Lincoln and the Problem of Virginia: Part One

In the fall of 1862 Abraham Lincoln was a frustrated man. During the year he had seen George McClellan approach the gates of Richmond, only to be turned away during the Seven Days Battles. The Union commander pointed to Lincoln’s own concern with Confederate activity in the Shenandoah Valley as depriving the Army of the Potomac of critical manpower, while Lincoln’s own preference for an overland campaign moving upon Richmond from the north had not borne fruit. Lee’s invasion of Maryland after defeating the Yankees at Second Manassas looked to be as much an opportunity as a threat to the president, but he wondered whether McClellan had frittered away his chance for success at Antietam. In the aftermath of that battle, Lincoln had gone to visit McClellan in the field in a meeting that did not go well … and certainly failed to achieve the results the president desired. Just over a week after returning to Washington, he penned this letter to his general:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Oct. 13, 1862.

Major General McClellan
My dear Sir

You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?

As I understand, you telegraph Gen. Halleck that you can not subsist your army at Winchester unless the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to that point be put in working order. But the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named. He now wagons from Culpepper C.H. which is just about twice as far as you would have to do from Harper’s Ferry. He is certainly not more than half as well provided with wagons as you are. I certainly should be pleased for you to have the advantage of the Railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester, but it wastes all the remainder of autumn to give it to you; and, in fact ignores the question of time, which can not, and must not be ignored.

Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is “to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible without exposing your own.” You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twentyfour hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow, and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon, and beat what is left behind all the easier.

Exclusive of the water line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can, and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march. His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his.

You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below, instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was that this would at once menace the enemies’ communications, which I would seize if he would permit. If he should move Northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications, and move towards Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should present, and, at least, try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say “try”; if we never try, we shall never succeed. If he make a stand at Winchester, moving neither North or South, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we can not beat him when he bears the wastage → of coming to us, we never can when we bear the ← wastage of going to him. This proposition is a simple truth, and is too important to be lost sight of for a moment. In coming to us, he tenders us an advantage which we should not waive. We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us, than far away. If we can not beat the enemy where he now is, we never can, he again being within the entrenchments of Richmond.

Recurring to the idea of going to Richmond on the inside track, the facility of supplying from the side away from the enemy is remarkable—as it were, by the different spokes of a wheel extending from the hub towards the rim—and this whether you move directly by the chord, or on the inside arc, hugging the Blue Ridge more closely. The chord-line, as you see, carries you by Aldie, Hay-Market, and Fredericksburg; and you see how turn-pikes, railroads, and finally, the Potomac by Acquia Creek, meet you at all points from Washington. The same, only the lines lengthened a little, if you press closer to the Blue Ridge part of the way. The gaps through the Blue Ridge I understand to be about the following distances from Harper’s Ferry, to wit: Vestal’s five miles; Gregorie’s, thirteen, Snicker’s eighteen, Ashby’s, twenty-eight, Mannassas, thirty-eight, Chester fortyfive, and Thornton’s fiftythree. I should think it preferable to take the route nearest the enemy, disabling him to make an important move without your knowledge, and compelling him to keep his forces together, for dread of you. The gaps would enable you to attack if you should wish. For a great part of the way, you would be practically between the enemy and both Washington and Richmond, enabling us to spare you the greatest number of troops from here. When at length, running for Richmond ahead of him enables him to move this way; if he does so, turn and attack him in rear. But I think he should be engaged long before such point is reached. It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy; and it is unmanly to say they can not do it.

This letter is in no sense an order.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln.

So much for on to Richmond: advancing southward created more problems than it solved. So much too for the James River option, a proposal Lincoln never embraced. He had no problem risking another Confederate thrust northward, believing that would leave the enemy vulnerable. On the other hand, he believed it essential for his commander to keep Washington covered, suggesting that to do so would allow McClellan to receive the additional men he always wanted.

