Monday, March 14, 2011

Stephen A. Hurlbut

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut by Jeffrey N. Lash

In my continuing quest to learn as much as I can about Shiloh I sought out this book on Hurlbut. I knew that Hurlbut had turned in a pretty good performance at Shiloh, not well enough that people talked of it in awe and thought of giving him better field commands but a pretty solid performance, in fact it seems all the Union division commanders fought well during the battle. He also became the post commander at Memphis and left there due to questionable financial dealings.

I was a little shocked to learn that this was Hurlbut's only real battle experience. His experience prior to Shiloh was in a rear area of Missouri where he saw no combat, just chased the Confederates. I was even more shocked to read how corrupt his administration of Memphis was, and that after basically being chased out of there by rumors he was able to get another post in New Orleans where he did it all again and ended up getting caught and punished.

He was somewhat politically connected in Illinois. I saw somewhat because it seems he lost more elections than he won and angered some Illinois politicians who actually did have some influence during the Civil War era, like Elihu Washburne (Grant's benefactor). His connection to Lincoln was rather flimsy but apparently he had not done anything to anger Lincoln like he had Washburne. Hurlbut constantly ran against Washburne for his US Senate seat even after Washburne was fairly well entrenched in that post, and also was rather negative in his attacks.

He also seems to have been a bit crazy, which might have come from his drinking. One anecdote in the book is of a time Hurlbut showed up at a cavalry camp, challenged one of the best riders to a race and lost his horse in the race. While this might in someway endear a general to his soldiers it is also not normal behavior for a general.

Hurlbut was a native of South Carolina and had just prior to the firing on Fort Sumter had done a diplomatic mission there for Lincoln. It achieved little but realistically at that point nothing would have likely kept South Carolina in check except for surrendering the fort, which was not going to happen. There is some thought that his diplomatic mission failed too because he had allegedly left town with funds for a charitable organization he worked for when he had lived in Charleston 16 years before. After the war he served mostly in foreign diplomatic posts and was one of the founders of the Grand Army of the Republic.

I enjoyed the book. Not every general could be on the battlefield, some needed to govern the territory gained. Hurlbut spent most of his war doing just that, and along the way he may have made a tremendous amount of money for himself through embezzlement. Would I have picked this up without the Shiloh connection? Probably not but I'm glad I did as I read about an aspect of the war I am not very familiar with.

1 comment:

Drew@CWBA said...

He had the best combover of the CW, too!