George G. Meade Gets Some Respect

At the 2017 Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, institute director Peter Carmichael hosted a roundtable discussion featuring four scholars: John Hennessy, chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park; Scott Hartwig, recently retired chief historian, Gettysburg National Military Park; Jennifer Murray, assistant professor of history at UVa-Wise who is engaged in preparing a biography of George G. Meade; and yours truly.



83 thoughts on “George G. Meade Gets Some Respect

  1. Rob Baker June 21, 2017 / 5:46 pm

    Good deal. I never felt like Meade got enough respect for his actions at Gettysburg. Too many look at it from the perspective of “What did Lee do wrong?” rather than what Meade did right.

  2. OhioGuy June 21, 2017 / 6:42 pm

    Brooks, I’m actually in Gettysburg right now. I did not know that this was going on. It’s just a one-day stop and we’ll be on to NYC tomorrow, and then to the most northern slave state for a beach vacation (Bethany Beach). I might have tried to attend this session, if I had known about it and planned better. On the substance of matter, I tend to agree that Meade was a better commander than he is sometimes given credit for, especially given the fact that he was new to command of the Army of the Potomac, having been handed it just a few weeks before the big battle.

    • John Foskett June 22, 2017 / 7:24 am

      Even more impressive – he was handed it only three days before the battle, with both armies in motion and without having been fully clued in by Hooker. That he (1) put together a plan (Pipe Creek) and (2) then completely revised it after learning on July 1 that the armies had collided, is an impressive piece of generalship “on the fly”. Regardless of any subsequent shortcomings his handling of the command change circumstances earns him a great deal of respect.

  3. Dan Mangigian June 22, 2017 / 9:17 am

    I watched the discussion on CSPAN3. Great insight Dr. Simpson and by the other panelists. Meade was in a tough situation professionally in 1864, but I think he handled himself maturely and followed the protocol in place.

  4. TFSmith121 June 22, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    Meade was one of two senior commanders to beat Lee on the defensive and deserves a fair amount of credit for the US victory over the rebels during Grant’s 1864-65 offensive.

    Pretty good company, and given the perennial griping by some about Little Mac, the “relative” lack of attention paid to Meade is illuminating.


    • John Foskett June 23, 2017 / 10:11 am

      As one of the “gripers”, I would point out that Meade didn’t decide to board a gum boat on July 2 and “control” the battle by wigwagging from several miles away. πŸ™‚

      • TFSmith121 June 23, 2017 / 8:52 pm

        Actually, my intent was that Meade deserves more attention than McClellan gets, the “gripers” being those who see GBM as a paragon of combat command, rather than an average officer promoted far above his competency level … So I think we agree, Mr. Fosekett. πŸ˜‰


      • TFSmith June 23, 2017 / 9:10 pm

        Actually, I meant the “gripers” who talk up Mac as some sort of paragon of a combat commander, when in reality he was a moderately talented officer who was promoted far over his competency. I think we agree, Mr. Foskett. πŸ˜‰

        • John Foskett June 25, 2017 / 7:49 am

          I had little doubt about that, Mr. Smith. I just can’t ignore any opportunity to bring up the USS Galena. – which, i should add, was not a “gum boat” as i posted, although McClellan’s notions of taking the offensive call to mind the concept of ‘gumming”.

          • TFSmith June 25, 2017 / 10:22 pm

            True that. McClellan’s decision to retreat to Harrison’s Landing, much less his decision to spend most of a key day during that retreat afloat, for whatever reason, is incredibly suspect… as a combat commander, he hit his high point as the commander of what amounted to a corps-sized force in West Virginia in 1861 and did not improve on that for the remainder of his war.

    • hankc9174 June 23, 2017 / 12:20 pm

      I’ll bite – who was the other? Grant in the wilderness?

  5. TFSmith June 23, 2017 / 9:24 pm

    Sorry if it was unclear; I meant Meade and GBM as the defensive victors over Lee and Grant as the victor on the offensive.

    In terms of effective commanders, at the army/army group/theater level, I’d rank the US generals as:

    1. Grant, whose defeated every rebel commander he faced;
    2. Sherman (although he didn’t face Lee, he had a very demanding theater in 1864-65, and accomplished his missions decisively);
    3. Meade, who saw Lee’s force at it’s best on the offensive, took command in the middle of an active campaign, and defeated Lee et al quite handily;
    4. Sheridan, who led an army on a successful offensive campaign in the east against the best the rebels had;
    5. Thomas, who once he was given independent command, destroyed his enemy;
    6. GBM, who managed a successful defensive victory against Lee;
    7. Rosecrans, who – on balance – did well more often than not in fairly demanding situations;

    At that point, there are army-level commanders who did well under the strategic direction of an army group or theater commander (Ord, for example) or army/theater commanders who failed as such (Burnside).

    My two cents.


    • John Foskett June 25, 2017 / 8:03 am

      I’d say, however, that there’s a vast difference between what Meade did at Gettysburg and what McClellan did at Antietam. For starters, Meade was placed at an exponentially greater disadvantage by being dumped into command three days before the battle. Yes, the McClellanistas would no doubt say the same thing happened to him two weeks before Antietam, except that (1) two weeks is far more than three days and (2) McClellan really was simply resuming command with a large part of his army being troops he had commanded for months. Next, McClellan received a large break which Meade did not – the 9/13 finding of the Lost Orders. In contrast, Stuart’s cross country frolic may have hampered Lee but it didn’t help Meade in a way that he could knowingly take advantage of. Finally, McClellan more or less frittered away three days while allowing Lee to desperately cobble together a defensive line. In the same time span Meade was forced to react to a highly fluid situation and did so with a high degree of skill. I’l leave out the clear difference between the two battles regarding the two armies’ relative strengths at each. In other words, McClellan finishes second only because there is no third.