Over the next week or so we’ll trace Lincoln’s evolving thought on what to do in the eastern theater. For now, you may also want to look at this analysis and resource.

Ride With Forrest For $1,000!

Of course, that $1000 will have to be in United States dollars …

Thanks to Kevin Levin, who has shown a recent interest in Confederate artifacts, we now know that someone is now looking to you to help fund a movie about the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest based on a book published by Sea Raven Press, the choice of Karen Cooper.

To preserve historical accuracy, we are working from an original screenplay by Lochlainn Seabrook, based on his non-fiction biography.  Everything Mr. Seabrook has written has been told from a southern perspective, and “A Rebel Born” is no different.  The character of Nathan Bedford Forrest comes across as a real human being.  He is confident and passionate, but also has a great sense of humor.

I wonder if Forrest will guffaw about Fort Pillow.

Playing Forrest will be Jerry Chesser. Here he is:

Watch Jerry at work:

Here’s the website detailing the levels of funding and what you will get in exchange.  Here’s what you’ll get for $1000:

At this level you will receive an advance world premiere DVD of the completed film, a world premiere poster signed by the director and cast members, a “thank you” listing in the ending credits, a copy of the book “A Rebel Born” by Lochlainn Seabrook, two tickets to the world premiere of the motion picture (current estimate January 2017), limited access to the set for you and a guest and a walk-on role if you desire. Production dates will be forwarded so you may choose dates that are convenient.

I am so glad they will work around Susan Hathaway’s schedule. But wait, there’s more … for only $5,000:

At this level you will receive an advance world premiere DVD of the completed film, a world premiere poster signed by the director and cast members, an “executive producer” listing in the beginning credits, a copy of the book “A Rebel Born” by Lochlainn Seabrook, two tickets to the world premiere of the motion picture (current estimate January 2017), a substantial supporting role with dialogue if you desire. Production dates will be forwarded so you may choose dates that are convenient.

Maybe Susan could play Mrs. Forrest and sing to him. Here’s an audition tape:

I wonder whether H. K. Edgerton will be eager to be in the movie as a member of Forrest’s black escort. He already has the costume.

Kevin’s warned us of the failure of various Civil War movies to raise funds via these online campaigns. However, he overlooked another memorable failed effort.

I’m waiting for word that a certain dust jacket designer will prepare the movie posters.

It’s a call to action for Confederate heritage apologists! Prove Kevin Levin wrong! Show him this is not a debacle! Raise that money, even if it’s Yankee money, to prove that the South will rise again!

After all, there was Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. Good things come in threes, right? Put your money where your mouth is!

The Sunday Question: Secession Today

Many people argue that the constitutionality of secession for Americans was settled by the American Civil War. Others point to court decisions (and not just Texas v. White) as evidence of this.

Does that mean that secession is impossible today? Or that there’s no procedure for it? I note that southern nationalist groups are rather quiet on how they would go about seeking the separate nationality they propose to secure, although their spiritual ancestors spent a lot of time detailing process and procedure (not much of which was followed in 1860-61, but I digress).

Here’s a recent example of a discussion about separatism:

Clearly I think there’s a procedure for secession as a constitutional process … but that such a process would have to begin with the ratification of an amendment outlining the process. I’ve always wondered why separatists don’t follow that procedure.

Share your thoughts.

Will the SCV Protect Its Trademark?

You may recall that famed Virginia Flaggers photographer Judy Smith, who has a problem spelling “heroes,” also has a problem honoring other people’s trademarks and copyrights, even as she demands that people respect hers. Such remains the case with these faux license plate magnets she produced. The SCV directed her to change the original template so that the magnet would not mimic the now-gone Virginia SCV plate, including a reproduction of the SCV’s logo (which was done without permission).

So you would think that the Virginia Flaggers would honor the SCV’s request, and that Judy would exchange the flawed magnets for the current product? You would be wrong. Lookie here at what someone found along “the Boulevard” today:

VF plate pix one

VF plate pix two

VF plate pix three Oh my. Guess that some people don’t care what the SCV says, which may be one reason the Virginia Division singled out the Flaggers for criticism last June.

