The March of Folly

I found Barbara W. Tuchman’s book, The March of Folly to be a very enjoyable book; her candor about the people, places and events in history makes it not only fulfilling as a history text/source but a fun book as well – at least in my opinion.

march_of_follyTuchman defines “folly” as “the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives”,[i] and where the British policies leading up to and including the American Revolution are concerned no definition could be truer. I appreciated the fact she did not paint the British – at least in the atypical American fashion – as the “evil empire” lacking only a maniacal Darth Vader and a menacing Death Star, but instead chose to attack the subject from the perspective of bad policies. I especially enjoyed her portrayals of the individuals involved in the decisions of the time, including their backgrounds and upbringings and how that often greatly affected the decisions they made. An excellent example of this narrative is when Tuchman describes the “qualifications” or lack thereof of the ruling class in Great Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, “They entered young, were rarely prepared or trained for the tasks, could become restless or bored under difficulties and usually retreated for half the year to the charms of their country homes, their racing stables, hunting fields and adventures in landscaping.”[ii] In other words they were not necessarily the best qualified, and were often not qualified at all to be making the weighty decisions farcing the empire at that moment in history. She continues, “… on the whole, their attitude toward government was less than professional. Indeed the profession of government did not exist; the idea would have shocked those who practiced it. Social pleasures tended to come first; office was attended to in the time remaining. Cabinet meetings, unscheduled and haphazard affairs, were generally held at dinner in the First Minister’s London residence. Sense of commitment was not always strong. Lord Shelburne, in whom it was strong, once commiserated with a colleague on how provoking it was to have Lord Camden and the duke of Grafton ‘come down [to London] with their lounging opinions to outvote you in Cabinet.”[iii] I know some do not like this level of depth when reading, or studying, history, but I personally always find this level of detail extremely helpful.

I like that Tuchman portrays historical figures, as Oliver Cromwell no doubt would have liked, with all their warts. While most historical writers of the period fall back upon the theme that George III was merely crazy, Tuchman endeavors to show the reader much more than the superficial mental illness façade. Indeed she allows us a glimpse of who the King was, and why he made the decisions he did; how his personality and his past shaped the future of the realm. Tuchman goes to great lengths to show us who, and what the king was, and the why of how he ruled – or failed to rule – the way he did. Of the King she states, “Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.”[iv] Seldom have I heard – or read – any historian portray George III in such a distinctive way, in such a way that I am able – as the student – to more fully understand how the “folly” came to play so prominently in the how the British managed to lose America.

I also appreciated the amount of depth, and information, provided by Tuchman; this is no superficial study of the subject matter at hand, and unfortunately in our world of ten second sound bites and USA Today paragraphed news stories we seldom see this kind of dept which is essential for the serious student of history to truly grasp what was going on, and how it impacted on the decisions and events at hand.

All-in-all I really enjoyed this book, and look forward now to reading other works by Tuchman. Her style is entertaining while being informative, which is rare amongst historians. I can easily see incorporating it in future classes I may teach.


[i] Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), Back Cover.

[ii] Ibid, p. 135

[iii] Ibid, pp. 135-136

[iv] Ibid, p. 138

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Mr. Lincoln goes to Gettysburg

On 19 Nov 1863, President Abraham Lincoln attended the dedicatory ceremonies of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg; Edward Everett, a celebrated politician and orator of the time had been invited as the keynote speaker for the occasion, and the President had been invited as an afterthought; Everett spoke for more than two hours before the President stood and spoke for two minutes.

The scheduled events for the ceremony included prayers of invocation and benediction offered by the Reverends T.H. Stockton and H.L. Baugher respectively; during the invocation the clouds reportedly parted and the day was transformed from overcast to sunny. Music was performed by the Birgfield’s Band, the United States Marine Band; a hymn composed for the occasion by Benjamin Brown French was sung as was a dirge by a selected choir.

The scene of the battlefield on the occasion was described by Henry Clay Cochrane, “A full view of the battlefield, with the Blue [Ridge] Mountains in the distance, was spread out before us and all about were traces of the fierce conflict. Rifle pits, cut and scarred trees, broken fences, pieces of artillery wagons and harness, scraps of blue and gray clothing, bent canteens, abandoned knapsacks, belts, cartridge boxes, shoes and caps, were still to be seen on nearly every side — a great showing for relic hunters.”

Cochrane further described the moment the President stood to give his address, “The Baltimore Glee Club then sang an ode written for the occasion by Commissioner B. B. French, of Washington, and Lincoln arose.”

President Lincoln went to the podium and offered his humble words, perhaps some of the most enduring healing and transformative words ever spoken:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In 1931, 87-year-old Mrs. Sarah A. Cooke Myers, who was 19 when she attended the ceremony, offered her recollections of the day. She described a dignified silence following the President’s speech: “I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.”