      • TFSmith June 25, 2017 / 10:28 pm

        Very good points on the much more challenging situation Meade faced in Pennsylvania in 1863 than McClellan faced in Maryland in 1862.

        “Next” in the “facing Lee” assignment (after Grant as first, then Meade, then McClellan) would have been Hooker, presumably, followed by Burnside. πŸ™‚

        Grading on that curve, Grant gets an A, Meade a B, McClellan a C, Hooker a D, and Burnside an F.

        • John Foskett June 26, 2017 / 6:51 am

          Personally i’d give Mac a C- and Joe receives a “withdrew” based on getting concussed. πŸ™‚

          • TFSmith June 26, 2017 / 7:53 pm

            Fair point on Hooker.

          • John Foskett June 27, 2017 / 11:04 am

            One reason I don’t rate McClellan highly for that one is because he actually was on the “offensive” against Lee in a tactical and even (by that point) operational sense. Granted, Mac’s mentality probably converted it to a defensive battle – presumably, this accounts for his bizarre statement to Ellen that “β€œThose in whose judgment I rely,ell me that I fought the battle splendidly”. From an offensive standpoint he wasn’t even close – disjointed attacks from north to south, poor management of subordinates, etc. You know what? I’m knocking him down to a D. i

    • hankc9174 June 25, 2017 / 3:36 pm

      Is McClellan a ‘defensive victor’ in the Seven Days (for not losing the entire army), Malvern Hill (for a single, and the last,action in a long campaign) or somewhere else?

      • TFSmith June 25, 2017 / 10:30 pm

        No, McClellan lost the Seven Days Campaign on the battlefield and left the rebels in possession of the ground… he was a loser all around in that sense, right there with Hooker at Chancellorsville and Burnside at Fredericksburg.

        Malvern Hill was Porter’s victory, not McClellan’s.

        • John Foskett June 26, 2017 / 6:52 am

          Agree on Malvern Hill – another rewarding day spent partly in the wardroom of the Galena and getting some sun at Haxall’s.

          • TFSmith June 26, 2017 / 7:54 pm

            Surprised he didn’t go ashore for a shad bake. πŸ˜‰

        • hankc9174 June 26, 2017 / 3:55 pm

          what I’m driving toward is: when was McClellan one of two ‘defensive victors over Lee ‘

          • TFSmith June 26, 2017 / 7:54 pm

            Antietam/Maryland Campaign.

          • hankc9174 June 28, 2017 / 5:34 am

            Meade was on the defensive at Gettysburg and McClellan was on the defensive at Antietam?

        • monodisperse June 29, 2017 / 9:24 am

          If comparing Malvern Hill and, say, Pickett’s Charge you’ll find that McClellan was far more in command at the former than Meade was at the latter.

          McClellan had returned from Harrison’s about three or four hours before the attack at Malvern started. He had relieved Sumner from temporary army command (intervening in the Porter-Sumner argument on Porter’s side) and was out on another inspection round when there was an artillery bombardment around 1500 (followed by Armistead’s brigade advancing skirmishers) and McClellan returned to Malvern House and order Caldwell’s brigade to report to Porter.

          At 1800 DH Hill kicked off the main attack. McClellan was at Malvern House and started pulling in a fresh reserve (Meagher’s brigade from Sumner and Sickles’ brigade from Hooker). At 1900 he committed these reserve, with Porter leading them down to place them in position. He remained at Malvern watching the engagement from about a mile back with McCall’s division in hand as a reserve which he never had to commit. Averell notes that McClellan’s CP was under artillery fire (probably overs from the rebels trying to engaged Tyler’s guns below McClellan’s CP).

          Meade at Pickett’s charge had abandoned his command post when it came under fire and spent it on Cemetery Hill completely out of touch with his commanders on the ground. Hancock really fought the position with no input from his commander. Very different to Porter, who saw McClellan several times in person during the fighting, and relied on his superior to furnish him reserves.

          • John Foskett June 30, 2017 / 10:40 am

            Actually, he spent some time on Powers Hill. That was after he had to move his HQ because it was under heavy fire from the Confederate artillery bombardment which preceded the charge. Powers Hill was the location of Slocum’s HQ, who was in charge of the Federal right. It also was a significant Union artillery platform. Finally, it was – drum roll – the location of a Union signal station with an excellent view of the battlefield. Hancock was in charge of the Union center and Meade was in a location from which he could issue commands and receive reports while observing the battlefield. Sounds pretty effective to me. And vastly different from another command situation which we’ve discussed at length.

  6. Kyle Johnson June 26, 2017 / 10:07 pm

    That was a very interesting panel. I can’t help wondering how many casualties a “functional” Grant/Meade relationship was supposed to have produced.

  7. TFSmith June 28, 2017 / 10:26 pm

    Hank – Meade and McClellan were both on the strategic defensive when their forces defeated Lee.

  8. Erik June 30, 2017 / 10:51 am

    Great discussion though at first thought it was a Dr. Simpson roast. Love this setting where historians bring their cumulative knowledge and insights to the table.

  9. TFSmith July 1, 2017 / 10:52 am

    John – Effective counter-battery, as always. πŸ˜‰

    The enemy comes in, the same old way, and is shown off, the same old way … for the umpteenth time.

    it’s like the Isonzo.


    • monodisperse July 1, 2017 / 3:00 pm

      That’s confirmation bias talking. JF is half-right, but omits a lot.

