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.

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