In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

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The High Tide – Second Day’s Battle at Gettysburg

The first day at Gettysburg had seen the two great armies – the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert E. Lee and the Union Army of the Potomac, led by newly appointed Major General George Gordon Meade – come together. The fighting had ended with the southern army in control of the town and Seminary Ridge, while the northern army possessed the high ground along Cemetery Ridge, a very formidable position dominated by two large hills – Round Top and Little Round Top – on the southern end of the line; it will be around those two hills that the Confederacy’s effort of independence from the United States will reach its high tide; it will break upon, and around those heights and it will ebb and flow there. It will be on the Union left that Longstreet’s Corps will be broken, and it will likewise be there that the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac will see the south’s hopes break and recede and from whence it will gain renewed strength from having been the instrument upon which those hopes are dashed.

Major General James Longstreet

The night between the beginning of the battle and its fiercest fighting found Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s I Corps hurrying toward the field. It had been delayed during the morning, left waiting as part of Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s corps passed by near the town of Greenwood; the I Corps had been moving throughout the day and evening reaching the main army about midnight. On the morning of the second day, Lee, Longstreet, A.P. Hill, Harry Heth, and John Bell Hood sat beneath a tree on Seminary Ridge and discussed plans for the day’s attack.[i]

Longstreet had tried to convince his leader that the Army of Northern Virginia should move around the Union forces flank and position itself between Meade and Washington, and he had believed he and Lee had agreed upon this strategy, and he tried to get Lee to follow through on that strategy, “We could not call the enemy to position better suited to our plans,” he observed. “All that we have to do is to file around his left and secure good ground between him and his capital.”[ii]

After the first day’s fighting, Lee had decided if Meade’s army was still found along Cemetery Ridge in the morning he would attack him and he told Longstreet so, “If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him.”[iii]

Major General George Meade

Longstreet had disagreed, “If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him – a good reason in my judgment, for not doing so.”[iv]

General Robert E. Lee

But the bit was between Lee’s teeth now and he would not, and could not, let go of the Army of the Potomac and move around it. There was too much at stake, and his army would never be able to survive for long as a group, and could not afford to spread out now in order to live off the land around them. Meade could wait them out and Lee knew this. This may not be the ground of his choosing, but here was where the enemy had gathered, and it was now here where he would have to fight him.

Lee had been observing the enemy’s position and he believed its left flank was in the air and unsecured, but he had no cavalry to confirm this. Major General J.E.B. Stuart had been assigned the mission to screen the Confederate army’s move northward, but had become distracted with the idea of riding around the Union army, and had hence left Lee with no screen and with no reconnaissance capability, and he now had to use the tools he had at hand. To determine if Meade’s flank was indeed unsecured Lee had sent a small reconnaissance party to the right to verify Meade’s position. He had sent Captain Samuel R. Johnston, one of his staff, to scout out the enemy’s flank. Johnston led his party to the top of Little Round Top, and found no one there. He could see, looking through the trees below him, no Union troops. The flank appeared to be unsecured! He returned to the commanding general and confirmed Lee’s suspicion that Meade’s left was exposed and opened to attack. But the empty flank Johnston had seen was only momentarily so, “…the reconnaissance party had taken a quick look at the enemy lines during the time when the Federals were in the process of shifting troops. In fact, the Union lines did extend south along Cemetery Ridge. Lee therefore had a complete misunderstanding of Meade’s position.”[v]

With his suspicions confirmed, Lee was determined to attack, and he turned to his most trusted Lieutenant – to his “Old War Horse” – Longstreet. But the I Corps commander did not share Lee’s confidence; he too had been studying the Union defenses and he had “concluded that this line was too strong for an attack to succeed. He urged Lee to turn its south flank and get between the Union army and Washington. This would compel Meade to attack the Army of Northern Virginia in its chosen position.”[vi]

Lee would not be swayed however, and ordered Longstreet to prepare for the attack; the attack that if it succeeded could drive the Union army from the field and win the war. But Lee’s battle plan “rested on two givens – first, that scout Samuel Johnston had spied not a single Yankee soldier from his vantage point on Little Round Top that morning; and second, that therefore General Meade lacked either the troops or the intellect to anchor his left flank properly.”[vii]

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock

The Union line had been established as the Army of the Potomac was driven from Gettysburg during the first day’s battle after Meade sent Major General Winfield Scott Hancock forward to take charge of the army on learning of I Corps Commander Major General John F. Reynolds death. Hancock had quickly determined the high ground south of Gettysburg running from Culp’s Hill on the north past Cemetery Hill and down the long stretch of Cemetery Ridge south to the Round Tops – could and should be held. He rallied the units on hand and established the defense, sending word to Meade of his disposition, who swiftly ordered the remainder of the army to converge on Gettysburg, and hurried to the site arriving around midnight. Hancock will be dubbed “Hancock the Superb,” by northern newspaper writers for his roll in the Union victory.[viii]

As Longstreet’s corps made its way south it would soon discover that not only was the Union left soon to be occupied, but that “Meade finally had most of his 85,000 men present. Lee with approximately 75,000 soldiers, was facing a formidable line that stretched from Culp’s Hill, around Cemetery Hill, southward along Cemetery Ridge, and finally to the Round Tops.”[ix]

Lee’s plan of attack called for Longstreet’s corps to position itself to attack the Union left flank, facing northeast astraddle the Emmitsburg Road, and to roll up the Federal line.  The attack was to move en echelon from the right beginning with Lieutenant General John B. Hood’s and Major General Lafayette McLaws’s divisions, followed by Major General Richard H. Anderson’s division of Hill’s III Corps. The progressive sequence of the attack was supposed to thwart Meade from shifting troops from his center to bolster his left. At the same time, Major Generals Edward Johnson’s and Jubal Early’s II Corps divisions were to make a demonstration against Culp’s and Cemetery Hills (again, to prevent the shifting of Federal troops), and to turn those demonstrations into full-scale attacks if a favorable opportunity presented itself.

