I just finished reading my hard cover copy of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and it was a far different experience than reading it on a computer or iPad screen while making edit after edit. The editing process was clinical and nothing like reading it in the flesh, it was to maybe misuse a term “sensual.” As I read it I found it hard to believe that when I started writing it, that it was just an introductory chapter to my Gettysburg Staff ride text regarding the role of religion and ideology to the men that fought the American Civil War.
Never in my wildest imagination did I expect that wildly aggrieved White Americans, following the lead of Donald Trump would have denied the results of a completely legitimate election, and assaulted Congress when it was in session to formally certify the results of the Electoral College. Nor did I then imagine that a former President and his followers would continue to deny election results long after he was out of office and the results were certified. Nor could I imagine at any former President would abscond with highly classified documents, not comply with subpoenas to return them and that the Justice Department and have to get a warrant to search his residence and retrieve them. Nor did I expect members of a political party supposedly committed to the “Rule of Law” to target FBI agents, other Federal Law Enforcement agencies and Judges for death because of a legal search.
Now my book is out and available for purchase at Amazon and will be available in bookstores on October 1st. But as I was thinking about what I had written and current events I began to ruminate on it I came up with this little essay.
Though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th overturned the “Dred Scott” decision to give Blacks citizenship, and the 15th granted Black men suffrage, the ghosts of racism and twin myths of the Noble South and Lost Cause still haunt our Nation and contribute to our current divide. Sadly, the curse of White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism, which were prominent in causing the Civil War, defeated Reconstruction, and restored White rule remain a clear and present danger today.
Unlike 1860, ours is not a sectional divide, but a nationwide racial, religious and political chasm. The changing racial and religious demographics of the country, the passage of laws that gave Blacks, other minorities, Women, and LGBTQ+ people civil and voting rights echoing Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of ever increasing liberty found in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” provide grist for grievance.
The growing tensions exploded after Barack Obama shattered the Color barrier of the presidency, provoking massive growth in violent, militarized White Supremacist and anti-Semitic groups, and the dramatic reemergence of the “Great Replacement“ conspiracy theory. Conservative Christians found more grievance when LGBTQ+ citizens gained equal rights including marriage. In Donald Trump, these aggravated groups found a man who catered to their grievances and perceived victimhood. Trump’s ideas redound today in the pronouncements of many Republican elected officials who subordinate themselves to Trump, including all of the 2016 presidential candidates, who he mocked, insulted, and belittled at every turn.
Trump and his propagandists play upon the same fears of “White Replacement” evoked by Southern leaders and Secession Commissioners. Historian Charles Dew portrayed Georgia Supreme Court Justice and Secession Commissioner Henry Benning’s apocalyptic vision of the outcome of a Northern invasion of the South; he told his audience, “We will be overpowered and our men compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and for our women, the horrors of their state cannot contemplate in imagination.” This then, was “the fate that Abolition will bring upon the white race. . . . We will be exterminated”.
Trump encourages violence. The politicians, pundits, and preachers who serve as his propagandists whip his followers into a frenzy of hatred reminiscent of the worst moments in our history. This is evidenced by mass murders at Black churches, supermarkets, Jewish synagogues and community centers, and what amount to be lynchings of Black men by Whites.
On June 1st 2020, Trump used a violent attack by Secret Service, Park Police, Washington Metropolitan Police, and Bureau of Prisons officers against peaceful citizens in Lafayette Park gathered to protest the murder of George Floyd, as cover for a photo-op with a Bible outside St. John’s Church. The next day he tweeted with pride about the “Overwhelming Force and Domination” used by police. The violence echoed police attacks on Civil Rights marchers in the 1960s.
Trump’s “Big Lie” of the “stolen” election and the assault on the Capitol echoed the violence of the Confederate response to Lincoln’s election. In 1861 Southern Slave States seceded from the Union, seized Federal facilities, mints, armories, and military bases, and opened fire on Fort Sumter, beginning the bloodiest war in American history.
Some of Trump’s followers call for violence and civil war following the FBI’s legal search of Trump’s Mar a Lago home. Instead of trying to calm them, Trump and acolytes like Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, and Republican office holders or candidates continue to incite violence against law enforcement.
Lincoln mistakenly believed that Southerners would come to their senses and calls for secession and civil war would lessen after the 1860 election. Only fools would believe that Trump and his followers will back down now, in light of the January 6th insurrection and the mounting number of criminal and civil investigations against Trump. Like Southerners in 1860 they feel cornered, and are lashing out against their best interests.
Religious intolerance fuels race hatred. Authoritarian leaders like Trump fuse religious and the politics of race in a ruthless drive for political power. History, including ours shows that the result of such fusion results in war, and crimes against humanity. The damage to the victims, perpetrators, and society is felt for generations.
Like the antebellum period, faith has emerged as a political weapon. “But,” wrote British historian and military theorist B. H. Liddell- Hart, “one should still be able to appreciate the point of view of those who fear the consequences. Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more.” The Confederacy’s ghosts still haunt us through White Supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and Donald Trump. We must learn the lessons, or see our democracy torn asunder from within, with blood flowing in our streets.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been amazingly busy and where I have been pretty much too exhausted to write, despite the plethora of patently palpitating potboilers regarding the perfidious behavior of the twice impeached former President and his pernicious and parasitic promoters following the excruciatingly proper search warrant and search of Trump’s porous pleasure palace of Mar a Lago, issued by profoundly proper Attorney General Merrick Garland and proficiently pulled off by by the FBI. (Yes I know this was an excruciatingly long sentence but I could not resist trying to use all of those words beginning with the letter “p” when so many synonyms were available. It is just one of my peculiar proclivities, see I couldn’t even perchance avoid it in my parenthetical note, but I digress.)
When all of this dropped almost a week and a half ago I was blown away, not because I didn’t think that Trump had made off with classified materials, or in my opinion had already either shared them with hostile foreign powers, or was planning to do so for perfidious profit, and not in the interest of patriotism, but perfidy, or as better known as profit and treason.
The really fascinating but terrifying thing to watch was the mass hysteria that the legal and properly carried out search evoked among the Trump Cult, from the highest elected officials, the pernicious low life’s of the Trump propaganda machine, and his cult of hard core “true believer” followers for whom truth is less important than remaining faithful to the Big Lie, and the Bigger Liar.
My morbid fascination with the onslaught of profoundly disprovable propaganda put out by Trump’s Army of pundits, politicians, and preachers from Monday until Garland dropped the bomb requesting the Judge to unseal the search warrant and inventory of what was recovered was surreal. The demands went to protests, and the protests to terrorism directed at the FBI, including the release of the names and personal data of the agents and the Judge involved in the search warrant and its execution. In one case a former January 6th participant attempted a failed attack on the FBI’s Cincinnati Field office, after which he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement.
Since then, most of Trump’s cult has upped the ante, demanding the release of the Affidavit to the Warrant which the Justice Department is wisely resisting because of the sensitivity of the documents to the investigation. What we have here is a clear cut case of obstruction of Justice, mishandling of government documents, including Classified, Secret, Top Secret, and Top Secret SCI (Special Compartmentalized Information) none of which are to be removed from where they are stored or viewed in SCIFs unless to be briefed in similar secure facilities, of which Mar a Lago is not. Likewise, the need for a former President to require access to such information is not his, but of the current President, should the current President believe that a former President be able to help in a given situation might grant access. But such is not the case when a former President absconds with 11 sets of classified materials, as well as cases of numerous other official government documents, and then lies after being subpoenaed by the National Records Office of the National Archives and the Justice Department for them for over a year.
Trump was given so much latitude in returning the documents without penalty before the warrant was issued it makes one’s mind spin. If it were you or me, you bet your ass that we would be in jail, possibly without parole until trial. But Trump and his cavalcade of incompetent lawyers and cult like followers, whether elected officials or complete private citizen morons, would rather lie, obfuscate and possibly aid Trump in actions that while illegal, might also constitute treason of the former President shared them with any foreign leaders or agents. While serving as President, Trump was notorious for his complete disregard of classified materials and their potential impacts on national security, a fact attested to by two of his National Security Advisors, two Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a former Director of National Intelligence, and many others involved in his administration. Then there is the almost ejaculatory defense of Trump by Russian propagandists, and their transition to mourning that he is no longer an assest after the warrant and search. Dare call Trump’s actions treason. I do. There is much more to this story. There are multiple Federal and State criminal and civil cases moving through the court, and also the House Committee investigating the January 6th attack on Congress, an event orchestrated and encouraged by Trump in order to defy the results of a legal election to maintain his personal power.
There is much still to be added, but none of it will be good for either Trump or our national and the principals and laws it was founded upon.
As for me I will not give up the fight against totalitarianism, treason, and theocratic fascism. To quote the Christian German General Henning von Tresckow who gave up his life in the attempt to kill Hitler:
“A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give up his life in defense of his convictions.”
As my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion and the Politics of Race in the Civil War Era and Beyond”, states: I am a historian, retired career military officer, and priest. As a historian I believe the truth, even when uncomfortable or damning, should be told. I take as inspiration a statement by Sir Patrick Stewart, in his role as Captain Jean Luc Picard, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The First Duty.” In the story Picard tells Cadet Wesley Crusher, “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based.”
I spent 37 years as an officer in the US Army and Navy. I fully agree with Captain Picard, charge me with living in the past, present, and future, but my duty, and anyone commissioned or appointed by his or her government must be committed to the truth and upholding the law, former Presidents, current politicians, pundits, and preachers be damned. Truth matters. The distinguished history professor Timothy Snyder wrote, “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”Truth matters, but it is human nature to take solace in myths and believe they are true. However, many myths are deadly. The deadliest include American Slavery’s “positive good,” the “Noble South,” the “Lost Cause,” the evils of Reconstruction, the good of Jim Crow, and the nonexistence of institutional racism in the United States. These are lies so big and toxic that one has to call them whoppers.
