Friday, May 21, 2010

Army of the Potomac

This week I've had an interesting exchange of emails with an author. He has published a book on the Army of the Potomac and in his email touting his work he talks about the 6 changes in army command and the 8 changes in general-in-chief (as well as the many changes in brigade, division and corps leaders as well as the structure changes).

For whatever reason I decided to respond to him instead of ignoring him and asked him what those changes were. He claimed the army command commanders as McClellan, Pope, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and Meade. I pointed out that Pope was never in command of the Army of the Potomac and McClellan never was removed from command. His response was citing a letter from McClellan that he felt he was a man without an army. I don't doubt he felt that way but he was never officially removed from command. Of course the author should discuss this incident in the book but he should also make clear that the Army of the Potomac troops serving under Pope were a temporary attachment, although if Pope had won the Battle of Second Manassas it might have been made permanent.

A secondary point if one wanted to quibble is that the changes of McClellan, Pope, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and Meade is only five changes. The author stated six changes. When I first heard six changes I was pretty sure he was going to include Pope as an army commander. I wondered though if he would call McDowell the first army commander (while technically incorrect most historians have listed him as such) or if he would claim that Grant was really the army commander in 1864-65 as Meade's influence on army movements was severely curtailed.

The changes the author claims for general-in-chief are even more bizarre. I could think of Scott, McClellan, Halleck and Grant. The author claims it as Scott, McClellan, Lincoln, Halleck, Lincoln and Halleck, Lincoln, Lincoln and Halleck, Grant. General-in-chief refers to the senior army officer, Lincoln was not a general and President, he was commander-in-chief. Lincoln was very hands on, Halleck complained that he was really a military advisor implementing the wishes of Lincoln and Stanton. There was a period between McClellan and Halleck that there was no general-in-chief, but to call Lincoln that is an error. The author would need to explain in the text that Lincoln operated without a general-in-chief for awhile. Also I do not remember a time when Halleck was suspended from command as general-in-chief or that Lincoln said "we're now co-general-in-chief."

Was the marketing email simply over stating facts to make the number of changes more impressive? Maybe. I'm worried though that when given a chance to back pedal and explain that he really knew that Pope was not a commander of the Army of the Potomac and that Lincoln was not general-in-chief the author refused and doggedly stuck to his guns that he was right on all counts. It makes me worry that there are similar errors in the other command and structure changes enumerated in the book.

I confirmed through amazon that it is a self-published book, which by itself doesn't set off red flags but one of the benefits of using a publishers is that many others read the book before its published. In this case I think peer review was missing.

Needless to say I will not be buying this book. If my local library happens to get a copy I'll probably look at it but I definitely would not use it as a source until I made an extended effort to confirm anything he said.

***UPDATE 5-25-10***
Enough people have emailed asking for the title, so I'll add it here as well. The book in question is "The Ever-Changing Leaders and Organization of the Army of the Potomac" by George S. Maharay. I have also since requested the book thru ILL, only one copy was listed on worldcat which is probably not a good sign.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grant's Papers

The other day while doing research on John Marszalek for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Civil War Symposium I saw a link that the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant are now available online. Marszalek is the head of the Papers after the passing of John Simon a could years ago.

Having the papers online is a fantastic resource. It helped me solve two riddles almost immediately. One was that at Shiloh the first staff member to give Lew Wallace an order was A.S. Baxter. All sources only use his initials, its a small riddle but I wanted to use his full name in a project if possible, and I found it (Algernon). The second riddle was that I had a source that claimed Grant wrote a letter to Alfred Mathews, but I did not know when. The letter appeared in a footnote in the Papers which I would not have had the patience to search for manually but now that the Papers are digitized online it took only a few minutes to solve that riddle.

I'll use it a lot on future research projects. In the past the only copy I knew of locally was a half hour drive downtown. I hardly ever have the time anymore to get there so this is a really helpful resource for me.

