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Decoration Day or Memorial Day 2020: Their Spirits Gather Round Me, as I Muse of Poppy’s, Dreaming of Home Oceans Away

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is, or should be the most solemn and reflective of holidays that we observe in the United States. It is the one day a year that we specifically put aside to remember those who died in the service of our country. It is not a day to thank a living veteran for their service, be they active military  personnel, veterans or retirees,, we have our own days, Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day. Likewise, and even worse, most Americans completely forget and turn it in to a day to kick off the summer holiday season. Not that has been harder to do this year in the midst of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, with its related shutdowns and travel restrictions, and since we will probably mark the 100,000th official death in this country later today, it should be a more reflective time.

But the holiday itself it is more interesting, because when it began it was called Decoration Day. It was a day where the families and friends of the soldiers, North and South who died in the war of the Southern Rebellion (the term that Union Veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic called it) or the War of Northern Aggression (as it was called by many Southerners) to the less divisive term the American Civil War. Personally, though most of my family fought for the Confederate side despite the fact that their counties of West Virginia had gone to the Union, because they were slave owners, I land pretty hard on calling it the War of the Southern Rebellion, because I am a historian.

Now as a kid I absorbed a lot of the revisionist views of the Southern historians who mythologized the cause, The Lost Cause, their honor and culture, The Noble South, and the hagiography surrounding their heroes like Robert E. Lee, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. However, when one looks at their writings, beliefs, and actions, it is far better to label them as rebels and traitors, and the cause that they fought for as evil, but I digress, because even then the truth is more complicated. There were Southerners who never renounced they Union, and close to 40% of Southern graduates of West Point and others that remained loyal to the Union. These included men like General Winfield Scott (Virginia),  George Thomas (Virginia) , General John Buford (Kentucky where his family supported the Confederate Cause) General John Gibbon (North Carolina), Admiral David Farragut (Tennessee) the Union’s master logistician, General Montgomery Meigs of Georgia. Meigs is known for his deep hatred Former U.S. Army officers who fought for the Confederacy, especially Robert E. Lee. He used his position to select Lee’s mansion and plantation property in Arlington, Virginia as the Union’s first, and premiere national cemetery.

But back to Decoration Day. It predates the end of the war in some towns in the south and north where families would go to play flowers on the graves of their relatives or friends who died during the war. In 1865 the newly freed Black population of Charleston, South Carolina dedicated a cemetery to the Union soldiers who had died in Confederate prisons there at the old racehorse track. In 1868, General John Logan, the head of the Union’s largest and most influential veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, called for it to become a National day of remembrance to be held on May 30th. Soon Michigan became the first state to make the day a holiday and they were rapidly followed but most other states. Logan and the G.A.R. headquarters issued the the Decoration Day Order:


I. The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remains in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude—the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the commander in chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By Command of –
John A. Logan,
Commander in Chief

Over the years Decoration Day began to be know as Memorial Day, especially as the members of the G.A.R. became fewer, but the name was not officially changed until 1967. In 1968 Congress passed an act to move four holidays, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day (Formerly Armistice Day), and Washington’s Birthday (now President’s Day) to Monday’s to allow for three day weekends. There have been attempts by Veterans organizations to have Memorial Day moved back to a set date over the past two decades in order to bring emphasis to the solemnity that it should be observed. I would support that, but business leaders and lobbyists have ensured that Congress has take no action to make that change. Thus for most people the day is the kick off of the summer holiday season.

After the end of the American Civil War, the poet Walt Whitman reflected on the human cost of it. Whitman wrote,

“Ashes of soldiers South or North,

As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies.

Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves,

In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Memorial Day is always an emotional time for me, especially since I returned from Iraq in 2008. It is a weekend that I always think about the men and women that I knew who died in action or died after they left the service, some at their own hand, unable to bear the burdens and trauma that they suffered while at war. I was reminded of them again at the memorial service that we conducted for all of our fallen at the Naval Shipyard where I serve.  In an age where less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, I think that it is important that we take the time to remember and reflect on the human cost of wars.

For me I think that is the lives lost that hit me hardest. They were friends who I knew, and also family members that I never met because they lost their lives before I was born.

I think of the battlefields that I have served on in Al Anbar Province, the one my father served on at An Loc, Vietnam, or the battlefields and the graveyards I have been to, Verdun, the Somme, Paschendaele, Waterloo, Arnhem, Normandy, Belleau Wood, Luxembourg, the Shuri Line, the Naktong River, Yorktown, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Stone’s River, Bentonville, Gettysburg, the wrecks of the USS Arizona and USS Utah at Pearl Harbor, and so many more, I think about the men and women who never returned. To me all of these places are hallowed ground, ground that none of us can hallow, the sacrifices of the men who gave their last full measure of devotion have done that better than we can ever do.

There are some songs that are haunting yet comfort me when I reflect on the terrible costs of war, even those wars that were truly just; and yes there are such wars, even if politicians and ideologues demanding revenge or vengeance manage to mangle the peace following them. Of course there are wars that are not just in any manner of speaking and in which the costs far outweigh any moral, legal, or ethical considerations, but I digress…

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg wrote something that talks about the importance and even the transcendence of the deeds of those who lost their lives in those wars fought and died to achieve.

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Elton John wrote and performed this song, Oceans Away on the centenary of the First World War. It speaks of the men that never came home, and he related it to those who continue to go off to war today.

I hung out with the old folks, In the hope that I’d get wise

I was trying to bridge the gap, Between the great divide

Hung on every recollection, In the theater of their eyes

Picking up on this and that, In the few that still survive


Call em up, Dust em off, Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell, The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross, Oceans away


They bend like trees in winter, These shuffling old grey lions

Those snow-white stars still gather, Like the belt around Orion

Just to touch the faded lightning, Of their powerful design

Of a generation gathering, For maybe the last time, Oceans away

Where the green grass sways,And the cool wind blows

Across the shadow of their graves, Shoulder to shoulder back in the day

Sleeping bones to rest in earth, oceans away

Call em up, Dust em off, Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,, The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross, Oceans away

Elton John “Oceans Away”

Likewise I find myself thinking about all those times alone overseas, and realize that many did not come home. The song I’m Dreaming of Home or Hymne des Fraternisés from the film Joyeux Noel which was adapted by French composer Philippe Rombi from the poem by Lori Barth I think speaks for all of us that served so far away, both those who returned and those who still remain oceans away.

I hear the mountain birds, The sound of rivers singing

A song I’ve often heard, It flows through me now, So clear and so loud

I stand where I am, And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home


It’s carried in the air, The breeze of early morning

I see the land so fair, My heart opens wide, There’s sadness inside

I stand where I am, And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home


This is no foreign sky, I see no foreign light, But far away am I

From some peaceful land, I’m longing to stand, A hand in my hand

… forever I’m dreaming of home, I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home.