      Meade left the Leister House during the bombardment, but left his signals detachment there. When he arrived at Power Hill the signallers could get no response from Leister House – the signallers had left their posts and taken cover. Of course, this also severed contact with other stations which went via Leister House. This concerned Meade none, and he wondered around in the rear, talked to various staff officers including his son and generally bothered little about the centre. Then suddenly he heard musketry volleys from the centre – Pickett et al. had launched, crossed the 600 yds of no-mans land and got to less than 100 yards from the Federal line with Meade being completely unaware of it.

      Now, Meade did (slowly) ride towards the centre, because he arrived after the repulse, meeting Lt Egan (Bty I, 1st US Arty) and asking him what happened and had the enemy been repulsed? He then headed by Cemetery Hill to see what was happening.

      Unlike McClellan during the attacks at Malvern Hill, Meade was oblivious to the fact that there was an infantry attack occurring at all, and was a complete non-factor in command. McClellan at least was in contact with his forward commanders, and had reserves in hand to commit as necessary.

      If you want to charge that Malvern was Porter’s fight, not McClellan’s, then you need to do more than this for Meade at Pickett’s charge. Judge them by a single standard. Meade is less in control of his army for a few hours on 3rd July 1863 than McClellan was at Glendale or Malvern.

      • John Foskett July 3, 2017 / 10:49 am

        Pickett’s Charge was indeed Hancock’s fight (and to some extent Hunt’s)- just as Malvern Hill was Porter’s. If you read my post more carefully, you’ll notice that I pointed out who was in charge of the Union Center. The important point being that somebody actually had been put in charge – and it was the same officer who Meade sent forward on July 1 and entrusted with assessing whether the A of the P should make its stand at Gettysburg or fall back.

        Honest to God are you really resurrecting yet again that Glendale embarrassment? If you want to compare Mac at Malvern Hill and Meade at Pickett’s Charge give it a shot, but forget the “fake news” about McClellan being in command at Glendale. You’ve tried to push that one with innumerable variations of what happened/didn’t happen. None of them work. He wasn’t there. He exercised no control over the fighting. He put nobody in charge in his absence. He issued no orders to anyone at the crossroads during the fighting. He didn’t even learn that his forces were retreating after the battle until his courier stumbled onto them that night.

        • James F. Epperson July 3, 2017 / 4:45 pm

          There is also the minor distinction between being forced out of your HQ by enemy shelling, and voluntarily removing yourself from the field and boarding a boat. And, forgive me for playing mathematician here, but 3 miles > 1.6 miles by almost a factor of two.

          • John Foskett July 4, 2017 / 11:52 am

            Yep. In addition, Meade’s several locations on July 3 were all along the interior line of his army, which faced an opponent on its right and its left, as well as its center. The Leister House was central to all of that but with the Rebel artillery’s overshooting it became untenable (and most of his staff was forcibly dismounted as a result of the havoc wreaked on the horses). Last, there is the little-known (and very un-McClellan-like) council of war which Meade held on the north slope of LRT near the 146th NY (which has been researched and analyzed by Troy Harmon). Right on the heels of the repulse of Pickett’s Charge, this council involved exploration by Meade of a counterattack using the Fifth and Sixth Corps reserves which he had presciently stationed in that area . A resulting reconnaissance in force established that the Confederates had changed their alignment such that there was limited prospect of a successful envelopment. But Meade acted in a vastly different fashion which was far more consistent with the exercise of command and control.

        • TFSmith121 July 3, 2017 / 6:10 pm

          If “reading carefully” is the requirement, you’ll have a long wait πŸ˜‰


          • John Foskett July 4, 2017 / 12:02 pm

            It’s remarkable that so far as i’ve been able to determine, not one scholar, student of the battle, or veteran has ever defended McClellan’s actions during Glendale. That includes credentialed historians who have been more than willing to revisit some of the established assessments of other actions by McClellan. Meade “abandoned” a location which was being pounded by enemy ordnance but he never “abandoned” his army. McClellan unequivocally left his army to its own devices on June 30, 1862. No accumulation of speculation, imaginative hypotheticals, “possibilities”, and labels can overcome the undisputed fact that from the commencement of the fighting until late that night, when he learned that his army was in retreat on its own initiative, McClellan exerted no influence on or control of his army’s conduct. I will give Mac his due – even he never actually said that he did exert control of the battle. But what would he know? πŸ™‚

        • monodisperse July 5, 2017 / 7:17 am

          Here you are confusing (again) two separate events that occurred about five to six hours apart.

          Franklin indeed gave an order around 2200 hrs for his force to withdraw, without any orders to that effect. The signals network of course had shut down (as the lights were easy artillery targets) and on a night with a 7% moon the courier Franklin sent to McClellan to tell him what he was doing got lost in the woods.

          This is quite different from five hours earlier when the signals network was operational and McClellan was informed relatively rapidly about the attack on the crossroads and is known to have sent orders reinforcements to move to that sector*, and then gotten back to his command post as quickly as possible.

          You need to examine what was happening when the incident took place, not many hours later. All that tells you is what was happening then.

          *Of the six brigades that moved to that sector at least four are known to have done so under McClellan’s orders although two, Dana and Sully, received the order when McClellan was still at the Crew House CP. Howe and Palmer received an order carried by Maj Webb transmitted from the Galena by McClellan. The question is over Meagher and Caldwell, who received orders after 1800 hrs from Sumner, but by then McClellan was back on Malvern Hill.

          • John Foskett July 5, 2017 / 12:25 pm

            No I’m not.