What Lee’s plan had not taken into account was the possibility of Union generals doing the unexpected, and as Longstreet’s corps moved into position its leaders were surprised to find Major General Daniel Sickles III Corps sitting right in their path well out in front of the entire Union line. It was both an opportunity and problem. An opportunity because in moving forward Sickles had left the Union left truly unsecured, and most especially he had left the Round Tops void of any Union forces; it was a problem because Sickles corps, blocking the expected path of advance would slow down the rebel assault.

Major General Daniel Sickles

As Sickles had moved his corps into position on Cemetery Ridge, he looked toward the Confederate lines and decided – on his own – that his corps was not in the best location. “Trees and boulders covered both the ground that he was to occupy and the area to his front seemed slightly higher. From there, Confederate artillery might be able to command his lines.”[x]

As the afternoon wore on, and shadows began moving through the woods nearby, Sickles, sensing a crisis was approaching, sent skirmishers into the woods to find out what the Confederates were doing. Twenty minutes later, his men reported enemy movement toward the south. “Thinking he had to act promptly to prevent the high ground from falling into enemy hands, Sickles moved his corps forward. Back on Cemetery Ridge, Hancock, whose corps was on Sickles’ right, was astounded by the move. One of his division commanders suggested that perhaps Meade had ordered a general advance and that Hancock’s corps missed the order.”[xi]

By moving his corps so far ahead of the Cemetery Ridge line Sickles not only forced Longstreet to modify Lee’s battle plan at the last moment, but he also greatly altered the strategic landscape. “Lee’s prospective battlefield was extended southward some three-quarters of a mile. Hood deployed his four brigades, newly designated as the outflanking division, along Seminary Ridge facing due east, toward Round Top and Little Round Top. The half mile or so of terrain between Hood and the two heights contained what military cartographers euphemistically termed ‘broken ground.’”[xii]

As he moved forward, to occupy the high ground, Sickles had placed his III Corps into a salient extending his line to a length far greater than could be adequately defended by the number of men he had in his command, and the shape of his line exposed it to both Confederate fire and attacks from three directions. To make matters worse, “not only had Sickles disobeyed his orders to occupy Cemetery Ridge, but he had also left Little Round Top undefended.”[xiii]

Reporting to Meade’s headquarters for a meeting of corps commanders as he was dismounting, heavy artillery fire could be heard in the direction of his corps on the Union left. Sickles quickly remounted and rode swiftly back to his men. Just as quickly, Meade mounted his horse, and he and his chief of engineers, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren rode to ascertain the situation on the III Corps’ front. When they reached Cemetery Ridge, Warren said, “‘Here is where our line should be.’ Hearing the Confederate cannon fire to the front, Meade replied, ‘It is too late now,’ and rode in the direction of the fire. Warren, wanting to get a better view of the terrain, rode to the crest of Little Round Top.”[xiv]

While the fire was spreading and intensifying, Warren and his aides raced up the rocky slopes of Little Round Top, and once there were stunned to find there were no Federal soldiers, except for a handful of signal-men on the heights, and it was further apparent, “from what the signal-men had seen and from Warren’s own observations, that Confederate attackers were less than a mile away and moving toward the heights even as they watched. That discovery, Warren later wrote, ‘was intensely thrilling to my feelings and almost appalling.’ Earlier in the day he had written his wife, ‘we are now all in line of battle before the enemy in a position where we cannot be beaten but fear being turned.’ Now that fear was upon him. To General Warren it was instantly clear that if Rebel infantry and artillery seized Little Round Top, they would utterly dominate the Potomac army’s position on Cemetery Ridge.”[xv]

Understanding what would happen if someone didn’t occupy the heights and do so quickly, Warren sent one of his aides to Meade calling for troops to meet the emergency. He also dispatched another aide, Lieutenant Ranald Mackenzie, to Sickles and to have him order one of his brigades to the crest. By the time Mackenzie found Sickles, his corps was already heavily engaged and the General was beginning to realize the scope of his recklessness, and told Mackenzie he could not spare any of his men.

Mackenzie rode back to Cemetery Ridge in search of other troops, and soon found Major General George Sykes, moving forward with his V Corps. “Without hesitation, without clearing the matter with headquarters, Sykes sent a courier to the commander of his lead division, James Barnes, with orders to answer Warren’s call.