The Canadian physician, John McCrea, served in Flanders with the British Army. There he wrote his  immortal poem, In Flanders Fields: 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

The 20th Century was the bloodiest in human history. If we and our leaders are not careful, the peace and international institutions that guarded that peace will be destroyed in a cataclysm of Nationalism, Racism, and renewed wars over contested living space. In short, the 21st Century is setting up to be every bit as bloody as the 20th.

The Armistice Day Poppy which became an international symbol of remembrance for the dead of the First World War was introduced to Decoration Day in 1922. Its roots lie in McCrea’s prom, and that of an American woman volunteering with the YMCA to support the troops in France. In 1918 Moina Michael, a professor on sabbatical from the University of Georgia vowed to always wear a red poppy to remember those who died in the war. Her poem We Shall Keep the Faith expressed her feelings:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Please take the time to remember those who whose spirits still linger around the battles fields of the Civil War, and those who beneath Crosses, Stars of David, and Islamic Crescent Moons, or plain headstones denoting no religion, who fought for the Allied cause in the First and Second World Wars, and all of the wars since, who still dream of home, oceans away.

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military, Navy Ships, Political Commentary, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, us army, US Army Air Corps, US Marine Corps, US Navy, Veterans and friends, vietnam, War on Terrorism, World War II at Sea, world war one, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

Logistics, Transportation & Communication in the Civil War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today something a bit wonkish, another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text. Nothing controversial, but an interesting look at how all of these mundane and often forgotten components of war advanced during the Civil War and how both sides adapted to these developments.


Padre Steve+


General Montgomery Meigs: Logistician Extraordinaire

With the advances in weaponry, technology turned the adoption of field fortifications and the tactical defense; even during offensive operations changed the way that the armies conducted the war; other advances were occurring. These took place in logistics, transportation, signals and communications.

In a country as vast as the United States logistics was a major concern of both armies. The ante-bellum Army developed its logistic doctrine from Napoleonic examples. That doctrine had to be modified in light of the American reality of a less developed continent with far greater distances involved in the movement of troops. “While the North’s logistical mobilization expanded, the South’s peaked in early 1863 and then declined. Fundamental interlocking problems beset logistics. The Confederacy had few preexisting industries to expand and lacked sufficient raw materials upon which to build an industrial base.” [1]

The Confederacy “did not have the material resources to fight a mass industrial war” [2] and the actions of its leaders from Jefferson Davis down did not help their cause. “The South needed a careful weighing of assets and liabilities, the setting of strict priorities, and centralized direction in order to use its resources efficiently. But Confederate leaders allowed events to control planning, resulting in uncoordinated, tardy, and incompetent centralization of the logistical effort.” [3]

The issue was not limited to industry but also agriculture, which in a region as rich as the Confederacy should not have been a problem. However, it was a major issue that became ever more serious throughout the war, not only for the Confederate armies in the field but also for the population as a whole. While the South managed to maintain effective armies until the end of 1864, it “failed to preserve the population’s well-being.” [4] This would prove to be a major problem.

By the spring of 1863 five major cities experienced bread riots, the most serious being in Richmond. Here, women, many of whose husbands were in the army “could no longer defer starvation. Living without men meant living without livelihood for many women. On the morning of April 2, 1863, a group of working class women met at a Baptist church in Richmond. Unable to feed their families they resolved to march to the governor’s mansion to seek redress.” [5] The governor was unable to satisfy their demands and the women, armed with guns and knives proceeded to wreak havoc, and over the “next several hours, all semblance of order disappeared in Richmond’s commercial district as the enraged women broke down doors and windows, seized bread and meat, and then went on to loot jewelry, clothing, hats, “and whatever they wanted.” [6]

Army troops and militia arrived on the scene and it appeared that Confederate soldiers might soon open fire on upon Confederate women. Jefferson Davis, who heard about the situation went to the commercial district and personally gave an ultimatum to the rioters ordering them to disperse or have the troops and militia open fire. [7] He turned “glanced at the soldiers behind him and turned to the women. “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disburse, otherwise you will be fired upon.” [8] Soon the crowd disbursed and order was restored, but the damage was done. Other bread riots occurred in Southern cities until the fall of 1863. Many Southerners blamed merchants in general and the press labeled most businesses as speculators and extortionists. However as a result of the great privations at home and the need for a scapegoat, the specter of anti-Semitism rose in the Confederacy. Many, including some influential newspapers and government officials “focused on the Jews as the worst “extortioners” [9] blaming them for many if not most of the Confederacy’s economic woes.


Even as their families went without food many soldiers in the armies of the Confederacy likewise faced hunger and privation. In the fall of 1863 some soldiers of the Army of Tennessee were ordered into line to be reviewed by Jefferson Davis. One soldier, Private Sam Watkins wrote: “When he passed by us with his great retinue of staff officers …cheers greeted them, with the words “Send us something to eat, Massa Jeff! Give us something to eat, Massa Jeff! I’m hungry! I’m hungry!” [10]

During the war, both armies learned to adapt their logistical support services to the reality of war. However, the South, for a number of reasons had difficultly this. Poor infrastructure and the lack of standardized rail systems were significant factors. But even more importantly inability of the government in Richmond, various states governments as well as the private sector to work together helped doom the Confederacy. The South did not lack for food. It was a rich agricultural region, but its ability to provide sustenance for its people and its armies was hindered due to its woeful infrastructure and various self-inflicted political and economic reasons. Several major issues affected the South’s ability to feed its people and its armies.

Among these were “the deficiencies of the Confederate rail system” which deteriorated throughout the war and was made worse by the lack of cooperation of Confederate railroad owners. The South “did not have a railroad network that tied its scant industrial base together or readily permitted long distance movements.” [11] This would hamper Confederate attempts to move and supply its armies as well as sustain its economy throughout the war. The Confederacy never nationalized its railroads, and “no centralized planning or organization developed, and field commanders, supply agencies, and civilian shippers competed for use of Southern rolling stock.” [12]


Southern policy towards the use of its railroads was muddled at best and the demands of the war and by 1863, “the excessive wear of wartime rail movement was chewing up southern rail lines[13] which resulted in the “South barely keeping a few lines operating by cannibalizing less important lines and could not replace its rolling stock.” [14] The combination of the lack of a strong industrial base to produce the iron to make replacement rails and the similar lack of producing facilities to manufacture locomotives and rolling stock, combined with the “unsure policies of the Confederate government and military” [15] ran the already feeble Southern railway system into the ground.