            I’ll try to keep this simple. If McClellan was in command and control at Glendale, he – not his subordinates acting on their own and independently of each other – makes the significant decision to retreat and yield the battlefield.. But McClellan had no idea that two of his corps commanders at Glendale (Franklin and Heintzelman) had decided – on their own – to retreat from the battlefield. By his own admission in the telegram to Thomas, he only learned that when his courier – carrying a putative and, in the new circumstances impossible, order “to renew the combat tomorrow” – happened on the retreating units. Here’s the best part – the third corps commander had also decided on his own to retreat from Glendale. In his testimony to the JCCW Sumner said

            “… General Seymour came to me and told me that General Franklin had retreated and that General Heintzelman was preparing to follow him. I had received no orders to retreat and should not have retreated if I had not received this information. But finding myself left with my corps entirely unsupported, I felt compelled to fall back with the rest of the army to Malvern.”

            That’s nothing less than an indictment of McClellan.

            You excuse this ignorance and lack of any role by McClellan because “he signals network of course had shut down (as the lights were easy artillery targets) and on a night with a 7% moon the courier Franklin sent to McClellan to tell him what he was doing got lost in the woods.”. No kidding. At long last we’ve come to agreement. McClellan’s reliance on the sort of cobbled-together communication network you claim that he used in lieu of actually being available to exercise command shows exactly why he failed to effectively assert leadership of his army on June 30. There’s no “hey, it got dark and nobody could see so you’re all on your own” exemption.

        • TFSmith July 16, 2017 / 8:28 pm

          I think he’s up to about the 27th battle of the Isonzo…

      • John Foskett July 5, 2017 / 6:04 am

        By the way, I did some memory-checking and confirmed that at least Coddington, Sauers, and Hess all would take emphatic issue with your account of what Meade did and did not do during the afternoon of July 3. Then there are the Bachelder papers….

  10. John Foskett July 1, 2017 / 1:06 pm

    Just demonstrating some versatility. For example, I’m not categorically against signal stations when the guy in charge is (1) at the station and (2) can actually see what’s going on and (3) if needed can actually dispatch couriers to the correct place. I just don’t advocate clambering around the mast of a gunboat with a Leica special strapped around the neck from x miles away as evening settles in and so far as I know nobody’s been told to run the on-site operation.. πŸ™‚

    • James F. Epperson July 1, 2017 / 4:38 pm

      Out of idle curiosity, what are the comparative distances from Powers Hill to the Angle, vs. the Galena to the front on Malvern Hill (or Glendale)?

      • monodisperse July 3, 2017 / 2:46 pm

        Powers Hill – Ziegler’s Grove is 1.6 miles along the road, or about a mile as the crow flies, but through heavy woodland.

        Malvern House (McClellan’s CP 1st July) to Crew House (Porter’s forward CP) is about a mile. He was not on the Galena during the Malvern Hill engagement, but at Malvern House. It has a good view of the action.

        Now during Glendale his CP is about 1.5 miles from Sumner;s CP. However, at the time of the Longstreet attack starting he was boarding the Galena which was 3 miles from Sumner’s CP. By the time of AP Hill’s attack he was back at the Crew House CP.

        I’ve placed the positions in USGS maps to help visualisation:

        • John Foskett July 4, 2017 / 7:33 am

          Regarding Meade, it is highly worthwhile to read Hess’s well-researched book on Pickett’s Charge – especially his account of Meade’s locations and actions. Suffice it to say that Powers’ Hill wasn’t his only location. As for any implications which analogize Meade and Gettysburg Day 3 to McClellan and Glendale, everything you need to know about the latter is stated in his telegram to Thomas sent on July 1 at 2:40 AM. Nobody with an ounce of common sense can say that McClellan exercised any command and control of that battlefield in light of his own description of the aftermath.

    • TFSmith121 July 2, 2017 / 10:04 am

      Yep. McClellan was defeated by Lee, Johnston et al on the Peninsula and managed a sucessful defensive stand against Lee in Maryland. He was a capable administrator but a lousy subordinate who never a) understood the civil-military relationship; b) managed to create an effective intelligence service; c) train up a capable replacement; d) had the personal integrity to resign if he felt he could not execute his assigned missions with the assigned resources or e) willing to accept a bust to a rank where he could have served effectively.

      He then ran against the war in 1864, which was defeatism personified if not borderline treason. No more, no less.

      Yet there are those who defend him… There are those who defend Short and Kimmel, of course, but they are relatively few and far between… πŸ˜‰


  11. monodisperse July 5, 2017 / 3:41 pm

    Again, you try and use the situation 2200-2359 hrs to justify your opinion on the events 1600-1800 hrs. Surely if you want to understand what was happening at 1600-1800 you just examine the events that happened then? Refusing to, and focusing on events ca. six hours later suggests you know you’ve a weak position there.

    Of course we can admit that Franklin took a decision to retreat without orders, and without even sending an aide to ask permission first. That is on Franklin. Heintzelman, find this out, sent a messenger to McClellan and set a time that he’d pull out (midnight) if the messenger didn’t return. The messenger was half-way back from McClellan authorising Heintzelman to withdraw when midnight came round and Heintzelman gave the order to withdraw. We know McClellan had to fight for information, and tapped Lts Newhall and Treichel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry to communicate with Franklin and Heintzelman.