“Sykes’s courier, in his search for Barnes, encountered Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding the V Corps’ lead brigade. ‘Captain, what are your orders?’ Vincent demanded of the courier. He needed to find General Barnes, said the courier. ‘What are your orders?’ Vincent repeated. ‘Give me your orders.’ The captain answered, ‘General Sykes told me to direct General Barnes to send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,’ pointing to Little Round Top. ‘I will take the responsibility of taking my brigade there,’ said Vincent. As the corps’ lead brigade, Vincent’s was the logical choice for this task, but in sensing the crisis and bypassing the chain of command, Strong Vincent, too rose to the occasion. His variegated brigade – Twentieth Maine, Eighty-third Pennsylvania, Forty-fourth New York, Sixteenth Michigan – was soon scrambling  up the rocky face of Little Round Top.”[xvi]

Warren did not sit idly by while his aides were looking for troops; Warren also moved off searching for men to place on the exposed left. Noticing infantry moving up, he moved to the unit discovering it was none other than a regiment from the brigade he had earlier commanded. “As he started to explain the army’s plight to the regimental commander, Warren saw his younger brother, Edgar, approaching. Edgar Warren was an aide to Brigadier General Stephen H. Wood, commander of a brigade in the V Corps. The army’s chief engineer received promises that the entire brigade would send help. Next, Warren directed an artillery battery and the brigade’s lead regiment to move to the top of the hill. He then rode to see the V Corps commander and secure additional reinforcements. The ensuing fight for Little Round Top was a close contest. Federals ran up one side of the hill as Confederates ran up the other. The fight ended with the Army of the Potomac holding the position. Warren had taken action in time.”[xvii]

Longstreet had repeatedly argued to have the army move around Meade’s flank, but he had been overridden by Lee. He was not happy about the planned attack, but he was a career soldier and he would obey orders. But after being rebuffed, he was determined to follow the letter of Lee’s instructions and it made him extremely inflexible. His division commander on the far right, Hood, recommended that the right wing of the attack should be extended around the Round Tops and into flanks of the Union army. “Longstreet replied that Lee’s orders were to attack up the Emmitsburg Road, and that everyone would obey the orders of the commanding general. Nevertheless, Hood extended his lines to the right to include Little Round Top, and his near success against Warren on that hill was proof that the Federal line of battle was vulnerable.”[xviii]

Longstreet’s artillery fired a cannonade for more than an hour, and then his divisions charged forward, slamming into Sickles’s front and flanks. Sickles’s decision to move forward was a bad one, but his men fought bravely and made the Confederate I Corps pay dearly for each yard it advanced, and Sickles defended it well. “…the fight for the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield lasted almost four hours. Before being seriously wounded, Sickles skillfully plugged the holes in his lines almost as quickly as they developed.”[xix]

As the I Corps continued its assault on the Union left it began to flow up and around the Round Tops, as it moved to the left and right enveloping Sickles’s Corps it began the long hard fight into and through the forbidding Devil’s Den. This area of the Union line was being defended by the One Hundred Twenty-fourth New York Infantry known as the “Orange Blossoms”. The fighting soon became some of the hardest of the war, and presently became desperate. “Some of the Texans later claimed that the muzzle flash of their rifles had singed the New Yorker’s uniforms. At the start of the fight, the regiment’s Colonel A. Van Horne Ellis and Major James Cromwell had been on foot. It was safer that way.” As the fight worsened, “Ellis had their horses brought forward, and he and Cromwell mounted up. To a captain who remonstrated at what good targets the colonel and major would make on horseback, Ellis replied, ‘The men must see us today.’”[xx]

The fighting became hotter, and as moment of immediate “crisis seemed to approach, Ellis gave the signal. He and Cromwell led their men down the slope in a counterattack. For a few moments all was glorious victory for the Orange Blossoms as the First Texas broke and fled before them. Then, near the foot of the slope, the Texans turned and blasted a volley into the faces of their pursuers. Cromwell, a magnificent figure on his iron-gray horse, crumpled to the ground. The Orange Blossoms surged forward to recover his body, and the rocky hillside became a fiery cauldron of battle. One participant recalled that all was ‘roaring cannon, crashing rifles, screeching shots, bursting shells, hissing bullets, cheers, shouts, shrieks and groans.’”[xxi]

The Texas line receded and it looked as though the Orange Blossoms may have won a startling victory, but suddenly, “…emerging from the thick smoke and passing through the Texas’ line, strode a solid gray-glad line of battle, fresh and unbloodied, two ranks deep, shoulder-to-shoulder and stretching out of sight in the battle smoke in either direction. Brigadier General Henry Benning’s Georgia brigade had moved up from its reserve position and was going into action to renew the momentum of the Confederate assault. The Georgia line swept the scattered Orange Blossoms before it like the first chill blast of a violent spring storm. Colonel Ellis fell dead with a bullet in his brain, and the survivors of the 124th, now scarcely one hundred strong, fell back to the crest of Houck Ridge, struggling to delay the Confederate advance.”[xxii]

As the Confederate assault began to flow over the top of the ridge it soon collided with the Fourth Maine Regiment. Its commander, Colonel Elijah Walker, realized very quickly that the Rebels would soon be able to turn his flank and continue to plunge through the Union line. “Walker responded with the sublime audacity that seemed almost commonplace on both sides this afternoon. He ordered his regiment to wheel to the right, fix bayonets, and charge. ‘I shall never forget the “click” that was made by the fixing of bayonets,’ the colonel wrote years later. ‘It was as one.’