The Confederacy also faced a basic unwillingness of many producers of food, textiles and other necessities to cooperate with the Confederate government, which often could not even find ways for its own agencies to cooperate with each other. “The government gave no overall direction to the supply bureaus, which often bid against each other for materials and labor.” [16] This was a pervasive problem, and not helped by the efforts of some parts of the Confederate government to nationalize various parts of their economy in direct competition with the private sector. This contrasted starkly with the Union whose “quartermaster and commissary heads contracted out their needs for weapons, horses and clothes by bid on the open market, rather than by appropriating existing industries for government use.” [17]

The Confederate policies meant that many citizens and businesses found ways to not submit to government edicts. There was a basic “unwillingness of farmers to sell goods and produce at government rates” [18] and the greed of hoarders and war profiteers who through “hoarding, black marketing and simple withdraw from the market[19] crippled Southern war efforts and by “1862 much of the Confederate economy had become unmanageable.” [20] When Davis attempted to use the religious faith of the people to bolster more and “called for a day of fasting and prayer in March 1863, one man wrote that the president asked for “fasting in the midst of famine.” [21]

Where possible each side used railroads and maritime forces to move troops and supplies. The Confederacy, as has been noted was lacking in both, and was at a severe disadvantage. The Union however enjoyed a great advantage in modern rail networks, as well as ocean and river based maritime power. By late 1863 the Army of the Potomac, as well as forces in the West demonstrated “the close integration of operational planning and that of the general in chief and supply bureaus. In this one area, the development of a mature and modern staff was evident.” [22]

Once the armies were away from railheads or the ports from where they drew supplies both armies, like their Napoleonic cousins relied on wagons to transport essential food, supplies and ammunition when on campaign. In both armies commanders and their logisticians experimented with the number of wagons per regiment and how army commanders, modified that number at various points during the war based on their situation.

At the beginning of the war the Napoleonic standards by which both armies based the number of wagons, 12 wagons per 1000 men to support the troops on campaign were found to be insufficient as it “placed too much emphasis on foraging for American conditions” [23] and throughout the war standards for what the armies needed would be debated and commanders in different theaters of the war often set their own standards based on their needs and the availability of wagons and livestock to draw them.

As the war went on the Federal army experimented with the use of the “flying column” as a response to the dependency on wagons in order to increase their mobility. The flying column was an idea drawn from the French by Major General Montgomery Meigs, the Union Quartermaster General. The idea was simple; in order to reduce dependency on wagons the army itself would be reorganized at the lowest level, the infantry squad.

“The soldier in a flying column carried eight days’ compressed rations, including desiccated vegetables on his back. He carried a blanket but no overcoat. The men were divided into squads of eight, one of whom was to carry a covered cooking kettle, another a large mess tin, another an axe, another a pick, and one a shovel. One man in each company carried the hospital knapsack. Each man carried his share of a shelter tent. The cavalry were pickets and grain for their horses.” [24]

After Gettysburg and the unsuccessful pursuit of Lee’s army, Halleck and Rufus Ingalls, the Army of the Potomac’s chief quartermaster made provision and set standards “to convert the army into a flying column that would be self-sufficient for eight- and twelve- day periods away from the base of supply.” [25] In contrast, the Confederacy lacked the wagons and livestock to support the field operations of the army on campaign. Wagons, especially those suited for military operations were in short supply and any time the opportunity presented, confederate commanders ensured the capture of Union wagons. This turned out to be a major problem during the Gettysburg campaign, when Stuart during his ride around the Army of the Potomac “succumbed to temptation of capturing a beautifully equipped and heavily laden Union supply train near Rockville, Maryland, at the cost of exhausting his cavalry and wasting precious time.” [26] In most cases Stuart’s action would have been commendable, and he certainly felt that such should have been the case here as well, but the cost to his operations and Lee’s need for his cavalry were such that it was a mistake of disastrous consequences.

The basic load of food and ammunition carried by each soldier in order to increase strategic maneuverability was adjusted to meet the operational need. Both armies, but more often the Confederate army frequently had to live off the land. The success and failure of forage operations and the requirements for people and animals in each theater of operations had a large impact on each army. By early 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia was “greatly deficient in all areas of supply….there were extreme shortages of footwear, clothing, draft animals, and wagons.” [27] When the Army of Northern Virginia advanced into Pennsylvania they found it to be “a land of plenty” while “quartermaster and commissary details, acting under official instructions, filled wagons and supplies with foodstuffs.” [28]

While the Federal army never lacked in provisions or supplies, the Confederate armies were almost always in short supply. Even adequate food supplies needed to maintain an adequate caloric intake on the march were almost impossible to achieve. Food supplies were so limited that they were barely adequate, especially when the army was encamped. In fact, one of the reasons that Lee based his invasion of Pennsylvania was to alleviate his desperate supply situation. One regimental commander in Pickett’s division recalled that Lee told him “the movement was a necessity; that our provisions and supplies of every kind were nearly exhausted in Virginia, and we had to go into Pennsylvania for supplies.” [29]

As Federal forces moved into the South they encountered a new problem, the areas that the conquered and their essential supply bases, railheads and railroads had to protected from Confederate partisans, irregulars, raiders and other insurgents. Railroads were especially important to the Federal logistics chain as they provided “new strategic and operational abilities” to civil war armies, but they were an “extremely delicate sources of dependence when they ran through hostile territory.” [30] As such they had to be protected, as did the sprawling supply bases on which the Federal armies in the South depended. This resulted in an ever increasing logistics tail in proportion to the fighting forces spearheading the Federal advance. The three Union armies commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman that carried “the brunt of the Union effort against Joe Johnston and Atlanta, for example, showed 352,265 men on their muster rolls, but took only about 100,000 directly into the campaign.” [31] The rest were engaged in protecting the vital logistics tail.

Communications and Signals

The size of the armies and the distances involved on the battlefield made command and control difficult.  As such, communications became more important and each army experimented with new signals organizations that used both old and new communication technologies. At the beginning of the war both sides made extensive use of visual signals and couriers, but rapidly began to rely on the telegraph for rapid communications.


The organizational tension was particularly evident in the rivalry between the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the Military Telegraph Service.  The Signal Corps focused on wireless communications. It preferred the Beardslee wireless telegraphs, however, they were plagued by the limitations of such early wireless technology. The Union Army command favored the traditional wire bound networks operated by the Military Telegraph due to better reliability and security and eventually the Military Telegraph Service and its Morse trained operators were given “jurisdiction for all field telegraph” services at the urging of President Lincoln in November 1863. [32] Though the Army rejected the Beardslee equipment some commanders requested it for their operations.[33] As each Army became more dependent on the telegraph, each feared that their signals could be compromised through wiretapping and made efforts to encode their transmissions.

