Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War by Bruce Tap

More interesting that I would have thought. Learned a lot about the political realities that were at play during the Civil War. Mostly that the radical Republicans who pretty much ran this committee had a deep distrust of the West Point-educated generals in the Union Army, whom they saw as timid and cowardly and committed to a war strategy based on restoration of the Union rather than the destruction of slavery and the re-creation of Southern society. It didn’t matter how good a military scientist a general was, all they cared about was one who was pledged to destroy slavery and meet the rebels head on in battle.

They hated McClellan, and seeing McClellan through their eyes I for the first time saw him as something other than a bumbling and cowardly fool, as he is often portrayed in other places. McClellan was a good general, maybe a great one, who recognized before many others that the minie ball and rifled musket had changed the tactics of battle and that the days of the infantry charge had come to an end. He was not willing to waste the lives of his men fighting the kind of war the radical Republicans wanted him to fight. They hated him for it, just as they loved Joe Hooker, who spoke out against slavery and took the offensive against Lee, and got routed when he lost his nerve, or Ambrose Burnside, who acted the same but kept his nerve long enough to lose two corps at the foot of Marye’s Heights.

These generals they liked, and conducted “investigations” to find scapegoats for the debacles they oversaw so that they could stay in power. They were a wholly partisan bunch who used the same situations as either an accusation or an excuse depending on what side of the political spectrum the general they interviewed fell on.

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