With that I am done for the night. Wednesday will be busy. Be safe, take care and enjoy life all,that you can.
Pardon the delay in the publication of this article. I started it the day after the hearing and didn’t finish it because I was tired. The next night I went to dinner and Top Gun, Maverick. Then for the next few days between work around the house, catching, doing some work with publicity for the book, catching up on some reading, watching some movies and documentaries about the Civil Rights Movement as I ponder my next book, in light of current reverses to civil, voting, reproductive, and religious rights by Christian Nationalists and their militant supermajority on the Supreme Court. I need to get with my agent soon for his advice in regard to the five other books I in some stage of development.
I will be making a trip to Washington, DC tomorrow to see DC United play my all time favorite team, Bayern Munich. Thursday I will visit the National Museum of African American History, then have some dinner before heading back to my hotel to watch the live hearings on Thursday Night. Friday I will visit some of the preserved Civil War fortifications around DC, and spend the night in Annapolis and return home Saturday. I will be my first trip to see and do things I want to do since the beginning of COVID. So without further delay the long delayed article.
On December 14th, 2020 the Electoral College cast its ballots and elected Joe Biden as President Elect. Between November 4th and that day President Trump’s legal team had filed 61 challenges in State and Federal Courts, filing 61 lawsuits, losing 60 outright and winning a portion of another that had no bearing on that court’s final decision.
Likewise, Trump personally attempted to pressure Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger to find over 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column and disenfranchise Georgia voters. Raffensberger refused and testified as to that fact before the committee.
White House advisors and cabinet members told Trump that he lost and needed to concede. He did not, even as then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recognized the legitimacy of the election. However, Trump would not do so and turned to allies outside the administration willing to do anything, especially illegal, to keep him in power.
The situation came to a head on the evening and night of December 18th when in a surprise visit by Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne obtained access to the President when a junior White House aid admitted to the White House without higher authorization. That is hard to get. I know, because in 2009 a friend of mine from Iraq, who was then Chief of Staff to the National Security Advisor, got Judy and me a private tour of the West Wing, not even to meet the President. The amount of background checks and security required was incredible. One does not get to casually drop in to the Oval Office unless something is seriously awry. Thus when the clown car of clueless, criminally minded, conspiracy theorists pitched a draft executive order for the President to order the Department of Defense to use the military to seize voting machines, and to appoint Sidney Powell as a ”Special Counsel” with full security clearance to do the job of ensuring Trump remained President despite having lost the election and having every lawsuit to overturn the election defeated, often dismissed by Trump appointed Federal judges.
At this point Cassidy Hutchinson, realizing that there were no adults in the room notified Pat Cipollone, and Mark Meadows. Cipollone was the first to arrive followed shortly by Meadows and senior advisor Eric Hirschmann. There was a heated argument which included much profanity and threats, with Hirschmann telling Flynn to ”sit his ass down.” Cipollone demanded their evidence which they failed to supply. There was much profanity, threats of fist fights and violence before the meeting finally ended, with Meadows escorting Giuliani off the White House Grounds. Trump, now realizing that there was no legal way to overturn the election, and the the clown car had no way to keep him in office, decided to use the mob of his supporters to do that very thing. Barely two hours later, Trump sent out a tweet for his supporters to come to Washington on January 6th because it ”would be wild.”
Almost immediately right wing activists, militia groups, and provocateurs, began calling for violence and revolt to keep Trump in power. One used an image from Game of Thrones to call for a ”Red Wedding”, a reference to the murder of people coming to what they thought was a wedding but in which they were massacred. Others, talked of a ”rope day” which is a reference to bringing ropes to hang Trump’s enemies, which included the gallows that was set up hang Mike Pence. Many provocateurs including Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, and many others spread the call of Trump to overthrow the election, start a revolution and kill their opponents.
The violence incited by Trump’s YouTube, Instagram, and other social media propagandists became so vile, violent, and profane and murderous that it makes any person with a modicum of decency, a moral center, and respect for our laws and our system of government sick and frightened for our future as a democracy.
During the following two weeks leading up to 6 January there were meetings, a ”war room” was set up in the Trump Hotel where Trump’s cabal of coup planners made their contacts and gathering their shock troops that led the assault on the Capitol. These included the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. Members of these group brought military grade weapons, including AR-15 type rifles, grenades, body armor, kevlar helmets, bear spay, stocks of ammunition, and a 30 day supply of food. They were primed for battle, and as the day grew closer and it became clear that Vice President Pence would most likely fulfill his duties to certify the Electoral College vote and formally declare Joe Biden as President, Pence became one of their targets for death.
The night before the assault on the Capitol and Trump’s own rally on the Ellipse, a large rally was held within hearing distance of the Oval Office, complete with Sidney Powell, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Alex Jones, Proud Boys and other miscreants urging the crowd to fight like hell for Trump the next day. The language was that of a pre-combat pep talk. It was incendiary and promoted violence against anyone who opposed Trump or supported Biden, continuing to promote the big lie of the stolen election. According to testimony Trump had the doors of the Oval Office in order to take it in and enjoy it.
That same evening two pipe bombs were left near the offices of the Democratic and Republican parties near Congress. The person who left them has never been identified or arrested.
I will return to 6 January after I come back. between then and now I will post about my travels.
The past couple of weeks have been somewhat surreal. The continued revelations of former President Trump and his allies to attempt a coup to keep him in power, the decision of the Trump appointed majority on the Supreme Court to destroy the Establishment Clause in two cases, and to overturn Roe v. Wade by using poor history and case law to destroy any legal precedent regarding the Fourteenth Amendment after when it was ratified in 1868, when women had few rights to property, civil rights, rights to their medical treatment and the right to vote, the last which was enshrined in the 19th Amendment, 51 years after the 14th Amendment. While Roe v. Wade gave women some choice regarding their reproductive rights, and control of their bodies, the Equal Rights Amendement was never ratified, leaving women with far fewer Constitutionally protected rights than men.
That being said, I thought that rewriting an article from our last visit to Munich in 2018 worked very well considering the most recent actions of the court and Republican state legislatures to crush the civil rights of women ad blacks, uphold the rights of people to arm themselves to the teethe with military grade weaponry with few safeguards as to how they can be purchased. The understanding of settled law and precedent has been demolished such that no protections after 1868 can be safeguarded, based on the perverted legal doctrine of ”Originalism,” which is much like the various Christian Fundamentalist doctrine of BiblicalInerrancy, which though unprovable tries to deduce the meanings of the writers, without the tools of hermeneutics, historiography, or the Christian tradition and reason. The doctrine of originalism depends on interpreting the Constitution as if the Founders intended it to be enshrined as scripture rather than a compromised document that most felt at the time would need to be changed.
Now I am 62 years old. Many people of my generation and my parents generation elected these madmen. Those who will save us from tyranny have to be young people of ideals, integrity, and who believe in the founding principle of the Declaration of Independence, enhanced by the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, who also believe in the protections of the Constitution.
So I leave you with this for tonight. Please, read it and share it.
On one of our trips to Munich we had breakfast and then since Judy’s knees were not up to a lot of long walks or standing took our rental car out to see a couple of places that we had not visited. We went to the grave of the anti-Nazi martyr Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and friend Christoph Probst who were executed in February 1943 for publishing anti-Hitler, Nazi, and war pamphlets. Following that we went to the BMW Museum and BMW World. The first was sobering, the second interesting because I like fast cars, but the visit to the cemetery was far more important.
I won’t write about the BMW Museum, that is something for true automotive enthusiasts. Instead I will write about that visit to the Friedhof at Perlacher Forst in Munich where Sophie Scholl is buried.
The cemetery is adjacent to the Stadelheim Prison where she was held before her trial and executed on February 22nd 1943. I have written about her and the White Rose resistance movement before. The year before I visited the White Rose Museum and study center at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich but last year I didn’t get the chance to make a pilgrimage to her gravesite. I made it a priority this visit.
Visiting a memorial or museum is one thing. However, I find that visiting the gravesite of a martyr, or the mass gravesites of the victims of the Holocaust, other mass killings, or cemeteries where those killed in battle, engenders something of a personal or spiritual connection.
We parked on the street outside Stadelheim, which is still an active prison surrounded by tall walls and guard towers. While Judy waited with the car I walked to the cemetery and then to the gravesite which is on the opposite side of the cemetery from the main entrance. It is a very peaceful place, with many trees and the sections cordoned off by carefully trimmed grapevines.
When I reached the gravesite I paused, and remained for about ten minutes contemplating the cost of real resistance to tyranny. She and her companions had no political, military, or economic power. They were students, and a number had served as medics on the Eastern Front before resuming their studies.
Unlike the men who launched Operation Valkyrie 17 months later they had no connections to any kind of power: they were not part of the movement of German conservatives and militarists who initially supported Hitler and then had second thoughts. When Hitler came to power they were children. They resisted because they found what was happening to go beyond any sense of ethics, morality, or in some cases, like Sophie, their Christian faith.
At her trial she told the notorious President of the Nazi People’s Court, Roland Freisler:
Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.
While I was their I tried to imagine her courage as she testified to the truth and went to her death. The woman who shared Sophie’s cell wrote of her final words before going to her execution:
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?
Many people today are being faced with the same questions that Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and friends, including Christoph Probst who was executed the same day had to make. Thankfully, for the most part the future imitators of Hitler have not yet seized full power in Europe or the United States, but it wouldn’t take much for that to happen. Too many people, and not just conservatives, would be willing to sacrifice freedom in the name of security if a major war, terrorist attack, or natural disaster that threatened their well being and/or their economic or social status occurred. Likewise, we Americans have a pretty lousy history in dealing with suspect minorities and dissenters in times of crisis.
