34 thoughts on “It’s Time Again to Play Ask Away!

  1. Jeff Davis October 1, 2011 / 6:11 pm

    Who do you think held the advantage in abilities of Brigade Commanders between the AOP and the ANV at Gettysburg? Please rank your top three and bottom three in each army.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 2, 2011 / 6:37 pm

      Tough question, because so many of the brigade level actions were of relatively short duration. For the Union, you could go with Greene, Custer, and Vincent or Stannard, while raising questions about Rowley (who was a brigade commander during part of the battle), Cutler, and Ruger. For the Confederates, Barksdale, Daniel, and Kershaw fought well, while Iverson, O’Neal, Joe Davis, Archer, and Mahone leave something to be desired. I’d rank the AOP’s brigade commanders’ ability as superior.

  2. Ray O'Hara October 1, 2011 / 6:56 pm

    Tomorrow Ken Burns newest documythary about Prohibition will debut on the PBS.
    I found his previous ones, the ACW and the WWI onesI, to be shallow & superficial but also at times good.

    What grade would you give to his ACW documythary overall.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 2, 2011 / 6:39 pm

      The documentary was better than Burns’s talking about his own greatness. I’d give it an A- in presentation and a B+ in content. I think that its initial reception was aided by the fact that the United States was preparing to go to war when it came out. Burns’s artistry was superior to his story.

  3. Noma October 1, 2011 / 9:16 pm

    Brooks, I’m reading the excellent volume of Sherman’s letters edited by you and Jean Berlin, Sherman’s Civil War. I’m interested by Sherman’s social/political analysis. His Sept 17, 1863 letter to Halleck is fascinating.

    One thing that strikes me is that there seems to have been some difference between Grant and Sherman in perspectives with regard to how many soldiers would be needed to occupy the South in the post-war period.

    In some of his letters, Sherman seems to say that it will require at least 100,000 soldiers to occupy the South after the war, just to maintain social stability and prevent anarchy. It seems to me that Grant actually cut back the total enlistment of troops in the US to around 82,000.

    Considering that anarchy did in fact develop, in terms of Ku Klux Klan violence, would Sherman’s idea of a more robust occupying force have helped to prevent this?


    Related to that, but not exactly a question, I can’t help thinking about how Sherman was declared “insane” at the outset of the Civil War when he said that 200,000 troops would be needed to put down the rebellion, and that it would go on for years.

    Wasn’t it John Shalikasvili who was similarly ridiculed for predicting that we would need several hundred thousand troops to fight in Iraq?

    • Carl Schenker October 2, 2011 / 6:35 am

      Noma — You are correct about Sherman being ridiculed as a sky-is-falling alarmist early in the war. After the war, however, people (Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Logan among them IIRC) gave him credit for having foretold the future. And his biographer Lloyd Lewis called him a “fighting prophet.” CRS

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 2, 2011 / 6:42 pm

      Maybe, except Sherman himself didn’t seem all that interested in putting down southern violence when he was general in chief. This helps explain why Grant circumvented him, an act that alienated Sherman and caused him to move to St. Louis.

      Some of Sherman’s predictions were right, and some were flat wrong, so he’s akin to Nostradamus. Some would say he had more in common with the Cosa Nostra.

      • Noma October 2, 2011 / 8:07 pm

        I guess I was too elaborate. My main question is not really about Sherman’s (shifting) personal convictions, it’s more about whether the post-War South would likely have seen less violence if it had a more substantial occupying force. I’m thinking about the peace that was maintained in Germany, Japan and even Bosnia — with large amounts of troops. Might not that have helped in the South also?

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 3, 2011 / 7:49 pm

          Maybe, but the fact is that such a stronger occupation was unlikely given attitudes about the size of the military and the decision to restore civil government rather quickly.

      • Carl Schenker October 3, 2011 / 6:47 am

        Brooks — Sherman once (at least) called himself “the Vandal Sherman” due to his swaths of destruction. But I don’t understand what “some” would mean by saying “he had more in common with the Cosa Nostra.” Could you please expand. CRS

        • Noma October 3, 2011 / 4:16 pm

          As you may know, Sherman’s reference to himself as “the Vandal Sherman” is ironic and fascinating in its context. Taken out of context, it sounds like the proud barbarian, but it seems to me that the actual meaning was different from that.

          The letter is dated May 19, 1865, at which time Sherman’s troops had just arrived in Alexandria, in preparation for the Grand Review after the war. After months of hearing himself lambasted as a “monster” for his activities in the South, Sherman, had just been called a “traitor” be cause he was *too* magnanimous in the terms of surrender he first offered to Joseph E. Johnston. (And, most people, starting with Grant, would agree that he far exceeded his authority in those terms.)