To search the collection yourself click here

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sickles at Gettysburg

Sickles at Gettysburg by James A. Hessler
This is a wonderful book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Daniel Sickles is someone I've always been fascinated by but had never read a biography about because they all seemed to be too pro-Sickles or too anti-Sickles, there did not seem to be a good even handed biography of him out there. I think Hessler has solved this.
The book focuses on Sickles actions at Gettysburg and how he spent the rest of his life defending those actions. There is of course some discussion of his life before the Civil War, probably most well known for murdering Philip Barton Key, and his military record in the Army of the Potomac prior to Gettysburg. But the bulk of the book concerns all aspects of Sickles' Gettysburg performance. Hessler does side with Meade's side in most of the Sickles-Meade arguments over Sickles' Gettysburg record.
The one area I thought the author could have devoted more attention to was explaining how the battle might have been fought if Sickles had stayed put like Meade wanted. Show exactly where his lines would have been and try to guess how Longstreet would have attacked the Union lines. My thinking has always been that Sickles forced Longstreet to use his men taking a position that did not imperil the main Union lines. Sickles was helped out by other Union units taking Little Round Top so that he was not flanked from that position but if Sickles had not been able to secure Little Round Top if he stayed put then it seems to me his position would have been flanked and a greater calamity fallen on the Union lines than actually did. And my own recollection (and Hessler confirms this) is that Hancock's lines ended well north of Little Round Top (near the present location of Pennsylvania state monument), so did Sickles have enough men to connect to Hancock's left and hold Little Round Top?
I think it would have been about a mile long line if it was straight and since the ground was not level, especially to cover Little Round Top, and the left should be refused at least a bit. Sickles had 10,675 men in the ranks. The men would form in two ranks, and if each man is allotted 18 inches of line (somewhere I remember reading that is about how much front a man occupies) then those men would cover a front of roughly 1.5 miles. Measuring on a park map it looks like the line is roughly 1.3 miles long so allowing for some refusal of the flank and some reserves it appears that Sickles could have covered Little Round Top.
Maybe someone has done a study that breaks down exactly how much front Sickles could have filled on the Meade line and also how Longstreet might have reacted, he certainly would not have assaulted straight up the Emmittsburg Pike. I have not read the study if it has been done, but I'm not a voracious Gettysburg reader so it is quite possible that I have missed such a study.
In any respect this is a great book. I only wish Sickles life was made into a movie. He is a fascinating character and Hessler has provided a pretty fair treatment of him. Buy this book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shiloh Maps

Trailhead Graphics has made a new Shiloh map set. Basically it is the Reed map placed onto the modern topo map that serves as the base for the monument map that Trailhead already makes (and is a valuable tool for wandering a battlefield). There are two maps, one for each day. I saw samples last week at the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table meeting and it looks fabulous. The map is supposed to go on sale at the park this week. It does not appear yet on the Trailhead Graphics website and I also did not find it on the Eastern National website. I guess you need to call the park bookshop to order a copy. The visitor's center phone number is (731) 689-5696. You can also contact Trailhead Graphics at or 800 390-5117. I can't wait to own this set.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chickamauga Maps

I fear this post might be well behind the times but in case its not, I recently found out that that the University of Tennessee Press has put pdfs copies of the Betts' Chickamauga maps online. These maps were created when the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga were preserved. Henry Boynton was the first park historian and wrote the official battle history, placed the iron markers you see on the field today and also had troop movement maps created to accompany the text. You can buy these maps in an altered state today at the park, basically one map now has info that originally appeared on 3-4 maps. But now UT Press has put the original 13 maps online here.

They did this in conjunction with the publication of "The Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and the Organizations Engaged" by Henry Boynton, edited by Timothy B. Smith. Smith has basically combined three Boytnon books into one volume and provided some other notes on Boynton. I have not held a copy of Smith's version yet, I knew he was working on it but did not realize it was out already. I actually do have Boynton's other books but I would like a modern reprint so I don't have to worry about ruining my 100 year old versions.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. I've been kept busy working on a manuscript that I hope to have finished soon. Plus I've been fine tuning a presentation I'm giving to the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table next week.

And of course there is the more important things like trying to get ready for the baby. The doctor intends to induce labor at the end of June so a July 1st birth is quite likely. The nursery is nearly ready. We've been waiting for the crib to arrive, apparently we selected the slowest company in the world, this Saturday it'll be 17 weeks since we ordered it. Then I can hang some pictures and shelves on the walls and get things finished. Last weekend was the baby shower so now most things we need are here. I think all we're really missing is a high chair and we can wait on that for a little while.

Things should clear up next week after the round table presentation. And then hopefully by the end of the month the manuscript will be complete. So once I start to free up times for better posts the baby will come and the blog will be the furthest thing from my mind. I'll try to build up a supply of posts so that there won't be a precipitate drop off here in July.

Thanks for your understanding.