February 17, 2019

Hardtack and salt pork

I have been reading Glory Road by Bruce Catton. I should more accurately write "re-reading it. I last picked up the Civil War history of the Army of the Potomac back in the mid to late 1980s. I had forgotten how readable a historian Catton was. His narrative style is the way I like history presented best. Catton paints a picture of the prime players and events that reads like a novel without straying from the facts. Like David McCollough, Bruce Catton proved writing and reading  history did not have to be boring

Even back in the 1860s the media had a decidedly east coast bias. The reporters covered the Army of the Potomac and ignored as much as possible the small and large battles fought on the other side of the mountains. Even today anyone who has rudimentary knowledge of the Civil knows about Pickett's Charge, few know about equally devastating advances at Franklin and Nashville later in the war. Six Confederate generals died at Franklin. An additional seven general officers were wounded. One was captured. Outside of the Napoleonic mega-battles, when last did fourteen generals become casualties at one battle?

One thing Catton emphasizes is the perplexing stupidity and politics that pervaded the Eastern Army. More than one campaign was ruined by backbiting, politicking, and leaks. It seems nearly every officer was scheming for his next promotion. The politicians in Washington participated fully using officers and the press to advance their own drive for political power. Catton describes a couple of officers who went straight to Lincoln to complain about their commander.

Underlings schemed with Cabinet officials, governors, and Congressmen to advance their careers (I'm looking at you Joe Hooker -- to name but one) only to prove at the expense of the common soldier that what the War needed was not political generals and leaders, but fighting men.

Foreshadowing an ugly war a century later, the Administration sometimes micromanaged the strategic plans with less-than-effective results.

Proving the more things change the more they are the same, we saw the Democrats do everything in their power to oppose the Lincoln Administration. They carved out a political position that everything Lincoln did was wrong and evil and defied him at every turn until they backed themselves into actually trying to subvert the war effort. I guess you might have said the Democrats were "for it before they were against it" when it came to ending the rebellion.

I once had a pretty impressive library of Civil War histories. Over time I donated, lost, and sold all of the books, including several rare personal accounts. I purged hundreds of books when we made the big move a few years ago. At that point my eyesight had deteriorated to where I could no longer read printed text.

Now that I can see again thanks to a couple of anonymous donors, I wish I had some of those books back.

1 comment:

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I've always preferred Shelby Foote to Bruce Catton. I don't know why. Catton sort of rubs me the wrong way. And I can't explain that, either. I can quantify it a bit: I felt that Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis was a much better book than the two that followed it, written by Catton after Lewis' death.

But Foote has his issues, too. I can think of at least one place where he's actually wrong, at the end of Pickett's Charge where he leaves the reader thinking Armistead died with his hand on the Union cannon. Which of course he did not; he was taken to a Union aid station as a prisoner where he died a couple of days later. Admittedly, the way Foote wrote it is more poignant and romantic, and perfectly in tune with the writing style of an old Southern gentleman.

Doesn't make it any less bullshit. :)

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