“The Fourth Maine surged to the top of the ridge, but there it, too, met the onrushing wave of Benning’s Georgia brigade. The fighting became hand-to-hand on the ridge top and in Devil’s Den. The Maine men were soon joined by reinforcements of their own, one regiment from the other end of Ward’s line and another from de Trobriand. The oversized Fortieth New York took up the position the Fourth Maine had just left, covering the Slaughter Pen and Plum Rum gorge. The Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania, led by Major John W. Moore with the shout of ‘Pennsylvania and our homes!’ charged into Devil’s Den alongside the Fourth Maine and drove the Georgians and Alabamians out of the boulders and off the ridge. Meanwhile, the Fortieth New York charged the Confederates who were trying to press through the gorge and drove them back but could not dislodge them. One Confederate counted seven separate charges by the Fortieth. The two sides blazed away at each other there until the Slaughter Pen was more thickly strewn with bodies than with boulder.”[xxiii]

Sickles’s salient had caused Hood’s division to move to the right of the assault, and it began to flow over and about the Round Tops, and the two right-hand regiments, the Fifteenth and Forty-seventh Alabama, under the Fifteenth’s Colonel William C. Oates, climbed up – and over – the steep, heavily wooded slopes of Round Top, and then plunged down into the saddle separating it from Little Round Top to its north.

“Oates’s instructions were to locate ‘the left of the Union line, to turn it and do all the damage I could….’”[xxiv]

While his men labored to crest Round Top, the Fourth Alabama and Fourth and Fifth Texas – on his left – followed the shorter curving course bringing them across the western shoulder of Round Top, and then crossed along the western edge of the saddle towards Little Round Top. The Rebels however, were beginning to tire; the combination of late-afternoon heat, rugged terrain, and extreme fatigue, began to take its toll. “‘My men had to climb up, catching to the bushes and crawling over the immense boulders,’ said Colonel Oates.”[xxv]

Thanks to Warren’s quick actions earlier in the afternoon, Little Round Top was now defended “The brigade’s line curved around the south and southeast slopes of Little Round Top. The Sixteenth Michigan held the difficult position on the bare ground of the southwest slope. Then came the Forty-fourth New York, the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, and finally the Twentieth Maine, in the scant shelter of the open woodlands of the south slope. In altitude the line slanted downward from the Sixteenth Michigan’s position, a little way below the crest, down and around to the Twentieth Maine’s just above the saddle between the Round Tops. Colonel Vincent sent his horse to the rear and prepared to direct the brigade on foot.”[xxvi]

Vincent’s men had mere minutes to wait for Oates’s men, and while they waited in the line of battle they built crude walls of loose stone, and prepared to receive the Rebels. “‘Scarcely had the troops been put in line,’ recalled the Eighty-third Pennsylvania’s Captain Amos Judson, ‘when a loud, fierce, distant yell was heard.’ It was as though all the demons of Hell had broken loose and ‘joined in the chorus of one grand, universal war-whoop.’ The Fifteenth and Forty-seventh Alabama had swept over the crest of Round Top and now surged down the north face toward Vincent’s left. The Fourth Alabama and the Fourth and Fifth Texas charged across a shoulder of Round Top, just above the Plum Run gorge, and stormed onward toward the center and right of Vincent’s position. When Judson first spotted them, they appeared to be about a quarter of a mile away, advancing at the double-quick with bayonets fixed, ‘coming down upon us.’ Vincent took one look at the oncoming Confederate tide and turned to Captain John M. Clark, one of the officers of the brigade staff. ‘Go and tell Gen. Barnes to send me reinforcements at once,’ Vincent instructed. ‘The enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force.’ Clark hurried off, and Vincent prepared to face the Confederate onslaught.”[xxvii]

Defending Little Round Top on the far left of the Union line was the Twentieth Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain. The Rebel assault made its way up to the left of the line, in a tired and yet furious assault by Oates’s men. “For nearly two hours they stood off repeated assaults by portions of several Confederate regiments along the rocky, wooded slope filled with smoke, noise and terror. But their valor seemed in vain. With more than a third of his men down and the remainder out of ammunition – and with the Johnnies forming for another assault – Chamberlain was in a tight spot. But cool and quick-witted – perhaps a legacy of dealing with fractious students – he ordered his men to fix bayonets on their empty rifles and charge. With a yell, these smoke-grimed Yanks lurched downhill against the surprised rebels. Exhausted by their uphill fighting following a twenty-five mile march that day to reach the battlefield, and shocked by the audacity of this bayonet assault, the Alabamians surrendered by scores to the jubilant boys from Maine. Little Round Top remained in northern hands. Although Sickles’s corps was driven back yard by yard through the peach orchard, the wheat field, and Devil’s Den, the Union left on Little Round Top was secure.”[xxviii]

