Archive - Jun 15, 2010
In preparation for a Civil War tour I am joining early next week, I am rereading James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, the best single-volume history of the war.
The hardship! Civilians starved. Soldiers starved. Hundreds of thousands died of disease, to add to the hundreds of thousands who died in battle.
The task of maintaining an army was incredible. Tens of thousands of horses required hay. Some of the animals eventually starved as well. It seemed that the only time soldiers of either side ate well was when they were in enemy territory and could plunder with impunity.
Anti-draft riots in New York killed 105. Lincoln decided against investigating if the city fathers provoked the riot, which they probably had.
Grant's clear vision is what eventually got him placed in the highest command. His military strategy on the field wasn't always the best, but he understood the political implications of the military movements. His friend Sherman did not, and did not care to.
Grant was also a gambler, willing to risk it all over and over. Lesser commanders lost nerve when the going got tough.
Every time I read Civil War history, I am impressed again with the difficulties faced by the generals. I can't imagine, given the false intelligence, the political pressures, the rivalries, the desertions, the letters from congressmen, the demands of the newspapers, the brutality on the field, how one would keep one's sanity.
Stonewall Jackson once took a nap during the middle of a battle. It was not the high point of his career, but it says something about his mettle.
I hope never to have a true understanding of war.