    Newhall was tasked with going to Franklin and took two orderlies with him. Newhall took some time to get to Franklin’s designed CP and found when he got there Franklin had quit the position and burnt his wagons. Newhall then galloped down the Nine mile road and found Franklin at six miles down it. He delivered his message and went to go back the way he came, although Franklin told him the enemy were already across the White Oak. Sure enough Newhall ran into a party of Mississippi troops on the return leg, but bluffed them. Sneaking a mile through the enemy lines he ran into another picket and tried to bluff them that he was a Mississippian but was taken prisoner. Luckily it turned out to be a Federal picket, and the matter was sorted out. He returned to McClellan’s CP at 0230 hrs, finding McClellan on horseback and anxious for news – no-one knew what had happened to Franklin (unlike Heintzelman, who was at McClellan’s CP by this point). McClellan asked Newhall to go out again, and he went out at 0300, reaching Franklin about dawn. Franklin had diverted towards Malvern Hill after receiving McClellan’s first message.*

    We also know that the next morning McClellan removed Franklin from the head of his corps and took him down to Harrison’s, leaving him there. That’s why Franklin’s Century Magazine article ends so abruptly. McClellan was certainly not happy with Franklin.

    However, what happened that night is a completely different affair from the day. I doubt you can appreciate how difficult things get at night. In daytime horses can gallop along and telegraphs can communicate their 70 characters per minute. At night all this stops and horsemen have to move slowly and not get lost. They can’t see their destination at all, especially in close terrain with a low moon state. That night there was a 7% moon, as I’ve said, and the terrain was heavily wooded. Messengers were taking more than an hour to travel the 1.5 miles between Franklin’s or Heintzelman’s HQs to McClellan’s CP at the Crew House. If you think that’s bad one should remember it took six hours for a round-trip messenger to go from Burnside to Franklin and back during bright daylight at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

    That at night Franklin decides to retreat and there is a multi-hour message lag between him and any possible reply from McClellan means no more than that. It says nothing about McClellan’s management of the fighting either that day.

    * A contemporary account of Newhall’s odyssey from 1864:

    • John Foskett July 6, 2017 / 6:39 am

      I’ve done some alpine rock climbing in the dark, so I’ll put my experience in Stygean circumstances up against yours any old time. Where’s this nightfall exemption for an army commander? Thank God Washington, Greene, et al. didn’t use it at Trenton (and that was in a sleet storm, to boot). McClellan presumably was aware that the Sun would set at some point on June 30 and there were plenty of handy almanacs around to clue him in on when that would be. If he chose a distant communication system which depended on mid-day lighting conditions, that’s simply another problem with his decisions.

      If McClellan were truly in command and control, he – not his three corps commanders each acting on his own and not in concert – would have made the vital decision to retreat from the battlefield. Not only did he have no involvement in that decision, but according to his telegram to Thomas he actually intended the exact opposite. It’s like the Head Coach coming back out of the locker room with the next ten plays for his offense and learning that the game is over.

      Sumner’s explanation of what took place says everything we need to know. Don’t give up the day job for a position teaching the art of command at West Point.

      • TFSmith July 16, 2017 / 8:06 pm

        Or Sandhurst, St. Cyr, etc. πŸ˜‰

        • John Foskett July 20, 2017 / 1:42 pm

          I’d add Nunziatella πŸ™‚

          • TFSmith July 21, 2017 / 1:17 am

            Not even a position teaching at a high school, huh? πŸ˜‰

            I’ve known Brownies and Cub Scouts with a better grasp of leadership and command responsibility.


      • monodisperse July 19, 2017 / 9:17 am

        Indeed. Perhaps you’d like to suggest how McClellan was supposed to know one of his commanders was going to abandon the field without orders? A basic assumption of command is your don’t need to continually restate the obvious or hold the hands of your subordinates.

        • John Foskett July 20, 2017 / 7:59 am

          Maybe if you actually put somebody in charge of the battle that wouldn’t happen. See, the field was abandoned without orders because nobody was giving orders – to stay, to fight, to move, to leave, you name it. What’s the “obvious” here, Dude? See, things were, um, different at 6 PM and 8 PM and 10 PM than they were at, um, 4 PM. The only thing that’s “obvious” is that McClellan issued not one single bloody order to any of the three of them after 4 PM and had no bloody clue what was going on/not going on because he had abdicated his duties and because he delegated authority to nobody. You can spin it all you want but those basic facts never change. You apparently bought the wrong textbook for this class because, among other things, it’s missing the job description for “Major General, Commanding”. The job description you have is for “Crockpot Operator”. Here’s a guarantee – had Stonewall gotten off his backside at White Oak and Lee achieved what his plan aimed at, McClellan would and should have been cashiered.

          • TFSmith July 21, 2017 / 1:18 am


          • monodisperse July 21, 2017 / 1:19 am

            Okay. So bear in mind the problems of command on extended frontages, the workings of a corps system and the problems of communication before radio (especially at night, since your entire focus is on one event at 2200 hrs); what should McClellan have done differently?

          • John Foskett July 21, 2017 / 10:50 am

            This gets back to the bizarre notion that the moment it becomes dark you might as well be located on one of the outer rings of Saturn. Somehow, some way, the Army of the Potomac managed to successfully respond to the Confederate attack on East Cemetery Hill on July 2 despite the fact that it got “dark”. (Tip – that was done without radios, telephones, or GPS). The Army of the Cumberland managed a similar feat on September 19, 1862. Had McClellan bothered to be in a central, readily accessible location OR had he simply designated one of the three present to exercise overall command, you’d have had lightning strike odds of this kind of haphazard decision-making on the battlefield. June 30, 1862 between the hours of 4 PM – 10 PM was an embarrassment for West Point.

          • John Foskett July 21, 2017 / 3:01 pm

            Typo correction – obviously, “September 19, 1862” should read “September 19, 1863”. And I’ll leave for another occasion the things McClellan could and should have done before the Greek God Erebus took over the crossroads on June 30.