While the various forms of telegraphic communication were important in keeping higher headquarters in contact with armies in the field, battlefield communication could be difficult. Commanders on both sides relied on messengers to relay orders to subordinate commanders as well as pass information to senior commanders. On the battlefield this took time, and since the messengers were subject to the same dangers as ordinary soldiers messages might not reach the intended commanders. It took approximately an hour for a message to travel from an army commander to a corps commander, 30 minutes from a corps commander to a division commander, 20 from division to brigade, 15 from brigade to regiment and 5 minutes from regiment to company. [34]

Written orders generally provided better clarity if detailed enough but if they were passed orally, as was Lee’s preferred method they could easily be miscommunicated by messengers, or misunderstood or even ignored by commanders. This was a major source of Lee’s consternation during the Gettysburg campaign. A major problem for Lee during the campaign was that his orders, be they written or oral were frequently vague and discretionary, something that we will discuss in detail later, but Lieutenant General Richard Ewell spoke for many Confederate subordinate commanders on the evening of June 30th when he asked his division commanders in frustration “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligent order?” [35]

The Union Signal Corps also pioneered the use and development with a “modern system of semaphores with a telegraphic alphabet…” as well as “a cipher disk…that allowed the Union Signal Corps to change the code hourly if need be.” [36] The one disadvantage to this form of visual communication was that it could be limited due to weather conditions or the smoke of battle. While semaphore was used with a good deal of success by the Union, and Meade would make good use of it at Gettysburg, it was not used by the Confederate army.


Likewise Meade “set a precedent in command procedures” during the Gettysburg campaign, where “for perhaps the first time in military history the commanding general of a large army was kept in communication during active operations with his corps and division commanders.” Likewise Meade “set a precedent in command procedures when he brought signal officers to the conference table for consultation on the plan of battle” [37] and for the first time Signal Corps officers were assigned directly to each corps, when Meade ordered that two Signal Corps officers be “detached for service with each corps.” [38]

The troops of the Union Signal Corps were also a vital link in the transmission of military intelligence gathered by Colonel George Sharpe’s Bureau of Military Information, whose network of scouts during the Gettysburg campaign were “supported by Signal Corps detachments which could establish chains of flag stations from Harpers Ferry to “South Mountain, Monterrey, Greencastle…up to Parnell’s Knob, in the Cumberland Valley.” [39] This link helped provide Meade with much better intelligence regarding the movement of Lee’s army throughout the campaign.

Regardless of the means of transmitting orders, the fact was that at Gettysburg the element of friction entered the communication process. Wireless communications suffered from encryption problems, semaphore could not always be read due to the reduced visibility caused by the smoke covered battlefield. Commanders who took the time to issue written orders found that those could be delayed or lost due to battlefield conditions that impacted a messenger’s ability to deliver them, or misunderstood by their recipients. Likewise, verbal orders sent by messenger were frequently garbled and misunderstood, or depending on the situation, understood in the manner that best fit the situation of the recipient.

The developments in tactics, maneuver, defense and logistics and how those were developed over the course of the war brought about a form of warfare that remained dominant of decades. In studying the campaigns, developments and tensions between the competing theories of Jomini and Mahan in the Civil War, a student can begin to recognize them in future wars fought by the US Army including World War Two.

Russell Weigley picks up this theme in his books The American Way of War and Eisenhower’s Lieutenants. Weigley discusses Lee’s use of Napoleonic strategy and Grant’s corresponding strategy of annihilation as well as Sherman’s campaign against Johnston, as well as Sheridan’s devastation of the Shenandoah Valley to impose its aims on the Confederacy. [40] These lessons influenced American strategic doctrine well into the next century, and were employed by leaders in the First and Second World Wars, as well as much less effectively in Korea and Vietnam. Weigley concluded: “Because it worked so well, achieving total submission, American soldiers thereafter tended to generalize the United States strategy of the Civil War into the appropriate strategy for all major, full scale wars.” [41]


[1] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.216

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.135

[3] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense pp.216-217

[4] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.218

[5] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame pp.296-297

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.326

[7] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.617-618

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.297

[9] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.441

[10] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.72

[11] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.156

[12] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.211

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.319

[14] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.216

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.323

[16] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.217

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.322

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.320

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.322

[20] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.442

[21] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.219

[22] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.79

[23] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.44

[24] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.71

[25] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.76

[26] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.198

[27] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.126

[28] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.229

[29] Ibid. West A Glorious Army p.230

[30] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.322

[31] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.322

[32] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[33] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[34] Cole, Phillip M. Command and Communication Friction in the Gettysburg Campaign Colecraft Industries, Ortanna PA 2006 p.80

[35] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.140

[36] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare pp.43-44

[37] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.123

[39] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.42

[40] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War pp.145-146

[41] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.3


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Lincoln and the Importance of Civilian Leadership

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am posting another section of the first chapter of my Gettysburg text tonight. It is about the importance of civilian leadership in regard to the military and the importance of not just relying on military power to win wars. The American Civil War gives us a good example of civilian leaders who grasped both of these elements of leadership and national power. Of course the article is just a part of a text that goes into a lot more depth on both subjects., but it is a part of the introductory chapter. 

I expect that I will be writing about the three latest attacks on the LGBT community by the governors of Texas, Michigan and the legislature of North Carolina which occurred today in the next couple of days. I am doing some more work on my Gettysburg test and the chapter dealing with religion, ideology and politics which dovetail nicely with these events, I just have to put everything together, and I would rather do it right than to do a half-assed job. 

Have a great evening,


Padre Steve+


Abraham Lincoln

Over time the Union developed what we would now refer to as a “whole of government approach” to the war. This included not only the military instrument but the use of every imaginable means of national power, from the diplomatic, the economic and the informational aspects of the Union in the effort to subdue the Confederacy. The understanding and use of the “whole of government approach” to war and conflict is still a cornerstone of United States military policy in “unified action, to achieve leverage across different domains that will ensure conditions favorable to the U.S. and its allies will endure.” [1]

Over the United States Government and that of the Confederacy sat two men whose backgrounds were widely different, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Lincoln had no real military experience, training or background. Davis, seemed to be a man fully ready based on his background as a West Point graduate, Army officer and Secretary of War to be a wartime commander in chief. However, it was Lincoln who learned how to be an effective wartime leader, while Davis, despite his background floundered in that capacity. James McPherson notes that:

“In all five functions as commander in chief – policy, national strategy, military strategy, operations, and tactics – Lincoln’s conception and performance were dynamic rather than static. He oversaw the evolution of the war from one of limited ends with limited means to be a full-scale effort that destroyed the old Union and built a new and better one on its ashes.” [2]

Not only was Lincoln’s evolution in military affairs remarkable, but he had a far better grasp of people than his prickly Confederate counterpart. “Lincoln was more eloquent than Davis in expressing war aims, more successful in communicating with people, more skillful as a political leader in keeping factions together for the war effort, better able to work with his critics to achieve a common goal. Lincoln was flexible, pragmatic, with a sense of humor to smooth relationships and help him survive the stress of his job.” [3] On the other hand Davis was none of these. He had a hard time getting along with people, as was evidenced by the rate that he went through secretaries of war, five in four years and his bad relations with two of his premier generals, Joseph Johnston and P.T.G. Beauregard. Quarrelsome and disputatious, “Davis seemed to prefer winning an argument to winning the war; Lincoln was happy to lose an argument if it would help win the war.” [4] The example of Davis is ample evidence that just because someone has military experience does not mean that they are able to assume the duties of commander-in-chief.


