Turning Right

It was the night of May 7, 1864. For many soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, it had been a relatively quiet day, a welcome change from the two days of bloody combat in the Wilderness, a battlefield that had been transformed from thickets and undergrowth into a blazing inferno that brought hell to earth, consuming the wounded as they screamed in agony, with the pop-pop-pop of ammunition exploding as the fires advanced across the forest floor.

It had been one year and a day since this army had withdrawn after battling just miles to the east. There was no reason to believe that this time would be different. Oh, sure, the Army of the Potomac could hold their own against Bobby Lee’s boys north of their namesake river, but in Virginia it seemed that the story was always the same: march forth with confidence, then retreat in sadness in the aftermath of battle. If the past several days had not quite been Fredericksburg with its futile assaults or Chancellorsville with its dazzling blows, still, the seesaw in the Wilderness had had its moments of near-disaster as well as near-success. It seemed as if nothing had changed. Continue reading

Book Discussion: Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War

The first book I’d like to discuss is Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War. Parts of it originally appeared a s a magazine article at the time of the Civil War centennial.  As such, it is as much about the centennial as it is about the Civil War, and, yes, Warren’s identity as a version of a southern white liberal has something to do with it, too.

The book is really an extended essay, only some 109 pages long, with each page not containing all that many words.  Thus we have an opportunity for what I’d call a close read.  That is, I don’t suggest people discuss the whole thing at once, because then people will be talking past each other and not focusing together on aspects of Warren’s argument with some care.  So get the book, and plan to come here next Saturday prepared to discuss pages 3-40; the following weekend will be pages 40-80, and then pages 80-conclusion.

Again, this is an experiment, but let’s see how it goes.  I don’t want to pick long books, but shorter books, and books that have had some impact.  Perhaps that will change over time, and, besides, this is supposed to be fun as well as educational.  I’ll post some ideas at the end of the week, and we can go from there and see how this works.

The Saturday Question

Courtesy of TF Smith, here’s the initial Saturday Question … or questions …

There are a couple I’ve always seen as thought-provoking, which all stem from McClellan’s illness in the winter of 1861-62, and then his service on the Peninsula in 1862.

Question 1: Mac dies of whatever it was he had; who replaces him as 1-A) general-in-chief; and 1-B) CG of the Army of the Potomac (and 1-C, does the Peninsula campaign go forward?)

Question 2: Mac doesn’t die, but Lincoln decides to replace him as GiC; who gets the job, and how does that choice impact the rest of the war?