          But Sherman’s comment in this letter to Rawlins was sort of a comment on the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t nature of public opinion, as he was still smarting from the new form of disgrace heaped upon him by Stanton, Halleck, and the press:

          “Send me all the orders and letters you may have for me, and let some one newspaper know that the Vandal Sherman is encamped near the canal bridge half way between the Long Bridge & Alexandria to the West of the Road, where his friends *if any* can find him. Though in disgrace he is untamed and unconquered. As ever your friend,
          W.T. Sherman
          Maj. Genl.

          (my emphasis)

          • Noma October 3, 2011 / 4:45 pm

            Related to the “Sherman the Vandal” quote, it appears that Sherman had a strong self-image of himself as a peace maker.

            Men must tremble if they offend our insulted nationality and then we may soothe them as corrected children.
            WTS to Denis Hart Mahan, Sept 16, 1863

            I want peace, and believe it (can) now only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war partly with a view to perfect & early success.

            But my dear sirs when that Peace do come you may call on me for anything — Then I will share with you the last cracker, watch with you to shield your homes & families against danger from every quarter.
            WTS to James M. Calhoun et al, Sept 12, 1864

            …I am not the scourge an monster that the Southern Press represents me, but … I take infinitely more delight in curing the wounds made by war, than in inflicting them. Carolina herself tormented us with posturing and cowardice and forced us to the Contest. Let her admit her error, and we will soon make all sunshine and happiness…
            WTS to Caroline Carson, Jan 20, 1865

            I have facilitated General Schofield to facilitate what you and I and all good men desire, the return to their homes of the officers and men composing your army, to let you have of his stores ten days’ rations for 25,000 men…I can hardly estimate how many animals fit for farm purposed will be “loaned” to the farmers, be enough, I hope to insure a crop…Now that the war is over, I am as willing to risk my person and reputation as heretofore to heal the wounds made by the past war, and I think my feeling is shared by the whole army.
            WTS to Joseph E Johnston, April 27, 1865

          • Carl Schenker October 4, 2011 / 3:24 pm

            Hey, Noma. Nice posts. Even while the war was on, I think Sherman preferred destroying property to killing people. Sort of the opposite of a neutron bomb. CRS

          • Noma October 5, 2011 / 7:52 pm

            Thanks, Carl. I have not yet read a biography of Sherman, or his Memoirs. Every person has many diverse aspects to his personality, and Sherman was no different. His letters are a unique way to be introduced to him because they provide such intimate, unexpected insights to his personality. Here’s one last example of Sherman as “pacifist.” It’s a letter to his daughter. It seems that, unlike Grant, he practically never saw his wife or children for the duration of the war. Any way, his letter reflects that aspect as well:


            …How much better would it be if we could come here in peace and purchase one of the thousands of beautiful cottages that environ the town and live as we never did live in Saint Louis, but no you are in Lancaster and I am her the Stern & Cruel tyrant, slave of a Despotic Master, Lincoln. Hundreds of children like yourself are daily taught to curse my name, and each night thousands Kneel in prayer & beseech the almighty to consign me to Perdition. Such is war…

            I have been forced to turn families out of their houses & homes & force them to go to a strange land, because of their hostility, and I have today been compelled to order soldiers to lay hands on women to force them to leave their homes to go to join their husbands in hostile camps. Think of this and how cruel men become in war, when even your papa has to do such acts. Pray every night that this war may end, not that you want me home but that our whole People may not become Robbers & murderers…

  4. John Foskett October 2, 2011 / 8:52 am

    Brooks: Where do you place Phil Sheridan in the good old ranking game? Full disclosure – I’m a convert to the Wittenberg School on this one..

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 2, 2011 / 6:44 pm

      Oh, I’d still put him in the top five. But if you look closely at Sherman, Thomas, and Sheridan, I’d say it helped to be on Grant’s good side. Sheridan could be sloppy, and I think it’s a case of his willingness to fight when others were less aggressive that won Grant over. However, Sheridan could delay and excuse with the best of them.

  5. Carl Schenker October 2, 2011 / 10:52 am

    Brooks —
    In 1873, Whitelaw Reid (“Agate”) wrote to Lew Wallace that “instead of being the impassive man his admirers represent him, [Grant] is really the most sullen and resentful of mortals.” (Morsberger & Morsberger, p. 217.) What is your take about Grant on this score?

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 2, 2011 / 6:44 pm

      I think Grant was a good hater. Of course, Reid had many an axe to grind.