Edwin Stanton

One of the key aspects of a successful whole of government approach to war, crisis and national emergency is effective civilian leadership at the cabinet level, especially the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. In 1861 the later was split between Secretary of War, who headed the War Department and the Secretary of the Navy who headed the Department of the Navy. When he was elected Lincoln chose Simon Cameron as Secretary of War and Gideon Welles as Secretary of the Navy. Welles’s solid leadership of the Navy was never in question was both efficient and competent in managing the affairs of the rapidly expanding Navy.

However, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron was incompetent. Under Cameron the War Department lacked direction and within months was engulfed in controversy and charges of corruption and inefficiency. Though he was a skillful politician who “maintained his power base in Pennsylvania through the skillful use of patronage to reward loyalists and punish opponents” [5] Cameron was incompetent corrupt, and he was not equal to the task of managing the rapidly expanding war effort. Congress began to investigate and a number of Cameron’s political allies were found to have made great profits off of war contracts, which public funds had been wasted and the men who had volunteered to serve endangered. Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward “agreed that Cameron should be removed and that Edwin Stanton – the diligent lawyer who had served as Seward’s window into the late Buchannan administration – would be a good successor.” [6]

Stanton and Lincoln’s relationship went back to an incident where the former, a very powerful and successful lawyer had humiliated Lincoln in Cincinnati before the Reaper lawsuit of 1855 where after a change of venue Stanton got Lincoln kicked off the case. It was an incident that Lincoln found humiliating, and that he vowed never to again return to Cincinnati. That being said, Lincoln had a keen appreciation for Stanton’s abilities. During the final days of the Buchannan administration it was Stanton as attorney general provided the intelligence that “had helped root out traitors and keep Washington safe from capture.” [7] Lincoln removed Cameron and as consolation sent him off to serve as Ambassador to Russia in St. Petersburg rather than humiliating Cameron, who still had a loyal base in Pennsylvania. Cameron’s reputation remained intact until the “House Committee on Contracts published its 1,100-page report in February 1862, detailing the extensive corruption in the War department that led to the purchasing of malfunctioning weapons, diseased horses, and rotten food.” [8] The act humiliated Cameron, and Lincoln took the unusual step of writing a long public letter to Congress to somewhat protect Cameron’s reputation by declaring that he and the entire cabinet “were at least equally responsible with [Cameron] for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed.” [9] This was the first of many times where Lincoln chose to share the blame rather than further humiliate disgraced members of his administration, and it was a characteristic that

Cameron’s replacement as Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton was an entirely different type of man than Cameron. He was hard driving and ruthless in his pursuit of policies that would win the war. Stanton “drove himself as his staff of undersecretaries with maniacal fury and animation, auditing army contracts, reviewing and digesting military data for Lincoln’s use, intimidating army contractors, barking orders, and banging on his stand-up writing desk to make his point.” [10] Stanton’s brusque and brutally honest nature offended many people, but “he brought efficiency and integrity to the business of war contracts.” [11]

Likewise Stanton forced Union generals to adhere to administration policies, sacking those who were incompetent or recalcitrant and making a key change to the high command by replacing George McClellan as General-in-Chief with Major General Henry Wager Halleck. He also redefined the duties of the office making Halleck an advisor to the administration and liaison with the armies in the field. Halleck was perfectly suited to this position as “there was a need, in a civilian-run republic, fore a reliable and competent organizer who could serve as that kind of liaison  between the civilian leadership at the War Department and the military at the front.” [12] When Lincoln and Stanton brought in Ulysses Grant to serve as General-in Chief in March 1864, Halleck remained in Washington where he continued his staff and liaison work allowing Grant to command the armies in the field.

Stanton tolerated no inefficiency and immediately went to work to clear out corrupt officials and deny office seekers whose only claim to office was the patronage of elected officials or even their families. He denied one such man who came with the recommendation of Mary Todd Lincoln and then paid her a visit. Stanton “told her that “in the midst of a great war for national existence,” his “first duty is to the people,” and his next duty is to protect your husband’s honor, and your own. If he appointed unqualified men simply to return favors, it would “strike as the very root of all confidence.” [13] Mrs. Lincoln agreed and never asked Stanton for such favors again.


Major General Montgomery Meigs 

The working staff of the Stanton and Halleck’s War Department developed rapidly. Major General Montgomery Meigs served as Quartermaster General and effectively coordinated with railroads, weapons manufacturers and suppliers of clothing, food and other necessities to supply the army and navy so well that Union forces never lacked for what they needed to win the war. Like Stanton, Meigs was incorruptible and unlike Cameron, “a congressional audit could not find so much as one penny unaccounted for in any major contract authorized by Meigs.” [14]

Stanton and Meigs were “aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen” which allowed that “the Union developed a superior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.” [15] The other two major players in the War department were Commissary General Joseph P. Taylor and Chief of Ordnance James Wolfe Ripley. Neither man had the same talent as Meigs, but both turned into excellent administrators who ensured that Union forces always had ample supplies of provisions, weapons and ammunition.

The Confederacy never achieved anything like this, with the exception of his Chief of Ordnance, Josiah Gorgas the men in charge of ensuring that the Confederate armies had adequate supplies of food, clothing and equipment were inept, incompetent and utterly incapable of running a way.

The understanding of this eternal nature and ever changing character of war to leaders of nations as well as military commanders and planners has been very important throughout history. It can be seen in the ways that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln conducted the war. Lincoln, though he did not have the previous military experience of Davis, was the better learner and leader who came to understand the nature of modern war, including its logistic, political and diplomatic, and social-cultural contexts.


Jefferson Davis

The contrast between Lincoln and Davis “directs attention to the difficulties of translating political judgment into effective warmaking.” [16] As such military leaders, understanding their relationship with the civil government should be the people to advise and instruct policy makers in aligning their policies to what is actually feasible based on the ends ways and means, as well as the strengths and limitations of the military to carry out policy decisions. History reminds us “that policymakers committed strongly to their political desires are not easily deflected by military advice of a kind that they do not want to hear.” [17] Too many times in history military leaders for many reasons have failed to raise their voice and to speak unpleasant truths regarding what is possible and what is not, often with catastrophic results for their nations. Likewise political leaders bent upon their own goals, even those goals that are at odds with their nation’s interests can ensure that their nation ends up on the ash heap up history.