Even as the battle ebbed and died out on the slopes of Little Round Top the Confederate assault continued to charge down the length and breadth of Sickles line and beyond punching and seeking any breaks in the line, finally it plunged into a gap in the Union line created by the earlier advance of Sickles’s corps to the Peach Orchard. Unfortunately for Longstreet’s men they were charging into the section of the Union line held by Hancock’s II Corps. As Hancock watched the Confederate assault plunged through the gap leaving no time for Hancock to shift reinforcements to stop the assault. As he looked about him he discovered he had only eight companies of one regiment on hand to meet the oncoming brigade. “The regiment was the First Minnesota, veterans of all the army’s battles since the beginning at Bull Run. Hancock ordered these 262 men to charge the 1,600 Alabamians and slow them down long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The Minnesotans did the job, but only forty-seven of them came back. Hancock plugged the gap, and the Confederate attack all along the southern half of the battlefield flickered out in the twilight.”[xxix]

In spite of a tough defense all along the Union left, in Sickles’s salient there were just too many advantages for the Confederates, and the position in the Peach Orchard gradually gave way, and the stubborn Union resistance also began to give as the ground in the Wheatfield was contested. Soon the Wheatfield became untenable. “The III Corps broke and fled. The Confederates followed close on the heels of the retreating northerners, but as they approached Cemetery Ridge, fresh Federal troops appeared. Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps had arrived on the field, and Meade had immediately sent it to the left to act as a reserve force. When the remnants of the III Corps began streaming back through the lines, Sedgwick counterattacked in conjunction with a brigade from the V Corps, and Confederates were stopped cold. Parts of the XII Corps also had been sent to the left to help restore the position, and the sight of all these Union troops waiting on Cemetery Ridge was too much for Longstreet’s and Anderson’s troops. After a bitter fight, it appeared to the Confederates that they had only pierced the outer lines of the Union defenses. With darkness approaching, Longstreet halted the attack and consolidated his position in the Peach Orchard.”[xxx] The tide had flowed, crested and ebbed.

While much has been written about Pickett’s Charge being the high water mark of the Confederacy, it was in reality the second day’s fighting that had come the closest to dislodging the Army of the Potomac, but fate it appears was not with the Rebel Army. Throughout the day the Confederate assaults were uncoordinated and disjointed. “The usual skill of generalship in the Army of Northern Virginia was lacking this day. On the Union side, by contrast, officers from Meade down to regimental colonels acted with initiative and coolness. They moved troops to the right spots and counterattacked at the right times. As a result, when night fell the Union line remained firm except for the loss of Sickles’s salient. Each side had suffered 9,000 or more casualties, bringing the two-day totals for both armies to nearly 35,000.

“Lee’s judgment was not at its best. He had come to Pennsylvania in quest of a decisive victory and he was determined not to leave without it.”[xxxi]

“Casualties had been heavy on both sides; three general officers in the Confederate ranks were dead or dying, but four general officers in the Union army had fallen, (Sixty-five percent of Meade’s total losses during the three days of fighting occurred on the second day.) Longstreet had driven the enemy from the field in front of Cemetery Ridge, and, on his left, a brigade from Anderson’s division had actually reached the crest of the ridge.”[xxxii]

Longstreet had come very, very close to turning the Union flank; the tide had hit hard, and had crested almost to the breaking point, and had almost flowed over the Union forces as a flash flood over the rocky bottom of a dry arroyo; but even still the flood had not broken through, and had rather been broken on the stubborn Yankee defense. Had Longstreet had Pickett’s division on the second day, had he not gone in with “one boot off”,[xxxiii] it is very probable he would have turned the Union left and driven them from Cemetery Ridge. The flip side of that coin however is that the cost of the assault would still have been extremely high and it is very unlikely Lee could have followed up on his desire to destroy the Army of the Potomac.


[i] Timothy H. Donovan, Jr., Roy K. Flint, Arthur V. Grant, Jr., Gerald P. Stadler, The American Civil War  (New Jersey, 1987), p. 159
[ii] Ibid., p. 234
[iii] Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg, (Boston, 2004), p. 234
[iv]  Ibid., p. 234
[v] John B. Hood, Advance and Retreat (New Orleans, 1880), p. 56; Edwin B. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign (New York, 1968), pp. 371-373
[vi] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era, (New York, 1988), p. 655
[vii] Sears, Gettysburg, p. 264
[viii] Bruce Catton, Gettysburg: The Final Fury, (New York, 1974), p. 29
[ix] Donovan, Flint, Grant, Stadler, The American Civil War, p. 159
[x] Donovan, Flint, Grant, Stadler, The American Civil War, p. 160
[xi] W.A. Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible (New York, 1956) pp. 208-211
[xii] Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 264-265
[xiii] Timothy H. Donovan, Jr., Roy K. Flint, Arthur V. Grant, Jr., Gerald P. Stadler, The American Civil War  (New Jersey, 1987), p. 160
[xiv] Emerson G. Taylor, Gouverneur Kemble Warren (New York, 1964), pp. 122-123
[xv] Sears, Gettysburg, 269
[xvi] Sears, Gettysburg, pp. 269-270
[xvii] Swanberg, Sickles the Incredible, p. 212
[xviii] Donavan, Flint, Grant and Stadler, The American Civil War, p. 161
[xix] Ibid, p. 161
[xx] Stephen E. Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign, (New York, 2008), pp. 118
[xxi] Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, (New York, 2008), p. 119
[xxii] Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, (New York, 2008), pp. 118-119
[xxiii] Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, pp. 119-120
[xxiv] Sears, Gettysburg, p. 271
[xxv] Sears, Gettysburg, p. 271
[xxvi] Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign, pp. 121
[xxvii] Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky, A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign, pp. 122-123
[xxviii] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 659
[xxix] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 659-660
[xxx] Hood, Advance and Retreat, pp. 59
[xxxi] McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 660
[xxxii] Henry K. Douglas, I Rode With Stonewall (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1940) p. 24
[xxxiii] Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, Gettysburg to Appomattox (New York, 1944) p. 114
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The memorial at ANZAC Cove