In such a situation, how many people would allow their government to oppress and terrorize people that they distrusted due to their race, ethnicity, or religion? I think that the numbers are a lot higher than we would want to admit. The preservation or self and wealth is often more of a motivation than faith, or the rights and liberties of others.
During the Nazi era many non-Nazis supported the Nazi programs because they thought that they benefited them. The same is true in any authoritarian State regardless of the ideology that it subscribes and its people hold dear.
The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.
An addendum for tonight,
My question to you, and me is hers. If you think you are “safe,” you are only kidding yourself, no matter what your political or religious belief may be. Men like Trump or Boris Johnson, Orban of Hungary, Erdogan or Turkey, Bolsonaro Of Brazil, Marcos of the Philippines, Putin of Russia, or Kim Jun Un of North Korea have no real friends or allies. Their supporters, even the most loyal, are like those of Hitler and Stalin only are safe until they realize their mistaken trust in their leader.
As I write this more and more creditable and documented forensic evidence emerges during the various investigations into the crimes of former President Trump and his militant followers who attacked the Capitol Building on 6 January 2021 with the intent to stop the final ceremonial counting of the Electoral College Vote, even threatening to hang Vice President Mike Pence and murder many members of Congress.
It’s up to you young people. I’ll fight as long as I can, as will other older veterans and resisters. But the long term fight belongs to you. What way will you choose to burn?
I have grown weary of domestic terrorists murdering and maiming innocent people. Most of them are young angry white men, who often target their victims based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or religion. Their preferred victims seem to children and the elderly. There are few places in our country that can be considered safe. I have dealt with PTSD and its aftereffects for over a decade. I have lost count of the hundreds of people I have seen die, many due to gun violence. If you have never stood over the bodies of those whose bodies are destroyed, literally torn apart by high velocity semiautomatic rifles and handguns, then this is simply an exercise in political rhetoric. When I saw the picture above with the police officer crying his hands as he walked through the carnage.
When I saw what was happening in Highland Park, I could not wish anyone a happy Independence Day. I say that because there are a significant number of our citizens and elected leaders, especially those of the Trumpified and QAnon GOP. They have private heavily armed so called militias like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, which function as did the Nazi Brownshirts who go around, even after their major role in attacking the Capitol and trying to force a coup to overthrow the government and invalidate an election that Trump lost decisively in both the Electoral College and the popular vote, still use intimidation tactics to target LGBTQ gatherings and even readings to children in public libraries.
I recognized that Highland Park terrorism was likely directed at Jews, first because Highland Park has a large Jewish population, second because I saw one of the terrorist’s bloody videos before they were taken down. The video was flooded with a Welsh rope Rune used as a symbol of right wing Finnish group, with Nazi leanings, known as Suomen Sisu.
It is indeed a time to mourn, but to get angry and to whatever is needed in the courts, in our legislatures, and in taking to the streets to demand that our local state and federal representatives take action to restore what the founders meant in the Second Amendment which the Roberts Court in an opinion written by the late Antonin Scalia which turned the amendment on its head in 2008.
We also need to be ready take up arms against these terrorist groups. Lest anyone be confused, these efforts have to be defensive in nature, not threaten any public official, but limited to working within the laws of our states and working with law enforcement to ensure that peaceful protestors, or the people to assemble.
However, I have to pause for the night. I have a long day tomorrow, and there is much more to say. But I will conclude with the words of the German general Henning von Tresckow who gave up his life to overthrow Hitler, “A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give up his life in defense of his convictions.”
I decided to take this weekend to take some parts of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text to debunk the mythology of the Lost cause that presented Robert E. Lee as one of the greatest, if not the greatest General in American history. I am not the first or the last to do this. Like many people of my generation, almost everything I read about Lee was what a great General and American he was. There was little mention of his active support of slavery, or his sedition and treason against the United States. But that is another story. Tonight we deal with Lee’s incompetence at the tactical and operational levels of war at Gettysburg, his willful ignorance of his own position and what was facing him a little over a mile way.
At the same time it juxtaposes Lee’s hubris with the often underrated and dismissed opposing commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Meade. Lee’s actions are described in the first section, while Meade’s which in an edited form are a vignette in Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process. Unlike Lee, Meade listened to his staff and sought the counsel of his subordinate commanders. Likewise, where Lee never left his headquarters on Seminary Ridge, observing the battle from a distance on 2 July, Meade was in the thick of the action at numerous threatened throughout the battle. Thus, unlike Lee who knew nothing of the real situation on the battlefield and the condition of his Army, and did not want to know it, Meade knew the situation and then that night sought the counsel of his Corps Commanders and Staff.
This is an important point to note when evaluating the Generalship of Robert E. Lee. In every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor where he was on the defensive and his army well dug in, he always lost a higher percentage of his troops engaged than his Union counterparts, even when he won. If an Army commander knows that he cannot match the overwhelming numerical and firepower advantage of his opponent he has to do everything that he can to husband his soldiers and not to waste their lives in battles that even if won, would not materially alter the course of the war is either incompetent, negligent, or so arrogant in regards to their abilities, that they cannot be regarded as great commanders. To do so is to propagate a murderous myth.
Part One: Lee
As night fell on July 2nd 1863 General Robert E Lee had already made his decision. Despite the setbacks of the day he was determined to strike the Army of the Potomac yet again. He did not view the events as setback, and though he lacked clarity of how badly many of his units were mauled Lee took no external counsel, to make his decision, his mind was made up and he neither wanted advice or counsel. By now his subordinate commander’s opinions were irrelevant, and to that end on every day of the Battle of Gettysburg he refused any counsel that did not agree with his vision, which had become myopic and disconnected from the reality faced by his rebellious nation and the Army that he led. After two full days of combat in which his forces failed to break the Union defenses, in which The Army of the Potomac’s commanders out-generaled Lee’s commanders time and time again, and every division he threw at the Union defenses suffered 40% casualties on the first two days, including one division commander mortally wounded and three others wounded. Likewise, numerous brigade and regimental commanders had been killed or wounded.
With the exception of A.P. Hill who came and submitted a report to him at dusk on July 2nd, Lee neither required his other two corps commanders, James Longstreet or Richard Ewell to consult with him, nor took any action to visit them. Lee now lived in a bubble, and his very small staff were nothing more than cyphers, there to transmit orders, not to assist in the planning or coordination of his operations.
Despite the massive casualties and being repulsed all along the line, Lee did “not feel that his troops had been defeated”and he felt that “the failure on the second day had been due to a lack of coordination.”1
In his official report of the battle he wrote:
“The result of this day’s operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render to the assaulting columns, that we should succeed, and it was ultimately determined to continue the attack…” 2
While Lee’s charge of a “lack of coordination”of the attacks can certainly be substantiated, the fact of the matter was that if there was anyone to blame for his lack of coordination it was him, and even Lee’s most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2d “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” 3 Likewise, Lee’s decision to attack on July 3rd, having not taken counsel of his commanders or assessed the battle-worthiness of the units that he was planning to use his final assault on the Union center was “utterly divorced from reality.” 4 His plan was essentially unchanged from the previous day. Longstreet’s now battered divisions were to renew their assault on the Federal left in coordination with Pickett and two of Hill’s divisions.
In light of Lee’s belief that “a lack of coordination”was responsible for the failures of July 2nd it would have been prudent for him to ensure such coordination happened on the night of July 2nd. “Lee would have done well to have called out his three lieutenants to confer with them and spell out exactly what he wanted. That was not the way he did things however…” 5
Lee knew about the heavy losses among his key leaders but “evidently very little was conveyed to him regarding the condition of the units engaged this day.” 6 This certainly had to be because during the day his only view of the battlefield was from Seminary Ridge through binoculars and because he did not get first hand reports from the commanders involved. Lee was undeterred and according to some who saw Lee that night he seemed confident noting that when Hill reported he shook his and said “It is well, General,…Everything is well.” 7
It was not an opinion that Lee’s subordinates shared. Ewell and his subordinates were told to renew their attack on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill on the night of July 2nd, but “he and his generals believed more than ever that a daylight assault against the ranked guns on Cemetery Hill would be suicidal-Harry Hays said that such an attack would invite “nothing more than slaughter…” 8
James Longstreet was now more settled in his opposition to another such frontal attack and shortly after dawn when Lee visited him to deliver the order to attack again argued for a flanking movement around the Federal left. Lee’s order was for Longstreet to “attack again the next morning” according to the “general plan of July 2nd.” 9 Longstreet had not wanted to attack the previous day and when Lee came to him Longstreet again attempted to persuade Lee of his desire to turn the Federal flank. “General, I have had my scouts out all night, and I find that you still have an excellent opportunity to move around to the right of Meade’s army and maneuver him into attacking us.” 10
Lee would have nothing of it. He looked at his “Old Warhorse” and as he had done the previous day insisted: “The enemy is there,” he said, pointing northeast as he spoke, “and I am going to strike him.” 11 Longstreet’s gloom deepened and he wrote that he felt “it was my duty to express my convictions.” He bluntly told Lee:
“General, I have been a soldier all of my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.” 12
But Lee was determined to force his will on both his subordinates and the battle. Lee was convinced that the plan could succeed while Longstreet “was certain” that the plan “was misguided and doomed to fail.” 13 Longstreet, now realized that further arguments were in vain recalled that Lee “was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to proceed.” 14
Even a consultation with Brigadier General William Wofford whose brigade had help crush Sickle’s III Corps at the Peach Orchard and had nearly gotten to the crest of Cemetery Ridge could not alter Lee’s plan. Wofford had to break off his attack on July 2nd when he realized that there were no units to support him. Lee asked if Wofford could “go there again”to which Wofford replied “No, General I think not.” Lee asked “why not” and Wofford explained: “General, the enemy have had all night to intrench and reinforce. I had been pursuing a broken enemy, and now the situation is very different.” 15
The attack would go forward despite Longstreet’s objections and the often unspoken concerns of others who had the ear of Lee, or who would carry out the attack. Walter Taylor of Lee’s staff wrote to his sister a few days after the attack the “position was impregnable to any such force as ours”while Pickett’s brigadier Richard Garnett remarked “this is a desperate thing to attempt”and Lewis Armistead said “the slaughter will be terrible.” 16
Pickett’s fresh division would lead the attack supported by Johnston Pettigrew commanding the wounded Harry Heth’s division of Hill’s Third Corps and Isaac Trimble commanding two brigades of Pender’s division, Trimble having been given command just minutes prior to the artillery bombardment. 17 On the command side few of the commanders had commanded alongside each other before July 3rd. Trimble had just recovered from wounds had never been with his men. Pettigrew had been given command when Pender was wounded was still new and relatively untested, and Pickett’s three brigadiers and their brigades had never fought together. Two of the divisions had never served under Longstreet. From a command perspective where relationships and trust count as much as strength and numbers the situation was nearly as bad is it could be. Although the Confederates massed close to 170 cannon on Seminary Ridge to support the attack ammunition was in short supply and the Lieutenant Colonel Porter Alexander who had been tasked with coordinating fires only controlled the guns of First Corps.