Pass the popcorn, y’all.

And You Thought $45 Was Too Much?

Last year several Civil War historians, including yours truly, collaborated on a volume edited by Ethan Rafuse that examined the performance of several Union corps commanders. I chose to write about Winfield Scott Hancock and the Overland Campaign, setting aside what some might see as the obvious choice of Hancock at Gettysburg, in part because at Gettysburg Hancock did not actually function as a corps commander. The Overland Campaign represented his first sustained experience as a corps commander. I was fortunate to be counted among a number of people who are distinguished Civil War historians in their own right.

Clearly some people thought the book was worth reading. Just take a look at what third party vendors want for it at Amazon:

Rafuse OneUsed, it can cost you even more:
Rafuse twoBy the way, the book retails for $45, and costs less on Amazon.

h/t to Ray (hope this doesn’t put you back on Chastain’s radar).

Spinning Spelling and Heritage: Flaggers Flailing and Failing Again

As you might expect, yesterday’s airplane-borne message from the Virginia Flaggers–“Confederate Heros Matter”–got a lot of attention … although not quite for the reasons the Flaggers doubtless sought. A good number of online sources, including several Richmond media outlets (see here and here) as well as other websites (see here), let everyone know exactly what was being flown.

Even a cartoonist got into the act:
VF cartoonist

Susan Hathaway offered her take on the event:

So did the Flaggers’ FB page:

VF Spin 092015

As you can see, this really had nothing to do with honoring Confederate soldiers or heritage. Nor would I confuse explosions of laughter with heads exploding, but perhaps the Flaggers can’t tell the difference.

Oh, by the way … protesting in Richmond for four years without incident? Really?

I guess the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is no longer in Richmond.

Flagger photographer Judy Smith photoshopped the missing “e” in an effort to save face, perhaps because one report had her photographing the misspelled banner before the pilot took off:

VF Smith photoshop typo

I guess she forgot to Photoshop this:

VF Letters OneOops.

The Flaggers’ webmaster and erstwhile spokesperson decided to battle it out in the comments section of this blog before commencing another characteristically charming rant on her own blog, declaring that to report on this story was “proof positive” that I hate the Virginia Flaggers.

Sure. Apparently so do a lot of other people, judging from the widespread laughter. What a way for the Virginia Flaggers to mark the approach of their fourth anniversary gathering.

Someone in Florida doesn’t have a sensahuma … and that is fun-hun-hun-nee! :)

The Virginia Flaggers wanted publicity. They got it on CNN in a report on Lilly Baumann, when the Flaggers refused to help locate a missing child. They now have it again. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Mission accomplished.

Honoring Confederate “Heros”

VF Heros in the Sky


We are waiting for the usual Flagger explanation (perhaps through an erstwhile spokesperson fresh from training to dodge bullets) that this was simply an ad for a sandwich.

Of course, these are also called subs (as well as grinders) so perhaps it’s all about the CSS H. L. Hunley. Or perhaps they are looking to replace Jared as Subway’s spokespeople, given their own concern for children.

Like here. And here.

For context, go here.

UPDATE: In a desperate attempt at spin control, the Flaggers had this to say on their Facebook page:

Despite the unfortunate “typo” on the part of the pilot, the banner plane was a phenomenal success, circling downtown for two hours with a huge Battle Flag and a message that was perfectly clear, seen by thousands (including those gathered to protest our monuments) and, judging from the firestorm created on social media, obviously served to cause quite a few Anti-Confederate haters’ heads to explode on (visual) contact.
Mission accomplished.

Two notes:

  1. People exploding in laughter is not the same thing as having heads explode.
  2. We see again, by the Flaggers’ own admission, that their mission is to annoy and aggravate people, not to honor the service and sacrifice of Confederate soldiers.

We await the next feeble attempt at spin control.