[1] ________ JCWS Student Text 1 3rd Edition, 14 June 2013 p.2-4

[2] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.267

[3] McPherson, James M. American Victory, American Defeat in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992 p.37

[4] Ibid. McPherson American Victory, American Defeat p.37

[5] Goodwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.403

[6] Stahr, Walter Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man Simon and Schuster, New York 2012 p.325

[7] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.410

[8] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.413

[9] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.413

[10] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.312

[11] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.69

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.315

[13] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.414

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.315

[15] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[16] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[17] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

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Filed under civil war, History, leadership

Gettysburg: The Connection between Policy, Strategy, and Operational Art


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I have been working to revise my materials form my next Gettysburg Staff Ride I did some revisions to my text that I use with my students. The footnotes did not show up so Monday I will repost the text of this article with them. The article is important even for non-military types who care about the country and are involved in politics or policy, because it shows the linkage between the advantages that a nation with a strong strong and effective central government has over one which adopts what we would call today a Libertarian form of government. In fact I would call the effort of the Confederacy in the Civil War “The Failed Libertarian War.” But that is possibly a subject for an article or maybe even a book, but I digress…

So anyway here is the latest,


Padre Steve+

Today we look at the Gettysburg Campaign in terms of how we understand the connection between strategy and operational art. In doing so we have to place it in the context that Lee’s campaign has in relationship to the Confederate command relationships and where it fits in the continuum of unified action as we understand it today.

To do so we have to make the connection between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objective and tactical objectives. We have to explore command and control structures, staff organization and the understand the effect of the Diplomatic, Informational, Economic and Military elements of national power that impact a nation’s ability to wage war.

The summer campaign of 1863 in the Civil War gives us the opportunity to do this as we explore the Gettysburg campaign in relation to Vicksburg and the overall strategic situation that both sides faced. This includes the elements that we now associate with the DIME.

While Confederate army units and their commanders generally excelled on the tactical level, and their soldiers endured hardship well, this would not be enough to secure victory. They displayed amazing individual initiative on the battlefield and they won many victories against superior forces, especially in the early part of the war. Even during the final year of the war, Lee’s forces fought skillfully and helped prolong the war. But neither the Confederate government nor the various army commanders were able to translate battlefield success to operational, theater specific or national strategic objectives.

The Confederacy had a twofold problem in its organization for war and how it conducted the war. First it had no organization at the strategic level to direct the war, and it never developed one to coordinate its military, military, diplomatic or economic policies. While Southern strategists understood that they needed to “wear down the ability of the North to wage war” they were consistently hobbled by its own internal political divisions which served to undermine efforts to coordinate the effort to defend the Confederacy. These divisions focused on the opposition of the states’ rights proponents to the central government in Richmond.

The overarching national strategic objective of the Confederacy was to attain independence. The Confederates could not hope to conquer the Union and because of that their “strategic problem was to resist conquest” and to do so they would have to “tire the Federals out, and force them to abandon the war.” Jefferson Davis seems to have understood this early in the war, but political considerations and the temperament of most Southerners and their political leaders frustrated his attempts. Generals like Lee and Joseph E. Johnston “were of the opinion that the more remote frontiers should be abandoned, and that the scattered forces of the Confederacy be concentrated, political reasons overruled their judgment.”

Southern politicians, especially the governors and congressmen demanded that troops “defend every portion of the Confederacy from penetration by “Lincoln’s abolition hordes.” Likewise, most Southerners believed that they “could whip any number of Yankees” and as early as 1861 the Confederate press was advocating an offensive strategy as the Richmond Examiner declared “The idea of waiting for blows rather than inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people….The aggressive policy is the truly defensive one. A column pushed forward into Ohio or Pennsylvania is worth more to us, as a defensive measure, than a whole tier of seacoast batteries from Norfolk to the Rio Grande.”

This combination of wanting to defend everything, which defied Frederick the Great’s classic dictum that “he who defends everything defends nothing” and the persistent employment of the offensive even when it “drained the Confederacy’s manpower and weakened its long term prospects for independence” were key strategic factors in its defeat.

The South did get an earlier start to in mobilizing for war then the Union. Even before the “Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers for twelve months” on March 6th 1861 the governors of the eleven Confederate States raised units to fight any Federal armies which dared to force them back into the Union. This involved dusting off the old militias which had been allowed to decay in the period between the Mexican War and 1860. Most of these units in the South as well as the North were volunteer companies in which the discipline, equipment and training varied to a significant degree. Most had little in the way of real military training and “many of them spent more time drinking than drilling.” The early Confederate mobilization outstripped the availability of arms and equipment forcing many volunteers to be sent home.

Other than the stated desire for independence and their common hatred of the “Yankee,” there was little in the way of unity within the Confederate States, “the incurable jealousy of the States, especially those not immediately affected by the war, established a dry rot within the Confederacy.” Within the Confederacy, each state viewed itself as an independent nation only loosely bound to the other states and some legislatures enacted laws which actively opposed the central government in Richmond.

The various Confederate states controlled the use of their units and often resisted any effort at centralization of effort. Some kept their best units at home, while others dispatched units to Confederate armies such as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Initially most states limited enlistment periods to one year despite the opposition of Robert E. Lee who helped Jefferson Davis pass the Conscription Act of 1862, a measure that was “heavily watered down by those politicians whose first concern was states’ rights and by those who felt that it would undermine patriotism.” That measure, even in its watered down form was distinctly unpopular, especially with the following declaration of martial law in parts of the Confederacy.

Both measures were brought by realists who understood that for the Confederacy to survive the war effort had to become a total war, with “the whole population and the whole production…put on a war footing.” Such measures provoke more attacks and opposition by their opponents who advocated states’ rights even if it worked against the overall interests of the Confederacy. By the time of Gettysburg if not sooner, “Confederate society began to unravel. The yeomanry and poor white people resented conscription, the tax-in-kind impressment, and other governmental measures than the wealthy. Planters sought to safeguard their property and status to the detriment of national goals.”

This included how state governments responded to the military needs of the Confederacy. Some governors hoarded weapons seized from Federal armories, “retaining these weapons to arm regiments that they kept at home… defend state boarders and guard against potential slave uprisings.” When in response to threats within the Confederacy Jefferson Davis suspended the writ of habeas corpus it resulted in a firestorm of opposition from the states. “Mississippi and Georgia passed flaming resolutions against the act; Louisiana presently did so, too, and North Carolina soon had a law on its books nullifying the action of the central government.” Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice President noted that there was “no such thing as a citizen of the United States, but the citizen of a State, and that “the object of quitting the Union, was not to destroy, but to save the principles of the Constitution.”

Likewise as economic conditions worsened and inflation soared in late 1861 the Confederate Congress “in its allotments to the War Department refused to face up to the costs of running the war…it forced the department to scramble in an atmosphere of uncertainty for allotments on a short-run basis.” There was much distrust of any attempt to organize a true central government with any actual authority or power in Richmond. Jefferson Davis may have been President but his country was hamstrung by its own internal divisions, including the often vocal opposition of Stephens for whom states’ rights remained a paramount issue. Stephens, in a statement that defied the understanding that military victory had to be achieved for independence to be won said during the habeas corpus debate “Away with the idea of getting independence first, and looking to liberty afterward.” This, like so many other aspects of the Confederate war effort showed the radical disconnection between legislators, policy makers and the Army and defied any understanding of the importance of government and the unity of effort in pursuing war aims. .