The assaulting troops would attack with their right flank exposed to deadly enfilade fire from Federal artillery and with the left flank unsupported and exposed to such fires from Union artillery on Cemetery Hill. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Longstreet noted “Never was I so depressed as on that day…” 18
Part Two: Meade
While Lee took no counsel and determined to attack on the night of July 2nd little more than two miles away Major General George Meade took no chances. After sending a message to Henry Halleck at 8 PM Meade called his generals together. Unlike Lee who had observed the battle from a distance Meade had been everywhere on the battlefield during the day and had a good idea what his army had suffered and the damage that he had inflicted on the Army of Northern Virginia. Likewise during the day he had been with the majority of his commanders as opposed to Lee who after issuing orders that morning had remained unengaged, as was noted by the British observer Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle who wrote that during the “whole time the firing continued, he sent only one message, and only received one report.” 19
Meade wired Halleck that evening: “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” 20 However Meade, realizing that caution was not a vice still needed to better assess the condition of his army, hear his commanders and hear from his intelligence service, ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” 21
As Meade waited for his commanders his caution was apparent. Before the attack on Sickles’ III Corps at the Peach Orchard Meade had asked his Chief of Staff Brigadier General Dan Butterfield to “draw up a contingency plan for withdraw to Pipe Creek.” After the attack on Sickles Alfred Pleasanton said that Meade ordered him to “gather what cavalry I could, and prepare for the retreat of the army.” 22 Some of his commanders who heard of the contingency plan including John Gibbon and John Sedgwick believed that Meade was “thinking of a retreat.” 23. Despite Meade’s flat assurances to Halleck his army’s position had been threatened on both flanks, though both were now solidly held, but some of his subordinates believed, maybe through the transference of their own doubts, that Meade “foresaw disaster, and not without cause.” 24
In assessing Meade’s conduct it has to be concluded that while he had determined to remain, that he was smart enough to plan of the worst and to consult his commanders and staff in making his decision. Meade wrote to his wife that evening “for at one time things looked a little blue,…but I managed to get up reinforcements in time to save the day….The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.” 25
Meade called Colonel George Sharpe from the Bureau of Military Information to meet with him, Hancock and Slocum at the cottage on the Taneytown Road where he made his headquarters. Sharpe and his aide explained the enemy situation. Sharpe noted “nearly 100 Confederate regiments in action Wednesday and Thursday” and that “not one of those regiments belonged to Pickett.” He then reported with confidence that indicated that “Pickett’s division has just come up and is bivouac.” 26
It was the assurance that Meade needed as his commanders came together. When Sharpe concluded his report Hancock exclaimed “General, we have got them nicked.” 27
About 9 P.M. the generals gathered. Present were Meade, and two of his major staff officers Warren just back from Little Round Top, wounded and tired, and Butterfield his Chief of Staff. Hancock action as a Wing Commander was there with Gibbon now commanding II Corps, Slocum of XII Corps with Williams. John Newton a division commander from VI Corps who had just arrived on the battlefield now commanding I Corps was present along with Oliver Howard of XI Corps, John Sedgwick of VI Corps, George Sykes of V Corps and David Birney, now commanding what was left of the wounded Dan Sickles’ III Corps. Pleasanton was off with the cavalry and Hunt attending to the artillery.
The meeting began and John Gibbon noted that it “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation….” 28 The condition of the army was discussed and it was believed that now only about 58,000 troops were available to fight. Birney honestly described the condition of III Corps noting that “his corps was badly chewed up, and that he doubted that it was fit for much more.” 29 Newton who had just arrived was quoted by Gibbon as saying that Gettysburg was “a bad position”and that “Cemetery Hill was no place to fight a battle in.” 20 The remarks sparked a serious discussion with Meade asking the assembled generals “whether our army should remain on that field and continue the battle, or whether we should change to some other position.” 31
The reactions to the question showed that the army commanders still had plenty of fight in the. Meade listened as his generals discussed the matter. Hancock said he was “puzzled about the practicability of retiring.” 32 Newton later noted that he made his observations about the battlefield based on his belief that that Lee might turn the Federal left and impose his army between it and its supplies, as Longstreet However Newton and the other commanders agreed that pulling back “would be a highly dangerous maneuver to attempt in the immediate presence of the enemy.” 33
Finally Butterfield, no friend of Meade and one of the McClellan and Hooker political cabal who Meade had retained when he took command posed three questions to the assembled generals:
“Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?
It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?
If we wait attack, how long?” 34
Gibbon as the junior officer present said “Correct the position of the army…but do not retreat.”Williams counseled “stay,” as did Birney and Sykes, and Newton, who after briefly arguing the dangers finally agreed. Oliver Howard not only recommended remaining but “even urged an attack if the Confederates stayed their hand.” Hancock who earlier voiced his opinion to Meade that “we have them nicked” added “with a touch of anger, “Let us have no more retreats. The Army of the Potomac has had too many retreats….Let this be our last retreat.” Sedgwick of VI Corps voted “remain” and finally Slocum uttered just three words “stay and fight.” 35
None of Meade’s assembled commanders counseled an immediate attack; all recommended remaining at least another day. When the discussion concluded Meade told his generals “Well gentlemen…the question is settled. We remain here.”36
Some present believed that Meade was looking for a way to retreat to a stronger position, that he had been rattled by the events of the day. Slocum believed that “but for the decision of his corps commanders” that Meade and the Army of the Potomac “would have been in full retreat…on the third of July.” 37 Meade would deny such accusations before Congressional committees the following year as Radical Republicans in Congress sought to have him relieved for political reasons.
Much of the criticism of his command decisions during the battle were made by political partisans associated with the military cabal of Hooker, Butterfield and Sickles as well as Radical Republicans who believed that Meade was a Copperhead. Both Butterfield and Birney accused Meade before the committee of wanting to retreat and “put the worst possible interpretation on Meade’s assumed lack of self-confidence without offering any real evidence to substantiate it.”Edwin Coddington notes “that Meade, other than contemplating a slight withdraw to straighten his lines, wanted no retreat from Gettysburg.” 38
Alpheus Williams of XII Corps, wrote to his daughters on July 6th regarding his beliefs about Meade on the night of July 2nd. “I heard no expression from him which led me to think that he was in favor of withdrawing the army from before Gettysburg.” 39 Likewise the message sent by Meade to Halleck indicates Meade’s own confidence in the upcoming battle of July 3rd. If Meade had some reservations during the day, as he mentioned in the letter to his wife they certainly were gone by the time he received the intelligence report from Sharpe and heard Hancock’s bold assertion that the enemy was “nicked.”
As the meeting broke up after shortly after midnight and the generals returned to their commands Meade pulled Gibbon aside. Gibbon with II Corps had the Federal center on Cemetery Ridge. Meade told him “If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be in your front.” Gibbon queried as to why Meade thought this and Meade continued “Because he has made attacks on both our flanks and failed,…and if he concludes to try it again it will be on our center.” Gibbon wrote years later “I expressed the hope that he would, and told General Meade with confidence, that if he did we would defeat him.” 40
If some of his generals and political opponents believed Meade to be a defeatist, that defeatism was not present in his private correspondence. He wrote to his wife early in the morning of July 3rd displaying a private confidence that speaks volumes: “Dearest love, All well and going on well in the Army. We had a great fight yesterday, the enemy attacking & we completely repulsing them- both armies shattered….Army in fine spirits & every one determined to do or die.” 41
The contrast between Lee’s and Meade’s decision making process is Meade did what Lee should have done, he had been active on the battlefield, he consulted his intelligence service and he consulted his commanders on the options available to him. Lee remained away from the action on July 2nd he failed to consult his commanders. He failed to gain accurate intelligence on the Federal forces facing him and he failed to fully take into account his losses. Meade better demonstrated the principles of what we now call “mission command.”