‘Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives,

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us here; they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers

Who sent their sons to faraway countries,

Wipe away your tears;

Your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace,

After having lost their lives on this land they have

Become our sons as well.’

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Not Even Close

By New Year’s Day 1864, the fate of the Confederacy’s had long been sealed. The combined blows of Vicksburg and Gettysburg were – while not quite knock out blows – body blows the South could not recover from. The armies of the South never again truly threatened the North.Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would hang on and fight valiantly against Grant and the Army of the Potomac, but Lee’s only hope was to grind out a slow and painful victory, but Grant was not going to allow that. Beginning in 1864, there would be no more encounters where the two armies would fight a battle and break apart for months, the war would be won by grinding down and wearing out, but it would be Grant directing the grinding and wearing not Lee. The initiative would never again truly belong to the South.

Politically, much has been made about how close the presidential election of 1864 was, but the results from the election show just the opposite. Lincoln would carry 22 of 25 states with 2,218,388 votes or 55%, compared to McClellan’s 1,812,807 or 45%. Lincoln’s victory was complete with the President claiming 212 electoral votes to Little Mac’s 21. (Official website of the National Archives).

Union successes in the summer of 1863, coupled with Lincoln’s electoral victory, ended the South’s chances of victory completely. Having been given the mandate of the ballot box, Lincoln was free to pursue absolute victory over the rebellious South, and McClellan’s loss pushed the Peace Democrats, Copperheads and others seeking a negotiated peace out of favor.

The South’s best chance for victory was to defeat the North early; the longer the war went on it was inevitable that the material strength of the North would overwhelm the rebellion. 1863 was its best chance, and after wards it was a long slow decent into defeat.

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My Love Affair with the Titanic

As a boy my father suggested I read a book during a cross country family trip from Virginia to Utah. After asking what book? My Dad took me to the local library in Winchester, Virginia. After looking for sometime with no results, he suggested I read Walter Lord’s book “A Night to Remember”; and with that simple suggestion a love affair began.

I devoured the book in the next few days, and spent hundreds – if not thousands – of hours pretending to be on the majestic Titanic; interestingly enough, most of this pretending occurred during wedding receptions and many other “formal” occasions where I could – in full Walter Mitty style – find myself transported back over the years.

Since that initial introduction, I’ve read countless books, built models of, and watched any movies or TV documentaries about Titanic; I was spell bound as divers explored the wreck. I remember holding my breath as I saw the first images of the ship’s bow. When the 1997 film “Titanic” was released, I couldn’t care less who was in the movie, I just wanted to see the ship sailing. I wasn’t disappointed.

In December 2009, I had the opportunity to visit Southampton, England, and to see the Ship’s Engineer Officer’s Memorial, visit the town’s maritime museum containing many artifacts from the crew and families who were on the ship, and to stand and look out into the same harbor Titanic sailed from on her first and only voyage on 10 Apr 1912. The memorial is tucked away in the corner of a large park and has a very hallowed feel about it. Reading the names of the men who stayed at their post in order to keep the ship’s power plant supplied with steam is humbling; it’s always amazing to read of people’s heroism, and although these men knew they were doomed they stayed put and did their duty as long as was possible.

The R.M.S. Titanic may be long gone, but her connection to many of us still living is as real, and tangible, as the smell of her fresh paint, and glitter of her glass must have surely been to her passengers and crew in April of 1912.

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When King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton

Early in the war, the South tried to get the United Kingdom to recognize its independence, and to intervene on its behalf against the Federal blockade to free King Cotton. Strangely enough it was acts by the North which almost provoked both actions.

When Abraham Lincoln ordered the blockade of southern ports he did so declaring the Confederates to be “insurrectionists” understanding that under international law “this would deny the Confederacy status as a belligerent power.” (McPherson, James M. Oxford University Press, 1988.  Oxford history of the United States; 387-388) The move by Lincoln – incorporating a naval blockade – wasn’t just an act affecting southern ports; it also affected neutral powers as well, and in so doing it would involve those powers in the conflict, either as belligerents or as neutrals. While Lincoln had hoped to check the South’s diplomatic ability to receive recognition by denying it was a “belligerent”, he unwittingly achieved the opposite. Because the blockade affected foreign powers, those nations, out of necessity, had to respond to it, and respond they did. Queen Victoria declared Britain’s neutrality in a declaration issued on May 13, 1861, with other European nations following, and by so doing, recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent power. Having received this status it freed the South, under international law, to deal commercially with those neutral powers. Recognition as a belligerent was an important first step for the Confederates, but one they never successfully capitalized on due to multiple missteps and arrogant foreign policy decisions.