The Confederacy lacked a clear defined command structure to coordinate its war efforts. At the beginning of the war this was true of the Union as well, however, by the Union was much more adept at responding to the needs of the war, this included its military operations, diplomatic efforts and economy. Out of necessity it established a War Department as well as a Department of the Navy in February 1861 and Jefferson Davis, the new President who had served in Mexico and as Secretary of War prior to secession “helped speed southern mobilization in 1861.” However helpful this was initially Davis, who micromanaged Confederate war efforts “eventually led to conflict with some army officers.”


Jefferson Davis was an able man to be sure, but he “totally misunderstood the nature of the war.” Davis was a man given to suspicion and had major personality conflicts with all of his senior commanders save Robert E. Lee. These included Joseph Johnston who he loathed and P.T.G. Beauregard, both of whom he quarreled with on matters of strategy. These conflicts did impact operations, just as did the refusal of various states to support operations or campaigns apart from ones that impacted their state directly.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

In effect each Confederate army and military department operated independently, often competing with each other for the troops, supplies and materials needed to fight. They also had to contend with recalcitrant state governments, each loathe to sacrifice anything that might compromise their own independence. Attempts by the authorities in Richmond to centralize some measure of authority were met with resistance by the states. Thus states’ rights were “not only the cause of the war, but also the cause of the Confederate downfall.”

In a country as vast as the Confederacy that lacked the industry, transportation infrastructure, population and economic power of the North this was a hindrance that could not be overcome by the soldierly abilities of its armies alone. An example of the Confederate problem was that “neither the army nor the government exercised any control of the railroads.” The Confederate Subsistence Department, which in theory was responsible for ensuring the supply of food, stores and the logistical needs necessary to maintain armies in the field could not plan with confidence. “Tied to the railroads, unable to build up a reserve; frequently uncertain whether or not their troops were going to be fed from one day to the next, field commanders understandably experienced a general loss of confidence in the Subsistence Department….” Even though the subsistence and even the survival of the army was dependent on the use of railroads, the railroad owners “responded by an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate….and Government shipments were accorded low priority. In May of 1863 the Confederate Congress finally granted the government broad authority over the railroads, but “Davis hesitated to wield the power. “ It would not be until early 1865 that the Confederacy would “finally take control of the railroads.”

All of these factors had a direct effect on the campaign of 1863. In the west, Confederate commanders were very much left to fend for themselves and to add to their misery failed even to coordinate their activities to meet the threat of Grant and his naval commander, Admiral David Dixon Porter. In the East, Lee having established a close relationship with Jefferson Davis as his military advisor during the first year of the war exercised a disproportionate influence on the overall strategy of the Confederacy because of his relationship with Davis. However, Lee was hesitant to use his influence to supply his army, even when it was suffering. Even though he willingly shared in the plight of his solders, Lee refused “to exert his authority to obtain supplies….” As the army prepared to invade Pennsylvania, “the paltry rationing imposed by Richmond was made worse by a tenuous supply line….”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Seddon desired to turn the tide at Vicksburg and proposed sending Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce Johnston to relieve the embattled city and maintain the front on the Mississippi. However, Lee believed that any attempt “to turn the Tide at Vicksburg…put Lee’s army in Virginia at unacceptable risk.”

The lack of any sense of unity in the Confederate hierarchy and lack of a grand strategy was disastrous. The lack of agreement on a grand strategy and the inability of the Confederate States Government and the various state governments to cooperate at any level culminated in the summer of 1863 with the loss of Vicksburg and the failure of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The Confederate failure in this demonstrates the absolute need for unity of effort and even more a whole of government and whole of nation approach to war.

This can be contrasted with the Union, which though it was slow to understand the nature of the war did have people who, through trial and error developed a cohesive strategy that led to success at the operational level and the tactical level. The genus in Union strategy came from Lieutenant General Winfield Scott who “appreciated the relationship between economic factors and attack.” Scott’s strategic plan was to establish a blockade and form two major armies, “one to move down the Mississippi and cut off the western half of the Confederacy from its eastern half, while the other threatened Richmond and pinned down the main Confederate forces in Virginia.” It was a plan for total war called Anaconda which was mocked in both the Northern and Southern press and it would become the blueprint of Federal success at the war progressed. Scott was the first to recognize that the war would not be short and his plan was the first to “recognize the North’s tremendous advantage in numbers and material, and it was the first to emphasize the importance of the Mississippi Valley in an over-all view of the war.”

Abraham Lincoln had little in the way of military acumen and frequently, until Grant took control of the armies interfered with his senior commanders, often with good reason. However, Lincoln was committed to winning the war and willing to take whatever steps necessary to do so. Fuller describes him as “none other than a dictator” by bypassing Congress and on his own authority declaring a blockade of Southern ports, calling for 75,000 volunteers and suspending habeas corpus.

Likewise Lincoln as well as Congress understood the value and necessity of the railroads and in January 1862 “Congress authorized to take possession of any railroads and place them under military control when the public safety warranted it.” Lincoln formed the Department of Military Railroads the following month and appointed Daniel C McCallum as its director. In May President Lincoln formally took possession of all railroads, but “saw to it that cooperative lines received government aid.”

George McClellan, who Lincoln appointed as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, whatever his many faults as a field commander “possessed a strategic design for winning the war,” understood the necessity of unity of command and successfully built an effective army. Now his design was different than that of Scott, for he desired to “crush the rebels in one campaign” by an overland march to Richmond. While this was unrealistic because of McClellan’s constant overestimation of his enemy and inability to risk a fight when on the Peninsula and at the gates of Richmond, the Union might have at least had a chance should he have defeated the major Confederate forces deployed to defend that city. While that would have been unlikely to win the war in a single stroke it would have been a significant reversal for the Confederacy in 1862.

Logistics was one of the deciding factors of e war, both the Confederate weakness and Union ability to adapt society and government needs to wartime conditions. As a general principle Union leaders, government and business alike understood the changing nature of modern war. This stood in stark contrast to the inefficient and graft ridden Confederate agencies where even those who wanted more effective means to wage war were hindered by politicians, land owners and businessmen who insisted on their rights over the needs of the nation. The Union developed an efficient and well managed War Department where the importance of logistics inter-bureau cooperation became a paramount concern.

Union industry “geared up up for war production on a scale that would make the Union army the best fed, most lavishly supplied army that have ever existed.” The Quartermaster’s Department under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was particularly efficient in supplying the needs of a military fighting on exterior lines in multiple theaters of operation. Unlike the Confederate Subsistence Bureau the Federal Quartermaster Bureau supplied almost everything the army could need: “uniforms, overcoats shoes, knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, mess gear, blankets, tents, camp equipage, barracks, horses, mules, forage, harnesses, horseshoes, and portable blacksmith shops, supply wagons, ships when the army could be supplied by water, coal and wood to fuel them, and supply depots for storage and distribution.” The ill-equipped Confederates could only look on with awe, in fact during his absence from Lee J.E.B. Stuart was ecstatic over the capture of “one hundred and twenty five of the best United States model wagons and splendid teams….” likewise one of the reasons that A.P. Hill allowed Harry Heth to send his division the Gettysburg was to find shoes that the Confederate Subsistence Department could not provide for them. Thus one of the reasons for the Battle of Gettysburg is directly linked to the failed logistics system of the Confederacy.