1 Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.558
2 Lee, Robert E, Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern Virginia Campaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 594 of 743
3 Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150
4 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 p.349
5 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 p.455
6 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.4117 Ibid p.412
8 Ibid. p.347
9 Ibid. p.430
10 Wert, Jeffry General James Longstreet, the Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier A Tuchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York 1993 p.283
11 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.529 12 Ibid. Wert p.283
13 Ibid. Sears p.349
14 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.377
15 Ibid. Foote p.531
16 Ibid. Wert p.287
17 Ibid. Freeman p.589
18 Ibid. Wert p.290
19 Fremantle, Arthur Three Months in the Southern States, April- June 1863 William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London 1863 Amazon Kindle edition p.266
20 Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.341-342
21 Ibid. p.342
22 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.355
24 Foote, Shelby The Civil War, A Narrative, Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.524
25 Trudeau, Noah Andre Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage Harper Collins, New York 2002 p.413
26 Ibid. Sears p.342
27 Ibid. Trudeau p.413
28 Ibid. Sears p.342
29 Ibid. Trudeau p.415
30 Ibid. Guelzo p.556
31 Ibid. Guelzo p.556
32 Ibid. Sears p.343
33 Ibid. Sears p.343
34 Ibid. Trudeau p.415
35 Ibid. Guelzo p.556
36 Ibid. Foote p.525
37 Ibid. Guelzo
38 Coddinton, Edwin Gettysburg, A Study in Command Simon and Schuster New York 1968 pp.451-452
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Last night I posted an article about Robert E. Lee’s inability to understand the connection between national strategy and operational level command in regard to engaging in offensive operations that did nothing to help his rebellion. In fact his opposition to sending large forces to defeat Grant and relieve Vicksburg, combined with the incompetence he displayed during the Gettysburg Campaign ensured the defeat of the Confederacy, for which I am grateful, despite my ancestors fighting for the Confederacy and against the Union for their land and human property.
This article, like last night’s article demonstrates Lee’s unfitness as a senior commander, who despite serving as the Commandant of West Point and student of Henri Jomini’s understanding of Napoleon, whose two major offensive operations into Union territory ended in failure and the irreplaceable loss of soldiers in 1862 at Antietam and 1863 at Gettysburg. Lee’s strategic incompetence allowed the Confederacy to be cut in half, lose control of the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, and the conquest of most of Tennessee, putting Union Armies under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on the frontier of Georgia with Atlanta dangling as a prize.
Lee’s hubris in the Gettysburg Campaign showed the limitations of a man who despite every opportunity never grasped the consequences of treason and sedition. Nor a man who,fully appreciated, until it was too late the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic aspects of modern war. Lee was still fighting Napoleonic warfare, without the benefit of Clausewitz and the Enlightenment. Likewise, he made decisions about who would command his Corps, and Divisions based on expediency and a preference for Virginians, regardless of better choices. That is where our story begins.
Discretionary orders are important to the success of commanders who desire that their subordinates have the necessary freedom to exploit opportunities within the broader operational context. They are a key element of what we now define as Mission Command and thus expressed clearly in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding. In this chapter we will look at how Lee conducted war and how his decision process and communications, particularly the use of discretionary orders influenced the outcome of the battle and how important the issuance of clear orders is to a successful campaign.
To be effective such orders need to be clear and concise and they must be employed in a manner that are within the capabilities of one’s subordinate commanders to both understand them and carry them out. Thus a commander must always be ready to adjust his method when his command goes through a major turnover of personnel. After the loss of Thomas ”Stonewall”Jackson at Chancellorsville and the subsequent reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee continued to operate as if nothing had changed, despite his own recognition that the army suffered from a want of qualified senior officers.
Robert E. Lee habitually issued discretionary orders with varying degrees of effectiveness. With Jackson, a man of ruthless battlefield instincts, Lee was able to do this, even when Lee’s intent was less than clear and even with Jackson such orders occasionally went awry as was the case during the Seven Days. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor noted that Jackson “took the suggestion of General Lee into immediate consideration, and proceeded to carry it into effect.” This was not to be the case with those that followed Jackson, something that Lee failed to adjust to that would doom his army at Gettysburg.
Part of this is attributable to Lee’s distaste for administrative routine. Taylor noted how Lee’s “correspondence…was constantly a source of worry to him. He did not enjoy writing; indeed he wrote with labor, and nothing seemed to tax his amiability as the necessity for writing a lengthy official communication.” But more importantly in the matter of communicating orders and following up, much of the issue came down to Lee’s near fatalistic understanding of faith and life in regard to the providence of God. For Lee victory and defeat came down to God’s will, as he wrote his wife after his ill-fated 1861 campaign in western Virginia “But the Ruler of the Universe willed otherwise and sent a storm to discontent a well laid plan and to destroy my hopes.”  But for Lee, the concept of “duty” became a secular manifestation of his religion.” 
J. F. C. Fuller attributes much of the manner in how Lee conducted battle to this sense of duty as well as belief in providence. Fuller notes that it “controlled the whole of his generalship.” Lee explained his concept of command to the Prussian observer, Captain Justus Scheibert:
“You must know our circumstances, and see in battle that my leading would do more harm than good. It would be a bad thing if I could not then rely on my brigade and divisional commanders. I plan and work with all my might to bring my troops to the right place at the right time; with that I have done my duty. As soon as I order the troops forward into battle, I lay the fate of my army in the hands of God.” 
That firm belief in providence and the hand of God was evident in Lee’s comments to Major General Isaac Trimble as the army advanced into Pennsylvania. “We have again outmaneuvered the enemy, who even now does not know where we are or what our designs are. Our whole army will be in Pennsylvania day after tomorrow, leaving the enemy far behind and obliged to follow by forced marches. I hope with these advantages to accomplish some single result and to end the war, if Providence favors us.”  Lee’s belief in Divine providence was little different than every religious fundamentalist who believed that faith would result in victory without reason.
Fuller is one of the harshest critics of Lee bluntly notes that “this lack of appreciation that administration is the foundation for strategy; this lack of interest in routine, and his abhorrence to exert his authority…” were key factors in many of his army’s problems, from command and control, discipline and the material and logistics aspects of war. Likewise his absolute reliance on his subordinates to carry out his orders, and unwillingness to interfere once the battle was joined was a major factor in his failure at Gettysburg, where Russell Weigley noted in a rather kind and subdued way that “Lee…was sometimes served less than well by his corps, division and brigade commanders.” 
Throughout the Gettysburg campaign Lee issued vague orders that his subordinates either failed to understand or willingly interpret in a manner that Lee did not intend. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda notes that “the phrase if practicable…led to many unfortunate consequences, since it provided subordinate commanders a kind of escape clause, allowing them to argue after the event that what they had been order to do was not, in their view “practicable.”
From the time that Robert E Lee learned that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Potomac into Maryland on June 28th, he attempted to adjust his campaign plan and concentrate his army in preparation for battle. At that point his army was scattered and he did not want to provoke an engagement until he could concentrate his forces. Stuart’s cavalry, the absence of which was a matter of great consternation to Lee was chief among his concerns. Lee had hoped that Hooker would pursue him north, but finding the information out from Longsteet’s spy Harrison disturbed Lee greatly. 
Lee expected to know about Hooker’s movements from Stuart. However, Stuart was nowhere to be found; operating nearly fifty miles away separated from Lee’s main body much of the Army of the Potomac. Lee’s aide Walter Taylor wrote: “No tidings had been received from or of our cavalry under General Stuart since crossing the river; and General Lee was consequently without accurate of the movements or position of the main Federal Army.” However, while Stuart certainly can be blamed for taking his best cavalry off on a ride around the Federal army, he acted in accordance with how he interpreted Lee’s orders, as Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “What was possible was permissible. That, as Stuart saw it, was the substance of his orders.” 
This was especially true after Stuart had been surprised at Brandy Station by the Federal cavalry and pilloried in the Confederate press, the Richmond Sentinel saying Stuart had been “outgeneraled” and the Richmond Whig predicting that “We shall not be surprised if the gallant Stuart does not, before many days, make the enemy repent sorely the temerity that led them to undertake this bold and insulting feat….” Lee’s orders provided just enough ambiguity and wiggle room for the wounded Stuart to do precisely what he did.
Lee’s orders gave Stuart the options of moving back to screen the army or passing around the Federal army, leaving the decision to Stuart’s discretion. “You will, however, be able to judge whether you can pass around their army without hindrance, doing them all the damage you can…” Major Henry McClellan, Stuart’s aide recorded that he also received a “lengthy communication from General Lee…” which “discussed at considerable length the plan of passing around the enemy’s rear….”  Stuart in his official report wrote: “The commanding General wrote me, authorizing this move if I deemed it practical.”
That being said Lee was clear enough that he expected Stuart to “lose no time in placing his command on the right of our column as soon as he should perceive the enemy moving northward.” Though Stuart had detected Hancock’s II Corps moving north near Manassas he elected to make his movement around the Federal Army. Stuart’s biographer Burke Davis noted that Stuart “sought no advice on the all-important detour of June twenty-sixth, which changed his direct. He did not so much consult his brigadiers as he swung his column southward to pass around the enemy.” Though Lee at a number of points during lead up to Gettysburg signaled his frustration with Stuart’s absence and its effect on his abilities, he failed to draw the appropriate conclusions that a prudent commander, operating deep in enemy territory would assume from the lack of contact. Lee should have assumed that Stuart was because of his move “become temporarily incommunicado” but instead, “inferred from Stuart’s silence that Hooker had not crossed the Potomac.”
Lee’s vague order was the first in a series of command and control issues that plagued him during the campaign and combined with Stuart’s vanity and need to redeem his reputation, Lee’s ill use of the cavalry he did have under his control were all contributing factors leading to the disastrous encounter at Gettysburg, but there was more to come.
Now that Lee knew that the Army of the Potomac had crossed into Maryland and was now under the command of George Meade he began to take action to reassemble his widely scattered army in the vicinity of Chambersburg and Cashtown. A.P. Hill’s Third Corps was already near Cashtown, and Longstreet’s First Corps was on its way up. The most important issue Lee had was to get Ewell’s Second Corps, then near Carlisle preparing to attack Harrisburg, back in contact with the rest of the Army.
