a man of “unflinching honor and integrity,” said the Federal officer who replaced him in his western command.”

(W.W. Loring: Florida’s Forgotten General, James W. Raab, Sunflower University Press, 1996, excerpts Forward; pg. 12)

May 3, 2020 - American Military Genius, Historical Amnesia/Cleansing, Lincoln's Grand Army, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Becoming Machines Without Memory

Becoming Machines Without Memory

After his victory at Second Manassas, Gen. Robert E. Lee fought McClellan once again at Sharpsburg with Stonewall Jackson at his side, “which in some respects was the greatest feat of Southern arms. Again, Lee fought a perfect battle, and with 39,000 men defeated every attack of 87,000.”

One of Lee’s contemporaries later eulogized him: “Students looking for an example . . . will find in the life of Lee an inspiration to noble living and high endeavor such is nowhere else found . . . [He was] a man whose strength was the might of gentleness and self-command.”  

Becoming Machines Without Memory

“Lee’s great victory changed the whole character of the war. The finest army of the Union had been put hors de combat for several months, and the initiative was in the hands of the Confederates. But again, Davis’s caution had its influence upon the temerarious Lee. The President could not believe that McClellan was utterly disposed of, and a proposal from Jackson, made right after the Seven Days, went unnoticed: Jackson proposed to ignore McClellan and invade the North with 60,000 men.

By the middle of August, when it was certain that McClellan, now reduced to a mere corps commander, had withdrawn from the peninsula, this was done; but by that time a reorganized Army of the Potomac, under John Pope, who had captured Island Number Ten, was organized and in the way.

Lee now moved to “suppress Pope” before McClellan’s corps could reinforce him. Lee, still studying the character of his opponent – who this time was a rattle-brained braggart – contemptuously divided his army, sending Jackson with about 25,000 men to Pope’s rear at Manassas Junction.  Jackson cut Pope’s communications with Washington and burnt millions in supplies. Lee followed with the rest of his army at a distance of fifty miles. Jackson held Pope at bay, and even deluded him into thinking that he had gained an advantage; then Lee arrived.

Next day the united Confederate army crushed and routed Pope, 55,000 against 70,000, and threatened Washington. This great battle, Second Manassas, was a strategic and tactical masterpiece, perfect in every detail, Napoleonic in its conception and performance. From this time Lee’s prestige rose, never to sink again until Americans have succeeded in turning themselves into machines without memory.”

(Jefferson Davis: His Rise and Fall, A Biographical Narrative, Allen Tate, Minton, Balch & Company, 1929, excerpts pp. 142-143)

May 27, 2019 - American Military Genius, Costs of War, Economics, Myth of Saving the Union, New England History, Southern Heroism, The War at Sea    Comments Off on Turning New England’s Mind to Thoughts of Peace

Turning New England’s Mind to Thoughts of Peace

The American Confederacy’s leadership exploited Northern war-weariness in 1864 by sending agents and money to Canada to open a northern front, increased its destruction of New England’s merchant fleet, and work toward Lincoln’s political defeat in November 1864.

Confederate commerce raiders effectively destroyed the North’s merchant shipping as it caught, burned or sunk hundreds of vessels, made future merchant voyages uninsurable, and forced the North to transfer goods to foreign ships for safety. The CSS Shenandoah of Captain James Waddell targeted New England’s whalers, capturing or sinking 38 vessels in one year.

It is noteworthy that Confederate overseas agent James Dunwoody Bulloch’s half-sister Martha was the mother of Theodore Roosevelt and grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Turning New England’s Mind to Thoughts of Peace

“Ironically, however, the very success of the Florida, the Alabama and other Confederate cruisers had added one more dilemma to those confronting Bulloch: toward what end would any new raiders be directed?

Earlier cruisers, after all, had succeeded beyond the Confederates’ wildest expectations. Writing to [Secretary of the Navy Stephen] Mallory the previous February [1864], Bulloch had reported, “There really seems nothing for our ships to do now upon the open sea.”

Even in the Pacific, passing mariners noticed a conspicuous absence of US ships. As one correspondent wrote, “The master of a French ship reported not one [Northern] ship at the Guano Islands off Peru, where in 1863, seventy or eighty had waited impatiently for their profitable cargoes.”

By early spring, however, Mallory had a new target in mind. That March, in a letter to Bulloch, he proposed redeploying existing commerce raiders and acquiring new ones for a concerted assault on New England’s globally-dispersed fishing and whaling fleet. The Alabama, the Florida, and other raiders had already made sporadic attacks on New England’s whaling vessels operating off the Azores and other Atlantic islands; likewise, there had been raids on fishing schooners off the New England coast.

What Mallory now envisioned was something on a grander scale. By driving up operating costs and insurance rates for New England’s fishing and whaling industries, he believed, the Confederate Navy would render the region a powerful lobby in Washington devoted to ending the war.

As he put it, “The simultaneous appearance of efficient cruisers on the New England coast and fishing banks, in the West Indies and South Atlantic, in the Pacific among the whalemen, and in the East Indies, would have a decided tendency to turn the trading mind of New England to thoughts of peace.”

(Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah, Tom Chaffin, Hill & Wang, 2006, excerpts pp. 24-25)

Jackson Versus Two Amateurs of War

Stonewall Jackson’s stunning success in the Valley was truly Napoleonic as he fought against enormous odds and sent opponents reeling in defeat. One, Northern General James Shields, an Irish-born politician-general who boasted that Jackson feared him, had only days before their clash vowed that he would clear the Shenandoah Valley of Jackson’s patriot army. In truth, Jackson benefited as well from the hand of Providence and inept enemy leadership in Washington.

Jackson Versus Two Amateurs of War

“Next, Lincoln tried his hand in strategy.  He ordered [Major-General John C.] Fremont into the Shenandoah to Jackson’s rear, and after countermanding the order to join [Major-General George B.] McClellan, directed [Major-General Irvin] McDowell instead to send 20,000 men to the Shenandoah to assist Fremont, or to capture Jackson if he could not effect the junction.

More disaster followed when Jackson routed [General Nathaniel P.] Banks at Winchester on May 25 and drove him in wild flight thirty-five miles across the Potomac. Stanton, believing Washington in imminent danger, telegraphed the Northern governors to send militia for its defense.

Lincoln seized the railroads, recalled part of McDowell’s corps to Washington, and ordered Fremont, Banks and McDowell – still separated – to capture Jackson. On June 8, Fremont overtook the retreating Jackson at Cross Keys, but was repulsed; so was Shields who next day struck at Jackson at Port Republic.

Colonel [David] Henderson said that Jackson “fell as it were from the skies into the midst of his astonished foes, struck right and left before they could combine, and defeated in detail every detachment that crossed his path.”

With 17,000 men Jackson in a month won four battles and captured many prisoners. More important, he terrorized Washington and kept 40,000 men from joining McClellan [in his advance on Richmond]. Margaret Leech observed: “Divine interposition could scarcely have scattered the Federal forces more perfectly than had those two amateurs of war, Mr. Stanton and Mr. Lincoln.”

(The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, William M. Lamers, LSU Press, 1961, excerpts pg. 81)

Arch-Rebel George Washington

On August 23, 1775, George III proclaimed the American colonists of New England to be traitors and in rebellion. To suppress the American revolt, George III prepared for total war and sent an army of Scots Highlanders and Royal Guards; his effort to buy troops from Catherine of Russia had fallen through, though he acquired 7,000 German mercenaries from Brunswick and Hesse-Cassel.

One cannot fail to see the similarities with 1861 as a new American nation declared its independence and raised an army for defense. An American president then assembled an army which included paid German troops to suppress a “rebellion,” and the rebel leader is denounced as an “arch-rebel.”

George III offered amnesty and pardon if the colonists again recognized him as their Sovereign; Lincoln offered the South amnesty if it recognized him as their Sovereign. The “hideous dens of malnutrition and disease” described below were replicated in many Northern prisons and the cruel fate of the “Immortal 600” Southern officers held at Morris Island in 1864. One may also compare the tactics and methods of rebel-general Washington with rebel-general Stonewall Jackson in the Valley.

Arch-Rebel George Washington

“Washington’s plight [at New York in July 1776] was made more desperate by a piece of awesome news. America and the mother country had come to the parting of the ways. An express from Philadelphia brought the report that independence had been declared by [the Continental] Congress on 2 July.

Was he the first general of an emerging nation, or, as British propaganda had it, “the arch-rebel Washington,” outlaw leader of a guerilla band. [Howe’s] troops crossed the Hudson, scaled the Palisades, and took Fort Lee in twenty minutes, with yet another cache of arms and soldiers, the former to bombard the rebels, the latter to languish miserably in prison ships, floating sewers anchored off New York Harbor, hideous dens of malnutrition and disease.

[In early January 1777 near Princeton, British troops] opened a cannonade on the outnumbered Americans, trapped them in an orchard between a ravine and their cannon, leveled them with fresh blasts of artillery, and waded in with bayonets. Trapped and frightened, the [Americans] began to fall back to the rear . . . [and at] that moment Washington appeared.

Glancing once at the bloodied terrain, [Washington] plunged through the melee to within thirty yards of the advancing British and disappeared in a burst of fire and a gigantic cloud of smoke. It blew off a minute later, revealing George, possessed as ever, sitting calmly on his big white horse.

“Advance!” and the army plunged after him into the British center, driving them through the fields into the red brick buildings of the Princeton campus, where they holed up in schoolrooms, firing from class and chapel windows until blasted out by barrages of artillery or chased out at the point of bayonets. Perpetrators of the earlier orchard massacre received a dreadful vengeance; convinced the foe had used their bayonets with excessive severity, Americans closed in on the survivors and slaughtered nearly sixty on the spot.

[Cornwallis’s aide] Charles Stedman, objective even in catastrophe, traced the coup to Washington’s use of surprise and timing to unbalance a much larger army and his disposal of small forces for the maximum effect.”

(Washington: A Biography, Noemie Emery, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976, excerpts pp. 192-193; 202; 210-211)

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