  6. Bob Huddleston October 2, 2011 / 7:22 pm

    A good example of Grant as hater is his relationship with Halleck, During the war, USG was a Halleck admirer. Sometime after Grant discovered how Halleck had tried to derail him after Donelson and he turned on Halleck and never forgave him.

    Brooks: when did Grant discover the Donelson incident and who told him. I suspect it was Adam Badeau researching his history.

  7. Bob Huddleston October 2, 2011 / 7:25 pm

    Bruce Catton on Grant as a hater:

    Toward his enemies on the field of battle Grant was properly famous for his magnanimity, but in purely personal matters he now and then was singularly unforgiving. He did not enter many names in his little black book, but a man who did get into it usually stayed there. This was especially so in the case of Halleck, and when time for reminiscence came Grant could not seem to recall anything good about him.

    Bruce Catton, _Grant Takes Command _ (Boston: Little Brown, 1969), 15

  8. Mark October 2, 2011 / 9:17 pm

    Did the Confederate government assist the French in the Franco-Mexican War that took place during the ACW? I heard this somewhere though I don’t know its true, but I’m confused about the whole matter. And if so what did they seek to gain?

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 3, 2011 / 7:51 pm

      Not only was he not gay, he was often melancholy, according to some people.

  9. martin October 3, 2011 / 3:07 pm

    Did Longstreet’s actions (or inactions) at Chattanooga lend any credence to the criticism he received for his behavior at Gettysburg?

  10. Tony Gunter October 4, 2011 / 8:39 am

    Okay, serious question. How does the targeted assasination of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki compare with Lincoln’s extra-constitutional defense of U.S. interests in 1861, and is there any precedent for a targeted assasination of a U.S. citizen without judicial oversight.

  11. Ray O'Hara October 4, 2011 / 2:43 pm

    What extra-Constitutional action did Lincoln take?
    He did exactly what G. Washington did during the Whiskey Rebellion call up troops to put down a domestic insurection and that was seen as quite constitutional.when GW did it so it would be the same for Lincoln.

    Al Alwaki, “wanted dead or alive” is as old as the republic. it was fine when Billy the Kid got it so why is it wrong now?

    • Tony Gunter October 5, 2011 / 1:43 pm

      > What extra-Constitutional action did Lincoln take?

      Suspension of the right to free speech and suspension of habeus corpus. Suspension of habeus corpus was given a congressional okay after the fact, but was subsequently ruled unconstitutional in areas in which functioning courts are available if I recall correctly.

      With Awlaki, we have a vague congressional approval to attack Al Qaeda using any means necessary. Which sounds great, but oh my what a slippery slope when it comes to U.S. citizens. What if Congress had declared abolitionism a terrorist dogma in the 1820’s and had okayed targeted assasinations of leading abolitionist leaders? What if Congress had declared civil rights organizations, because of their links to communists, terrorist organizations in the 1960’s and okayed targeted assasinations of leading civil rights leaders? What would be the problem with trying these people in absentia before putting a Hellfire up their tailpipes?

      • Tony Gunter October 5, 2011 / 1:47 pm

        > Suspension of habeus corpus was … subsequently ruled
        > unconstitutional in areas in which functioning courts
        > are available if I recall correctly.

        I may be thinking of sending civilians before military tribunals, not a constitutional scholar here, nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express. Which is why I’m curious to hear Dr. Simpson’s spin on this.

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 5, 2011 / 1:58 pm

          The suspension itself was not ruled unconstitutional in ex parte Milligan; it was sending civilians before military commissions in places where the civil courts were open.

  12. Matt Gallman October 5, 2011 / 6:39 pm

    I have one for you,

    I am far from an expert, but it seems to me that historians are sloppy in how they write about the writ of habeas corpus. I am speaking of prose, not interpretation.

    Is it not true that prior to the Civil War an arrested person had (to suggest some phrasing) “the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus”?

    So, isn’t it accurate to say that the Lincoln administration “suspended the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus”?

    That is, Lincoln did not really “suspend habeas corpus” nor did he “suspend the writ of habeas corpus.” He suspended the right to use these legal tools.

    So why don’t historians say that Lincoln “suspended a right” as opposed to “suspended a writ”?

    Readers want to know

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 5, 2011 / 10:29 pm

      You’ll have to ask those historians. Harold Hyman’s phrase, “suspension of the writ privilege,” would seem correct, if a bit awkward.

    • Tony Gunter October 6, 2011 / 1:41 am

      For simplicity, you could simply say he temporarily shelved the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s