Lee sent two sets of orders to Ewell on the night of the 28th, after getting Harrison’s intelligence, but they did not reach Ewell until the morning of the 29th. The first orders were for Ewell to move to Chambersburg, and the second, to concentrate at Heidlersburg where he could either continue to Cashtown or turn south to Gettysburg.  The intent was good, Lee appears to have desired to minimize congestion on the turnpike in order to more rapidly assemble his army, however the orders caused much discontent at the Second Corps headquarters and “made Old Bald Head most unhappy.” Many of his soldiers with Harrisburg in plain sight were likewise upset the “disappointment and chagrin were extreme” while a soldier in “Maryland Steuart’s brigade recalled the “ill-concealed dissatisfaction” of the men, who “found the movement to be as they supposed “one of retreat.” A staff officer noted that Ewell was “quite testy and hard to please” at the news and “became disappointed, and had everyone flying around.”
Despite his displeasure Ewell did move promptly to comply with Lee’s orders “Lee had not communicated any particular sense of crisis to the case, and the Second Corps’ march proceeded at the usual pace.” Likewise the fact that there were two orders caused several problems that would manifest themselves on July 1st all of which would affect the outcome of the battle.
The first regarded the movement of Second Corps. On receipt of the first order to proceed to Chambersburg Ewell promptly started Allegany Johnson’s division as well as the Second Corps Wagon Train and two battalions of its Corps Artillery Reserve down the turnpike.  When they arrived near Cashtown on the first they would become entangled with Anderson’s division of Hill’s Third Corps, slowing that unit’s attempt to move to battle. This massive traffic jam also delayed two of Longstreet’s divisions which were moving to link up with Hill’s Corps. 
Ewell was able to direct Rodes and Early’s divisions toward Heildlersburg, but the vagueness of Lee’s changing the objective of the march “to Cashtown or Gettysburg and leaving it up to the commander to choose between the two”caused Ewell problems. Had Johnson’s division and the rest of the corps been available early on the afternoon of July 1st at Heildlersburg with Rodes and Early’s divisions it might have completely changed the outcome of the battle. Ewell had been very successful under Jackson, whose orders “were precise and positive” where Lee had not only revered the course of Ewell’s advance on Harrisburg back to Chambersburg, but then modified with the order to proceed to either Cashtown or Gettysburg. 
Lee’s order again contained a discretionary clause, to advance to Cashtown or Gettysburg “as circumstances dictate.” Ewell was upset not knowing what “circumstances” Lee had in mind.”  On the night of the 30th he discussed the order with Rodes and Early as well as Major General Isaac Trimble, and complained of the order’s “indefinite phraseology” and made the comment “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligible order.” Ewell’s acerbic comment could easily be applied to many of Lee’s orders issued during the next few days, but in spite of it Ewell did handle his “first discretionary order very well indeed” as he issued his movement orders for July 1st in a manner that would allow his divisions to move on either location should the situation dictate.
As Ewell attempted to comply with Lee’s orders on the 29th and 30th to rejoin the army his other two corps were resting. Third Corps under A.P. Hill was at and around Cashtown west of Gettysburg. On the 30th Hill allowed Harry Heth to advance Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade to Gettysburg. When Pettigrew discovered Buford’s cavalry division there he withdrew and reported to incident to Hill and Heth who refused to believe it. Hill did pass on that news to Lee and alerted Lee that “that he intended to march there in the morning” but the “announcement seemed not to have disturbed the commanding general, since he expected to move his headquarters only as far as Cashtown the next day.”  This lack of reaction was to have enormous consequences for Lee.
On the morning of July 1st, Hill ordered Harry Heth to advance his division to Gettysburg without the benefit of cavalry support or reconnaissance and backing them up with Pender’s division. As they advanced the leading brigades under Brigadier General James Archer and Joseph Davis met Federal forces. Heth became embroiled in a fight with Buford’s cavalry, which developed into a fight with Reynolds’s I Corps, a fight that resulted in Heth’s division being mauled and helping to bring a general engagement. That engagement drew in Ewell’s corps as well before Lee knew what was happening.
Lee had a number of chances to prevent the meeting engagement that developed on July 1st 1863. Lee noted in his after action report that “It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far from our base unless attacked…” but there are no records of him giving such instructions prior to the battle. There are no reports indicating that he urged caution on his commanders not to bring on a general engagement before July 1st, when the battle was already underway, nor are there records of any warning orders to his corps commanders upon learning of the presence of the Federal army north of the Potomac.
In the end of the day it was Lee’s “laxness with respect to reconnaissance and his lack of control of Hill’s movements caused him to stumble into battle.”  The battle began without him knowing it; his subordinate commanders committed nearly half of his army into battle before he issued an order, Lee wrote “A battle had, therefore, become in a measure unavoidable….” But such is not the case. Lee had the ability and command authority to break off the engagement before it took on a life of its own, but he did not do so.
Lee arrived early enough in the battle to make his influence known. He was told of Ewell’s movements by Major G. Campbell Brown of Ewell’s staff and instructed Brown in very strong terms to tell Ewell “that a general engagement was to be avoided until the arrival of the rest of the army.” Ewell, did not get that message until after his forces were heavily committed noting in his report “that By the time this message reached me….It was too late to avoid an engagement without abandoning the position already taken up.”
Lee was not happy that battle had been joined by Heth and Taylor observed that “on arriving at the scene of the battle, General Lee ascertained that the enemy’s infantry and artillery were present in considerable force”  and when Lee arrived on Herr Ridge, Heth asked permission to renew his attack when Rodes entered the fight. Lee’s initial response was negative “No, I am not prepared to bring on a general engagement today. Longstreet is not up.”
After observing the battle for a time it became evident that Ewell’s corps was also heavily engaged and Lee began to change his mind. Heth reported that the Federal troops in front of him were withdrawing and Lee sensed an opportunity to strike a blow that might bring the climactic victory that he sought. Lee analyzed the situation and with Heth back at his division Heth wrote that “very soon an aide came to me with the orders to attack.”
The order was given in the heat of the moment, and Lee always aggressive responded, but it was a bad decision. “It committed him to a major confrontation on this ground…without sufficient troops on hand and without knowledge of the whereabouts of the rest of the Federal army,” and Lee knew this. He told Anderson at Cashtown not long before- meeting Heth: “I am in ignorance of what we have in front of us here. It may be the whole Federal army, or it may be only a detachment. If it is the whole Federal force we must fight a battle here.” But he was worried, telling Anderson “If we do not gain a victory, those defiles and gorges which we passed through this morning will shelter us from disaster.”
Despite the success that his soldiers we now enjoying as they drove the I Corps and XI Corps back through the town Lee gave yet another vague order. This one to Ewell, who having already committed his corps to battle in the full knowledge that Lee did not desire a general engagement was confronted with another discretionary order, Lee said “General Ewell was…instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy, if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army.”
The Army of Northern Virginia came very close to sweeping Federal forces from the field on July 1st in spite of Lee’s lack of planning and clear commanders’ intent. But close was not enough. His forces which were committed in a piecemeal manner were unable to follow up their initial success. The situation faced by Ewell in Gettysburg was chaotic; his units were badly disorganized, and burdened by thousands of prisoners on the confided streets of the town. Rodes’ division had sustained frightful losses and he had no assurance of support from Hill. Rodes’ after battle report supported Ewell’s decision. He wrote that before “the completion of his defeat before the town the enemy had begun to establish a line of battle on the heights back of the town, and by the time my line was in condition to renew the attack, he displayed quite a formidable line of infantry and artillery immediately in my front, extending smartly to my right, and as far as I could see to my left in front of Early.”
Lee’s orders to Ewell, to take the high ground “if practicable” were correctly interpreted by Ewell despite his critics; he nature of the terrain, the number and condition of the troops that he had available for an attack, and the nature of the orders given by Lee late in the day was strong factors for Ewell to not attack. Coddington noted that these problems “upset Ewell, for he was faced with the prospect of organizing a new attack with tired men even while he felt constrained by Lee’s injunction not to open a full-fledged battle. No wonder he was uncertain!”The fact that Lee was not far away and did not issue a “peremptory order to Ewell” to attack also has to be noted.  If Lee had sensed that Ewell was not going to attack and really wanted him to he could have issued a direct order which Ewell, would have surely obeyed. “Lee realized that Ewell was not Jackson…and should have modified his method of command accordingly.” 
That evening Lee rode to Ewell’s headquarters and met with Ewell, Early and Rodes. “No reference was made to the possibility of an attack that evening on Cemetery Hill.” The question was put to them about what to do the next day. Lee asked “Can’t you with your corps attack on this flank tomorrow?” Jubal Early answered for Ewell saying “flatly that he did not believe an attack should be made from Gettysburg against Cemetery Hill the next day.” Early added, “even if such an action were to succeed… it would be at a very great cost.”  Lee suggested to Ewell and his commanders that Second Corps around to the right along Seminary Ridge “where it might be better put to use, and twice he gave in to Ewell’s pleadings to remain where he was.” This was yet another mistake that would haunt Lee during the rest of the battle, but the “notion of imposing his will on a subordinate was simply too alien to Lee’s nature for him to even to admit as a possibility.” Fuller wrote “it was Lee’s inexhaustible tact that ruined his army.” 
Whether Lee intended to engage the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg so early in the campaign is debated. His multiple and contradictory strategic aims left his commanders acting much on their own. Lee’s lack of clear commander’s intent to his subordinate commanders created confusion on the battlefield. They also paved the way to many controversies in the years following the war as Southerners sought to explain the failure of the Lost Cause, for which Lee could not be blamed.
Much of the controversy comes from Lee’s own correspondence which indicates that he might have not fully understood his own intentions. Some correspondence indicates that Lee desired to avoid a general engagement as long as possible while other accounts indicate that he wanted an early and decisive engagement. The controversy was stoked after the war by Lee’s supporters, particular his aides Taylor and Marshall and generals Early, Gordon and Trimble. Men like Longstreet and were castigated by Lee’s defenders for suggesting that Lee made mistakes on the battlefield.
