I remind you that I’ve announced a contest: Make your own George B. McClellan video. You have until July 1 (the 149th anniversary of Malvern Hill) to film it and post it on You Tube, sending me a link. Showus what you hope people who type “George McClellan” or “George B. McClellan” or “General McClellan” should find when they enter one of those search terms on You Tube.
For all you critics of the History Channel, here’s a chance to put up or shut up. For the winner, I have heard that the History Channel’s sending me some stuff for posting about Gettysburg before it came on the air, and perhaps I’ll pick out a prize from what I receive. Otherwise, you get the honor of a guest post here with your video for all to see. Such fame and exposure is priceless.
Second . . .
We’ll wrap up the Robert Penn Warren discussion soon. Just in case you were wondering.
Among the more interesting comments made in the much-derided THC’s show on Gettysburg was the observation that a pair of walkie-talkies would have changed the course of the battle (and doubtless would lead to debates over whether the Confederates coming to Gettysburg were really looking to buy batteries at Walmart instead of shoes [I await the usual debate over whether they were interested in shoes, either]). What that comment highlighted (and what was not explored enough) was how commanders exercised command on a battlefield. Gettysburg offers all soets of examples in that regard. Meade’s staff outperformed Lee’s staff, with one exception (sending the general’s son to confer with Dan Sickles); Meade’s subordinates exercised their discretion far more effecively than did Lee’s subordinates; in short, Meade outcommanded Lee on the battlefield, although one could argue that Lee showed himself to better advantage on the retreat than did Meade in his pursuit, in part again because of command reasons.
Historians tend to focus on commanders, not command. They tend to look at individuals, not teams of commanders. And they don’t tend to think very much about how someone exercised command in the Civil War. That was something I of which I was very conscious when I wrote about Grant as a Civil War general. During the war Grant professionalized his staff, so that by 1864 it was dominated by West Pointers: for all of the attention paid to John A. Rawlins (who, in my mind, never functioned as a chief of staff in the classic sense), the story of Grant and command is the arrival of West Pointers like James McPherson, James H. Wilson, and eventually Horace Porter, Cyrus Comstock, and Orville Babcock, among others. It may be one of the missed opportunities of the war that Gouverneur Warren turned down George G. Meade’s offer of replacing Daniel Butterfield after Gettysburg, because in the end Meade took from the field an able combat commander, Andrew A, Humphreys, while Warren proved to be a middling corps commander. As for Lee, his staff work on July 2 was simply horrible, from a botched reconnaissance to bad communications and scouting to the events of the afternoon.
Sometimes I think that if we thought more carefully and deliberately about how people exercised command and how Civil War armies were commanders that we might learn something more about why things turned out as they did.