Early in the war the Union logistics effort was beset by some of the same problems that plagued the Confederacy throughout the war. Graft and corruption ran rife until 1862 when “Congress established investigative committees to uncover fraud and passed laws regulating the letting of contracts.” Meigs overhauled the bureau. At the beginning of the war it had only one department, for clothing. He modernized this and added eight new departments, which dealt with “specialized logistical functions such as forage and fuel, barracks and hospitals and wagon transportation.” During the war Meigs managed nearly half the direct costs of the Union war effort,” over 1.5 billion dollars in spending. He has been called by James McPherson as “the unsung hero of northern victory.”


The Unsung Union Hero: General Montgomery Meigs 

This had a profound effect on operations. When the Union forces by necessity had to operate in enemy territory they were well supplied whereas whenever Confederate Forces conducted operations in the North or even in supposedly friendly Border States they were forced to subsist off the land. This meant that Confederate operations in the north were no more than what we would call raids, even the large invasions launched by Lee in 1862 and 1863, both which ended in defeat and near disaster.

Because of their poor logistic capabilities Confederate forces had no staying power to keep and hold any ground that they took in enemy territory. This can be contrasted with the Union which when it sent its forces south meant them to stay.

Lee could not fathom this and because he believed that no Federal Army could stand a summer in the Deep South and that Grant would be forced to withdraw. The use of railroads to supply its far flung forces operating in the south as well as its use of maritime transportation along the coast and on inland waterways ensured that Northern armies could always be supplied or if threatened could be withdrawn by ship.

Some senior Union officers also understood the importance of logistics. Henry Halleck was the first true American military theorist. He published the first American work on strategy, Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846. While his is often given short shrift because he was not an effective field commander and had an acerbic personality which rubbed people the wrong way, Halleck was one of the most important individuals in organizing the eventual Union victory. This included matters of strategy, picking effective subordinate commanders and understanding the logistical foundations of strategy.

Weigley wrote of Halleck:

“He sponsored and encouraged the operations of Brigadier General Ulysses. S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote that captured Forts Henry and Donaldson in February 1862 and thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for Union penetration deep into the state of Tennessee and toward the strategically important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Halleck’s insights into the logistical foundations of strategy proved consistently accurate. Throughout the war, he maintained a shrewd eye for logistically viable lines of operation for the Union forces, and he increasingly recognized that one of the most effective weapons of offensive strategy, in an age when battle meant exposure to rifled firepower, was not to aim directly at the enemy armies but at their logistical base.”

Halleck was also instrumental in helping to oust Hooker just before Gettysburg and raise Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln brought Grant east to become General in Chief Halleck took on the new position of Chief of Staff. This was a task that he fulfilled admirably, allowing Grant to remain in the field and ensuring clear communication between Lincoln and Grant as well as relieving “Grant of the burden of personally corresponding with his department commanders.”

By establishing what we now understand as the beginning of a modern command and staff organizational structure the Union was far more able to link its national, theater and operational level objectives with its tactical objectives, even when some of its commanders were not as good as Confederates and blundered into defeats. Above the army, at the administration level Stanton, the Federal Secretary of war organized a War Board and “composed of department heads and chaired by Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock…as an embryonic American-style general staff.”

In the end during the summer of 1863 it was the Union which was better able to link the ends, ways and means of the strategic direction of the war. This is something that Davis and Lee were unable to do as they struggled with political division, a lack of cooperation from the states, and the lack of any true grand strategy.

Lee’s strategy of the offensive was wrong and compounded the problems faced by the Confederacy. The losses that his army suffered were irreplaceable, not just in terms of overall numbers of soldiers but in terms of his mid-level leaders, his battalion, regiment and brigade commanders who suffered grievous losses and were even more critical to the leadership of his army.

Lee recognized the terrible effects of his officer casualties in a letter to General John Bell Hood on May 21st: “There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty- proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” His actions at Gettysburg only added to his crisis in keeping his army supplied with competent commanders, as so many were left dead, wounded or captured during the campaign.

Even had Lee won the battle of Gettysburg his casualties in Union territory would have been prohibitive. He would have spent most of his ammunition, incurred serious losses in personnel and horses, and been burdened by not having to care for his wounded and still been deep in Union territory away from his nearest logistics hub. Had Lee won at Gettysburg “his ammunition would have been nearly exhausted in victory, while Federal logistics would have improved as the Army of the Potomac fell back toward the eastern cities.” This would have forced him to withdraw from Pennsylvania even had he been victorious.

It is true that a victory on northern soil might have emboldened the peace party in the North, but even then that could not have an effect on the desired effect on the Lincoln Administration until the election of 1864, still 16 months away. Likewise, in July 1863 such a victory would probably not have triggered foreign recognition or assistance on the part of France or England. “Skilful northern diplomacy prevented an internal conflict from becoming an international war.” Jefferson Davis held on to his fantasy until August 1863, when even he was forced to deal with reality was a vain hope indeed and ended his diplomatic efforts to bring England into the war.

England would not intervene for many reasons and the Confederate government did not fully appreciate the situation of the countries that they hoped would intervene on their behalf:

“its dependence on northern foodstuffs, access to new cotton supplies, turmoil in Europe, fear of what might happen to Canada and to British commerce in a war with the Union, and an unwillingness to side with slavery. The British government also wanted to establish precedents by respecting the blockade, a weapon that it often used.”

Confederate politicians were hindered by a very narrow, parochial view of the world, had little understanding of modern industry, economics and the type of diplomacy employed by Europeans both to strengthen their nations, but also to maintain a balance of power.

As we look at the Gettysburg and Vicksburg campaigns in the summer of 1863 these are important things to consider. The relationship between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objectives and tactical success cannot be minimized. Success on the battlefield alone is almost always insufficient to win a war unless those wins serve a higher operational and strategic purpose, and the costs of battles and campaigns have to be weighed in relation to the strategic benefits that derive from them.

In the end the total failure of the two campaigns destroyed any real hope of Confederate military victory. At Vicksburg the Confederacy lost all of Pemberton’s army, 33,000 men and Lee suffered over 28,000 casualties from an army which had begun the campaign with about 80,000 troops. The losses were irreplaceable.

This essay is certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject, but if we do not consider these factors we cannot really understand the bigger picture of the situation that the two sides faced and how they dealt with them. While the weapons and tactics employed by the sides are obsolete the thought processes and strategic considerations are timeless.

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