The vagueness of Lee’s instructions to his commanders led to many mistakes and much confusion during the battle. Many of these men were occupying command positions under him for the first time and were unfamiliar with his command style. Where Stonewall Jackson might have understood Lee’s intent, even where Lee issued vague or contradictory orders, many others including Hill and Ewell did not. Lee did not change his command style to accommodate his new commanders.
That lack of flexibility and inability to clearly communicate Lee’s intent to his commanders and failure to exercise control over them proved fatal to his aims in the campaign. Stephen Sears’ scathing analysis of Lee’s command at Gettysburg perhaps says it the best. “In the final analysis, it was Robert E. Lee’s inability to manage his generals that went to the heart of the failed campaign.” 
The vagueness of Lee’s intent was demonstrated throughout the campaign and was made worse by the fog of war. Day one ended with a significant tactical victory for Lee’s army but without a decisive result which would be compounded into a strategic defeat by Lee’s subsequent decisions on the 2nd and 3rd of July.
 Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.45
 Ibid. Taylor General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences p.25
 Lee, Robert Edward. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E Lee A Public Domain book, Amazon Kindle edition location 548
 Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.35
 Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.112
 Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.348
Tucker, Glenn. High Tide at Gettysburg, The Bobbs Merrill Co. Indianapolis Indiana 1958 p.24
 Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.125
 Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.116
 Ibid. Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.446
 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p. 139
 Taylor, Walter Four Years with General Lee Original published 1877. Heraklion Press Kindle Edition 2013 location 1199
 Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 pp.554-555
 Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, p.552
 Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.16
 McClellan, Henry Brainerd The Life and Campaigns of Major General J.E.B. Stuart Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia 1885. Digital edition copyright 2011 Strait Gate Publications, Charlotte NC location 6123 unfortunately this letter cannot be verified as no copy exists, McClellan presuming that it was destroyed sometime during the march.
 Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.60
 Lee, Robert E. Reports of Robert E Lee, C.S. Army, Commanding Army of Northern VirginiaCampaign Report Dated January 20th 1864. Amazon Kindle Edition location 503
 Davis, Burke JEB Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p. 325
 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.183
 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.189
 Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg p.24
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.474
 Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.571
 Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 pp.54-55
Like many men my age who began reading military history about the American Civil War, many of the accounts were the mythology of the Lost Cause. These accounts almost universally portrayed Robert E. Lee as if not the greatest American born General of all time, or one of the very best, but also one of the greatest Americans of all time. This article only deals with his poor generalship, particularly in his inability to link operational planning, for which he gets far to much credit with national strategic planning, for which he lacked any talent.
A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.
The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.
If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends.  Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. 
However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.”
Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.”
From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..”  It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.
Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.”
James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.”
In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…”  However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” 
On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.
Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg.  Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.”
Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.
Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them.  The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.
Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.”
Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” Likewise, Vice President Alexander Stephens the former Unionist Senator who gave the infamous Cornerstone Speech, “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.”
Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.”
Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.
Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.
Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy.
Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.”  Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.
When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.
The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:
“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.”
What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.
It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army”  and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” 
Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.”  Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am supremely confident in my assertion that Lee made a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence; that of breaking of the will of the Union by fighting a skilled defensive war that would make victory for the Union so costly that it would not be worth the cost. For this miscalculation and the defeat at Gettysburg, the finger of blame can be pointed at only one man, Robert E. Lee.
 Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME
 Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101
 McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629
 Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5
 Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34
 Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525
 Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193
 Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to MeridianRandom House, New York 1963 p.429
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429
 Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525
 Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241
 Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656
 Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705
 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5
 Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194
 Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430
 Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528
 Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431
 Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6
 Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647
 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7
 Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432
 Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194
 Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.2
 Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134
 Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.120
 Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415
 Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11
 Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11
 Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431
 Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4
When I was 14 years old in the summer of 1974 I watched the
Watergate Hearings from our living room in Stockton, California. Though only 14 I realized their significance and was shocked at how President Nixon acted illegally and was transfixed by the testimony of John Dean that drove the stake through the heart of the Nixon presidency. I have watched every one of the Congressional hearings on the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol, including today’s, in which Cassidy Hutchinson, the senior aide to Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows was the most compelling witness I have seen testify before any Congressional committee in my life. I am a historian and something of a wonk when it comes to hearings where I know history was being made, so whenever possible I have tried to watch them. I have watched many witnesses testify in Congressional investigations, including Watergate, Iran-Contra, 9-11, and many more. Likewise I can count numerous Supreme Court and major Cabinet nomination hearings, Impeachment hearings, (Clinton’s and both of Trump’s) and now this.
The interesting thing for me today was that instead of a jaded lawyer, a career politician, a long time bureaucrat, lobbyist, or career military, Defense Department, or other National security professionals, think tank representatives, subject matter experts, and other experienced officials, we saw a 25 year old woman, political novice, speaking under oath, when many others have refused to appear, or plead the Fifth to every question but their name.
Ms. Hutchinson is a 2019 a graduate of Christopher Newport University. She interned for Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Steve Scalise, the year before her senior year, before moving to the White House after she graduated where she served as senior advisor to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. She was at Meadows’ side in almost every high level White House meeting where every senior staffer knew her, and to add to her creditability she was a young and devoted Trump supporter.
She was in the room, or just outside the room seeing and hearing things that troubled her. She had no part in any making policy, directing operations, but trying to advise her boss, Mark Meadows of the things she was seeing, and trying to get him to do something to get Trump to stop the attack. She knew Mike Pence and realized that Trump put Pence’s life in danger.
Her testimony revealed information known to the committee in prior interviews, but not known to the public and her identity was kept secret until today’s testimony. Today we learned things that I believed either possible or probable based on the public information that I had seen or read. She had nothing to gain from it. She had done nothing that could be criminally prosecuted, she didn’t need to be flipped, like the target of an investigation. One might disagree with what her politics were, or maybe still are, but she acted as an American patriot to tell the truth. Now her life is forever changed. She will be threatened and maybe even be killed by Trump fanatics. She will have to always have security and watch her back, for God knows how long. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump has already put out a hit on her while trying to make it look like he had nothing to do with it, I think that the term is ”plausible deniability.”
Tuesday we learned of the chaos in the White House on 6 January and the days preceding it. We learned of Rudy Giuliani’s unabashed joy in telling her about what was going to happen on 2 January, and Mark Meadows telling her that 6 January would be very bad, and how that and what she heard during Giuliani’s conversations with the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers troubled her. She then recalled how she on the night of 5 January, discouraged Meadows from attending a meeting at what plotters, including Giuliani, Meadows, Steve Bannon, and Roger Stone called the ”War Room,” where the assault was being planned, something that he didn’t do, but said he would dial in on.
The came 6 January. First came the rally on the Ellipse, where Trump was inflamed because the area set aside for the rally was not full. He demanded to know why and was told that many people did not want to pass through the security checkpoint magnetic detectors because the Secret Service would confiscate their weapons. Trump according to Hutchinson, who was with Meadows explained as to why it was necessary. She was there where Tony Ornato, the former head of Trump’s security detail and then working as a member of Meadows’ operational staff told Meadows that weapons including AR-15s and semi-automatic pistols had be confiscated at the checkpoints and the Secret Service observed many armed people in the mob outside the Ellipse.
Trump was infuriated and demanded that the magnetic detectors be taken down and the armed supporters allowed in stating something to the effect of “You know, I don’t even care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.” So the question of who Trump knew they intended to harm is valid, and the answer is obvious based on his speech and subsequent actions.
In the speech Trump promised to be with his militant supporters and go with them to the Capitol. However, he was thwarted by the commander of his Secret Service detail, something that we learned of yesterday from Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, which she explained in detail having worked with Mr. Ornato and Mr. Meadows and having gone almost everywhere Meadows went. There are two types of presidential movements that the Secret Service arranges. Planned movements that usually take weeks and months to coordinate. Then there are OTP movements, or Other Than Planned, which are done quickly with only the President’s security detail being involved and knowing the risks.
Evidently Meadows indicated to Trump that the OTP was still a possibility. According to Trump got into the SUV and when he saw that it was not going to the Capitol, Trump became agitated and demanded that his Secret Service detail Chief, Robert Engel take him to the Capitol. According to Ms. Hutchinson she walked into Meadows office where Ornato asked if she knew what occurred in the armored SUV, she recounted what he said in the presence of Mr. Engel, who did not dispute the account at the time.
Hutchinson described being told by Ornato what had happened next: Trump got into an armored presidential vehicle with Robert Engel, the chief of his Secret Service security detail. Engel, according to Hutchinson’s account, then told Trump he could not travel to the Capitol. It was not secure, and Trump would have to return to the White House. “The president had a very strong, a very angry response to that,” Hutchinson said, relaying Ornato’s account. “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’ to which [Engel] responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’”
She also noted Ornoto’s more detailed account which allegedly he and Engel dispute in regard to Trump trying to grab the steering wheel and attack Mr. Engel, but not that Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol:
She said Deputy Chief of Staff Anthony M. Ornato told her that Trump was “irate” that he wasn’t allowed to go to the Capitol with his supporters after his speech on the Ellipse. She summarized Ornato’s account like this: “The President reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. [The head of Trump’s Secret Service detail Bobby] Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.’ Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.” She said Engel never disputed what Ornato had said. If they dispute the details of her account they should do so under oath and not under the cover of a non-sworn statement issued by the Secret Service.
Thus, from this account we now can establish that Trump knew that his supporters were heavily armed, that they had been incited by Giuliani and Representative Mo Brooks to prepare for war and go into battle, and egged on by Trump who basically threatened the life of Vice President Pence if he ”didn’t do the right thing.” He then promised to be with them when they marched on the Capitol. When I heard Trump say those words on 6 January, I believed that he was lying to them in order to stir themselves up without endangering himself. Evidently, I was wrong. It was his intent to go to the Capitol, evidently with the intent of stopping the Electoral count and in doing so unlawfully overturning the election and peaceful transfer of power in order to remain in power. Who knows what would have happened if he reached the Capitol? I can only imagine that there would have been a massive firefight and probably a massacre, in which Pence and every presumably disloyal Senator or Congressperson, Democrat or Republican present among those slaughtered.
