Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Gap - a little clarification

This series of posts might be a bit hard to follow as I'm just posting a few paragraphs at a time from my original article, but I wanted to clarify a point.

I do blame Wood for his actions, but I do not think he was totally in the wrong. I think the other key actors in this drama deserve criticism, namely Rosecrans (for the faulty order to begin with) and McCook (for not taking the proper steps to fill the gap more quickly, which also can be blamed on Rosecrans to some degree). This was a very bad moment in the battle for Rosecrans, up to this time he had a sparkling career and despite being slow to begin campaigns did a wonderful job once it was started.

I hesitate to call it the main focus of the article, but in some respects I do deal a lot with the counter factual of the battle. This first started when I walk the Dyer Ridge line and started to wonder if it had been given a real chance to form what it might have been able to accomplish. That focus will become clearer a little later.


Dave Powell said...

Hi Nick,

Interesting dialogue.

Personally, I blame Rosecrans first, for losing control of his forces. Numerous other troops were available to send to Thomas, either when he wanted Negley or later, when he called on Brannan. Before Negley moved, for example, Wood could have just as easily gone to support the XIV Corps without the need to pull Negley out of line at all. Additionally, all through the morning, Van Cleve's division was handy. In fact, Van Cleve spent most of the morning trying to fulfill very vague orders to insert himself into the line somewhere and make himself useful.

Next we have to look at Thomas. Thomas' constant calls for troops (Negley was bombarded with something like 11 different couriers in the space of an hour) created a sense of urgency, even crisis, that had the rest of the line hopping and off balance. Thomas' direct involvement with calling up Negley and more especially Brannan created dangerous pre-conditions that all but made some gap, somewhere, inevitable. This is not to say Thomas was to blame, but we should recognize that the XIV Corps was driving the actions of the rest of the army, not Rosecrans. That is a recipe for command disaster.

Rosecrans should have done a better job of managing his total force and not simply catered to Thomas' every call.

McCook, as I noted, must carry his share of the blame for affirming the order to Wood and stating he would fill the gap - a promise he could not keep.

The Cist version has developed such a persistant presence in the historical record that Wood will probably carry more than a little oprobrium forever. However, when I zero out as many of the speculative non-primary sources as I can and focus simply on the primary source materials like Starling's actual testimony or the various eyewitness accounts, I find very little grounds for excoriating Wood. Too much of the tale - Like the "Fateful Order of the day" - is fiction spun decades after the fact.

Dave Powell

Nick said...

I completely agree about Thomas. His constant badgering for troops certainly helped set up the disaster that befell the right wing. I forgot about him while making my earlier list.

I wouldn’t call the “fateful order of the day” fiction, mostly because I think it is perhaps the pivotal point of the battle. Prior to this I think the Union was well on its way to either a victory or a draw (and I think Bragg would withdraw after a draw so a draw is as good as a victory, to me Rosecrans just has to avoid a defeat). We could debate whether or not Longstreet would have pierced a line along Brotherton field and how that would have effected the battle, but Wood leaving (whether out of spite or because he was just following orders) does allow Longstreet to do more damage to the right wing. In fact this is what the last part of my article is about so don't jump the gun yet :)

Anonymous said...

The specific phrase "Fateful order of the Day" and "I would not part with it for 5000 dollars" are very much fiction. There is some evidence that "Fateful order of the day" was first used in Washington (I have a St. Louis Newspaper account from DC that uses that language, about 2 weeks after the battle) but the "5000" dollars quote does not appear in any of the accounts until the 1910s or 20s. It is very much an imaginative fiction created well after the fact.

Was the order itself fateful, in that it changed everything? that is a different argument. I do not buy it largely because the Union situation all day long was one of similar situations, windows of disaster opening and closing at indeterminate intervals.

Rosecrans had lost control of the battle well before Thomas J. Wood moved out from Brotherton field.

As for the rest of your counter-factual, you are essentially arguing that if Rosecrans fought a better battle, it would not have gone as badly for him.:) I'd agree with that...but it does seem a little obvious. There were any number of scenarios Rosecrans could adopt that would be better than the situation he had that morning.

Nick said...

I was using the term "fateful order of the day" just because in my opinion it was. Maybe not "the" fateful order but has to rank in the top 3. My intention was not to quote someone else there. Someone else very possibly coined the phrase earlier, I was just using it because it fit good.

As for the counter factual I'm concentrating on one specific incident, not saying that in general if Rosecrans had done a better job there would have been different results. You'll just need to wait to hear the whole argument on that point. That sort of argument can continue forever, that's not what I'm after.