  12. Shoshana Bee July 8, 2017 / 9:07 pm

    Oh, wow: I am about a month late on this conversation! This was indeed a fabulous panel/discussion, in fact: it was one of the main reasons that I attended the Civil War Institute (that and the opportunity to harass John Hennessy in person) I felt that the topic of Meade was handled very well by a very capable collection of experts. I was pleased to maneuver my way — okay, bully my way past Mr. Mackey — for the honour of laying in the first query. It was answered in fine detail by panelist Scott Hartwig. I will admit that I was a bit concerned about addressing the panel for fear of being dismissed in one way or another, however my concerns were unfounded: This was a great group of experts who were truly interested in engaging the audience when directly addressed, and when stalked, hunted down, and cornered πŸ™‚

    • James F. Epperson July 10, 2017 / 3:13 pm

      I somewhat belatedly made time to watch this, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (Nice to get a visual for Shoshana—Al will surely recover from your bullying πŸ˜‰ ) I’m not as sold on Meade as many others, but I do think one of the strongest points that came out of the discussion was the way Meade subordinated his own ego to making the relationship with Grant work.

      • TFSmith July 23, 2017 / 10:50 am

        Shoshana/James – Good points.

        One thing, after watching the presentation again and considering the discussion around Meade’s professionalism regarding his relationship with Grant, respect for the chain of command, and the duties of an subordinate commander, is does this reflect the fact that Meade was, essentially, a pre-war regular who had made his career in the Army from 1842 onwards?

        Meade was both a professionally-educated officer, a professional officer, and a regular officer, with two straight decades of active duty, in wartime and peacetime; this was not a unique circumstance for a senior US general in 1861-65 (Scott being the exemplar) but it was also not typical, as the prewar careers of Grant, Halleck, Sherman, and McClellan make clear.


        • Shoshana Bee July 23, 2017 / 10:40 pm

          Poor George G. Meade: He was supposed to get some respect, and he ends up having to share space with Little Mac on no less than 34 of the comments!

          Someone said on another forum to the effect of: ‘The same conversations, with the same arguments and enough time passes that people forget what they say….and the whole thing starts up again.’ I am beginning to feel the creeping crud of repetition in my own participation, and it’s only been 19 months for me.

          I did not start out as a Meade cognoscenti, but time spent immersed in Sickles and Grant continually begged more knowledge of Meade. By happenstance, I was introduced to a series of articles by Eric Wittenberg at Emerging Civil War titled “A Civil War Witch Hunt”, and this led to whole other revelation of the Meade Experience: Ben Wade & the Committee on the Conduct of War. It is easy to forget that from July 5 1863 to March 1864, a whole behind the scenes campaign was being waged against Meade (starting from Sickles bedside meeting with Lincoln)

          Reading through the transcripts of the Committee testimonies by Sickles, Butterfield and others begged more knowledge: I needed to know exactly what happened during the retreat from Gettysburg, as this was the main content of the testimony. Another reading assignment was in order: One Continuous Fight, by Eric Wittenberg. After reading Eric’s book, Hessler’s Sickles at Gettysburg, and a host of other general knowledge Gettysburg books, (including a study of the weather before, during, and after the retreat) I now have a much better assessment of Meade’s generalship during and after the Gettysburg campaign.

          Poor Eric: He is now going to suffer my inquiring presence, as I will accompany his September tour that will specialize in the retreat from Gettysburg. I am sure that he will recover πŸ™‚

          • John Foskett July 25, 2017 / 10:31 am

            Think of it as watching Thornton, Pavelski, et al. not winning the Cup – again. πŸ™‚

          • TF Smith July 25, 2017 / 8:34 pm

            That’s partly why I raised the question of Meade as a professional AND regular in the tradition of Scott; Meade respected the chain of command, which is what one would expect from a West Pointer and a regular who had spent the two decades prior to 1862 on active duty.

            Given that, and his track record, it is why I rate Meade as among the US Top 5 in 1861-65.


  13. TFSmith July 21, 2017 / 3:46 pm

    John – There’s also the minor point that apparently the REBEL chain of command managed to be effective enough “at night” to require the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Cumberland to have to react to their (the rebs, that is) operations…

    Unless dusk, twilight, and night just led GBM to be “dimmer” than Lee, etc.

    Of course, some would argue Mac (and his defenders) were (and are) just as much in the dark at high noon as at midnight. πŸ˜‰


    • John Foskett July 22, 2017 / 2:16 pm

      TF – It has been theorized elsewhere that during the fighting at Glendale Heintzelman left his HQ to micromanage the fighting and that he left it to Sumner to “conduct” the “high level command”. This theory, however, and as usual, fills a yawning gap with putative “fact”. In actuality, while Heintzelman was engaged in managing the fighting (in which both of his divisions were engaged), neither he or Sumner testified under oath before the JCCW to any such allocation of authority at Glendale. Instead, Heintzelman testified that while Savage’s Station “was fought entirely under General Sumner’s direction”, Glendale “was fought entirely by the corps commanders, at least” and that he “received no directions myself” and did not know “what directions the others received”. He also testified that he retreated on his “own responsibility” after learning that Franklin had retreated. Sumner testified only to sending one regiment to Hooker and, later, diverting two brigades from White Oak Swamp to the crossroads area. That is not conducting overall management of the battle. It’s one subordinate commander responding to requests for help. Otherwise, Sumner testified to finding himself alone after the other two corps had retreated without his knowledge (hardly a situation which would be advocated by a qualified West Point instructor). As Heintzelman described the Major General (allegedly) Commanding on this occasion, “I do not see how any man could leave so much to others, and be so confident that everything would go just right”. Meanwhile, the guy who was supposed to be in charge apparently was instead accessing multiple vessels on the river.