Regarding the blockade issue, the South repeatedly shot itself in the proverbial foot. The Confederacy had a problem, it needed to convince its European trading partners the Union blockade was not able to really impede southern shipping, and thus it was not a legal blockade under international law, and therefore foreign nations could ignore it. The South also tried to claim it was a “paper blockade”; but in doing so, it was telling nations like Great Britain that it really didn’t need the British navy to intercede. It was a classic Catch 22, and in retrospect made the Confederate Government appear politically bi-polar and naïve on the big stage of world affairs.

Of course the British had its own practical reasons for not interfering. This was the period of British power, when “On her dominions the sun never sets; before his evening rays leave the spires of Quebec, his morning beams have shown three hours on Port Jackson, and while sinking from the waters of Lake Superior, his eye opens upon the Mouth of the Ganges” (“The British Empire,” Caledonian Mercury: p. 4. 15 October 1821 – Issue 15619). England understood clearly that its vast empire was protected by her navy, and by its ability to project British power wherever it was sent, and to be able to blockade an enemy whenever and wherever necessary. If Great Britain accepted southern arguments about the “paper blockade” it might find itself acting against its own future self interest, “As the crown’s solicitor general put it: Britain must resist ‘new fangled notions and interpretations of international law which might make it impossible for us effectively at some future day to institute any blockade, and so destroy our naval authority’” (McPherson, 385). In the end, as far as the blockade was concerned, Rule Britannia won out over King Cotton.

When the argument over the legality of the blockade failed to work in its favor, Confederate business interests pushed the idea that “King Cotton” would force the European powers, especially Great Britain, to intercede on the Confederacy’s behalf, and attempted its great cotton embargo to economically starve them into action.

“In July 1861 [Confederate] Vice President Alexander Stephens expressed certainty that ‘in some way or other [the blockade will] be raised, or there will be revolution in Europe … Our cotton is … the tremendous lever by which we can work our destiny’” (ibid, 383). Or so the South allowed itself to believe; but instead of King Cotton being the mighty economic lever that would force Europe’s hand, it turned out to be the stick the South used to beat themselves with.

Coercion and blackmail are never a very good choice when negotiating with a neutral power, and the English were especially perturbed. “…many Englishmen resented even more the Confederacy’s attempt at economic blackmail. If southerners ‘thought they could extort our cooperation by the agency of king cotton,’ declared the Times, they had better think again. To intervene on behalf of the South ‘because they keep cotton from us,’ said Lord Russell in September 1861, ‘would be ignominious beyond measure … No English Parliament could do so base a thing’” (ibid, 384-385).

In all reality, the foreign policy efforts of the Confederacy never had a chance.

First, Great Britain didn’t want to become entangled in the American war. “‘For God’s sake, let us if possible keep out of it,’ said British Foreign Minister Lord Russell in May 1861, while Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston quoted the aphorism: ‘They who in quarrels interpose, will often get a bloody nose.’

“Britain recognized that any action against the blockade could lead to a conflict with the United States more harmful to England’s interests than the temporary loss of Southern cotton. Our ‘true policy,’ Palmerston told Russell on October 18, was ‘to go on as we have begun, and keep quite clear of the conflict.’ Napoleon III of France leaned toward intervention, but was unwilling to take any action without British cooperation” (ibid, 384).

Second, the United Kingdom quickly, and clearly, understood what it had to both lose and gain from the conflict. While it is true the South had King Cotton to bargain with, Great Britain was able to do without the South’s exports because it had a surplus of raw cotton and finished cloth, and India and Egypt picked up the slack once cotton prices began to soar. It not only didn’t have to risk war with the United States, but made a profit on what it used to import from southern growers. By playing the embargo card, the South only irritated its European buyers, which didn’t like to be black mailed, and it was too late before the smug Confederate growers realized they had overplayed their hand. Ironically, the need for cotton being filled by India and Egypt coupled with the North’s need for finished war products far outweighed any economic value to be gained by dealing with the South. Additionally, it was a Confederacy success that helped England, economically speaking, to finally make up its mind not to become embroiled in the American war.

By 1862 the Southern commerce raiders had so effectively driven Union merchant ships from the seas that British merchantmen were able to step in and fill the gap, bringing a very lucrative trade business to the British Isles, especially after continued crop failures in western Europe suddenly made United States grain very appealing. British ships would take grain home to England and return with exported war material for the United States, a very beneficial trading arrangement. With Union farmers providing nearly half of England’s grain imports from 1860 to 1862 “Yankees exulted that King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton” (ibid, 385).

When it comes down to it, the Confederate States never really had much of a chance of winning recognition from a decidedly anti-slavery England, and France and Russia were not going to; it is also very unlikely there was anything the Confederacy could have done to accomplish either recognition or intervention on its behalf as long as slavery was at the root of the war. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was the final nail in its coffin as far as foreign diplomacy was concerned.

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