When word came that the Capitol had been breached and the insurgents were inside, Ms. Hutchinson and others including White House Counsel Pat Cipolloni tried to get Meadows to intervene. Hutchinson testified that Meadows responded to calls for more action on Jan. 6 by saying “something to the effect of, ‘You heard him, Pat; he thinks Mike deserves that. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’”
Cipolloni, has now been subpoenaed by the Committee. I expect that since Ms. Hutchinson said that he told her to make sure that they stayed away from the Capitol. in her words, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” she recalled him saying, enumerating crimes that could include obstruction of justice, defrauding the election and inciting a riot.
I believe that others will be subpoenaed based on Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, and I expect others to volunteer to tesify. I fully expect that as they continue their investigation by the Committee that the Justice Department will take evidence, along with what they are accumulating and charge Trump with multiple counts of felony obstruction election results. There could well be more, which likely will involve Federal and State charges from his attempt to get Georgia’s Attorney General to change that states by thousands of votes so he would win.
I have seen Tweets by people on the left condemning her for not speaking out sooner. Such criticism is unwarranted and nothing more than self-righteous grandstanding. When I was her age I was a young Republican and Army officer. I was a devoted follower of Ronald Reagan, and during the Iran-Contra hearings I had no problem condemning the actions of Oliver North and others, but could not bring myself to believe that Reagan was culpable for anything, and it took me until the outbreak of AIDS that there might be something morally wrong in his administration. That did not stop me from remaining rock solid in my support for Republican Candidates for President, though I often split my down ballot votes. I supported George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush, even after I began to see the grim results of the criminal invasion of Iraq.
It was only after returning from Iraq, shattered by what I saw there, and stunned by the lies I saw coming from the Administration, Fox News, and people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, which had been my source of news for a decade. I was then, coupled with tremendous racist tropes of Limbaugh and others directed at Barak Obama, and the nomination of Sarah Palin, a completely unqualified airhead and Christian Nationalist nutcase for Vice President that ai quit the GOP and became an ever more thoughtful and strong opponent of it.
So I can understand how a young, idealistic person could support someone like Trump. Crap, how many of us as young people supported candidates and causes that later disgusted us? I guarantee that there are a lot of us. My support of Republicans because I was a Navy brat whose dad served in Vietnam, and how many Democrats and liberals demonized the military, demonization that I experienced as an Army ROTC Cadet at UCLA when some guy started screaming at me ”ROTC Nazi off campus!” That remained with me for years because if there was one thing I was not, it was a Nazi or Holocaust denier. It was probably the one single thing that kept me in the GOP and being an apologist for people I now know were criminals. Thus, I have to commend her for her courage at such a young age to tell the truth when doing so will only endanger her life.
I have to stop for the night, but I have other things that I need to do before bed. I need to take some time to rest, read, and watch our Papillons play.
I have not written anything here for months, but the last few months have been so busy with teaching, and the finishing touches on Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Likewise I am dealing with a number of physical issues which still continue. I think I mentioned the Kidney stone, and maybe the Carpal Tunnel syndrome. I have follow ups coming for both. I had a CT scan of the Kidney this morning in preparation for the follow up appointment with the Urologist. I am concerned that they might not gotten all of it as I still suffer from pain there. The follow up with the hand surgeon next month to determine the next steps in dealing with it which will likely involve a more complicated surgery. But enough excuses, the fact is that my mind and body were fried, I have taken the ten days since school ended to rest and recuperate, make changes to the website, and work with the publicity team at Potomac Books and University of Nebraska Press.
I have wanted to write but have not had the time or energy to do it, but that changes tonight. After taking the time to watch the January 6th hearings, and with everyone else watching relived that attack and listened to compelling evidence from members of the Trump administration and his re-election team revealing damning information on Trump’s egging on of the attack and the encouragement of the Proud Boys and other insurgents to kill Vice President Pence because ”deserved it.” In fact, an informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI that they intended to kill the Vice President that day, and they got within 40 feet of Pence and his family as they fled.
Then there were the mass murders, one specifically targeting Blacks in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York by a exceptionally racist 18 year old man armed with an AR-15 type weapon, he murdered 11 people, mostly senior citizens. He picked the store because he knew it was the most heavily Black neighborhood he could reach, and he travelled almost 200 miles to get there. Also the killing of 19 fourth graders and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, also by an 18 year old with an AR-15 type weapon. There have also been two church shootings by older men, one a gun dealer.
But these are but symptoms of an increasingly violent, gun worshipping culture, with leaders of the MAGA GOP leading the charge. Eric Greitens, the disgraced former governor of Missouri, now running for the GOP nomination for the Senate released a campaign ad with him armed with a pump action shotgun and a group of men dressed as soldiers, all heavily armed and in full combat gear breaking into an ordinary home. Greitens encouraged supporters to get their ”RINO hunting license” which has no limits. A RINO is what used to describe Republicans who were not full in with the party’s agenda. Most of the time it referred to centrists, or those slightly left of center. the first target of this was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller during the 1964 GOP nominating convention in San Francisco. At that convention, supporters of Senator Barry Goldwater treated Rockefeller as an apostate, and too gain the support of Southern Democrats and the Dixiecrats of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurman who were livid over the Civil and Voting Rights Acts supported by President Lyndon Johnson and a coalition of Democrats and pro-Civil Rights Republicans including future President George H.W. Bush. No matter how one looks at it the 1964 GOP Convention was the watershed moment that led us to today. Baseball great, Jackie Robinson, a special delegate, and friend and supporter of Rockefeller described the fanatical racist crowd in San Francisco’s Cow Palace, in his book I Never Had it Made:
Robinson wrote of his experience at the 1964 Convention:
“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition. I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.
A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
The same high-handed methods had been there.
The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.
I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning. Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds. I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say.”
Likewise Belva Davis, then a young African American journalist wrote of her experiences at that convention:
While the Goldwater organization tried to keep its delegates in check on the floor, snarling Goldwater fans in the galleries around us were off the leash. The mood turned unmistakably menacing…
Suddenly Louis and I heard a voice yell, “Hey, look at those two up there!” The accuser pointed us out, and several spectators swarmed beneath us. “Hey niggers!” they yelled. “What the hell are you niggers doing in here?’”
I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck as I looked into faces turned scarlet and sweaty by heat and hostility. Louis, in suit and tie and perpetually dignified, turned to me and said with all the nonchalance he could muster, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.” Methodically we began wrapping up our equipment into suitcases.
As we began our descent down the ramps of the Cow Palace, a self-appointed posse dangled over the railings, taunting. “Niggers!” “Get out of here, boy!” “You too, nigger bitch!” “Go on, get out!” “I’m gonna kill your ass!”
I stared straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other like a soldier who would not be deterred from a mission. The throng began tossing garbage at us: wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hot dogs, half-eaten Snickers bars. My goal was to appear deceptively serene, mastering the mask of dispassion I had perfected since childhood to steel myself against any insults the outside world hurled my way.
Then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter. I didn’t look back, but I glanced sideways at Louis and felt my lower lip began to quiver. He was determined we would give our tormentors no satisfaction.
“If you start to cry,” he muttered, “I’ll break your leg.”
It took another fifty two years for this evil wing of the GOP under the leadership of former President Trump to take control of the Republican Party. From the beginning Trump promoted violence against his opponents and was delighted to have the muscle of White Nationalist and Christian Nationalist paramilitaries like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the III Percenters, the Prayer Patriots, and others including Neo-Nazis, and the KKK. When Trump told the Proud Boys in 2020, ”Stand back and stand by“ they knew what he meant. On January 6th they were in position at the Capitol to breach the outer police lines before Trump urged the masses to march to the Capitol and called Mike Pence out as a coward and stated his disappointment with Pence. The threats made toward Pence, Speaker of the House Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and others in Congress, of both parties were so malignant that they beggar the imagination.
These threats have not stopped. Congressman Adam Kitzinger, a very conservative Republican who voted with Trump 90% of the time finally voted to impeach Trump in the Second Impeachment proceeding and is now one of two Republicans on the January 6th Commission received a hand written death threat targeting him and his family. Many GOP members have either shut up and become complicit through their silence, others who have actively aided him, and still more like Greitens who are not only aiding him but are encouraging violence and killing of all their opponents, Republican or Democrats. They are being aided and abetted by the propagandists of Fox News, Newsmax, One America News, Infowars, and other toxic spreaders of lies and disinformation. Of course there is the Dark Web where the mind numbing conspiracy theories of QAnon and other groups provide an endless supply of misinformation and lies through sites like 4Chan and 8Chan, and many others. Many of these sites aid in the targeting of opponents, and in abetting threats against them.
In light of how violent the GOP has become it is hard not to to believe that it will not get worse. Every indicator, the words and actions of GOP leaders, the targeting of racial, religious, and gender minorities by the GOP, especially in states like Texas and Florida in highly orchestrated campaigns to disenfranchise people, threaten them, or actively legislate punitive laws that target the civil rights, voting rights, and religious rights of racial, religious, or gender identity of citizens.
Since I am a historian of American racism, slavery, Jim Crow, as well as the Nazi crimes of the Holocaust, I cannot not see where this violent, authoritarian, theocratic and venomous MAGA is going. Since I believe that assassinations, mass killings, bombings and targeted killings of those opposed to Trump and MAGA will become commonplace in the next few months leading to the 2022 and 2024 elections, I will leave those who actively or passively support such violence with the words of Spencer Tracy playing Judge Dan Haygood in Judgement at Nuremberg:
“Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.”
That will be all for tonight but expect more, and more often.
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