      • TF Smith July 25, 2017 / 8:56 pm

        Yep. “Leading from the front” and McClellan are not things that one generally sees.

  14. monodisperse July 21, 2017 / 4:16 pm

    Again you’re projecting back. Your charges are specific to Franklin’s decision, so I’ll ask you again: what should he have done.

    It seems to me that you’re condemning McClellan for simply issuing a mission and occasionally checking on Franklin every couple of hours, i.e. modern mission command/ auftragstaktik. Maybe there should have been continuous rallies of aides issuing the order “don’t retreat” every ten minutes throughout the whole night. Usually we take it for granted that general officers don’t need to be continuously told not to retreat.

    Oh, and you might want to check up on the communications fowl up at Iuka on the 19th. Rosecrans went 35 hours without hearing from Grant.

    • TFSmith July 21, 2017 / 9:40 pm

      “Fowl” up? Managed “auftragstaktik” but fouled up “foul?” Yeah, okay…

      Grant’s forces, of course, defeated Lee and every other rebel commander in every campaign the general led, destroying rebel armies in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Virginia – all deep in enemy territory.

      McClellan managed one win on the defensive (in loyal Maryland, of course) and lost on the offensive against Lee in Virginia.

      Forest, meet tree.

    • John Foskett July 22, 2017 / 11:43 am

      The dropped ball at Iuka wasn’t due to “darkness” and it wasn’t due to Grant abandoning the field. It was due to an overly complicated plan and somewhat ambiguous orders,/change in plan exacerbated by an acoustical shadow. Just so you understand, pointing out McClellan’s utter failure at Glendale isn’t a zero sum game involving Grant. The latter made his share of mistakes. But he didn’t pull a “Glendale”. He should have had his backside parked at Pittsburg Landing but once the shooting started he hauled his butt to the battle. not away from it, and took charge. Your myopic focus on the uncoordinated retreat from the crossroads characteristically misses the point. That was a symptom, not the underlying illness. It was merely one dispositive piece of evidence showing that McClellan indisputably was not in command and control. Throughout this eternal debate I have yet to discern why you alone have chosen Glendale as a merit badge for McClellan. For 150 years plus, nobody with a working brain has done that, whatever back and forth has gone on regarding McClellan’s conduct during the Seven Days overall, the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Second Bull Run, etc. There’s a reason for that.

    • John Foskett July 22, 2017 / 11:50 am

      By the way, what was the “mission” Franklin (or Sumner or Heintzelman) was given? They received no “mission” from McClellan beyond whatever they were told that morning/early afternoon, well before the battle began. Stuff changes. It’s analogous to a coach telling his offensive coordinator before the game “win by keeping it on the ground” and then leaving the stadium to scout next week’s opponent.. What bleeping good is that when there are 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter and his team is down by 17. What damn good is the “mission” at that point? I can’t believe that you’re even using that as evidence that McClellan was doing his job.

    • NedB July 23, 2017 / 4:44 pm

      The alleged “35 hours without hearing from Grant” is a myth. There as no such 35 hours period.

      • monodisperse July 24, 2017 / 7:11 am

        This is an excellent example to expound upon the structure of logic.The proposition is refutable (falsifiable in Popper’s nomenclature). My proposition that Rosecrans didn’t hear can be easily refuted by producing any evidence of communication from Grant to Rosecrans in that period. No-one has ever managed it, despite the likes of KP Williams desperately trying (see Lincoln Finds a General Vol. 4, 75-9 where he mushes over the lack of comms by blaming Rosecrans for changing plans due to circumstance without Grant’s say-so).

        Since the proposition can be refuted, but despite efforts to do so has not been, it stands. One certainly can’t try and characterise it as “myth”. It happened, and one can exam the event closer to find why things happened etc.

        Similarly, the standard “American Heritage” version of events at Glendale, which has caused so many problems, can be put into a refutable statement thus:

        “McClellan, whilst his army was fighting, rode down to the river and got on the USS Galena. He had no communications, played no part in the engagement, and spent his time eating good food and good wine. He did not return to the field.”

        Essentially every part of this statement (except the fact that McClellan did spend maybe 30 mins on the Galena) can be fairly easily refuted simply by reading parts of the Official Records (and Supplement and the original 1864 election propaganda that spawned it (which was nowhere near as extreme as Sears et al.). The dinner part comes from a mistranslation of la Comte de Paris’ journal and Sears’ most recent work includes a correct translation, which of course does not support his thesis at all. This is thus largely mythical, as in is a “widely held but false belief”.

        A modified version, incorporating all know facts would be:

        “Whilst no significant fighting was occurring McClellan received a note from Rodgers stating they should withdraw the army to the mouth of the Chickahominy. McClellan then rode down to Haxall’s and soon after boarded the USS Galena at 1645. Almost immediately a column was spotted advancing on Malvern and the navy moved to shell it. McClellan used his telegraphic signals to communicate with his subordinates and soon received a signal that there was also an attack at the crossroads. He issued orders to send reinforcements to that sector and left the Galena soon after to return to the field. He is back on the field around 1800 hrs.”

        Which also happens to be what McClellan said happened. There are simply too many observable “black swans” for the Sears et al. story to stand.

        • NedB July 25, 2017 / 12:06 am

          “My proposition that Rosecrans didn’t hear can be easily refuted by producing any evidence of communication from Grant to Rosecrans in that period. No-one has ever managed it…”

          Actually people have managed it.

          There is a message from Grant to Rosecrans (in Official Records and Grant papers) stamped and dated as written 6:45 pm September 18. After midnight Grant received a reply from Rosecrans saying it was received. So Rosecrans heard from Grant sometime that night.

          Grant reported that he sent a reply to Rosecrans’ late night message. We have the account of one of Rosecrans scouts that this reply was received by Rosecrans at 4am. So Rosecrans heard from Grant in the early morning hours.

          The next morning (19th), two of Grant’s staff officers were sent to Rosecrans (as one of them later wrote “sent by General Grant to visit General Rosecrans and explain to him the plan of operations”). They arrived about noon and one of them sent a message back to Grant marked 2pm that said “Your dispatch to Gen Rosecrans recd.”. So Rosecrans heard from Grant in the middle of the 19th.

          The next day the two of them meet in Iuka.

          There is no 35 hours space in that sequence of events. The proposition has been refuted.

          • monodisperse July 25, 2017 / 5:13 pm

            Thanks, that 1845 18th from Grant to Rosecrans (received 0100 19th) is the start of the 35 hours. The two staff officers (Lagow and Dickey) arrived at Rosecrans’ HQ ca. noon 19th, but apparently bore no message from Grant; indeed it appears they went on their own initiative. They certainly sent messages back, but the next thing Rosecrans hears from Grant is when he meets him on the morning of the 20th.

            If you can show me a message sent on the 19th or early on the 20th I’d be glad to see it, and will tease Moore as I did about his Rich Mountain misapprehension.

          • John Foskett July 26, 2017 / 8:33 am

            If – and i’m not assuming such – you’re trying to equate Iuka and Glendale, it doesn’t work. Grant was present at all times with one “wing” of the attacking force. Given the two-pronged character of his plan, it was impossible to be with both. The problem was the apparent use of assumptions rather than making sure that updates were communicated. The same applies to Rosecrans, of course, who got to his destination late and , while communicating the first delay, failed to communicate the second due to his own change of route. There also appears to be some ambiguity about whether the change in plans (Rosecrans to commence the battle rather than Ord) was in fact communicated. The problem was then made worse by the fact that Grant/Ord could not hear the combat between Price and Rosecrans. While clearly sloppy, none of this was a result of Grant abandoning the field to attend to other “tasks” or of failing to designate somebody to act in his stead. Nor was the situation remotely similar – an army in the process of retreat setting up a stand at the crossroads to buy time for its vital trains to make their way to their destination and facing the possibility of a devastating pincers attack.

        • John Foskett July 25, 2017 / 7:16 am

          And yet nobody involved in the Glendale fighting – nobody – (1) had any idea as to who was in charge, recalled receiving any orders, etc. or (2) they were all, to a man, liars. By the way, which reinforcements went to the crossroads under McCellan’s orders? (And let’s not get too cute with an expansive definition of “sector”). With all of your chipping away at the AH version, and after thousands of words, you haven’t gotten rid of this one yet – “played no part in the engagement”. McClellan’s army retreated from a battlefield in isolated units, wholly independent of (and ignorant of) each other’s decision. One corps commander only retreated after being surprised at finding himself isolated.That’s not how an army under competent command operates. Game, set, and match.

          • TF Smith July 25, 2017 / 8:58 pm

            True ‘dat.


        • NedB July 26, 2017 / 6:21 am

          You wrote “The two staff officers … apparently bore no message from Grant; indeed it appears they went on their own initiative. ”

          This indicates to me that you aren’t interested in evidence based history as the generally available evidence (which I quoted earlier) shows they were sent by Grant with a message.

          • John Foskett July 26, 2017 / 9:53 am

            As you will learn, some folks habitually fill gaps or areas of disagreement on the facts with their own “facts”.

          • monodisperse July 28, 2017 / 5:57 am

            The question seems to resolve around a reference to an unknown dispatch which isn’t in the records, and which Rosecrans flat out denied ever receiving. Did that dispatch actually exist? Certainly Rosecrans’ actions that afternoon indicate no such dispatch was received.

            The evidence certainly isn’t sufficient to proclaim it a myth. The problem is that one has to fall back on abductive reasoning due to the lack of evidence. If you were to say “in my opinion there probably is a missing message from the record”, sure, we can speculate on that. We can construct a model assuming that. Problem is that the alternative model is equally valid, if not more so.

            If I may venture a third hypothesis (suggested in a recent article by Evan C. Jones), it is perhaps possible that Lagow (who wrote and delivered that mornings order for Ord to cancel the agreed attack) simply fluffed his part with Rosecrans. He was not carrying any written order from Grant and Dickey recorded the content of their conversation which certainly contains no order from Grant. Given Lagow’s general ineptitude I’m probably sure you could make a much more reasonable case there their either Grant or Rosecrans partisans have.

          • John Foskett July 29, 2017 / 7:46 am

            Well, in another context (Glendale), you haven’t resisted the urge to speculate on the existence of several messages, none of which have survived, either in documented form or in testimony based on direct knowledge or hearsay.

          • Kristoffer July 29, 2017 / 9:19 am


            1) What could possibly cause Rosecrans to specifically deny receiving a dispatch?

            2) How can a dispatch be unknown and yet be compared with Rosecrans’ actions?

            3) Why would Lagow’s ineptitude cause him to make up the dispatch?

  15. TF Smith July 27, 2017 / 8:26 pm

    Less “some” and more “one.” πŸ˜‰

  16. TF Smith July 28, 2017 / 8:40 pm

    Hey, how about that guy Meade?

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